Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7in Review

Finally - Ice Cream Sandwich has arrived. The 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 ships with Google's latest Android 4.0 mobile operating system right out of the box. Despite the progressive moniker, hardware-wise, the Galaxy Tab 2 is actually a minor step back from Samsung's last 7in tablet, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, making concessions in processor speed. Instead of more powerful components and design improvements, Samsung focussed on a well-tuned software experience and an affordable price. The result is a very solid tablet that really shows off the latest Android OS, and is competitive on price, and half the price of the class-leading new Apple iPad. If you want Ice Cream Sandwich on a small tablet right now, the Galaxy Tab 2 is your best bet.

Physical Design, Features, and Connectivity

Samsung makes some of the best-looking Android tablets you can buy, and the Galaxy Tab 2 is no exception, with its sturdy yet slim build. It's nearly identical to the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus , measuring 193.7 x 122.4 x 10.5mm (HxWxD) and 345grams; with nicely tapered edges adding to the effect.

The Galaxy Tab 2 is still a well-built, all-plastic gray slab. Power and Volume buttons, as well as an IR-port, line the right side of tablet, while a microSD card slot (which accepts cards up to 32GB) can be found behind a plastic flap on the left side. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top, with Samsung's proprietary docking port on the bottom for charging and syncing with the included cable. The Galaxy Tab 2 retains the 1,024 x 600-pixel TFT LCD of the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. That's fairly standard fare for 7-inch tablets, but not quite as good as the 1,280 x 800 pixel display found its 10.1in version.

Samsung downgraded the cameras on the Galaxy Tab 2, with a VGA front-facing and a three-megapixel rear-facing camera with no LED flash. The original Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus features a two-megapixel front-facing and three-megapixel rear-facing camera with an LED flash. The Galaxy Tab 2 is an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi only tablet, with Bluetooth 3.0 and DLNA connectivity. The IR emitter lets you use the tablet as a remote control for a variety of media devices.

Performance and Software

The Galaxy Tab 2 is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor, which is a step back from the dual-core 1.2GHz processor of the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Given the less-powerful CPU, it was no surprise that the Galaxy Tab 2 benchmarked significantly slower than the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. But with Ice Cream Sandwich on-board, the Galaxy Tab 2 felt just as snappy and responsive. The Galaxy Tab 2 packs a 4,000mAh battery and turned in a respectable five hours, fortyeight minutes of continuous video playback. That's less than the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which turned in six hours, thirtythree minutes.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich works great on the Galaxy Tab 2, with very smooth animations, responsive app performance, and rock-solid stability, at least during the review period.

As with nearly all Samsung devices, Android is heavily skinned with Samsung's signature TouchWiz UI. It comes with the typical array of custom widgets, as well as the useful Quick Action bar, which offers up easy access to the alarm, calculator, e-mail, music player, calendar, task manager, and world clock mini apps. These run seamlessly on top of regular open apps, making for simple multitasking. Samsung also included its various hubs (Media, Reader, Game, and Video). Despite Samsung's heavy OS customisation, everything was extremely snappy and responsive in my tests, proving that you don't need the latest quad-core chip to run the latest version of Android.

Alas, some of the same problems facing older Android 3.2 ‘Honeycomb' tablets still remain here. There are still few tablet-specific Android apps, and they're not easy to find in Google Play (formerly Android Market). Hopefully, developers will start to write apps for Ice Cream Sandwich, which handles phone and tablet screen differences far better than any previous Android iteration. For now, Apple remains the app king with more than 200,000 third-party iPad-specific programs.

Entertainment and Peel Remote

Much like the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, the Galaxy Tab 2 is being marketed as an entertainment tablet, with Samsung's AllShare DLNA app and Peel Smart Remote app. The point is to make your tablet a universal media hub for all of your HDTVs and home theatre. We found the Peel Remote unresponsive and buggy last time around, but the Galaxy Tab 2 handles its universal remote duties far better than the Tab 7.0 Plus.

Peel lets you browse all programs by genre and time, representing each show as a graphical card in the interface. It's a simple way to pick what to watch. But the Peel Remote still lacks a full guide within the app, making it difficult to browse channels and programs the way you would with a traditional remote. Selecting a card changes the channel on your set-top box, and while you can add favourites and set reminders, the Peel Remote falls short of full DVR control. You can enable recording once on a channel, but setting up recordings in advance must be done through your DVR and remote.

I tested Peel on the Galaxy Tab 2 on a few different TVs including models from LG, Sharp, and Sony, along with a Dish Networks Hopper DVR, and an AppleTV. The remote app was responsive in controlling those devices, with little lag between button push and action. I wouldn't recommend the Peel Remote as a full-time replacement for your universal remote, but it is a capable and useful feature if you misplace your remote and have your tablet on hand. It also eliminates the need for a middle-man device.

Media playback was solid in my tests. The Galaxy Tab 2 was able to handle MPEG4, H.264, XviD, and DivX videos at up to 1080p resolution, and MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA music files without a hitch. The AllShare feature was hit or miss; I was able to stream some media content to a DLNA-ready TV, but playback was choppy and video looked compressed. That's DLNA, though, not the tablet itself.

As far as tablet cameras go, the rear-facing 3-megapixel camera isn't bad. Test images looked relatively clear, with low noise, but they lacked fine texture. The Galaxy Tab 2 captures video at 720p resolution and 30 frames per second, but videos were extremely grainy, and the field of view is also far narrower in video mode than camera mode.

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Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7in version is less of a step forward in the Galaxy line and more of a step in a new direction. The solid build quality and slick design remains, but instead of packing in top-of-the-line components and charging top-of-the-line prices, Samsung is smartly focussing on a solid software experience and an accessible price. The company isn't trying to take on the Apple iPad, but is setting its sights on the burgeoning, budget-friendly tablet market. The Tab 2.0 offers a more feature-rich, flexible tablet experience, with expandable storage, cameras, and Google's latest mobile operating system with access to the Google Play app market - than budget models. For users looking for the best Android ICS experience in a small screen tablet right now, look no further than the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0).

Pros: Inexpensive; Ships with Android 4.0; Slim, lightweight, and well-built; Stable and responsive performance.

Cons: Average; aging components; Screen could be sharper.

Score: 8/10

Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics

Price: £199

Specifications

CPU: Texas Instruments OMAP4430 Dual-Core

Processor Speed: 1GHz

Operating System: Google Android

Screen Resolution: 1,024 x 600 pixels

Screen Size: 7in

Battery Life: 5 hours 48 minutes

Battery Type Supported: Rechargeable

Storage Capacity (as Tested): 8 GB

Dimensions: 193.7 x 122.4 x 10.5mm

Weight: 345grams

Networking Options: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n

Email Access: Dedicated email app

Web Browser: Yes

Flash support: Yes

GPS: Yes

Camera(s): VGA front-facing and three-megapixel rear-facing

Video Chat: Yes

Music Playback Formats: AAC, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA

Photo Formats: BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PNG, GIF, RAW

Video Formats: AVI, DivX, MPEG4, WMV, QuickTime, H.264, XVid

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