Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch

It is not an exaggeration to say that the original Galaxy Tab is one of our favourite gadgets. While Steve Jobs was telling his disciples that 7-inch tablets were dead on arrival, Samsung was busy winning us over with its compact, but functional tablet.

It wasn't love at first sight for us though, it was a slow romance that ended with us loving the P1000. Having a device that's big enough to make web browsing pleasant, but still small enough to fit into a coat pocket, made us realise that smaller tablets have a lot to offer.

So now the new Galaxy Tab is here we're keen to see how Samsung has improved the device and to decide if this new iteration is enough to make us give our old Galaxy Tab to a struggling iPad owner, and upgrade to the latest generation.

Design

Initially, we did feel a little disappointed by the Galaxy Tab 2's styling. It's a perfectly nice device, but it's not jaw-droppingly lovely. If you compare it to other 7-inch tablets, it holds up well, but that's only because other devices aren't all that inspiring. If you put it next to the original Tab, it looks alarming similar. Happily, the silly white back has gone, and it is now a more subtle, but slightly bland grey.

The weight and dimensions though, have barely changed. The new Tab is fractionally smaller in every regard, but it barely makes any difference. Most disappointing is the depth and weight of the device, which hasn't been reduced anywhere near as much as we'd hope. The Tab 2 still feels quite weighty, and in reality it's only about 36g lighter than the original model. Now, we aren't hardware manufacturers, but we would still think the weight reduction could have been much greater than this.

In terms of the other aspects of the design, not much has changed here either. Volume controls are on the right-hand side, along with the standby button. The headphone jack has moved very slightly, but is still to be found on the top of the Tab. And the dock connector is unchanged in both location and size/fit. You can charge this tablet off the power supply from the original, should you need to.

There's also a microSD card slot on the left-hand side of the Tab 2 - it was on the right on the original, if you're anal about these things. But the great news here is that this reader can take cards up to 64GB in size. Obviously, such cards are expensive, and thin on the ground, but it's a nice feature to have. The device itself comes with 16GB of built-in storage too, which is pretty decent.

In your hand, the Tab does feel pleasant, although the weight becomes a bit of a chore after a while. A good universal stand will help with this, if you're taking a flight or sitting on a train - as long as there's a table of some kind! The materials used in the Tab 2's construction are all pretty standard feeling plastics, and there's not a massive amount of grip here to keep the tablet in your hand, and prevent it falling to the ground.

Operating it, as with all tablets, is still a two-handed job. While there are some good things about 7-inch tablets, they're still too big to be operated with just one hand.

Finally: Ice Cream Sandwich

One of the biggest criticisms of the original Tab 7-inch was that it was running a version of Android designed for phones. Google itself had urged manufacturers not to use pre-Honeycomb versions of the OS for tablets, but Samsung pushed ahead anyway. And, in fact, with a 7-inch device, it's not a problem. The screen isn't so big that standard apps look horrible when upscaled, and the OS is perfectly functional on larger displays.

That's not to say that we wouldn't have loved to see Samsung support the older Tabs with more OS upgrades, but we can live with the older OS on our trusty P1000, because the important functionality still works well. After all, the original Tab was really just a big phone, which, unlike the iPad can be used to send text messages and make calls. Something which we really rather liked.

On the Tab 2, Samsung seems to have kept a low profile in the customisations. Sure, there are still some bespoke Samsung apps installed, and the lockscreen is very much of Samsung lineage, rather than of the standard Android bloodline. But the light touch means that the Tab isn't cluttered with countless Samsung tweaks. We like that.

Samsung has added one little touch that we rather like. In the middle of the screen - along the bottom with the navigation keys and system tray - is a little upward pointing chevron. Tapping this opens a tray of mini apps, which are little widget-like devices that load, but sit over the top of whatever you are looking at on the device. There is a calculator here, along with a music player and a task manager, all accessible no matter what you're doing. We tested using Netflix in the background, and when you switch to the mini app, the video pauses, but if you need to do something quickly, it's quite handy. The only problem is, these apps seem limited to just a few Samsung provides. We'd like to see even more stuff added here really, as it's a neat idea.

