'Ice Cream Sandwich' makes the Galaxy Tab 2 a little sweeter

Samsung Android tablet hardware is essentially unchanged, but new UI is easier to use -- except for Web browsing

Samsung's original 7-inch Galaxy Tab from late 2010 was an awkward animal, fusing the Android 2.2 "Froyo" smartphone operating system onto a tablet too big for the phone-sized UI and too small for Web browsing and other computer-type work. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 released in spring 2011 with the tablet-optimized Android 3 "Honeycomb" OS became the first credible Android tablet, although it still paled next to the iPad. Then last fall came the Android-derived Kindle Fire, a 7-inch tablet from Amazon.com that was cheap and limited largely to Amazon offerings. It quickly became the dominant Android tablet, though many argue it's not an Android tablet at all.

Why the history lesson? Because the new, $250 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 model released on April 22 is Samsung's response to that lineage. The Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch and the $350 Galaxy Tab 2 10.1-inch model due in May show Samsung largely giving up on competing with the iPad, which represents more than 70 percent of tablets in use today -- and that percentage goes past 90 in business adoption. Instead, Samsung has redirected its energies against the Kindle Fire, which has done so-so by e-book reader standards but well by Android tablet standards.

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That means the new Wi-Fi-only Galaxy Tab 2 tablets use the same hardware as their predecessors, with the addition of an infrared port to control home stereo equipment and an SD card slot, along with reductions in built-in flash storage capacity and in the front camera's megapixel rating. Using that old hardware lets Samsung reduce the price to be more in line with the $199 Kindle Fire. This would suggest businesses should not bother with the Galaxy Tab 2 series, and I'd agree -- with one exception.

Enterprise management and security now available for the 7-inch tablet
The Galaxy Tab 2 series come with Android 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich," which brings corporate-class management and security capabilities to the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 model. The original Galaxy Tab 10.1 had essentially the same capabilities as the forthcoming 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab 2 version, thanks to its use of "Honeycomb," on which "Ice Cream Sandwich" is largely based, but due to the 2011 version of the Galaxy Tab 7's use of first "Froyo," then "Gingerbread," it could not be managed or secured. This all means that the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 tablet can be used in many corporate environments, a first for an Android tablet of this size.

The Galaxy Tab 2 devices support Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, used by Exchange and dozens of mobile device management (MDM) servers to impose policies such as requiring use of a complex password or enforcing use of on-device encryption. But as is the case in other Android "Honeycomb" and "Ice Cream Sandwich" devices, enabling that encryption requires a 45-minute initialization process (unlike an iOS device that's on from the get-go). If your EAS policy requires the user to have both encryption and a password lock, the user will have to enter both passwords to access the device -- not one as in iOS -- when restarting a powered-off tablet.

As with other "Honeycomb" and "Ice Cream Sandwich" devices, the setup of VPNs and certificate-based Wi-Fi access is difficult, requiring network admin knowledge. Plus, Android does not work with Cisco IPSec-based VPNs or Cisco certificate-based Wi-Fi access points. By contrast, iOS lets users handle this setup easily.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Hardware (10.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10-inch 7.0 7.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 7.4
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