|Introduction and Specifications|
|Samsung continues to unload with both barrels on the tablet market, releasing one product after another. Consumers can choose from 7-inch, 8.9-inch, and 10.1-inch sizes; WiFi-only or carrier-specific versions, including models for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint; and a couple of different storage options too. (Who knows, by the time you read this, there could be even more.)
Today, we’re looking specifically at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (WiFi, 16GB). There is no shortage of competition in the 7-inch tablet space, including offerings from (if you want to get alphabetical about it) Acer, Amazon, Archos, Barnes & Noble, Dell, HTC, RIM, Toshiba, Velocity Micro, and so on, and each has its own pros and cons. However, side-by-side comparisons of the many 7-inch tablets are somewhat difficult, as each has its own slightly different raison d’etre; it’s sort of a “to each his own” kind of situation.
To summarize the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ purpose in a crowded field is easy enough, though: It’s specialty is giving you all the perks of a WiFi-connected device (email, Web browsing, social networking, etc.) along with some impressive home media functionality--more on that in a bit--and also offering ample offline entertainment when you’re out and about and away from a WiFi connection, such as gaming and e-reading.
The specs are solid enough--it runs a tasty 1.2GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor and has 1GB of RAM, and you can augment the onboard 16GB of storage with up to 32GB of microSD storage--but it’s the extras, which we’ll delve into shortly, that really make the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus an excellent entry in the 7-inch tablet market. Let's fire up a quick video demo for you first...
One perhaps obvious thing you may be wondering is what exactly differentiates this from the Samsung Galaxy Tab (7-inch), which costs $50 less. The Plus runs Android 3.2 Honeycomb as opposed to the original's 2.2 Froyo. Further, the Plus is a smidge lighter and thinner, and it has different (and ostensibly better) onboard software. The kicker is that the Plus runs on a dual-core Samsung Exynos 4210 processor (1.2GHz) while the original has a single-core Exynos 3110 (1GHz) chip. If you think those differences are worth fifty extra bucks, probably nobody would argue with you.
|Design and Build Quality|
|The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, like its Galaxy Tab brethren, boasts smooth, svelte looks. Looking at the device, you simply do not see any buttons and hardly notice the sliver of the case peeking around the edges, giving it that iPad-ish all-screen appearance that Samsung has gotten itself into a patent war over.
The device is also quite slim (.39 inches) and features a nice brushed aluminum look on the back cover. On the back of the 7.0 Plus is the rear-facing camera and flash, and nothing else; even the part of the tablet nobody ever sees has a nice look to it.
A knock on those buttons, though, is that it’s annoyingly easy to bump one or the other when you’re handling the tablet, causing you to inadvertently turn off the screen or jack the volume up or down suddenly. Further, although the power button is half the length of the volume button, they’re otherwise identical, and because you can’t see them when you’re looking at the device, you may sometimes find yourself fumbling for the right button.
Samsung was also sparse with included accessories (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). The tablet comes with a set of earbuds (with volume controls and a couple of pairs of extra, differently sized ear bud covers), the power/USB cable, and the plug adapter. That’s it. Of course, there are plenty of accessories you can buy separately if you so desire, including a book cover and desktop, keyboard, and vehicle docks.
|User Experience, Software, & Camera|
|The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus features the Samsung TouchWiz UX overlay and five customizable screens you can swipe through on the desktop--er, tablettop. By default, the primary page features a quartet of widgets (time and date, a photo profile, weather, and news) and a row of app icons that includes several of Samsung’s built-in apps, a Web browser, and the Android Market.
When you swipe to the left, you get a unified email inbox, buddy icons for IM, and a couple of bookmarks; another swipe to the left gets you to a screen where you can stash frequently-used apps or widgets. To the right of the main page is a page that displays your Social Hub feed, a calendar, and a Yahoo Finance widget. A second swipe to the right brings you to another empty page where you can put widgets or apps. Of course, all of these screens are customizable as well.
Home screens and app screens
Samsung has a handful of built-in apps that are quite handy, although if you’d prefer not to use them, you can delete them easily. These include the Media Hub, Social Hub, “Samsung App”, and the Peel Smart Remote.
