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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Few Android apps take advantage of the Galaxy Tab's larger screen to provide a richer context or extra capabilities, yet such adaptation is common on iPad apps, even many that also run on the iPhone. For example, the YouTube app on Android obscures favorites and other navigation aids that are accessible on the iPad version.

As a result, many apps on the Galaxy Tab feel crippled or just plain awkward compared to their iPad counterparts because they've been blown up to fill the large screen. Over time, once Android tablets gain traction, tablet-savvy apps will become more common -- but that's the future, not the present.

Galaxy Tab: Mail and Exchange
The built-in Mail app on the Galaxy Tab can't properly handle folders; subfolders are not distinguishable from their parents, and all appear in an alphabetical list that ignores their actual hierarchy. That may seem like a small thing -- unless you rely on nested folders to stay organized. (On the iPad, nested folders work just like they do on a PC or Mac.) The Tab's calendar and contacts apps are perfectly serviceable.

The Galaxy Tab does support Microsoft Exchange accounts and, according to reports, on-device encryption, as recommended by many companies. Android 2.2 does not support on-device encryption natively, so it's unclear how the Galaxy Tab accomplishes this. One possibility is that it is misreporting compliance, as some Android devices have been found to do. We put the question to Samsung, and the company said only that "Samsung Galaxy Tab does not support on-device encryption."

A key difference between the Galaxy Tab and the iPad is the support infrastructure for the user's installed applications and stored data. I've really come to appreciate iTunes' role in backing up and securing my iPad's apps and contents, as well as acting as a waystation for all sorts of documents and media and serving as my master library. There is no such comparable repository for Android, whether in the cloud or on a computer. A tablet is a natural hub for rich media and content, as well as for apps, and it needs an iTunes equivalent, even if a smartphone may not. Although that's ultimately an Android issue that Google should address, it will affect the usability and experience of the Galaxy Tab.

I have one kudo for the Galaxy Tab when it comes to apps: Its adoption of the iPad's and iPhone's approach to the application screens, where you scroll horizontally from one screen to the next, is much easier than the stock Android OS's technique of scrolling vertically.

But I really disliked the numeric pad's layout for entering a PIN to unlock the device. The OK button is on the lower left -- not on the right side as it is in most interfaces. I ended up pressing Backspace most of the time because it was where OK should be. I know that's standard Android behavior, but it's annoying.

Where the Galaxy Tab shines
Although the Galaxy Tab is disappointing at several levels, it has a few positives worth noting -- if only to remind everyone that the iPad is not perfect.

First, I like how the "home row" that contains the Email, Application, and Browser buttons reorients itself when you hold the Galaxy Tab in horizontal orientation. It's a small thing but an indication of usability-oriented thinking.

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