At 8.6mm thickness, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is the slimmest tablet we have seen and that’s a major boost in aesthetics. The ultra-thin gadget is a joy to behold and oozes the high-tech feel that’s a big part of the tablets’ appeal to begin with.
It’s not just how it looks though – the low weight of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 makes it extremely manageable. We’ve no reason to complain about the finish either. The back is made of plastic but metal would have made it too heavy. And low weight is an advantage this tablet wouldn’t want to lose because half of its edge would go with it.
And while we still think the iPad 2 feels like the better built device, you can’t easily take away points from the Galaxy Tab 8.9” either. The premium look and feel is further reinforced by the magnificent PLS LCD screen. We’ll come back to it later, but for now we will say that it’s a strong contender for the best tablet display.
Honeycomb can do without hardware buttons and it’s hardly a surprise that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 carries very few controls. The two short sides are in fact completely bereft of any keys or ports.
The stereo speakers are on the bottom long end, either side of the Samsung proprietary port. By the way, with no hardware keys on the front and full-circle autorotation, there’s no clear-cut top and bottom. Anyway, front facing camera on top and connectivity port - bottom is usually the rule.
So – a 2MP front-facing camera it is, more than enough for live chat and video calls. What we are not particularly fond of is the decision to use a proprietary port instead of standard microUSB. If a smartphone like the Galaxy S II can use a standard port for charging, HD TV-out and computer connections then why not give its bigger brother the same treatment.
And no, power requirements are not the reason – the BlackBerry Playbook can charge off a microUSB no problem. Samsung and Apple are still reluctant to follow suit though. Maybe we’re still far from a point where universal chargers are regulated for tablets as they’re for phones. Well, in Europe at least.
The top (landscape) side of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is the busiest of all. The SIM slot accommodates regular-size SIMs, which gives the Galaxy Tab an edge over its main competitor, the iPad 2. Another advantage for the Samsung tablet is that it can do regular calls over the GSM network and video-calls over 3G.
The microphone pinhole and the 3.5mm audio jack are there too, along with the only two hardware keys on the Galaxy Tab 8.9: the volume rocker and the power key.
We complete our hardware inspection at the back where we find the 3.15 MP 720p-video-enabled camera. Tablets are hardly the most comfortable devices for taking pictures so the camera is more of an accessory than an essential feature. That’s why we’ve no reason to frown at the specs – it’s as good as most users will need anyway.
We are back at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 PLS LCD screen of WXGA (1280x800 pixels) resolution. On paper that sounds like one of the best displays in the tablet class and we’re glad to report that its real-life performance is equally convincing.
The widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio is pretty convenient for watching videos, playing games and whatnot, but that has now become the standard in Android tablets anyway. It’s the image quality that stands out here – probably the best we have seen so far from a tablet. And while it won’t match the Super AMOLED Plus of the latest Galaxy smartphone, it deserves credit as an LCD unit (LCD being the only kind of screen that currently sizes up to tablets).
Contrast of the 8.9” display is high, colors are punchy and viewing angles are better than we’ve come to expect from tablets. The PLS matrix and the high pixel density certainly add up to a pretty good combo.
Finally, we were pleasantly surprised by the outdoor performance of the Galaxy Tab 8.9. The screen remained legible even in the brightest sun. It far ahead of the highly reflective screen of the XOOM and even inches slightly ahead of the iPad 2.
In conclusion, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 screen might as well enjoy its place at the top of the tablet food chain while it lasts. Of course there’s still plenty to do to catch up with smartphone screens.
And next on our list is the Galaxy Tab UI. Join us after the break.