The Media Hub lets you preview, purchase, or rent movies and purchase T.V. shows. You can also watch your content from the app. In order to make a purchase or rental, you have to create an account, though. The selection appears to be pretty limited, although that’s no big surprise. Samsung, like everybody else these days, has its own app store, and “Samsung App” is your link to it; the selection therein is what it is.
A more useful app day-to-day is the Social Hub, which aggregates all your email accounts and social media accounts in one place. You also get notifications of new messages on the main home screen.
One of the big draws for the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is the Peel Smart Remote app that comes pre-installed. Also located on the main home page by default, Peel is indeed something to brag about. The app lets you control just about any home theater device, including T.V.s, DVD and Blu-ray players, audio equipment, and cable or satellite boxes--including DVR.
Once configured with your particular setup, Peel pulls in all your programming options, so you can browse or discover shows to watch. You can choose between a number of program categories; the app will give you some options for shows to watch; and you just tap the given program to change the channel. Peel also integrates with Facebook and Twitter so you can share your T.V. preferences as quickly and freely as your unfiltered thoughts. An appealing trait of Peel is that it’s quite easy to set up, requiring you to mostly just click through several setup screens, so the average user won’t have any trouble getting it to work.
Clockwise, from top left: Media Hub, Social Hub, Peel Smart Remote, File Manager, Samsung Apps
There are a number of other pre-loaded apps that Samsung was kind enough to provide. AllShare lets you share media with other devices such as your PC or TV. Pulse is a news aggregater that shows you tiles of stories from all manner of sites. With Polaris Office, you can create, retrieve, read, and edit a variety of file types. If you love magazines, NextIssue is a great app; you can read through digital versions of a slew of magazines--once you sign up for an account and buy the subscriptions you want.
Additionally, the full gamut of Google services is on board, including Gmail, Google Music, YouTube, Books, Maps, and so on. Other bonus software includes Amazon Kindle, Flash Player, a music player, a photo editor, memo tools, and a video player. You also get the to-be-expected built-ins such as an alarm, browser, calculator, calendar, contacts tool, image and video gallery, and voice search.
On the practical side, there’s a terrific and easy-to-use task manager and a somewhat clunky but ultimately useable file manager.
Outdoor and indoor shots
Although the camera’s 3MP spec isn’t exactly impressive, it produces surprisingly solid results. As you can see, outdoor shots actually look quite nice, and even in low light, the camera can muster a picture that isn’t too grainy. At 720p, the HD video quality is passable and offers good results with good lighting and lesser results in low light.
The camera app
The camera controls and settings are intuitive to use and simple to understand and navigate, and thanks to the 7-inch form factor, they’re very accessible and comfortable to use with the thumbs. However, we did notice that the autofocus feature is slow as molasses in January, which is fine if you’re taking stills of flowers (pictured) but completely useless is you’re trying to get a shot of your adorable toddler (not pictured).
The included (and previously-mentioned) photo editor app, aptly titled “Photo Editor”, gives you a nice array of editing options--at least enough to clean up your onboard snapshots and get them presentable for a Web audience.
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is not going to replace your point-and-shoot, but it’s a serviceable option for a variety of situations. You could do worse.
|Performance: CPU and Web Browsing|
|Test Methodology: In all of our test vehicles for the following benchmarks, we ran each tablet at its performance optimized settings where available, with the exception of the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, which was tested at Normal and Balanced power profile settings. Normal mode on the Prime offers the full performance of its NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, whereas Balanced mode compromises performance a bit to conserve power, capping the CPU at 1.2GHz max frequency. Beyond that, each tablet was also connected to a wall power source to ensure full performance. Here's a quick spec rundown for each tablet tested.
• Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime - NVIDIA Tegra 3 1.3GHz Quad-CoreIn the following tests, we take a look at how the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.
Unfortunately, the iOS version of Linpack is different enough that we couldn't compare iPad 2 numbers in this test, and still get an apples-to-apples match-up. As you can clearly see, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus held its own with most of the field (including its big bro the Galaxy Tab 10.1), which as a whole was soundly beaten only by the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.
