The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 runs on the latest edition of the Android tablet-friendly platform - Honeycomb 3.2. Samsung have also equipped the slate with their home-brewed TouchWiz UI customizations.
In theory, this should mean user experience nearly identical to the one provided by the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. In reality, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 does much better and it immediately became clear to us that the Honeycomb 3.2 provides quite a significant boost to performance.
The main grudge that we were holding against Honeycomb so far was its rather poor performance with many of the apps in the market. We know they aren't properly optimized for tablets, but if they run smoothly on WVGA smartphones with a 1GHz single-core CPU, then they should be doing at least as well on a dual-core chipset, despite the increased resolution. And that's exactly how things are with the Galaxy Tab 7.7.
Maybe the Exynos chipset with two 1.4GHz Cortex-A9 CPU cores is also a part of the explanation, but it's certainly mostly down to some overdue optimizations.
As far as usability is concerned - Honeycomb gives you little to complain about. The platform designed from the ground up for tablet use gives you software UI navigation keys in the bottom left corner – back, home and task switcher (plus a screenshot key thanks to TouchWiz), the search shortcuts on the top left, the app drawer on the top right and finally, but certainly not least importantly, the notification/quick settings area (again, thanks to touchWiz) in the lower right angle.
Searching works with both voice and text typed on the virtual keyboard. The homescreen also offers resizable widgets, which can come in quite handy to power users.
Editing the homescreen works just as usual. Nicely modified to make better use of the larger screen, it gives you all five homescreen panes on top with four tabs available at the bottom - widgets, apps, wallpapers and “more”.
This way you can grab a widget from the bottom tab and bring it to the desired homescreen pane on top. With smartphones you need to scroll screens if you want to place a widget on any other screen but the currently selected one.
Unfortunately, unlike most of the smartphone droids, the tablets lack the option to pick the number of homescreen panes. Five might be a good number for some, but if you don’t need as many, they just slow up the navigation and if you need more, there’s just no way to get them.
Another cool feature brought by TouchWiz is the taskbar at the bottom, which is no longer static. A swipe upwards flips it to its side to reveal seven shortcuts. Clicking on any of them opens a widget window that you are free to move around the screen.
All the taskbar-docked shortcuts are the proprietary Samsung apps. They include the in-house task manager, the world clock and the PenMemo app, as well as a calendar, calculator, a music player and a phone app. All of them except the task manager and the phone app have shortcuts to their respective fullscreen apps. Most of the functionality is overlapping anyway so you might not need to go there too often.
The app launcher is the usual stuff - you get two tabs – All and My apps. The first one contains all the available apps, while the second one holds those installed by you. A press and hold on any of them will make the five homescreen panes appear so you can place a shortcut on whichever you might need.
Samsung have also added several apps to make the Galaxy Tab 7.7 preinstalled package more complete. You are getting a dedicated video player, a file manager, a document editor and an ebook app are all must-haves so it's nice that the Koreans saved you the efforts to get them yourselves.
Tablets sell so well not because they are as productive as computers – they sell so well because they are more fun to use. And the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 certainly fits the fun-to-use-tag nicely. It's snappy, it looks cool and has that oh-so-magnificent screen that is really a joy to behold.
Since its creation Honeycomb has always been arguably the most functional of tablet interfaces, but its performance was holding it back big time. Now, however, most of its issues seem to have been resolved and the Google tablet platforms seems ready to jump to the top of the slate food chain.
The only unknown remaining at this stage seems to be the pricing. If the Galaxy Tab 7.7 manages to go below the $600 barrier at launch it will probably become quite a success - the Super AMOLED Plus alone is probably making it worth it and the powerful chipset and slim body come as nice bonuses.
We are really hoping that Samsung will do their best and will bring the tablet to the market as quickly as possible though. Competition is fierce these days and today's super hot might be relegated to the role of an also-run in half a year - it would be a shame if such a thing happens to the sweet piece of technology that is the Galaxy Tab 7.7.