Samsung has been one of the leaders of the Android tablet pack since its successful Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the whole range is now being refreshed with the Tab 2 moniker. But despite its success, Galaxy Tab sales haven't made an impression on the iPad.
So Samsung tries again, with a cut price, (£199 in the UK and $249 in the US for the 8GB Wi-Fi version) 7-inch Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet, which it hopes will differentiate its product from the new iPad, and encourage a new onslaught of sales.
With a new Tab 2, Samsung can compete with the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire, Nook, and host of similarly priced ICS tablets such as the Disgo 9104 and Scroll Extreme 9.7-inch Tablet PC.
It's been a long time coming, and we first got our hands on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 back at the Samsung Worldwide Conference in February, where it was hurriedly unveiled to the tech media.
The tablet has already been delayed, and will be dropping soon, and we will update the review as soon as we get firmer details, since we're still awaiting prices for the 16GB and 32GB versions.
Despite creating an extremely strong mobile brand in Galaxy, Samsung hasn't yet unified the look, feel and design of its smartphone and tablet range.
On the front the curved edges are a homage to its predecessor, and the Samsung logo shines from the bottom, which not only makes it unmistakably Galaxy, but points to the user that the designers would like you to use this in portrait orientation. This is in contrast to the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, which is geared towards landscape use.
We can therefore glean that Samsung sees the Galaxy Tab 2 as a competitor to the ebook-focused Amazon Kindle Fire and Nook.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch is silver and pleasing looking from the back, which is one design trait that it shares with its Tab brothers. There are just three buttons to the top-right for wake/sleep/power, and volume up and down.
It weighs 344g and measures 193.7x122.4x10.5mm, and feels lightweight in the hand. In perspective this is little more than half the weight of the new iPad, but only fractionally lighter than the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition, which manages to pack in an extra inch of screen real estate.
The smaller size makes it easy to read one handed, which is great for commuters and, we're assured, mothers who want to read while holding a small child.
Inside the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is a TI OMAP 4430 dual-core processor, clocked at a rather pedestrian 1GHz. We're used to seeing beefier processors now, and many manufacturers are looking to the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3.
That said, there should be enough speed to power the smaller 7-inch tablet through most tasks.
Backing up the processor is a healthy 1GB of RAM, so there's no scrimping there, and there's an interesting lineup of storage sizes.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 is available in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB sizes, making it a truly budget option. You can add to the built-in storage by adding a microSD card up to 64GB in size, so the low cost 8GB version won't cripple media lovers. There's a 3G option as well, with pricing and availability TBC.
The 7-inch screen is a 1024 x 600 TFT affair, which shuns any AMOLED love that once threatened the Galaxy Tab lineup. The panel itself is lacklustre, lifeless and dull, which won't impress movie lovers one bit.
Our go-to movie, should you be interested, is the Full HD version of Kanye West's Runaway, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 even managed to mask the cornucopia of colours and turn blacks to grey.
Temple Run was our next port of call, and having played this more recently on the new iPad and Asus Transformer Pad 300, we were disappointed in the representation of the beautiful golden world. We turned screen brightness up to maximum, but this just drained our battery faster, without providing a feast for our eyes.
That said, the smaller screen size didn't ruin the gaming experience. We were soon posting some of our highest scores on Temple Run, and we were even tempted to have a go on the commute.
Pulling out a large 10-inch iPad is a bit conspicuous, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 felt at home among the Kindles and smartphones, and we were able to enjoy apps, books, games and TV shows without feeling like a fool.
Disappointingly, we found the touchscreen experience to be a little sub-par. The sensitivity of the display was lower than we expected, and we found it hard to register presses on small parts of the browser, such as links, and the close tab button.
While watching embedded video, skipping and scrubbing through the movie was a challenge, due to the lack of response.
There are two cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, a rear one for photography and a front-facing lens for video chatting with friends. Let's just say that photography isn't the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2's strong point, with only 3MP on the back, and VGA quality for the front.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 can shoot 720p video at 30fps, which means you can take a quick video on holiday or while you're out and about, and it can be edited on the supplied app.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 comes with the latest version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a welcome addition to a lineup that has historically supported Android Honeycomb. This means all the latest improvements and features of the new operating system are present.
Ice Cream Sandwich highlights include improved multitasking, a better browser, a more responsive operating system, better video handling and more customisations.
Being a Samsung tablet, the Korean company has opted to overlay Android with its own TouchWiz interface, giving it a unique look and feel. TouchWiz is a decent overlay, and intuitive to use, but in many places it seems to have aged, and doesn't offer the richness of even vanilla Android 4.0.
The lock screen is a good example of this. It looks dated, there are no handy features found in ICS to quickly snap the lock button to a feature, such as the camera, so you can get to your destination faster. Even the way the time is displayed looks unimpressive - it doesn't make you want to pick up and enjoy your tablet.
