There are tablets and seven-inch tablets and portable devices that wear their Android affiliation on their sleeve, but Samsung has gone and combined the best of all that has come before and pushed it someplace decidedly newer and better with their new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. As the name will tell, the two models in this line represent a second generation of Samsung's popular Galaxy Tab, and the 7.0 iteration we tried affirms the evolution away from the ten-inch range and toward a more compact, increasingly common seven-inch screen size that is more affordable and generally easier to handle. (For those who prefer the larger form factor, Samsung does also offer a 10.1-inch second-gen model.)
Of course, the user experience is only going to be as good as the operating system, and the Galaxy Tab 2 arrives running Google's Android 4.0 OS, codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich." This is further enhanced by Samsung's own "TouchWIZ" interface, which combines a series of gesture-based controls with a collection of "Mini Apps" These mini's--which include an alarm clock and world clock, calculator, music player, task manager, scheduler and more--are always just a tap away via the ubiquitous bottom taskbar, and any of them can open atop whatever else we're currently doing, for seamless multitasking.
The Galaxy Tab 2 arrives equipped to watch movies via a variety of apps right out of the box, just add content. The remarkably deep, rich Samsung Media Hub, which the manufacturer is offering across many of their newest CE devices to further broaden our entertainment possibilities, pushes all manner of movies and TV shows for rental or purchase. There's also a Reader Hub for books (powered by Kobo), newspapers (powered by PressDisplay), and magazines (powered by Zinio), plus a Game Hub hawking premium and casual/social games for download. This is different from Samsung Apps, also onboard, the largely free venue of interactive doodads that has been enthusiastically embraced by software developers, and which adds value to many products (TVs, Blu-ray players) across the manufacturer's robust array of devices.
Google, meanwhile, has recently re-branded their own Android Market content portal into the Google Play Store, from which we can buy/rent videos of every description, as well as music, games, apps and books. If we're Netflix subscribers, or plan to be, we'll find that app preloaded on the device, just a tap of the little red square away and needing only an account to sync with.
Since no carrier-connected (such as 4G) version of either Galaxy Tab 2 model has been announced, we will need to locate a Wi-Fi network, 802.11b, g or high-speed n. For the full benefit, and to carry over all I've done before, I entered my usual Google setup information with my Gmail address and password.
But this was different: Working with the food theme, Ice Cream Sandwich whips up a smorgasbord of Google technologies, in new and different and wonderful ways, intuitively organized and eagerly presented for my use and enjoyment. For example, when using Gmail, I was pushed little visual notifications of new messages, a wrinkle absent from my PC experience, and little chirps would alert me of various activities as they happened.
Tab 2 also includes one year of the DropBox service which provides 50GB of online storage, ordinarily a $99 value. It's a handy way to back up files, distribute them between home and mobile locations, or send files to friends and family. Recently used apps are neatly indexed, handy if we want to pick up where we left off, and tabbed browsing allows us to open multiple web pages simultaneously and shuffle between them with ease.
The seven-inch WSVGA (1,024x600) LCD screen is lovely at its default brightness and can be adjusted via a slider all the way up to a near-blinding torch position. This is handy outdoors or in other brightly lit environments. Speaking of which, the Galaxy Tab 2 has a nifty selectable Automatic Brightness setting will lighten or darken the picture on its own initiative, when it senses shifts in the environmental lighting. So if you move from a darkened interior to blinding sunlight, you'll still actually be able to view the screen.
Tab 2 also utilizes Samsung's new "Plane Line Switching" technology, similar to In Plane Switching, developed to improve viewing angles, image quality and brightness while reducing manufacturing costs. I will say that the viewing angle here is very wide, terrific for sharing.
But what are we watching that's worth sharing? The Tab 2 synchronizes with the PC as an MTP device, playing well with Microsoft Windows Media Player and compatible content. I was also able to transfer the Android Digital Copy of We Bought a Zoo from the Blu-ray edition, using the disc's self-launching Fox Digital Copy app on the PC. I also downloaded the Fox Digital Copy app for the Tab 2 from the Google Play Store, to play this DRM-protected file.
Fox did such an amazing job with this transfer, and even shrunken to this seven-inch screen the image here is gorgeous and fluid and sharp, so much so that we can plainly read every word and number in the real estate listing Matt Damon is holding in one scene. Fox is the only major studio I'm aware of that supports an Android Digital Copy on their discs: They rule! One surprise: Despite the device's gyroscopic sensor, it turns out that a movie can play upside-down. I also loaded up a 1080p trailer for a recent Hollywood hit, and here again the image was crisp and colorful, but I could still see evidence of fine film grain!
