Samsung is no stranger to the sub 10-inch tablet category, having debuted the Galaxy Tab 7-inch and the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 in the past. But where those tablets are more budget-minded, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7-inch tablet is beefier and, as a result, more expensive.
With the Kindle Fire filling the gap for many cost-conscious Android buyers, and the 10-inch tablets still in the price range of iPad and beyond, there's a nice middle ground tucked right between those two. Samsung itself already boasts several entries in the burgeoning tablet market, but is the Galaxy Tab 7.7 the tablet that will fill the gap?
Decisions like this usually come down to the Benjamins, so it is important to know what you're paying for. A two-year contract version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 will set you back $449, while a no-contract version runs a steep $699. With prices like that, you might be considering an upgrade to a larger tablet with many of the same features, like Samsung's own Galaxy Tab 10.0 ($429.99 contract / $699.99 without) or even the new iPad ($629.99) which boasts a better display than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7s.
But you're probably reading this to decide if you can stay outside the Apple Zone of Influence. So let's dive under the hood and see what the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 has to offer.
The biggest selling point of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 is its gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus touchscreen, and there's no denying that it is very impressive. The 1280-by-800-pixel WXGA screen looks fantastic, and is the point of conversation around this device. At 7.7 inches of surface size, .31 thick, and weighing only 12 ounces, the screen really needs to be the most impressive feature. It certainly is here with this display providing rich colors and deep contrasts.
The rest of the tablet is sleek and sexy, although a bit over-branded. There's a Verizon logo at the top of the device on the front, and a Samsung one at the bottom. Flipping it over, you'll notice a much larger Verizon logo on the brushed aluminum back, and a raised Samsung logo down below it. If those logos were a bit more understated, or perhaps limited to the back panel, this thing would look even sexier. As it is, people would come up and ask "What is that thing?" fairly often, so it is eye-catching.
It's worth nothing that the top and bottom of the tablet are curved black plastic, and that only the middle three quarters of the rear are aluminum. On the right side sits the power button, a volume rocker switch and an IR port. The left side sports a SIM card slot, and one below it for microSD, which comes in handy and lets you boost the available storage space well over the device's own 16GB.
There's a slightly offset 3.5mm headphone jack on top, and the aforementioned speakers below flanking Samsung's proprietary dock connector. As far as the face goes, there are no physical buttons at all. Just a front-mounted 2-megapixel camera (a 3-megapixel camera with LED flash resides on the upper left of the backside) and the rest of the real estate is devoted to the screen and a .5-inch bezel.
What you can't see is under the hood. Powering the tablet is the 1.4 GHz dual core Samsung Exynos processor with 1GB of RAM running Android's Honeycomb 3.2. Samsung has promised that an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich is on the way, although they have historically not been that reliable when it comes to upgrade paths and dates. That was the first disappointment of note with this tablet, especially since the lower-priced Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 already runs Ice Cream Sandwich.
Altogether, this lightweight package fits easily in one hand without feeling like you're going to accidentally juggle it to the ground while reaching for your car keys. Typing in landscape mode is a bit of a challenge as the keyboard doesn't split apart to accommodate a thumbs-only approach, but if you're watching video or reading through one of the e-reader apps, it's a pleasant experience and you won't easily tire of holding it up.
Since the screen is what Samsung touts brazenly about this device, that's really what we wanted to experiment with the most. We loaded it up with several HD episodes from the last season of Sons of Anarchy, and it looked very impressive (although not in direct sunlight where the glossy screen can cause plenty of unwanted reflections). Streaming Serenity in HD from Netflix looked equally as good, and the tablet was able to handle all of the .mov, .avi, and .mkv files that we threw at it.
Both of the included Kindle and Play Books apps offered good reading experiences, again best outside of the direct sun. It's worth noting that cranking the screen up to its highest brightness setting still feels much lower than settings on other devices. That's due in part to the Super AMOLED Plus screen, which while it won't tax your batteries nearly as much as a normal tablet screen, can leave you wanting higher brightness levels at times.
Of course you'll need internet access to fully utilize the features of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, and while Wi-Fi runs in 802.11b/g/n flavors, Verizon's 4G LTE network managed to impress us every time we accessed it. To put it in perspective, our at-home network averages about 25Mbps over an Ethernet connection. Over Wi-Fi, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 averaged 20Mbps, while the 4G network clocked in at 7Mbps on our home connection, but frequently jumped up just under 10Mbps while out and about in Los Angeles. It was more than fast enough to download apps very quickly, and to stream HD video without a hiccup.
You can use the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 as a 4G hotspot, although our results were varied. When we tethered a MacBook Pro to the Galaxy Tab 7.7, our laptop averaged about .78 Mbps. That's probably due to the Verizon network having a lot of areas of poor reception in our neighborhood. You can also tether up to five devices to the hot-spot, making you the most popular person in the room at places without Wi-Fi.
