When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Tab 10.1 back in February at the 2011 Mobile World Congress in Spain, they also showed off the Galaxy Tab 8.9. It’s been nearly 8 months since then and while we’ve gotten our hands on the Tab 10.1, we are just now getting our hands on the 8.9. Some slight hardware design changes have been made and rather than launching with stock Android, the Tab 8.9 will come with Samsung’s TouchWiz UX on top of Android 3.1.
So with the new design change, new UI, and a new version of Android, was the 8 month long wait worth it? We’ve taken an in-depth look and tested the tablet to see how it stands up against the big(ger) boys and let you know if you should consider the newest competitor in the crowded tablet market.
If you saw our un-boxing of the Galaxy Tab 8.9, or the tweet we made when we first opened the box, you’ll know that we were just wow’ed by it. Much like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the 8.9 is thin. When I say thin, I mean really thin! In fact, the 8.9 is just 8.6mm thick, that is actually thinner than the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (which is 9.6mm). The whole thing is trimmed in a gunmetal, well, metal. The back of the Tab while being made of plastic, doesn’t feel as cheap as the one found on the back of the Epic 4G Touch. Immediately upon picking up the Tab 8.9, I thought to myself, this is perfect. The weight, width, size and feel. It wasn’t to big or to small, much like Goldilocks finding baby bears porridge, it’s just right. Owning an iPad (first gen) and ASUS EeePad Transformer, the Tab 8.9 feels much more portable and natural to hold, without feeling small like most 7″ tablets.
When designing the Tab 8.9, Samsung went with a very minimal and sleek design. On the top of the device is the 3.5mm headphone jack which is next to the microphone hole. The top also features the power/sleep button and the volume rocker. On the bottom you’ll find two speakers and Samsung’s proprietary port in which to sync and charge the Tab.
That’s about it for the outside of the device. Sadly, there is no SD card slot, so you are stuck with the amount storage you bought, be it 16GB or 32GB. I would have like to have seen Samsung offer an SD slot, as I don’t think it would have hindered the look of the device at all and most of their competitors have one, so it is one less selling point.
Display and Sound:
Samsung has been doing a great job recently with their displays and the Tab 8.9 continues that track record. As soon as you turn it on and the lock screen boots up, you are treated to a gorgeous display of rich and bright colors. The WXGA TFT display features 1280 x 800 pixels so images and text appear very crisp. While it is not quite a “retina” display the higher resolution and smaller screen size (when compared to its 10.1 competitors) makes noticing individual pixels much harder. In fact, it’s much crisper than the iPad 2 and its 1,024 x 768 resolution. Keep in mind the iPad 2 has a 9.7″ screen, so it’s larger with less pixels than the Galaxy Tab 8.9. The Tab 8.9 also has great viewing angles, you can literally turn the tablet almost completely away from your eyes and still see the screen and text clearly. Overall, I’d be willing to say that the Tab 8.9 has the best looking screen of any tablet currently on the market.
As for sound, the Tab 8.9 has two speakers located on the bottom of the tablet, separated by the syncing/charge port. The quality of the sound is on par with most tablets, but the fact that the speakers are on the bottom (when held in landscape mode) is a plus. When you consider most people watch movies, videos and most multimedia content in landscape mode, if the speakers were on the sides (like the iPad or ASUS Transformer) your hand would/could cover it up and dampen the sound. So it’s nice to see that Samsung really put some thought into their design and while it is a small detail, it’s a detail that they did better than Apple and ASUS.
Performance and Battery Life:
Much like its big brother, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 uses NVIDIA’s 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, which oddly suffered a little slow down when I first got the device up and running. Keep in mind, after putting in my Gmail account, it proceeded to re-download every app I’ve previously downloaded and import my contacts all at once. So while the slow down was noticeable, it did stop after all the procedures were complete. Once all of that was out of the way, the Tab glided through panels effortlessly, but I did have one little hiccup when I tapped on the “app” button, upon opening the apps the animation stumbled for a second, which could be due to Honeycomb and not the processor.
I downloaded a few games like Fieldrunners, Plants vs. Zombies and Vendetta Online (graphically intense) and I have to say it handled them all with easy. The slowdown I experienced during the start up and opening apps did not occur while playing any of these games, so I’m still convinced it was a Honeycomb hiccup, not the processor or hardware. All the games loaded quick and looked sharp, colors were good and honestly, holding this tablet (which only weighs 15.98oz) to play games was much more enjoyable than holding my ASUS EeePad Transformer and even my iPad (I know the iPad 2 is lighter, but we didn’t have one to compare it too).
As for the battery, the Tab 8.9 comes packed with a Li-polymer, 6100mAh battery which allowed me to use it pretty much all day yesterday and today without charging it. Before I sat down to right this part of the review (it was the last part) I used the Tab all day to play the games mentioned above, web surf, watch 35 minutes of a movie, downloaded an Episode of Nickelodeon’s Doug (for old times sake) from the Media Hub for $0.01 and then watched the entire thing. Afterwards, I connected to Music Beta by Google and left it sitting on a table streaming music for about 3 hours. I was eventually down to 18%, but keep in mind that is only with a slight charge yesterday after I took it out of the box and have been using it pretty much non-stop (other than when I slept). The battery life is definitely on par with some of the better devices out there, like the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
This version of the Galaxy Tab comes with two cameras, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 3-megapixel rear camera. The rear camera also benefits from having a nice LED flash, unlike some “other” tablets. I’ve never been a big fan of camera’s on tablets, as I think people look ridiculous shooting pictures with a giant tablet in their hands, not to mention that most people who own tablets are savvy enough to have a smartphone that probably takes better pictures.