Once we stopped obsessing over the lock screen, we moved onto the main operating system. There are five home screens, accessed by swiping left and right, and the main screen was filled with widgets for weather, music, time and a host of other options.
We soon cleared away that junk and filled it with our favourite apps. Managing these is slick and easy, using the toolbar that appears at the top after pressing and holding an app icon.
Aside from the usual array of buttons in the bottom left, such as back, home and recent apps (for multitasking) were some new buttons added by Samsung. One was a shortcut for screenshots, which is especially useful for us reviewers, and a small up arrow.
We didn't notice it at first, but it's a customisable dock for frequently used apps, which you can summon at any time. It's a neat addition, and something we quickly grew to love.
The on-screen keyboard is especially good for such a small device, and we liked the positioning of the 0-9 buttons across the top of the QWERTY keyboard. Typing was accurate, and we were able to quickly tap in password details, URLs and write emails without getting frustrated - something that can't be said for some 10-inch tablets.
Navigation through the screens, apps and operating system was nice and quick, with none of that noticeable lag that used to plague Android tablets. We lay the praise at Ice Cream Sandwich's door for making better use of the dual-core chip held within.
Performance and battery life
We tested a range of apps and games, including making picture edits from our library, and we couldn't find the limits of the ARM-based 1GHz chip.
Games were universally fine, and Temple Run only suffered the occasional jitter during the game, which didn't affect our run. It ran smoother than on the original iPad, which shows that there's no shortage of oomph in this svelte seven-inch tablet.
As we already mentioned, this is not the photographer's camera, and quality of photos from the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 were way below par. Shots were grainy, washed out, bereft of colour, and this was before we enlarged them on a PC.
Normally we don't chastise tablets for poor photo quality, since it's the manufacturer's way of deterring you from looking foolish, but with the 7-inch form factor, we'd argue that photo quality is more important. You're more likely to record that opportune moment or once-in-a-lifetime memory, but with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, you'll have to settle for worse quality than on rival tablets.
Video is no different, and results were extremely grainy, especially in low light, although frame rates were excellent.
When we listened back we were also disappointed with the volume. The speakers were quiet, with barely enough sound to fill a room. The Samsung Galaxy S3 goes louder, and while it's really not a bugbear for us, if you like to watch a movie or listen to music in a hotel room you should either invest in a mini-speaker set or buy a different tablet.
Of course, there's always the option of Bluetooth headphones - but we think a tablet should have enough power to give decent volume under its own steam.
Battery life was distinctly average, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 scored a mediocre 305 minutes in our stress tests. This involved streaming a looping, high definition UFO documentary (a cracking watch) from YouTube. We did find the battery drained fast, and you'll need to charge it every couple of days.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 packs in a 4000 mAH battery, which to put into perspective is almost double the size of the Samsung Galaxy S3, but substantially smaller than the Asus Transformer Pad 300. It's a pay off from the smaller form factor, and if you need the best longevity, it may be best to look to a larger tablet.
By default, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 ships with Android 4.0's default browser, and little has been done to customise or change it. There are multiple tabs, as you would expect, and when you open a blank one, your most used sites are displayed as thumbnail images.
The trouble with the 7-inch form is that it's not great for browsing the web. Held in portrait mode, web pages are small and unreadable, requiring painstaking pinching and zooming. It would help if the tablet defaulted to loading mobile versions, but it doesn't. In landscape mode you can only view a sliver of the rendered page.
Part of this is due to the screen size, but it's also down to poor rendering of the site you're visiting. Forcing the smaller tablet to act as a smartphone online would really help, but that's a matter of preference. What we do know if that for rich web browsing, 10-inch screens still rule.
We're not big fans of the browser, and found it fiddly to use. The tabs were small, and the dull sensitivity of the screen made it near impossible to quickly close a tab. If you're working on a smaller form factor, it's even more important to have a more responsive touchscreen. We'd recommend downloading the beta of Google Chrome.
Rendering was smooth and quick, and we didn't see any of the bizarre loading quirks we found on the ICS-loaded Asus Transformer Pad 300. We were rarely left waiting for pages to load, and even embedded Flash content loaded seamlessly.
We weren't fans of the bookmarking system, which we found to be extremely counter-intuitive. You save a page by clicking the star, and then access your bookmarks using a small icon to the right. The main screen is taken up with lots of pre-determined folders, and we don't like being told how to organise our bookmarks. New pages were then tacked onto the end of the list, which means you'll be scrolling down to find them.
You can quickly start an incognito browsing mode, by tapping the menu button in the top-right corner, and a new tab is opened without any fuss, enabling you to, ahem, shop for surprise presents or research mystery illnesses safely and securely.
Flash video was easy to set up, after installing the plug-in, which doesn't work out-of-the-box. We were then able to watch all kinds of web videos, which is liberating after months of using the iPad.
Media, apps and games
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 uses the Google Play store, previously known as the Android Marketplace, to offer downloads of all apps, games, and ever increasingly, movies and ebooks.