The cameras mounted on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 aren't anything to write home about, which is a bit odd considering how much emphasis they put on that AMOLED screen. Rear camera photos are decent; especially if you have enough light, and shooting video in 720 HD will make you wish you were born with a spotlight mounted on your forehead.
While the photos and video don't exactly dazzle, Samsung's camera app is impressive on every level. Built-in options to adjust the contrast, a self-timer, panorama mode and more stack it above standard on-board camera apps. It just feels incongruous that while the screen and the app are built to show off photography, the cameras are lagging behind.
This is where the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 gets a heavy ding for not including Ice Cream Sandwich. Honeycomb runs sluggish at times, and often seems to chug when it comes to touch controls. Scrolling through images and browsing websites should be fluid, especially when swiping and tapping with your fingers. In plenty of apps from the browser to Netflix to games, simple tasks like scrolling stuttered and jumped underneath our fingers.
We also had issues using the onscreen keyboard in some of the apps, including the browser. In one case, we switched to characters and back to letters, but the screen showed both keyboards overlaid on top of each other making it unusable. This happened more than once, and after several restarts as well. Pinching to zoom suffered the most, which action coming almost a half second after performing the onscreen gesture.
There's also the added problem of the onscreen navigation buttons interfering with the keyboard. In the lower left hand corner of the screen you'll find Back and Home buttons, a button that shows recent apps, and a button that takes a screenshot. In the middle is a small chevron that brings up a customizable mini app tray that is full of options like Pen Memo, a calculator and so on, and on the right is the Notifications Panel access. With the exception of the Live Panel, you can frequently hit these buttons accidentally, pulling up an app or taking a screenshot when you were trying to hit the space bar.
The Notifications Panel is one saving grace for the system interface, however, packing all sorts of information into an easily accessible menu. When hidden, the menu displays the time, connection status (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 4G) and battery life, but if you touch it the full Live Panel springs to life, offering all sorts of system access. It's very intuitive and easy to navigate, and sets a good standard for other tablets to follow.
Laying out your view is also impressive, as you can build your own pages easily through Samsung's Live Panel feature by hitting the plus sign in the upper left of the home screen. These pages can list your apps, or can be augmented with sized windows showing your emails, Tweets, calendar, the current weather, and so on. There's a lot of variety to be had here, and it isn't just a static row of icons. Other than playing video, this showed off the impressive screen, thanks in part to some eye-popping wallpaper that comes with the tablet.
But Samsung also firehoses you with apps right out of the box, making navigating those app menus a pain in the neck. For instance, the Kindle, Netflix, YouTube, and other common apps come pre-installed. Nice touch, right? But there are a slew of other apps here as well. Like the Blockbuster app. Why?! The first level of Dead Space is included as well, not that we minded that so much, but why so many confusing choices loaded as standard?
For instance, you have the Samsung Apps, V Cast Apps, and Play Store apps offering you places to download more apps. Maybe some consolidation would be a good thing? Then there are apps like Video Player, Play Movies, VideoSurf, and Video Maker, which can be confusing if you don't know exactly what they do, or what their differences are.
But, it's not all bad. There's a whole suite of Google apps included, naturally, so if you rely on the Google ecosystem as part of your connected life, you're ready to go immediately. There are also apps that we would love to see included as standard on other devices, like Task Manager that shows you what is currently running on your tablet, with the option to end those tasks whenever you like, or even to click "Clear Memory" to zap inactive and background processes. It's a very nice and very handy feature to have on a tablet.
While it's easy to forget about the inclusion of an IR port, the included Smart Remote app is extremely robust and makes controlling your multiple A/V devices a snap. It even turns the screen into a guide to what's showing, and rivals the features of the more expensive Harmony remotes from Logitech. Features like this will make you overlook the fact that it comes with three different map apps pre-installed.
Our best advice: spend some time setting up your home screen menus. Once you've done that, you won't have to wade through the muck of the apps that come with this tablet.
It's also worth spending some time getting to know Swype, which is the single-finger text entry method that builds words as you glide your finger around the onscreen keyboard. It's definitely not intuitive, for double letters you have to circle the tiny key with your finger twice, but once you start learning it, it's a lot easier to enter text. Especially if you're trying to do that with one hand.
Despite our intermittent problems with browser navigation and text input, once we assigned the 7.7 to a task, it performed incredibly well. Besides playing television shows, movies, music, and shooting pictures and video, we also did a lot of what is quickly becoming our nation's new pastime: downloading apps and fooling around with them. Which is actually code for "played a lot of games."
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 had no issues with any of the games we opened up on it, ranging from Temple Run to Angry Birds Space to PewPew to that lone pre-loaded level of Dead Space. We even loaded the extremely gun-friendly Deer Hunter Reloaded for some reason, and quickly became obsessed with trying to take down big game. Despite the fact that these games can be processor intensive, particularly on a tablet, we had no issues whatsoever.
