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I’ve been playing with Samsung’s newest 7 inch tablet, the Galaxy Tab 2, for the past week and can report that Samsung is making some progress on the 7-inch form factor.  In fact if it weren’t for Samsung’s own Tab 7.7 with Super AMOLED+ display (which Verizon has cornered the market on in the US), I’d say it is the best small form factor tablet you can get your hands on.  And for $249, why wouldn’t you? Here’s why:

Samsung has responded to the $199 Kindle and $249 Nook by dropping the price of its 7-inch device to $249.  To get there, Samsung is using some more inexpensive parts that it has on higher end products.  The most notable cost savings is on the display which is a TFT LCD rather than Samsung’s higher end SuperAMOLED (as in the 7.7).  It also appears a little weaker in the Wifi department than its Galaxy Tab 7 predecessor which got a signal at my desk about 20 yards from my router.  This device wouldn’t work at my desk and required a few more paces toward the wifi router.

As far as hardware is concerned, that’s where the disappointments end.  In fact, it is an big improvement in many areas. Tab 2 is significantly thinner than the Tab 7 but about the same as the Tab Plus) and feels better in hand than the square cornered Amazon Kindle.  It also feels more sturdy.  The speakers are some of the best I’ve heard on a 7-inch tablet, certainly better than Amazon’s effort.

Where the Samsung moves away from the eBook Tablets like Kindle and Nook however are the cameras.  These are both solid for video chatting and the backside is medium-high grade for a phone.  These are very much the same solid grade 3 Megapixel as the previous Galaxy Tabs but unlike the previous model, this one doesn’t have a flash (and the pictures are not great in low light. Samsung includes adequate photo and video editors as well.

Under the hood, Samsung has the same dual core processor but they feel faster than its predecessor or those color eBook readers.  This might have more to do with optimized Android 4.0 with a now familiar heavy Touchwiz overlay.

The one hardware area where this thing jumps over the competition is the IR blaster, which, when coupled with an optimized Peel remote app brings a great living room experience to bear.

Setting up Peel is easy with a wizard that asks you your Brand of TV and knows your location and uses it to help figure out your cable plan.  Once set up you have an interactive TV guide at your fingertips.  This feature alone pushes the Tab 2 above the expensive Harmony remotes you get from Logitech.

Samsung throws in some other bonuses including games like Angry Birds and a free 1 year 50GB Drop box subscription (normally $100).  Year 2 and on are on you however.

As far as apps, Hulu is not yet ready for this Tab (even though it works fine on the Kindle with the exact same screen) but Netflix is working reasonably well (scrolling is a bit jerky but w.e.).

Battery life is great and the system doesn’t use much power when not in use.  I’ve used this tablet for about an hour or two a day for four days straight.  My Kindle or older Galaxy Tabs would have died long ago.  This one is just starting to warn me of power issues.

Conclusion:

This is a nice evolution on the 7-inch tablet.  Ice Cream Sandwich, although heavily overlaid with Touchwiz, makes this a leading tablet contender on top of tried and true two year Galaxy Tab lineage.  If you are thinking Kindle but want some better hardware and cameras, along with this great IR blaster Peel remote functionality, the $50 is easily justifiable in my book.

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