Last September, South Korean gadget giant Samsung used its enormous stand at the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin to show off a brand new tablet, an answer to Apple’s all-conquering iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 received praise for its beautiful build quality and unique 7.7-inch 1280 x 800 AMOLED touchscreen display – on the first day, anyway. By the second day, it was gone. Samsung had removed it, fearful of attracting more ire from Apple, with who it was already embroiled in a legal battle in the German courts. And that was the last we saw of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 until recently, when it finally slipped on sale in the UK. A lot has changed in that time of course (Apple even has a new iPad), so is it still a viable Android competitor?
The Samsung devices Apple claims mimics its products have always been cheap looking, plastic inferiors, but Apple will be surprised by the Galaxy Tab 7.7. Its brushed metal back and thin 7.9mm profile scream class. Around the sides, you’ll find a microSD slot to boost the 16GB of internal storage to a maximum 48GB, a headphone socket and an (unfortunately) custom USB slot for charging. It also acts as a TV-out connection, but this cable is sold separately. Around the back, you’ll find the one chink in the hardware: a rather paltry 3.15MP camera. It’s true that taking photos with tablets is not something that you’d want to do except in a worst case scenario, but it’s certainly not a patch on what rivals Apple and Asus have now made standard.
It’s hard to look at anything other than the Super AMOLED Plus display on this tablet however. In short, it’s mesmerising. Samsung’s screen tech provides world class contrast ratios and deep, perfect blacks, but has been expensive to produce at large sizes. This is as big as it gets right now, and it’s a sensation in the world of Android tablets. The impact of the screen tech has admittedly diminished in the last half year however: the resolution pales in comparison to the new iPad’s ‘sharper-than-your-HD-TV’ Retina display but Samsung’s pitched the size just right here. After experimenting with tablets from five to ten inches, this finally seems like the perfect alternative for anyone who finds an iPad just too big. It’s not so small that it’ll fit in your pocket, but it is large enough to type comfortably with, and see and do more on-screen compared to a typical Android phone app.
That’s if you can find any Android tablet apps to use, of course. Honeycomb’s weak spot, even a year after launch, is a lack of native tablet apps to rival the iPad. There’s no easy way to find them either: we’d really rather Google concentrated on this rather than renaming the Android Market as ‘Google Play’ for the sake of branding, as it did recently. Android’s tablet-only operating system Honeycomb 3.2 is what you’ll find on the Galaxy Tab 7.7. At its core, it’s a pleasant alternative to anyone sick of iOS: notifications pop up in a tray in the corner, and a special multitasking button lets you hop between apps with a tap.
Samsung’s twist on top of Honeycomb is slightly odd – there’s a dedicated screenshot button right next to the home key, which is nice although probably overkill. We’re still not convinced about the usefulness of Samsung’s ‘Hubs’ either – the custom social network hub doesn’t handle Facebook and Twitter better than their respective apps and the Reader app is just a front for Android apps PressReader, Zinio and Kobo. In terms of eBook suitability, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is not especially power hungry, and we found that despite its small size it could last a full four days on a charge in standby, sucking down email on the way.
The biggest issue is the lack of the latest version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which introduces some useful features including scalable widgets, a better keyboard and support for Chrome for Android, a superbly improved web browser. It’s already available on Asus’ Transformer tablets and the Motorola Xoom which will be a deal breaker for some. Samsung says that an update is on the way, but given the sheer number of different tablets it sells across the globe, we wouldn’t expect it to be a priority. In the meantime, what you’re left with is the best tablet of last year. Can it match the new 2012 line-up for power and potential? No, but its size is unique and reason enough to consider this as an iPad alternative, as long as you can get past the £329 iPad 2 price drop…
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 has arrived a bit too late. We’ve seen the arrival of Android 4.0, the fantastic Asus Transformer Prime and the new iPad. Only consider if you really must have a smaller sized tablet in your life.