The same can be said for using any of the apps meant for mobile usage, like Navigation. With the on-board GPS, getting spoken directions while driving was a snap, replacing any satellite devices we might have in the car, had our smartphone not already made those practically obsolete.
Sound-wise, while the HD videos really show off what this tablet is capable of, you'll want some headphones or an external sound solution as the two bottom mounted (side if you're using the tablet in landscape mode) speakers don't pack nearly as powerful an audio punch to match the visuals. Even at full volume, sounds like a whirring computer fan or a printer will easily drown out anything from the tablet.
We've already mentioned our disappointment in the camera, which we need to qualify doesn't result in photos that look awful. They just aren't the crisp HD photos that you would expect to go with this display. It is still worth using the camera on-board, especially because if you've ever seen someone holding up an iPad to take a photo or shoot video, you know how ridiculous they look. With this sleek 7.7-inch pad, it's much easier to get away with using it as a camera and not looking like you're a protester at a rally.
Other than the screen, this is where this tablet really bowled us over. Besides everything else that is buried under the hood, Samsung managed to slip in some sort of magical battery that could be powered by fairy dust or Mr. Fusion for all we know. Because, make no mistake, it does work wonders. Namely, the wonder of managing to last much longer than we would ever expect a mobile device's battery to last.
Case in point was one of our initial trial runs with the tablet, which consisted of a lot of Netflix streaming and game playing. The tablet lasted nearly 12 hours before we had to recharge it, which is fairly remarkable. That's with heavy network usage as well. Samsung promises standby times of up to 1200 hours (on 3G), talk times of up to 27 hours (3G) or 6 hours (video call), and 10 hours of video (spot on with our results) and up to 50 hours of just playing music.
It's a 5,100mAh battery that does all of this, and you'll want to make sure you use the included adapter that utilizes a USB cable to the dock connector on the other end. It does support trickle charging from a USB powered device, like a laptop, but note it will take much longer to fully charge the battery that way.
Still, we were handily impressed that this device could give us this much power in such a thin package. You could easily take this on a flight from LA to NY, and still have plenty of juice left when you reach your destination.
Like other Android tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 comes with the default Android 3.2 browser, and it is fairly standard and straightforward. But like other tablets in the sub 10-inch range, browsing the web - especially at text-heavy sites - feels like browsing on a mobile phone. As a result of the larger screen size however, the browser acts like a desktop browser, and does not load mobile versions of websites.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 has a motion tilt feature that allows you to zoom in by holding two thumbs and tilting the device toward or away from you, but it still isn't better than tapping to zoom on an article or section of a page you're visiting. Turning the tablet sideways will help, but then you feel like you're only browsing a site on the top half of a larger tablet.
Where the browser does do a good job is with Flash. We visited several sites that are Flash-heavy, including a Basecamp chatroom, and SpeedTest.net. While the Flash isn't exactly warp speed, it loads fine and handles just like it would on a laptop. Using chat in Flash was a bit frustrating due to our issues with the onscreen keyboard, but once we connected a Bluetooth keyboard, things were just fine. As a note, using Flash video is great, although it requires the installation of a plugin. We aren't sure why that doesn't come pre-loaded, especially since Flash on a tablet is a badge of honor for Android.
Hopefully the Android version of Google Chrome will come to this tablet soon, which might fix some of the browser issues. Right now the beta is "Not compatible with your device," so we couldn't even give it a test run. Of course, Chrome won't make the screen larger, but it might help with making sites more readable. The built-in loads pages very quickly, but like the Honeycomb UI, it frequently suffers from lag while browsing.
Media, Apps, Games
Even though there are three pre-installed options for downloading apps, the Google Play store is your best one-stop shopping location for apps, games, music, books, movies, and more. It has definitely grown quite a bit since the early days as the Android Marketplace, and it manages to emote a friendly browsing experience. It's also nice to know when you initiate a download exactly what sort of permissions the app you're downloading will ask for.
Samsung's supplied Play Music app (again, confusingly located next to the Music Player app) makes for a pleasant music experience, although we would have liked to see streaming music stations listed. There are plenty of add-on apps that will take care of that for you, but it would have been a nice baked-in option.
The included video apps are decent as well, with Video Maker being the video editing program that is simple but efficient, and the Video Player app able to handle all sorts of video. What's nice about that is the ability to load up a microSD with a week's worth of music and video content without having to worry about downloading more if you're in a spot where Wi-Fi and 4G are iffy.
