'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 browsingFollow @MobileGalen
A browser that's hard to use on the small screen
The stock Android browser is a major disappointment on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2. The text is too small to read on most desktop sites, so expect to zoom a lot. I could forgive that, considering the 7-inch screen, except that the text on mobile-optimized sites -- those designed for smartphone viewing -- is also too small. For the most part, you can't zoom in on such sites. The bottom line is that it's hard to read anything on the Web. Plus, the feature to enable the browser to request a desktop website version rather than a mobile-optimized rendition rarely worked.
An annoyance common to both sizes of the Galaxy Tab 2's Android browser is that the Back and Forward buttons for page navigation scroll off the screen when you move through a Web page, so you have to scroll back up to navigate. Yes, you can use Android's dedicated Back icon button, but that risks leaving the browser entirely.
The Android browser also is not as HTML5- or AJAX-savvy as the iOS Safari browser, which becomes noticeable as you use websites for work purposes, such as a content management system.
Software for (mainly) the living room
The rest of the software is either stock Android or app-based services provided by Samsung to compete with the Kindle Fire. For example, there's a Readers Hub app that combines the Zinio magazine app, Kobo e-books app, and PressDisplay news app into a common storefront. Samsung has two online-only apps for content, one for games and one for music. Plus, of course, you can buy games, music, and videos in Google's own Google Play store, as well as access that content through the native Android playback apps. It's not well-integrated like iTunes, but it's comparable to the Kindle Fire.
Samsung includes two living-room apps: Peel Technologies' Peel and Samsung's own AllShare. Neither are very useful. Peel lets you control home-theater equipment via the IR port added to the Galaxy Tab 2 series (and available in the fall 2011 7-inch Galaxy Tab Plus tablet, which is essentially the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 without the SD card slot). The setup is not difficult as long as Peel recognizes your equipment, but the control over programming is horrible. You get large badges for each program now available for your cable or satellite provider, so it's hard to survey all your options in a manageable view. Plus, at least for my cable provider, only the non-HD channels are shown, so all I could watch via the Peel remote app were standard-def programs from analog channels -- not exactly why you have an HDTV, is it? Just use your regular remote.
AllShare is Samsung's client for DLNA (Digital Living Room Network Alliance), a competitor to Apple's AirPlay for wireless streaming of content across devices. DLNA is a real mess, with most TV equipment vendors implementing only the client portion, forcing users to set up a Windows or Linux PC as a DLNA server on the network. It's amazingly kludgy and uncertain, as everyone's interpretation of DLNA is not the same. The bottom line is that AllShare is useless unless you've already handcrafted a DLNA network at home. Only a home-theater geek will bother. The rest of us will buy an Apple TV and connect it to our home-theater for no-muss, no-fuss streaming.
If you play games, you'll find a decent selection of apps at the Google Play store (formerly named the Android Market), but far fewer business-capable apps than for iOS. Note that the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 faces another limitation on available software: Not all developers have made compatible versions of their apps on this tweener-size device. For example, the latest version of Quickoffice, the iCloud-like iteration called Quickoffice Connect, won't run on it yet because the developers haven't gotten around to it. Part of that slow pace is due to the general failure of 7-inch tablets in the marketplace, here compounded by the slow pace of "Ice Cream Sandwich" upgrades on existing devices (such as the previous Galaxy Tab series). Be warned that your ability to get compatible apps for the Galaxy Tab 2 series may be hindered for a while.