Photos by Veronica Oggy

When the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 was introduced, it was hardly proof the iPad had much to worry about from the 7-inch Android market. Not because of the its 7-inch display, however, which actually turned out to be a much nicer experience than cheerleaders of Apple’s view would have you believe. If the new Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus accomplishes one task successfully, it’s proving once again a 7-inch slate is an undeniably ideal size for the majority of everyday, on-the-go tasks, and with Honeycomb 3.2 and beefed up insides, Samsung’s new 7-inch experience could be your next tablet.

Right out the gate it’s clear this is the best Android tablet I’ve used– While pretty much the same experience on the slightly scaled up Galaxy Tab 10.1 feels inferior to the iPad, the 7.0 Plus seems to stand on its own. It’s also never been more clear how much Apple needs a product in the 7-inch category, and that’s saying a lot for the short amount of time I’ve spent with the device.

Design:

Best iPhone, iPad, & Apple TV game controllers

Not a ton of surprises for owners of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or 8.9, the design is essentially a scaled down version of those two tablets– slightly rounded plastic backside with brushed metallic gray finish, yet comes in a little thicker than both at 9.9mm.  A vast improvement over the 11.98mm thick original Tab. Absence of physical navigation buttons on the face makes way for onscreen buttons courtesy of Honeycomb, and unless you’re an iPad user used to constantly pressing the Home button, they won’t really be missed. Overall fit and finish is just short of being comparable to the the 8.9 and 10.1 Galaxy Tabs, mainly due to a noticeable gap/seam where the back panel meets the bezel.

The slightly thicker design isn’t reason to grab the 8.9-inch model instead, it’s almost unnoticeable, especially when the 7-inch design comes with so many other advantages, like the ability to carry it comfortably in a coat pocket. Along the right side is the power button, volume rocker, and IR blaster, up top to the right is just a 3.5mm headphone jack, and microSD is by itself on the left. The power button is awkwardly positioned, as reaching for the volume rockers, or holding the device in landscape orientation to snap a photo, often results in putting the device to sleep if you’re not paying particular attention.

The door on the microSD slot feels as flimsy as usual. Along the bottom there’s a mic and speaker on either side of the dock connector. You won’t be disappointed with the audio. It’s still kind of boxy sounding like any smartphone or tablet’s stereo speaker, but it’s much louder than any smartphone and keeps up with, and possibly even beats out larger tablets I’ve used.

Display:

Many have pointed out the display hasn’t received much of an upgrade at 1024 x 600 and 170ppi, but I can’t complain. The screen looks gorgeous and it still feels like a step up from the 10.1, while comparable to the 8.9. The display won’t differentiate it from the rest, but it shouldn’t be much of a concern for you when comparing it to the competition. The viewing angles were again on par with its competition, and any glare issues are pretty much a fact of life for every tablet currently on the market.

Despite some critics of 7-inch tablet devices thinking they’re not an ideal size to navigate with our fingers, I found the opposite to be true. This is the first decent 7-inch tablet I’ve spent a good amount of time with, and it proved to me just how perfect the 7-inch display is for navigating with with both thumbs. When in landscape view, it’s much nicer than a 10-inch tab to flip through two-pane views in apps like Gmail…your thumbs can easily reach everything on the screen. In portrait mode, especially when typing, it again feels like the ideal size for your thumbs to reach everything with little effort.

Performance/Software:

TouchWiz is actually a little nicer than you might expect– the mini apps tray gives access to a few handy apps and is accessible via the always visible arrow in the bottom middle of the screen. The apps (Calendar, Task Manager, Pen Memo, Music Player, etc) run in their own separate window, allowing you to use, for instance, a calculator within another app like in the image above. The calculator and notepad are always useful, and the bottom right quick settings panel is nice. Still, I’d choose to disable it and run a pure Google tablet experience if given the option, as the rest of it–SocialHub, Live Panel widgets, mail, etc.– is pretty much useless. The good news is you can just about avoid and forget about most of these features as the majority are easily tucked away.