That said, the Tab 8.9 does a decent job of taking pictures, especially outside where you have natural sunlight. Inside pictures can become slightly grainy due to the sensor and low light. You can turn the flash on, but unlike the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch we reviewed, the Tab 8.9 does tend to wash things out with the flash turned on. So you’ll have to have enough space between you and the subject if you decide to use the flash.
The front facing camera is just like the Galaxy S II, it’s decent for what it is and I was able to have a nice talk with my father via Google Chat. I was on the Tab, while he was on his computer. He said I looked slightly hazy, but when I moved closer to my window and then eventually outside (again, natural light) he said I was much clearer.
When I tested the video capture functionality on the Galaxy Tab 8.9, I was disappointed. Perhaps because I’ve just grown to love the camera on the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, but I just didn’t feel like the 3-megapixel camera shot clear video. If you try to capture something that doesn’t require you to move the camera you’re fine, but the minute you try to capture something on the run, like a dog or football game, the video capture becomes blurry. So while it takes very decent stills, the video capture is not quite up to snuff. While it is a negative against the Tab, as I have to report it for all users, to me, it is not a deal breaker because I do not intend to be taking video (pictures for that matter) that I want to cherish and save, with a tablet. So decide for yourself if this is a negative or “not applicable,” as I said, for me, I’m in the latter.
Aside from the unique 8.9″ size, the software is what really sets the Tab apart from its competition. Samsung has jammed this tablet full of goodness and first party software, that honestly, is pretty good.
First up, the Tab, while running Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), also uses Samsung’s own TouchWiz UX skin over it. While some of you may prefer “stock” Android, I think a lot of you may really like what Samsung has done here. For one, the clock and text is much cleaner and easier to read. That includes the settings menu, which is now brighter and it’s easier to find things.
Samsung also included “Live Panels” with TouchWiz. Live Panels are like widgets that display information and constantly update themselves when the tablet is connected to the internet. These panels have been specifically designed to fit closely together to create a very “magazine” style look. There are quite a few live panels to choose from, like: AP (Associated Press), Accuweather, Clock/Alarm, Agenda and more. Another nice touch is that many of these can be re-sized to fill in much of the empty space left by odd fitting widgets.
Another neat feature added by TouchWiz, is the “Mini App Tray.” On the bottom bar, which contains the navigation buttons and the clock, in the middle is an up arrow. When you tap on it, it does a cool little animation that brings up another bar with commonly used application icons like, Task manager, Calendar, World clock, Pen memo, Calculator and Music player. Simply tap the down arrow (which is flushed left) and the tray goes back to hiding.
Samsung is known for the hubs so naturally they are all here, Reader Hub, Media Hub, Social Hub and Music Hub. With Social Hub, you can get incoming messages and status updates from a single, unified app. Social Hub syncs with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as your email and/or Exchange account. With the Social Hub widget, you can see all of your updates and even view private messages, emails and twitter DM’s (direct messages) in one list. Social Hub even allows you to make status updates.
Music Hub, is a service that has over 12 million DRM free songs (in MP3 format) that you can download right on your Tab. After you buy music, Media Hub will start to recommend music to you based on those prior purchases. For those of you who have a Galaxy S II or plan to buy one, or even own another Samsung device that has Music hub, all the music you purchase on the Galaxy Tab 8.9, will be playable on those devices as well.
Reader Hub works much like much like Music hub, but for books. Currently Samsung says that there are over 2.2 million books, 2,000 newspapers and 2,300 magazines available for download.
With Media Hub, you’ll have access to over 4,000+ movies and TV shows which can be rented or purchased. There is even a Media Hub Show, which has an HTML converter, so you can now show movies and videos from the Tab to your HDTV.
Typically apps that are not from either the manufacturer or from Google are considered bloatware, I wouldn’t necessarily call these apps bloatware, but either way they are included; Amazon MP3 (with Cloud Player), Amazon Kindle Book reader, Words with Friends, Swype Keyboard, Pen Memo (found in your mini app tray) and Photo Editor.
The Tab 8.9 sounds like a device that is full of entertainment and fun, and it is, but it also has support for Enterprise users. It has full support for Exchange ActiveSync, on device encryption, Cisco VPN, Sybase MDM, and Cisco’s WebEx mobile conference solution for meetings on the go.
So after some quality time with the Galaxy Tab 8.9, I can say that my opening remark of “wow” still stands. It has an amazing display, a fast processor and a thin and light-weight design. Combine all that with great software and you have one hell of a package. I honestly feel that the 8.9″ tablet is the perfect size, it feels great in the hand when surfing the web and when you read e-books. Its size is great for traveling on the go, it doesn’t feel odd to be walking around with it, unlike big 10.1 tablets.
Samsung may not have been the first company to bring a tablet to the market, but with the 8.9, they’ve set a new bar. It will be interesting to see how other manufacturers react to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. If it sells well, we may see more of them jump on the 8.9-inch bandwagon. Still, I feel the price is a tad to high for the 8.9. There are other tablets that have similar hardware and bigger displays that are cheaper, but to Samsung’s defense the Tab 8.9 does feel like a premium device.
If you are in the market for a new tablet, I highly recommend you going out to your local electronics store and play with this device and see if you agree, does the size and weight feels better to you than 10.1 tablets?
In the end, with so many competitors out there, some with cheaper tablets, is the Galaxy Tab 8.9 worth the $469? In one word, ohhellyeah.
So, uh, I’m looking to sell an ASUS Transformer 16GB…any buyers?