The Galaxy Tab 8.9 will ship with TouchWiz UI right from the start – as opposed to the bigger Galaxy Tab 10.1, which will be launched unskinned. Google is keen to provide timely updates for the tablet-friendly version of Android so customizations are generally non-essential.
Still, Samsung managed to sneak in a few elements of its own. Just don’t expect changes that run as deep as on their smartphones. There are some minor touches that should help the Galaxy Tab 8.9 stand out in the Honeycomb crowd.
The first one can be noticed right on the homescreen and in the app launcher – the taskbar at the bottom is no longer static. A swipe upwards flips it to its side to reveal six 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, world clock and the PenMemo app, as well as a calendar, calculator and a music player. All of them except the task manager 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 notification area has been modified too to include the connectivity toggles that we’ve come to know from the smartphone edition of TouchWiz. They offer more functionality than the stock Honeycomb quick settings - including GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controls - which saves you the extra effort of entering the extended settings menu.
The icons at the bottom left corner also have a new addition. We don’t know how many people other than reviewers and developers will find the new screenshot button useful, but it doesn’t hurt having it.
The functionality of the other buttons has remained unchanged – back, home and task switcher is what you get with stock Honeycomb.
The search shortcuts (voice and text) are in the top left corner of the homescreen, while the app launcher and homescreen edit buttons stay in the top right. In-between is the final change brought by Samsung – the dots indicating the number of available homescreen panes and the current selection.
The app launcher has seen no modifications at all, but there are plenty of preinstalled apps that cannot be found on other tablets – Social Hub, Music hub, Pulse reader, AllShare, Polaris Office and Video player, My files. Some of the other apps like the music player and the calendar have been modified as well.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 also offers access to Samsung Apps – the company’s own app repository. There are just 49 tablet-optimized apps there right now, but the good news is that they are all free and their number will certainly increase before the tablet hits the shelves.
The last two changes you will notice are the added Messaging app and the refreshed Contacts. Having a messaging app makes sense on the Tab 8.9, which is capable of handling SMS and MMS. The updated contacts app is quite an improvement over the stock variety too. Unfortunately, there’s no preinstalled dialer so you’ll either have to initiate calls through the contacts app only or you’ll need to download a third party phone app.
Update: It appears that the native voice calls support didn't make it in the final version of the tablet. Either Samsung deemed it too unimportant on a tablet, or some technical difficulties with its implementation appeared, but you will need a third party app to make calls on the Galaxy Tab 8.9 3G.
As a whole, the changes aren’t too dramatic but help make Honeycomb a more complete package. A dedicated video player and file manager are a real must and we can’t even figure out why Google left them out in the first place. A document editor can also be quite useful on a tablet and so can the PenMemo, which is the fastest way to put down a quick note.
Now, if the multimedia department is doing equally well, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 will have a strong claim on the Best Android tablet title.