The included Quickoffice HD Pro is a nice inclusion here as well, obviating the need to download a separate app to handle word processing. It interfaces easily with Google Docs, and can also link up with Dropbox and other services making it easy to access your documents from the cloud. For even medium workloads, however, we would definitely recommend picking up a Bluetooth keyboard. Sadly, the S Pen functionality of the Galaxy Note is absent here. Of course you can use a normal stylus, but the size of the 7.7 feels perfect for written note taking and sketching.
Although the Galaxy Tab 7.7 isn't exactly a workhorse in the productivity department (although it is Enterprise certified), it really shines in the game department. In both portrait and landscape modes, the tablet is easy to hold and control, making it a snap to play games where you need both thumbs on the screen. One-handed tapping and swiping is easy as well, thanks to the form factor of the unit. While you can appreciate the size of a 10-inch tablet for gaming, the 7.7 feels very good in your hands.
Although the selection might not be as robust at Apple's App Store, we found tons of games that were fun to play quite quickly. Part of that is due to the Play Store, which you can easily lose an hour browsing through. Thanks to account integration, you won't have to constantly enter your password either. Downloading and even updating all of your apps can be done seamlessly through the Play Store, or through the Notifications Panel.
Samsung seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis in the tablet market, with multiple devices at multiple sizes and price points. As a result, it's not clear where some of the offerings are supposed to sit. Is the Galaxy Tab 7.7 meant to replace a larger tablet? Is it meant to replace your phone? Samsung says the device can fit easily in a coat pocket, but we found it too bulky for that.
They also promise that it can easily make voice calls. Samsung's website says "The Galaxy Tab 7.7 calling function has been upgraded to let you make and receive voice calls privately by using Receiver Mode in public places. You no longer need a headset or Bluetooth for voice calls." But we couldn't find any reference to that inside the device itself. It actually would be nice if you could make calls with it, just don't fool yourself into thinking you can put this in your jeans and head off to the beach.
Given the "not quite a phone / not quite a full tablet" feeling of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, it really seems to work best as a media device. Watching videos on that impressive screen was definitely one of the highlights of using it, as well as reading books, playing music, or scrolling through social media like Facebook or Twitter. Anything that requires heavy text entry, such as longer emails or working on a word document, definitely needs an external input device. Swyping was much easier with a stylus, but for text our fallback is still a good old keyboard.
The screen is truly impressive. Although the resolution doesn't match Apple's Retina Display, it is definitely in the same ballpark and provides very crisp images. Another feature we liked was the ability to plug in the included USB charging cable into your computer and easily drag and drop files over, although it did require us to download the Android File Transfer app on our MacBook Pro, which can be a temperamental piece of software.
We also liked the 4G LTE network. A lot. It's hard to overstate how great it is to download apps and media quickly, and to begin streaming quickly while traveling. If you live in an area with a strong 4G network, this device is a commuter's dream. Just not the kind of commuter who needs to get a ton of work done in spreadsheets or word documents. But if you want to catch up on a week's worth of television shows and immerse yourself in a game, this will make long train rides a lot more bearable. Especially with (yes, again) that screen and the incredible battery life.
The price is the biggest barrier to fully enjoying the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 right now. After all, if you decide to go contract free, why wouldn't you just pick up a 10-inch tablet for the same cost? Even Apple's new iPad with the Retina Display, which trumps the this device's AMOLED, can be had for $70 less. If the price point included S Pen input and Ice Cream Sandwich, we could forgive the high cost. But as it is with the current feature set and onboard software, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 just isn't worth the premium price.
Which brings us to Honeycomb, something we also weren't fond of. Although Samsung has promised an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, with no date in sight who knows when that might arrive. With this tablet's price and promised status as a top tier 7-inch device, it needs to be running the most current operating system. Why this isn't a priority for them, we don't know. But given the fact that they have a wide range of devices in this space, perhaps it's just taking awhile to implement.
With more tablets coming to the table ever day, some now in quad-core configurations and with equally impressive screen options, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 faces quick obsolescence unless it can compete. A price drop and software upgrade would be a big step in the right direction.
The form and size of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 feels perfect for a device you can grab to take with you for a long trip, a meeting, or a trip to the ballpark. It isn't as unwieldy as a 10-inch tablet, but the tradeoff is the screen loses real estate previously devoted to input. As a result, it doesn't feel like a serious business device (unless you pair it with a keyboard) that you would want by your side through a busy day of meetings and projects.
What you're left with is a very pretty, functional, and expensive media device. Android fans should consider this device if it fits their needs, but with other more attractive options in similar price ranges, you'll want to take a hard look at those needs and decide if it actually works for what you need it to do. For a casual camera and entertainment unit, it works well. Any more than that, and you're going to find the capabilities stretched very thin.
If Apple drops into the smaller tablet range as has long been rumored, Samsung will face an even steeper uphill battle in this market. A dream device might be born out of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in the form of an 8.5" tablet with S Pen input, but until that comes, the 7.7 just feels like an overpriced toy rather than a useful tool.