Samsung's Galaxy Tab makes a strong case for buying an iPad

A few nice capabilities don't overcome an ill-conceived 'tweener' tablet with an ill-fitting Android OS

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For simple messaging and basic games like Angry Birds, the Galaxy Tab's screen is fine. But if you do any amount of typing, such as for notetaking, the on-screen keyboard is too small, even in horizontal orientation. In contrast, the iPad's on-screen keyboard is full size at horizontal orientation, and touch-typing is reasonably possible on it. Due to the Galaxy Tab's size, you'll be typing one finger at a time, as you would on a smartphone or iPod Touch -- it's doable, but slow.

I also found that the touchscreen was not responsive enough, especially when compared to an iPad, where my fingers can fly without the device missing a beat.

The Android OS's on-screen keyboard design is also an issue. The keys are crowded with information, yet the labels of alternative characters are difficult to read; they're a shade of a gray too light and the fonts are a bit thin. I like that I can tap and hold a key to get an alternative character (something the iPad and Galaxy Tab both do), and I like it even better that keys on the Galaxy Tab show me in advance what the alternative characters are (the iPad's do not). However, I wish I could see them more easily.

The Galaxy Tab's screen is clear and luminous, but you'll want to turn off the autobrightness control sensor. When the sensor is on, the device constantly changes brightness, which is both seriously distracting and hard on the eyes. The savings in battery life is not worth the visual struggle. The good news is that the Galaxy Tab's battery lasts a long time, easily matching the iPad's 11 hours on a full charge.

Galaxy Tab: Slow performer
With fewer pixels to push around, you'd think the Galaxy Tab would be a strong performer -- but it's not. There's a noticeable lag in almost every action, especially in what appears on screen. I routinely got ahead of the on-screen keyboard when typing, and I often had to wait for the screen to reorient itself as I turned the device. Samsung's 1GHz ARM-based Hummingbird just can't keep up with Apple's 1GHz ARM-based A4 -- ironic, considering Samsung manufactures the A4 for Apple.

I also had trouble with Wi-Fi and 3G networks using the Galaxy Tab. Both were sluggish compared to network-related performance on the iPad. On both Sprint's and Verizon Wireless' 3G services, downloads of Kindle books took 10 minutes or more, versus 1 or 2 minutes over the iPad's AT&T 3G. The connections also timed out on several occasions. I don't think the cause is AT&T network superiority, given that I've experienced better performance on the Sprint and Verizon networks with smartphones than I have on the AT&T network in the same area of the country.

The Galaxy Tab could not connect to some Wi-Fi networks that my other test devices -- an iPad, iPod Touch, BlackBerry Torch, Google Nexus One, Mac, and Windows XP PC -- access with no issue. There's no way to troubleshoot a Wi-Fi connection, as there is on the iPad, so I was stuck.

Galaxy Tab: Inferior Android apps
There's a huge difference in quality between the apps available for the iPad and those available for the Galaxy Tab. I installed a bunch of apps available for both devices and in every case found the Android version inferior.

For example, the Android Kindle app doesn't let you change fonts, and its only selection is hard to read. The iPad Kindle app supports multiple fonts, and all are much more legible. The New York Times app for the iPad is a wonderful adaptation of the traditional newspaper design, making it easy to peruse, as well as read individual articles in. The Times' special version for Android tablets is basically a list, as you'd find on the New York Times' smartphone versions -- except on the Galaxy Tab's bigger screen, the list is awkwardly wide. The USA Today app on Android displays only in vertical orientation, whereas the iPad version automatically repositions as you rotate the device.

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