Samsung was the first major manufacturer to get into the Android tablet game a year and a half ago with the original 7-inch Galaxy Tab. It was an excellent piece of hardware, but there was no official support for tablets on Android, it was really expensive and was initially only available with a data plan. Not surprisingly the Galaxy Tab thus saddled didn’t exactly burn up the sales charts, regardless of Samsung’s early claims to the contrary.
Fast forward to today and I have in my hands the Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE from Verizon. Things have come a long way technologically in the last year and a half, but some of the same issues persist. Is the Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE good enough to overcome the criticisms that plagued it’s predecessor?
1. Build Quality
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE (7.7) is thin. It seems like a simple statement and I’m sure you’re nodding your head that yes you know all about thin tablets. I’m telling you right now that you are wrong. The 7.7 is pure thinsanity (yes, that just happened). I’ve included a couple comparison shots above with my Galaxy Nexus and a deck of cards to try to give you a sense of it. If you prefer to go strictly by the numbers it is 7.87mm thick, which is about .7mm thicker than the Droid RAZR. So if it’s that thin it must feel like you can snap it like a twig, right? Surprisingly not. There isn’t a significant amount of flexibility in the device despite it’s narrow dimensions and while I wouldn’t advise doing any concrete bounce tests, the kind of basic jostling and short drops that typically happen to devices wouldn’t leave the 7.7 any worse for wear.
While I know some people would prefer that their devices be carved out of a block of metal, I appreciate the feel and light weight offered by Samsung’s durable plastic construction and the 7.7 is one of the finest implementations yet.
The 7.7 is one of those devices that I was just immediately taken with when I first saw it at CES this year. Now the amazing screen, which I’ll get to in a moment, is a big part of that, but the form factor and look of the device aren’t to be ignored.
I’ll try to avoid specifically obsessing over the thinness again, but the overall size of this device is fantastic. While the 7.7-inch screen feels much more substantial than any phone screen, it is still small enough to produce a manageable and portable device. The 7.7 fit in all of my jacket pockets and if you are into looking ridiculous it might even fit in the back pocket of your pants (albeit with the top sticking out). At just 12 ounces it’s actually plausible to just throw this thing in a pocket too as it is barely noticeable and of course its weight completely vanishes when in a bag.
The 7.7 breaks a bit out of the Samsung tablet mold and I’m a big fan of the look they went with here. The back is predominantly brushed metal with dark grey plastic at the top and bottom. The back immediately reminded me of the HTC Legend, which was a beautiful device. The front is obviously dominated by the screen and is ringed by a thin black bezel with white Verizon and Samsung logos gracing the top and bottom respectively.
Following around the outside of the device there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and the proprietary Samsung charging/docking port at the bottom. On the left side as you look at the device there are microSD and sim slots. Finally the right hand side has the power button, volume rocker and an IR port.
As per usual the LTE was fast as fast can be. However, I do get to finally break my endless chain of “this device performed just as the rest of my LTE devices perform in my area.” The 7.7 had consistently superior upload speeds to my Galaxy Nexus and an HTC Thunderbolt sitting side by side. Upload speeds were in the neighborhood of 10-14mb whereas my Galaxy Nexus and the Thunderbolt remained in my familiar range of 4-8mb. Download speeds were consistent with the rest of my devices with speeds in the range of 12-16mb on average. Upload isn’t usually the big stat that people throw down, but if it’s something you are craving the 7.7 can deliver.
Samsung stuck with their homegrown 1.4GHz dual-core Exynos 4210 processor with the Mali-400MP GPU for the 7.7 and while quad-core may be the flavor of the day, the dual-core Exynos manages to push the pixels around fast enough that I doubt anyone will be disappointed.
The 7.7 ran every game and app that I threw at it. Obviously if you’ve been eyeing any of the exclusives in the ‘Tegra Zone’ then those are going to be out of reach for you, but otherwise I doubt you’ll find an app that the 7.7 won’t run well. The only place that I saw occasional lag or slowdowns was in app launching or screen transitions and I’m reasonably confident that Android 4.0 will iron out those minor issues.
For those of you that are more numerically minded you can check out the benchmark results that I got with the 7.7 below.
|Smartbench 2012||3057 (Productivity) 1625 (Gaming)|
|CFBench||12927 (native) 3126 (java) 7046 (overall)|
Update: A commenter rightly pointed out that I neglected to mention the storage capacity so I’m slotting it into performance. The 7.7 offers 16GB of on-board storage and as previously noted has a microSD slot that will let you bump that up another 32GB if things get tight. I appreciate the option to expand, but with all of the streaming and cloud storage options at this point I think I’d be hard pressed to even fill the 16GB.
If our scoring allowed me to give more than one point to the display I absolutely would as the Super AMOLED Plus display on the 7.7 is the best I’ve seen. People talk about looking at the new iPad screen and being blown away and in my opinion the 7.7 is even more eye catching. I understand that at 1280×800 it may not have the pixel density of the iPad, but the deep blacks, the vivid color reproduction and the insane viewing angles more than make up for the fact that I can see some pixels if I hold it a few inches from my face.
I mentioned it once already, but the 7.7 grabbed my attention the moment I saw it at CES and that first reaction was completely driven by this screen. If you mainly use your tablet for web browsing and productivity apps this may not be as critical to you, however for those of you that watch video or play games on your tablet this screen makes a world of difference. I’m just hopeful that we keep seeing Samsung push this screen tech out into the rest of their smartphone and tablet lines.
The cameras on the 7.7 are adequate for tablet usage, but shouldn’t of course be thought of as a replacement for a real camera or even the camera on any remotely decent Android phone.