Oddly, Samsung also includes a "take screenshot" button which is on screen at all times. We found this quite weird, as the amount of times in any given week you might want to take screenshots is probably fairly small. Still, when you're reviewing an Android device not having access to make screenshots is really frustrating. So if nothing else, we're pleased to have the button!

Screen

One area where this device has trumped its older brother is in the screen technology. This is very apparent when you take both devices outside. The older, original tab is nowhere near as bright and clear to read in our week-long English summer.

But best of all, the detail levels are fantastic. And this is a surprise in some regards, because the new Tab doesn't have a higher resolution than the original. What it does have is a new PLS, a form of IPS panel - screen, which has brightness and picture quality enhancements over previous generations.

However you look at it, the screen in the new Tab is great. It's bright, has plenty of detail and makes watching video and reading books or webpages a delight. It's probably worth upgrading for on its own.

Camera

Oh tablets as cameras, how we love you, let us count the ways. Ah, we don't. No one uses tablet cameras for a photo unless they already have the tablet in their hand and putting it down to pick up a phone would be too much hassle.

Even so, results on the Tab 2 aren't dreadful - and bear in mind, the resolution of the camera hasn't changed from the original Tab either. Colour is the best bit, with some realistic and vivid tones being produced. Detail is less perfect, and zooming in yields the traditional low-quality sensor and lens problem of an ugly smooshy mess. Grass, for example, is just green haze. For uploading to Facebook, they're fine; for keeping as a record of your life, prepared to be bitterly disappointed in years to come.

Perhaps most alarming though, we found that images on the new Tab aren't even as good as those from the first version. If you don't believe us, check out the image below, which is taken on our first generation tab, versus the one above, taken on the new device. Both colour and sharpness are better on the older image.

Video has been upped from 720p in the original Tab to 1080p here. But these are really just numbers. It's the processing power that allows the new Tab to do 1080p, not the increase in camera quality - which we think is minimal anyway - so results will be 1080p in name, but in reality far less impressive than even a cheap HD camcorder.

More powerful

The worst issue we have with our original Tab is that its processor is a little underpowered. The new device, happily, has a dual-core processor. This means that streaming video from Plex to our Tab is now possible. On the first-generation machine, we have to force the quality down to get smooth playback. On the new device, this isn't the case, and streamed video looks really terrific.

This will no doubt impact on all aspects of the tablet too, so gaming will become a more viable proposition on this new Galaxy Tab. But however you look at it, the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich needs more juice anyway, so the processor upgrade is crucial.

Battery life

As always, we're not really able to give you a reliable battery life for this device. The capacity, at 4000mAh, is identical to the older Tab. With that device, leaving it in standby means you can get weeks of occasional use out of it. It's predictable that games and web surfing will kill power quicker than anything else.

Indeed, on our original Tab, we could flatten the battery in a few hours, if we blitzed 3G data for any length of time. In our review sample though, we have no 3G, only Wi-Fi, so it's harder to really do much damage quickly - unless you play games.

Video will obviously consume a lot of juice too, because the screen will be on constantly, and this is by far the biggest battery drain on this tablet.

Still, there are no real concerns for us here, and with modest use, we've managed three days, with the possibility of another if we keep our use similar.

Verdict

So, it seems to us that the new Tab doesn't move things on as much as we had hoped it would. It's not really thinner or lighter than its predecessor. It doesn't have much more functionality, beside the move to Ice Cream Sandwich, and somehow, the camera seems worse on the new device.

If you own an original Galaxy Tab, the only real reason to upgrade would be if you needed the extra processing power, or wanted the new OS, which will never be available on the original device. Perhaps this is just a sign that the original Tab was really good, or perhaps Samsung doesn't see this sized device selling in any great numbers and hasn't made a huge effort.

Whatever the reason, the Galaxy Tab remains a great device, well worth considering if you want a smaller tablet.