There wasn’t much the 1.2GHz dual-core processor couldn’t handle. No issues with graphic-rich 3D games, no stutters with Maps…everything is extremely snappy. Some unexplainable hiccups when just navigating the UI, i.e jumping between the apps page and Home screen, can probably be attributed to Honeycomb, which noticeably lacks a little polish.

Camera:

Much like we found in our recent Motorola Razr review, the camera on the Tab 7.0 Plus is super laggy, taking two, sometimes three seconds to actually capture the image from the time you’ve snapped the photo. This makes it nearly impossible to take shots of moving objects. If you do manage to get a shot of your subject, images taken by the 3MP main cam look nice, but definitely won’t impress. Video looks half decent, but lighting is essential. A couple videos I took outdoors looked great, but with indoor lighting the cam’s limitations are obvious.

While you’re likely not purchasing a 7-inch tablet to replace your main camera, or even the camera in your smartphone, taking pictures with the smaller form factor is actually much more enjoyable than holding up 9+ inch tablet, which tends to feel awkward. As cameras in tablets and smartphones quickly make our everyday point-and-shoot cams obsolete, I’d imagine 7-inch or smaller tablets being the ideal size for camera-heavy tablet users. The Tab 7.0 Plus camera is definitely not a selling point, and probably won’t replace even your smartphone’s camera.

Peel Remote/ IR Blaster:

The Tab 7.0 Plus has built-in Infrared blaster that allows you to control your cable box via a preloaded Peel Remote app. This sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. Functionality is essentially limited to browsing TV guides for your cable provider, changing channels, setting custom buttons and “favorites”, and sharing content you like via Facebook and Twitter. The UI is actually pretty nice, but it probably isn’t preferable to your cable provider’s built-in channel guide and your TV’s built-in navigation features. Also, similar functionality for controlling your TV is already available on just about any smartphone or tablet through any number of third-party apps using bluetooth. It just feels too big and too heavy to use as your main remote everyday.

Battery:

While using it as my main device for email, some browsing, music, Twitter and Facebook, etc., I got almost two full days of normal to slightly heavy usage before having to charge it up. Continuous video playback with a few movies got me about 6 hours. This was all at approximately 70% display brightness. Not bad at all, but it wasn’t all good…

Far from perfect…

Everything seemed to be going fine– the display was super responsive, apps launched right away with no hang time, graphic-intensive games ran smooth, no hiccups with video, camera was a little sketchy but images looked great, and I was really liking the experience. Then, the more I started playing with it, the more I realized the overall experience feels perfect about 70% of the time. Other times it was sticky just launching apps or multitasking between a browser with several tabs open and few other apps. However, it felt like Honeycomb’s problem, as I didn’t have any real issues with the display’s responsiveness when playing games or anything else that I could easily reproduce.

On two occasions I had the browser freeze right up when at 30% battery life and below (with only a few tabs open and one or two other apps running). I noticed the whole machine got extremely sluggish when at 30% or lower battery life, which might be expected for some apps, but I didn’t expect the device to become inoperable just because it was getting low on juice. One time after crashing, a reboot wouldn’t do the trick, and it didn’t want to take a charge. It eventually came back to life after the several reboots. Hopefully these are issues with the unit I had, but it’s something I’d investigate further before recommending the device.

Wrapup:

If a 9+ inch tablet feels a little too clunky to carry around, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is probably the best 7-inch tablet, but at $399, I’d feel more comfortable recommending it at $50-$100 cheaper. It simply doesn’t feel like a $400+ device. With the 10.1 model at $499 (same as the iPad 2), a 7-inch iPad starting at $399 would more than likely make this device obsolete anyway. Samsung’s own upcoming Galaxy Tab 7.7 will probably do the same. That being said, it’s still easily the best 7-inch Android tablet on the market right now, and the majority of its issues are present in its larger Android counterparts as well. If a 9+ inch tablet is out of the question, and you don’t want to wait to see what the new year brings us, this is your best bet.

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