The rear-facing camera is 3.2MP and in bright light it can capture noise free images, but I’d avoid it unless you are going to slap some heavy filters on it (fortunately Instagram supports it so you can do exactly that). I only really see the rear facing cameras on tablets to be good for augmented reality apps and the 7.7 camera performs just fine in that regard.
The 2MP front-facing camera is one of the better I’ve seen. I tested it by calling over GTalk on my desktop and was impressed with the fluidity of the image. I’m sure you’ll have similarly positive results with whatever your video chat app of choice might be.
Like most of Samsung’s tablets the 7.7 has only the proprietary 30-pin connector for charging and wired data transfer. I cannot put into words how much proprietary connectors and/or media annoy me. I have hated it for years while Sony has done it and Apple of course seems to revel in the practice. It would have been bad enough 5 years ago when every single cell phone you got had some slightly different charger, but today we are so close to everyone standardizing around microUSB. Samsung needs to stop this foolishness.
While I realize it isn’t the most wildly used feature it is a bit disappointing to not see an HDMI out as Android finally has a bevy of streaming video options that you might just want to toss up on the big screen.
So what is the redeeming port that tips the scales of this section to a ‘meh’ from the gaping maw of ‘bad?’ Why naturally it’s the IR port. No, stop laughing, I’m serious. I was pretty skeptical when I first saw the IR port on there and it wasn’t until I fired up the Peel Smart Remote app (see Software for more on Peel) that I realized it was actually good and useful. Now this is definitely a your mileage may vary situation, but considering the overlap in the Venn diagram of tablet usage, coach sitting and TV watching is nearly complete for me I can definitely see getting a lot of use out of the IR port. If you have ill will towards IR ports based on years of disappointing experiences with IR on PDAs then I recommend you give this a chance as I think it actually delivers on the promise that all those PDAs dangled in front of us.
I’ll start with the Peel Smart Remote app since I just brought it up with the IR port. Now yes if you have some insane all-in-one remote you are unlikely to care about this app, but if you are rocking whatever remote came with your TV then this should be a nice boost. The Peel app is stupidly simple to set up as rather than forcing you to find an oddly sized booklet and punch in codes like you are playing a mid-90′s PC game they just have you enter the brand of your TV and then it proceeds to spit codes at it until it manages to power your TV on. There’s another couple of steps to establish what cable/satellite package and then the final step is to input the types of shows you are into. It’s all painless and took no more than 5 minutes. Once you have it set up the app provides remote functions, as you might imagine, but the real value is the display of what’s playing right now that you might be interested in watching. It’s a graphical display akin to what you see on the Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go apps and perhaps because of my familiarity with those apps it feels far more natural and practical than traditional channel surfing. There are quite a few more features that I won’t get into as this isn’t a review for Peel Smart Remote, but suffice to say I thought it was a much more welcome piece of bloatware than what we have come to expect.
Verizon putting a couple dozen pre-installed apps of varying value on their devices is hardly news at this point so I won’t really get into it. Kindle, Netflix, QuickOffice and the aforementioned Peel Smart Remote are among them so it’s not all bad.
Finally the biggest knock against the 7.7 in this category is that it is currently running Android 3.2. Samsung has had it on their Android 4.0 update list basically since they started publicly reporting one, but we still don’t have a definite timeline for that update to happen. As this is a temporary problem I don’t see it as a deal breaker by any means and when you do finally get that Android 4.0 update I think it’ll iron out a few of the little hiccups you see here and there.
9. Battery Life
The 7.7 manages excellent battery life despite its diminutive frame. I typically was able to go about 12-15 hours before needing to plug back in. Toward the low end if I was streaming video over LTE extensively, but even with quite a bit of streaming you would be hard pressed to kill the battery with any kind of normal days usage. This is good news considering the battery is not replaceable so you are stuck with what’s on board.
Standby battery life was similarly impressive with very minimal drain (4-6%) if I neglected to charge the tablet overnight. Unless you are travelling and using the Tab constantly the tablet should easily get you through 2-3 days between charges without the need for any serious battery conservation.
All good things must come to an end and the pricing is where things unravel for the 7.7. The tablet is available on Verizon for $449, but that carries with it a 2-year data contract at a minimum of $30 a month for 2GB of data. You can of course opt to buy it without a contract, however you are going to have to shell out $699 for that privilege and that’s a tall order in todays tablet market. If you could buy the 7.7 for $450-500 and have the flexibility to opt in and out of data on a month to month basis I would feel differently about its value proposition.
I loved carrying the 7.7 around for the last couple weeks and for my usage it is the best tablet hardware available on Verizon today. Unfortunately the hardware is only one piece of the puzzle and the other pieces just don’t quite manage to slot into place for the 7.7 which is why it ended up with just an OK score.
The pricing of carrier branded Android tablets just continues to be an unmitigated mess. The off contract price of $699 just isn’t going to happen and at $449 with a two-year contract the minimum cost of ownership is $1,169 and for a device category that is still trying to prove itself that’s a tall order.
The Android tablet app problem persists as well and while I actually attribute it more to discoverability than a true lack of apps the end result is still the same. There’s every indication that Google is going to be giving more attention to tablets this year and so I’m hopeful that we may be in the last days (well, months anyway) for this particular complaint.
If you are in the market for an LTE tablet the Galaxy Tab 7.7 on Verizon belongs on your shortlist. It is my favorite Android tablet available on Big Red at the moment and depending on your use cases I think it holds its own with the iPad as well. The display is phenomenal and the form factor strikes an excellent balance with a screen size that gives you far more than a phone while keeping the dimensions and weight down to the point that you can take it anywhere. To repurpose a quote often used by photographers, the best tablet is the one that you have with you.