It was strange experiencing the crackle and buzz of a thrilling new launch that didn’t feature the gesticulations of a black turtle-necked Californian, yet Samsung’s IFA press conference had an air of anticipation normally only associated with Apple.
And it’s no irony that the excitement and eagerness was generated by a device that may steal part of Apple’s crown and market share: The Samsung Galaxy Tab - an iPad rival that hopes to conquer by offering something different.
Certainly, there was no disappointment after the unveiling. The new tablet stands up to scrutiny in almost every way - a remarkable feat, given that it currently sports an unfinished version of the firmware. And it may even have further impressed, had we been allowed more time with the device. We suspect that there are many more treasures hidden in its nooks and crannies than we could find during a cursory play.
Rest assured, though, we managed to fiddle about enough to know that this is no mere “big phone”, as some have taken to call it. The Galaxy Tab is a game changer. Literally.
While its multimedia playback abilities are patently obvious, and make full use of the 16:9 1024 x 600 TFT-LCD screen, it is with gaming that we can, perhaps, see the Tab finding a firm foothold in consumer’s hearts.
The iPhone (and Galaxy S) are too small to compete with Sony’s PSP, the iPad too big. The Galaxy Tab, however, as Goldilocks would say, “is just right”. Its 7-inch screen, in a device measuring 190.09 x 120.45 x 11.98mm and weighing 380g, is perfect to render fine details and give enough play area for fast action games and the like, while the device is manoeuvrable and comfortably fits into both hands without you motioning like you’re fitting a new window pane.
We had some time with a playable demo of the Android version of Need For Speed Shift, and it fitted the Galaxy Tab like a Latex glove. It looked great, even though it’s not designed for the new device. Indeed, Samsung told us that we’ll be even more impressed when Tab-specific games start coming through.
Another area of its expertise, which made for a very impressive demonstration, concerned the Tab’s camcorder prowess. The 3-megapixel camera on the rear offered crisp, clean pictures during still or rolling video modes. Admittedly, the Samsung stand at IFA was extremely well-lit (to the detriment of product photos and screen glare), so we have no way of telling how things will deteriorate in poor light, but it performed admirably in this little road test. Certainly better than an iPad would, as it lacks any form of camera.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try out video calling using the 1.3-megapixel front facing camera as, although there was a SIM in the demonstration model, it wouldn’t hook up to the surrounding devices. We'll test all the cameras to exhaustion when we get the Tab in for a full review.
We did get to try out voice calling instead, and audio is clear at both ends. However, this is one area that seems a bit gimmicky than practical. It’s too large to comfortably make calls on, just as we felt with the Dell Streak. We can see people using it for conference calling, laying it flat on a desk or table. But it looks ludicrous when held to the ear - a real throw-back to the first mobile phones in the 80s (and Dom Joly’s tiresome one-joke sketches).
Of course calling is not the sole use for that connection: the Samsung Galaxy Tab will gobble up data thanks to its mobile network connection, and there is Wi-Fi n and Bluetooth 3 hiding under the skin as well. But that's not all - you also get the full complement of sensors and GPS support. Of course being an Android 2.2 device you get the advantage of a complete web experience, including web video (Flash 10.1 and HTML 5) and you'll be able to make the Galaxy Tab into a 3G W-Fi hotspot, if you find you need to connect anything else, or just to share your data connection.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S, media support on the Galaxy Tab looks to be excellent. Not only will it play Full HD (1080p) content through the included HDMI port - something we'll test in more detail when we review the tablet in full - but it also has wide format support, with the likes of DivX support out of the box, and Samsung's All Share meaning that sharing content over your network will be a cinch.
And finally, sitting at the core is a 1GHz processor, with 512MB RAM and two capacities have been detailed - 16 and 32GB. Both will have expandable memory thanks to the microSD card slot, accepting up to 32GB microSDHC. There's a 4000mAh battery under the skin which will give you around 7 hours of video playback. Phew!
Robust and chunkier than expected, the Samsung Galaxy Tab feels and acts like a premium product - one that would suit a hectic, fun-filled lifestyle. It is not designed to take on the iPad head-to-head, rather expand on the heritage of the Korean company’s mobile phones, and offer an upgrade for those who want more than a call-making handset.
Its call making functionality is perhaps superfluous, although a 3G connection is always welcomed on the move, but otherwise the hardware spec and design look to have hit the mark. The only real worry is the cost. Rumours have the price at around £700 (thanks to a leaked page on Amazon around the press conference). However, Samsung tells us that it won't be available out of contract (not yet, at least), and that final pricing will be determined by the carriers themselves.
We can't wait to get the Samsung Galaxy Tab in for review and from first impressions, it looks to be a hugely popular device, if the price is right.