Bonnie Cha

Samsung’s Latest Tablet Takes Aim at the Kindle Fire

On a recent vacation, my plans involved surfing and relaxing at the beach, and I brought three paperback books to keep me entertained. But after lugging them around in my heavy backpack for a week, I realized it was finally time to go digital.

An e-book or tablet is travel-friendly and capable of holding multiple books; in the case of tablets, they also allow you to surf the Web, play games, watch videos and more. There is no shortage of devices to choose from, with the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire, the iPad and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. But this week, I took a look at Samsung’s latest Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0.

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is the third model in Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series to feature a seven-inch touchscreen, and the first to run the latest version of the Android operating system, which is called Ice Cream Sandwich. At $250, it’s also one of the more affordably priced Ice Cream Sandwich tablets on the market, and because it runs on Wi-Fi, you don’t have to sign a long-term contract with a cellular provider.

It’s a great value for all the features you get, and it even offers some extras over the $199 Kindle Fire, including two cameras, expandable storage, and a year of free online storage (up to 50 gigabytes) from DropBox. However, the Kindle Fire’s user interface is slightly more polished, and Amazon offers a more vast collection of books, video, and other multimedia, so choosing between the two may come down to whether you want to use your device more as a media-consumption device, or as an extension of your laptop.

Physically, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 doesn’t look all that different from previous versions. In fact, if you were to compare it to the model before it, which was the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, you’d be hard-pressed to find the difference between the two, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is slim and fairly compact, measuring 4.8 inches wide by 7.6 inches tall and is 0.41-inch thick. I usually carry a medium-size purse or a backpack, and had no problem tucking the tablet away in either bag.

It is slightly on the hefty side at 12.1 ounces, but it’s lighter than the Kindle Fire (14.6 ounces) and has tapered edges, so it’s comfortable to hold while reading books or watching video.

On back, there’s a three-megapixel camera, and though taking photos with a tablet is a bit silly, it’s nice to know you have the option if you’re in a total pinch and need to capture something. Since there’s no flash, photos taken in low-light conditions are not of the best quality, but it did a decent job outdoors. The camera on front can be used to make video calls over Wi-Fi.

The seven-inch touchscreen has the same resolution as the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. There are sharper displays on the market, such as the one found on the new iPad, but I found the Galaxy Tab’s display clear and bright enough to read books, watch videos, surf the Web, and play games without major problem. The only issue is that the screen tends to wash out in bright sunlight.

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0’s main draw is its software. In the past, the Android operating system has always been a little more difficult to navigate compared to Apple’s operating system and even the Kindle Fire’s, but Ice Cream Sandwich offers a much more user-friendly approach. For example, you can now access a Task Manager that brings up a list of running apps from any screen on the tablet, so you can easily move between tasks or exit programs.

On top of that, Samsung has added its custom user interface, called TouchWiz, which brings more enhancements. One that I liked in particular was the Mini Apps toolbar along the bottom of the screen that gives you quick access to your favorite or most frequently used apps. The Kindle Fire still offers a more polished and attractive interface, but the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is a nice improvement over previous models.

On a couple of occasions, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tripped up when trying to launch an action or changing screen orientation, but overall, the tablet’s performance was smooth and responsive. I streamed a movie from Netflix, and the video played back without any interruption. I also viewed some graphics-heavy Web pages, such as Boston.com’s Big Picture, and the tablet’s browser was able to load the page without problem.

Samsung’s estimated battery life for the tablet is 11 hours, but I didn’t get anywhere near that in my standard tablet battery test. Playing a looped video with the screen brightness set to 75 percent with Wi-Fi turned on and e-mail running in the background, the Galaxy Tab lasted six hours and 17 minutes. This is slightly better than the Kindle Fire, which clocked out after five hours and 47 minutes in the same test, performed by my colleague. In general, the Galaxy Tab’s battery was able to last most of the day with moderate usage (checking e-mail, surfing the Web, and watching some video), and I was never in a situation where I worried about running out of power.

The one nagging issue that remains with Android is that many third-party apps were designed to work on smartphones and aren’t optimized for larger screens yet. For example, I downloaded the Marvel Comics app, and I felt some of the comics didn’t take advantage of the full display, as pages displayed on only a portion of the screen.

Samsung does preload the tablet with some extra programs, including the Peel universal remote control app, Netflix, and the Amazon Kindle app. Peel is a pretty cool app. A set-up wizard helps you connect the tablet to your TV and cable box. It initially had a problem finding my Samsung TV, but after I exited and restarted the program, it was finally able to find it. After inputting my ZIP code and selecting my cable provider, I was able to use my Galaxy Tab to change channels, view the program guide and set my DVR.

You can download more books, as well as music, videos, and games from Samsung’s various media hubs (Media, Music, Games and Readers) and the Google Play store. However, Amazon remains king when it comes to selection and on-demand content. Plus, the Kindle Fire gives Amazon Prime customers access to free books, but the same feature isn’t available on the Galaxy Tab.

If you’re an Amazon Prime customer or get a lot of your content from Amazon, the Kindle Fire is the way to go, since it’s so well-integrated with the company’s services. Given the lack of hardware and design improvements on the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, there’s not a huge need for current Tab owners to upgrade. However, if you’re curious about Android and aren’t married to a particular ecosystem, or just desire the extra features, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is a great introduction at a good value.


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