In the BrowserMark test, the little Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus went toe-to-toe with the bigger tablets and did not disappoint, notching the second-best score behind only the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (on the Normal setting). Our tablet of the hour did even better in the SunSpider test, scoring far ahead of most of the field and barely being edged out by the iPad 2.
|GLBenchmark is new to our 3D performance benchmark set. The test suite is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated. We specifically use the Fill Texture Fetch suite to measure raw texture fill rate of a graphics core and the Egypt Off Screen test to measure 3D performance in frames per second. The Off Screen test renders workloads at 1280x720 for all devices, but off-screen, so Vsynch and screen refresh are not limiting performance.
The iPad 2 delivers a punch in the GLBenchmark Fill test. However, the (very distant) second-best score belongs to the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, edging out the Transformer Prime by a step or two. It’s a different story in the GLBenchmark Egypt test, though; the Transformer Prime and iPad 2 are clearly tops in this test, although the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus scored better than the rest of the field.
An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.
This is an Android-only benchmark, so unfortunately the iPad 2 couldn't play here. We'll also note that the Emperer's New Clothes test seems to be limited by screen refresh (Vsynch) on the higher-end devices, which is why the bar graph is close to flat on that test. However, looking at the more demanding Flower Power and Magic Island tests, we see some differences.
Fill rate seems to be the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ wheelhouse, as it once again spanked the competition, this time in the Flower Power test. On Magic Island, where Tegra 3 apparently dominates, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ score was the worst of the bunch.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus' battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes. This is a simple baseline test that measures up time with web browsing.
For this test, we set the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The tablet survived almost exactly 7.5 hours before giving out, which isn’t too shabby.
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus delivered a solid if unremarkable score in this test, beating out the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 by 25 minutes, but falling short of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Transformer by 92 minutes and 79 minutes, respectively.
|Performance Analysis and Final Thoughts|
|It’s an old strategy to deliver bad news in a good news sandwich; that is, you say something nice, insert the negative statements, and finish up with more positives. That technique works quite well in hardware reviews as well, but in this case we’ll just get the few negatives out of the way quickly so we can properly position this otherwise excellent device.
First of all, we’re not in love with the $399.99 price tag. It’s just a lot of dough for a WiFi-only device, especially one with the smaller screen size that doesn’t offer quite the same gaming and video-watching experience as a bigger tablet. Not to mention there are other 7-inch slates out there for less, including the very aggressively priced Kindle Fire.
Second, the touch experience can be spotty; we noticed a delay in responsiveness--which was occasionally frustrating when trying to time the white bird’s bomb drops in Angry Birds--and some times the interface was somewhat glitchy. You’d probably get used to the delay fairly quickly, but it could sometimes impact gaming on the device.
Finally, this tablet is limited on ports. Unless you work with the included proprietary power/USB cable or a microSD card, you can’t interface with any other devices. Given that the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is a WiFi-only device, that can be frustrating to deal with if you’re out and about, away from your computer or a WiFi hotspot. Of course, the lack of ports enabled Samsung to build a thin, svelte device that’s really nice to look at and hold, so that’s the other side of the coin.
Now that the negatives are out of the way, we can focus on the positive attributes of the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. We’ve already discussed its excellent overall design, but it bears repeating that this tablet is a looker. It also has a nicely balanced weight to it, and it’s easy to manage with either one hand or two.
Lumping the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus in a general category with other 7-inch devices such as e-readers would be a mistake, like comparing a subcompact car with a sexy little sports car just because they weigh the same and have similar legroom. That’s nothing against e-readers, which are great devices for what they are, but the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus should be considered just a smaller version of the full-featured tablets we compared it to in our benchmark tests.
Indeed, performance-wise this tablet boxes outside of its weight class, consistently delivering strong scores in our benchmark tests. That Samsung Exynos chip is quite impressive, mostly leaving Tegra 2 chips in the rear view.
Further in that same vein, if you love the features of the iPad 2 or the Galaxy Tab 10.1 but are looking for a more compact option, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is perfect. It’s small enough to handle with one hand and easier to stash in a pocket or purse, but it’s also (just) large enough to type on reasonably comfortably. Other than screen real estate, you’re not missing a beat when it comes to gaming or watching movies compared to larger tablets, either.
Finally, the Galaxy Tab’s extra software features, in particular the Peel Smart Remote, nicely complement the device’s excellent hardware to deliver an overall superb experience.
Even though 400 bucks is a lot of money to drop on a device that only connects to the Internet via WiFi, if any such tablet is worth the money, it’s the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.