The selection is nowhere near as colossal as that of the App Store, but it's certainly an area that is growing fast. Google's rebranding of the app store puts a bigger focus on consumable content, and the options to find movies and make ebook purchases is obvious as soon as you open Google Play.
The buying experience is seamless, and Ice Cream Sandwich's revamped video handling puts all your videos in one place. Movies are fractionally cheaper than on the App Store too, with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo available to rent for £3.49 (about $5.38), but the selection is only a fraction of Apple's, and there are no high definition options.
Some tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition, force you use insane proprietary software to add your photos and videos, but there's no such shenanigans with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0.
Just connect it to your PC, and you can explore it like any removable drive, enabling you to drag and drop files into clear, pre-loaded folders.
Android tablets can be hit and miss with formats, and with the rise of apps, supported formats aren't always the pain they used to be. Happily, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 eats every kind of video with aplomb, even Full HD MKV encoded in H.264. A few years ago this was unheard of, but now we enjoyed our videos without stutter or pause.
Books were easy to read, and the presence of the Reader's Hub brings Kobo and Zinio integration. The words were highly legible, and it was comfortable to hold and navigate, making it one of the best ebook tablets, but still no match for e-ink devices such as the Amazon Kindle.
Like the media offerings, Google Play is at the heart of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0's app selection. The choice on offer now finally rivals the iPad in terms of selection and quality, with a healthy dose of great free downloads, and high-end paid-for purchases.
The Google Play store is accessible from the home page at all times, and it takes seconds to find an app, tap to download it, and have it delivered to your tablet, ready to run.
As well as Google Play, there's also Samsung's burgeoning app store called Samsung Apps, which is filled with a mixture of featured Google Play content, and a few Samsung apps from small developers too.
Angry Birds was in the free store, which seemed to be one big name within a sea of low-rent drudgery, Tetris rip-offs, and some simple games such as Sudoku. It doesn't add much value to your tablet, and we'll be surprised if you venture back there after your first day of use.
If you're looking for simple games, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is a fantastic buy. It's small enough to have plenty of fun, and as we found in our benchmark rests, it's no damp squib in terms of performance. Temple Run, Riptide played smoothly, and Angry Birds held our attention for at least 25 seconds before we realised that it was 2012.
The games selection is healthy, and we soon filled up our tablet with free games, from Stick Cricket, The Sims FreePlay andTower Defense to some interesting apps such as Color Splash too.
The small screen never really affected our experience, and as we mentioned earlier, we felt more comfortable gaming in public than with a 10-inch tablet, and that made the Samsung Galaxy Tab a really immersive device.
It's a lot of fun, and while it's not got the power or screen for serious gamers, anyone who likes passing time with their device will love this little tablet.
Samsung has fought hard to make the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 compete as a strong rival to both the Amazon Kindle Fire and Apple iPad based on size, price and features.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is a great operating system, which makes a tablet like this easy to recommend, and has helped Samsung build a strong contender in what could be a hotly contested space.
That doesn't mean we're going to let it off the hook, however. The disappointing screen, unrefined TouchWiz experience and dull response to your finger make this a contender, but not a champion.
There are plenty of sub-£200/$250 tablets around now, but few have the pedigree of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. It's a fully-featured tablet, available on a budget, and that's been missing from the Android roster for a while.
We love the 7-inch size of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, and it really was pleasing, enabling us to watch movies and play games where we felt our iPads and Asus Transformer Pads were just too big.
Media handling was fantastic, and the ability to drag and drop videos, music and pictures, and just enjoy them wherever you are is still one of Android's strong points, and long may it continue.
As devices mature, it's becoming clear that Android Ice Cream Sandwich is a fantastic OS, and it genuinely lifts the tablet experience to a level that can compete with the iPad. The extra features feel right at home on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, and make for an absorbing experience.
Throughout this Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 review, we've picked out a number of gripes that detract from what is a solid device. It's designed to be low-cost, so corners will be cut, but some areas stopped it from being a real winner.
TouchWiz is a good overlay on most devices, but here it felt vanilla and cold. We'd much rather have seen a plain Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich interface.
The screen was dull, lifeless and unresponsive, which made using the browser on the smaller screen difficult. This was also the case with reading websites, which was less comfortable on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 than on bigger 10-inch tablets.
Battery life is also slightly suspect - we'd have hoped for more when the screen is that much smaller than the larger tablets out there.
If the idea of a capable, portable, fun and comparatively low cost tablet appeals enough to you to make you part with £200/$250, then this is your tablet.
However, those who strive for the best experience, the sharpest screen and the most slender, curvaceous build will see that Samsung has cut corners.
It has kept costs down to offer something affordable to recession-hit customers, and still make a margin for itself, and to be honest, we don't blame it one bit.
Samsung just has to hope that Apple doesn't compete in this space with an iPad Mini, or we could see a case of history repeating, and end with total Cupertino-based domination of every form factor.