Samsung, manufacturer of laptops, televisions, audio players, mobile phones and other devices, released their 7-inch Galaxy Tab to the US tablet market in November 2010. The new tablet was touted as being the first post-iPad tablet and iPad’s first legitimate competitor, (gizmodo.com). As a company interested in mobile computing space we quickly got our hands on one of these devices. We were curious to see how the experience and interface compared to Apple, its largest competitor, as well as some of the other tablets coming out into the marketplace.

tab-experience-3As someone who puts a little distance between myself and new technology, I found the process of reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Tab an eye-opening experience. While using this device I quickly became aware of what interactions have become normalized based on my previous interactions with the iPad and iTouch.

Powering On & Unlocking

Turning on the device was simple enough. I had relatively little difficulty finding the power button once I realized that neither tapping the screen nor pushing any of the buttons along the bottom provided any response. However, unlocking the device proved to be less intuitive. Only by sheer accident did I find that it was necessary to touch and drag the unlock symbol across the screen to unlock it. Unlike the iPad, the interaction lacked any sort of immediate visual cues to let me know that the unlock symbol had to move from point A to point B. The iPad does this well with the keywords, “slide to unlock,” and an interactive interface that allows for visual feedback. In design practice it is general to accompany a pictogram with a descriptor word for more immediate communication of a task.

Camera & Video

The camera and video are two nice features on the Galaxy Tab. It allows for large photos to be captured at a high resolution, however photo quality diminishes in low light conditions, and the shutter and flash are on the slow side. The interface is similar to that of the iTouch or iPhone but does offer a bit more functionality, and I found taking pictures and videos simple and intuitive based on my experience with those other devices. With the camera located in the rear corner of the device it was easy to find a comfortable position to take pictures one-handed without obscuring the camera’s view—this is sometimes an issue with smaller mobile devices.Pivot-tablet-comparisonWith the Apple iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom right around the corner, we were curious to see how cameras on these devices compared. Although the iPad 2 is a brand new device, recent reviews of the iPad 2’s cameras have compared the camera quality to that of those used in the fourth generation iTouch, (www.engadget.com). With a tablet as large as the
iPad 2, it would have been nice to see a higher megapixel camera built in. With the Motorola Xoom touting its five megapixel rear camera, we would naturally expect photo quality to be better than that of the Galaxy Tab’s three megapixel camera. However, measuring in at a 10.1-inch display size for the Xoom, and a 9.7-inch for the iPad 2, both devices appear far too oversized and cumbersome for such delicate and quick tasks of a point-and-shoot camera. With its comparably smaller size, the Galaxy Tab trumps the iPad 2 and Xoom in portability without question.

Keyboard

Having relatively small hands, I found the keyboard ergonomic only when positioned vertically, and even so, some of the letters along the top of the keyboard were a bit of a stretch. With a tablet this size, users will likely either be holding the device vertically in two hands and typing with their thumbs, or setting the tablet in their lap or on a desk and typing with all digits. I personally like the diversity of being able to type either way. In comparison to the smaller Galaxy Tab, the size of the Apple iPad makes the intent of the device pretty clear — no one would ever think to hold the iPad vertically to try and type with their thumbs. As for the design of the Galaxy Tab keyboard, I found there was a bit of a learning curve when trying to figure out how to access all the numbers and symbols as it wasn’t evident right away how to even find these.

Swype

Although the Swype input method has been around since 2009, when it was first commercially available on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional OS, this was my first experience using it. Swype is meant to provide a “faster and easier way to input text on any screen… with one continuous finger or stylus motion across the screen keyboard,” (swypeinc.com).

tab-experience-1

Personally, I found this input method added an extra mental step for me to note where the letters were on the keyboard, This then interrupted my flow of thought. Another thing I questioned when using the Galaxy Tab was why there was an auto-correct for Swype, but none for regular typing? I’m curious to know if this shift was done intentionally to get Galaxy Tab users to adopt Swype over typing.

Apps

The Samsung Galaxy Tab comes out-of-box with an armful of preloaded apps – anything from mapping and navigation, to social media. Apps can easily be moved from the applications folder onto the desktop, and vice versa. When exploring the device, I noticed that a lot of the preloaded apps had similar functionalities and I questioned why they were not condensed into a single app. Of all the apps, most notable and different from the iPad is the Task Manager – a handy little app that lets me monitor which apps are running and their RAM usage. It also lets me easily shutdown any other active apps from that application.

Operating System

Currently running Android’s 2.2 Froyo OS, the Tab seemed a little behind the times. Newer Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and LG G-Slate will come out-of-box with the powerful Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS, which is designed to support multi-tasking capabilities. Even the HP Touchpad with webOS 3.0 and Blackberry Playbook with the Playbook OS, in conjunction with their dual-core processors, will both support multi-tasking.

Pivot-tablet-comparison-os

With Galaxy Tab’s 2.2 Froyo OS, multi-tasking is not really an option. Like the iPad 2, applications can run at the same time, but the user will not be able to access multiple applications or windows simultaneously. The Motorola Xoom, LG G-Slate, HP Touchpad and Blackberry Playbook all improve on where the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Apple iPad 2 leave off by better supporting multi-tasking through the use of window stacks or cards. These stacks or cards will allow users to quickly move between open applications and activities. In today’s market, consumers are expecting tablets to have increased multi-tasking abilities, and both the Galaxy Tab and iPad 2 with their current OS are not living up to these expectations. With the Android 3.0 Honeycomb arriving on newer tablets and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch not currently equipped to support it, the longevity of this tablet may be at risk.

Conclusion

Spending a weekend exploring the Samsung Galaxy Tab was certainly an interesting experience. The colours are bright, screen resolution is crisp, and response is quick. The device has a comfortable size and weight, and is far more portable than the iPad. It feels small and sleek like an iPhone or iTouch, yet large enough to comfortably read, watch videos, take pictures with, or play games on.

Although the device looks great and has a good size to it, some of my biggest issues dealt with the functionality of this device. One of these was the lack of auto-correct when typing, and the seemingly repetitive selection of applications. As if to better compete with larger tablets including Apple iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and HP TouchPad, Samsung recently announced the introduction of their new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch tablet. Sporting a larger screen, eight megapixel rear-facing camera, and HD recording & playback, the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab merely seems like an upgrade on the 7-inch Tab. Most noteworthy on the new 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab is the OS platform, Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Equipped with dual-core processors and a more powerful OS, we are expecting the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab to handle multi-tasking as well as the Xoom, TouchPad, Playbook, or G-Slate.

The tablet market is changing rapidly, and with it devices are becoming out-dated and obsolete more quickly. With the new and improved Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch as well as a slew of other tablets quick on the heels of the Galaxy Tab 7-inch, I am curious to see how the 7-inch will fair in the market space. Will it hold it’s own because of it’s affordable price point or will it whither and die with the release of it’s monster of a big brother, the Xoom, and the new Honeycomb OS?

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