Adobe Flash Player is supported, although I needed to download the latest version for the device. I can't sufficiently emphasize how wonderful it is to be able to find videos across the vast internet and just be able to play them without disappointment. In short, there is no shortage of stuff to watch on the Galaxy Tab 2. And if we choose to store our content locally, an optional microSD card can add up to 32 gigabytes to the built-in eight GB. All of my previously loaded content on the microSD card I used was immediately read and made available to on the Tab 2, with no reformatting necessary.
For sound, we find a pair of quite small edge-mounted, side-firing speakers. These are easily blocked when we hold the device, and while the quality is inherently limited by their size and location, the volume and dynamic range actually weren't half bad. We will likely want to use headphones, perhaps wireless, with the support for higher-speed, lower-power-consumption Bluetooth 3.0 accessories. But regular wired headphones work just fine plugged into the jack that Samsung wisely placed on the top of the device (unlike Amazon's bizarre placement of the headphone jack on the bottom of the Kindle Fire).
The twin cameras (front and rear) enable a world of communication, productivity and just plain fun. And the Bluetooth support makes addition of an external keyboard another productivity-enhancing possibility. Those are two things you won't find on the similarly priced Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet.
A Peel for the Masses
One special onboard accoutrement sets the Tab 2 apart from any other tablet I have ever tried: an IR emitter in the center of one edge. The preinstalled Peel Smart Remote app masterfully exploits the unique combination of hardware and software herein, enabling the 7.0 to function as an ultimate home theater remote control. This feature--and keep in mind that it is one of many, requiring no additional expense whatsoever--is lightning-quick and idiot-proof to configure, with a short series of basic questions. Sure, it referred to my new Onkyo 7.1-channel home theater receiver as a "stereo," but it also figured out how to switch inputs and more, and its first guesses at the proper IR codes were almost always correct, so we sailed through the setup.
I decided to opt into Custom Picks, to see if it could guess my particular tastes, and Peel knew what was on Dish, pushing me detailed suggestions with color photos. I tapped the virtual button beneath one and was immediately transported to that program, live and in progress. Basic controls are also positioned on the left side of the screen (up, down, play, pause), and worked flawlessly. Peel was also "smart" enough not to change the channel when all tuners were busy recording. Quite brainy indeed.
As with using the iPhone as a remote however, it's a tad tedious to have to wake the snoozing Tab 2 every time I want to pause or resume or change the channel. But as an extra bonus for Samsung-ophiles, the Tab 2 7.0 also supports Dual View, the newly developed secondary screen feature that interacts with select newer, higher-end Samsung TVs for enhanced content and control, although I was not equipped to experience this hands-on.
The placement and sensitivity of the edge buttons led to frequent unintentional hits, sending the tablet to sleep when I was in the midst of this or that. And as with practically every product at this level of sophistication that I've tried, I did encounter longer hangtimes than expected while waiting for apps to launch or transition, and once in a rare while the device would freeze for a moment. I'll take the blame for my repeated failure to identify the screen capture button on the bottom of the screen, it just didn't seem essential, but it is so easy to find and use that I have several caps I never even knew I wanted. The images are very simple to edit by the way, with an app that opens automatically.
Other than some mild awkwardness in button placement, I can't really think of any other complaints about Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. It's a very different experience for someone coming from the simplicity of the iPod/iPad/iPhone, and that is in no way meant to be a dig at either Apple or Samsung (or Google). I just needed to be a bit more proactive in downloading the necessary bits of software to do the things I wanted to do, and almost always for free.
The Tab 2 does so damned much, I can't claim that I have conquered it all, or even tried it all over several days of nonstop use. I keep saying "Wow, I didn't know it could do that," and I expect that these happy discoveries will continue for quite a while. For those in search of an inexpensive and compact alternative to the iPad, but with more power and flexibility than a glorified eReader, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 has got your number. Highly recommended.
What in the Box?
Manufacturer's Contact InformationSamsung U.S.A. 85 Challenger Road Ridgefield Park, New Jersey 07660
ph: 800-SAMSUNG (726-7864)
on the Web: www.samsung.com
Where to Buy: