Trying out the Galaxy Tab 8.9

When I saw a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 with a friend, I thought it was a good way to try to find out for myself what all the Android tablets about. After using it for 3 days, I found out why people like them and I still don’t think I’d want one. At least, not as of now. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 measures 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.3 in. (in other words, it’s very slim) and weighs just less than a physical notebook. It’s sort of the compromise between Samsung’s 7 inch tablet and its full size 10.1 inch tablet.

Around the top edge of the Tab 8.9 (assuming you’re holding it in landscape mode), there’s a power button, a volume rocker switch and a standard audio jack. The power button is rather close to the volume rocker, so I occasionally found myself shutting off the display when I meant to make the sound louder.

On the bottom are two stereo speakers and the port for the specialized USB connector that lets you recharge the 6100mAh battery. No 3G here; this is a Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth) device only. The unit I had came with 16GB of memory but you can also buy it with 32GB.

I have to admit that if I needed to watch a few YouTube videos just to pass few minutes, this would be a good way to do it. The images were sharp, bright and very clean. Of course, tablets tend to become smudgy rather quickly and when the display is off, every fingerprint becomes obvious. It wasn’t really a problem when the device was actually on, but did cause a couple of friends to do a second take when they passed it on my desk. The audio was also quite good. The speakers were, in fact, better than those of my laptop.

The Tab 8.9 offers Samsung’s TouchWiz UX interface, and a bit to my surprise. I tend to hate the plain vanilla Android interface, but I rather liked the TouchWiz UX. The five home screens were convenient; when I pressed on the display for a couple of seconds I got a navigation screen that offered images of all five screens, allowing me to quickly jump to a different one. The same screen let me add widgets, app shortcuts, wallpaper, etc.

I found the notification tray which pops up on the lower right side when you tap on the date/time area very useful. It offers an easy way to turn various functions such as the Wi-Fi, GPS, Sound, or notifications ON / OFF. I also rather liked the hover apps which include a task manager, a calendar, a world clock, a memo app, a calculator and a music player – whose icons pop up when you hit a small up arrow at the bottom of the screen. Tap on one, and the associated widget will remain floating on your screen for as long as you need it.

Speaking of which for the first time, I had real use for widgets. I have a few on my smartphone, but I don’t use them a lot, because they take of valuable real estate and don’t have room to show a lot of data. On a tablet, on the other hand, you can actually work with your email or read the news straight from your home screen, a real convenience.

One of the things that surprised me was the back-facing 3.0 MP camera, which took excellent photos. I was especially taken by the way it allowed me to adjust it for a dark restaurant, where it took sharp, clear photos without a flash in an environment that would have stumped other device-based digital cameras. The 2.0 megapixel front camera also worked fairly well. It was a great device to have when I was watching a film on TV and wanted to find the name of that obscure actress whom I could swear I’d seen in another movie, or read my partner an interesting article from the NY Times while he made dinner. It was also not a bad e-reader, especially because of the backlighting, and made for a nice gaming platform.

It’s possible that this simply isn’t the device for me. Perhaps I am more glued to the tablet that rules the market – Apple’s iPad / iOS4 setup which I currently own one and I like it more than the Galaxy Tab.

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