Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0: A low-cost, full-featured Android tablet

Android 4.0 and features like a built-in infrared port highlight this 7-inch value tablet standout.

On the surface, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 appears to be little more than a low-key refresh of its six-month-old predecessor, the in-betweener Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. And while that’s true, the Tab 2’s noticeably lower cost—at $250, it dropped in price by 38 percent from the 7.0 Plus--coupled with its numerous features give it a clear advantage over leading value tablet competitors Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet.

With that sizable drop, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 marks the first time a premium Android tablet maker like Samsung has gone full-bore after the value space. The Galaxy Tab 2is competitively priced against the $200 of Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. Those popular 7-inch tablets each use their own customized versions of Android. These variants on Android can provide a more integrated experience for some tasks, such as reading books and magazines, or acquiring media, but it comes at the cost of the wider compatibility of the Android app universe; both Amazon and Barnes & Noble require you to purchase apps only via their respective storefronts.

The Galaxy Tab 2 runs Android 4.0, unlike those other inexpensive Android tablets (the Nook and Kindle Fire both run variants built on Android 2.3; that means it can handle standard Android phone and tablet apps in the Google Play store. It also offers features that neither the Kindle Fire nor Nook Tablet do, among them an infrared port and a rear-facing camera. Samsung sacrificed built-in storage capacity (just 8GB, same as the other two value tablets and half of the 16GB provided on the Tab 7.0 Plus) to achieve the Tab 2's low price, but that doesn’t detract from the Tab 2’s widespread appeal.

Galaxy Tab 2: Design and Performance

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is an evolutionary step over the extremely similar Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Both models weigh 0.76 pounds, and both feature a similar design and build quality, and both have similar dimensions. Both measure 4.8 by 7.6 inches, but the Tab 2 is slightly thicker at 0.41 inches, compared to the 7.0 Plus' 0.39 inches. The balance and weight are such that this tablet isn’t onerous to hold one-handed, though I’d like to see the weight get lighter-still.

Only subtle tweaks distinguish the two. For example, the Tab 2’s plastic bezel curves around to the front of the screen, giving the front-face of the tablet a pleasing look. Tab 2 also has a larger infrared port, located along the top edge of the tablet when holding the tablet in landscape mode; the port now wraps around the back of the tablet, presumably to improve communications between the tablet and your entertainment components. The power button and volume rocker, also along that same edge, have a more rounded, easier-to-press shape. The microSD Card slot door is slightly (by millimeters) wider, too, and ever so slightly easier to open, but you'll still need to do so using a fingernail. You can add up to 32GB of storage via microSD, a big benefit over Kindle Fire, which lacks any expansion slot for local storage.

The back of the Tab 2’s case is a light, “titanium”-shaded plastic, as opposed to the darker brushed gray of the earlier model. And while the rear-camera is the same, at 3 megapixels, the Tab 2 lacks the flash found on the 7.0 Plus.

Scrapping the flash is just one thing that the Tab 2 sacrificed to achieve its low price. Inside, the Tab 2 has a 1GHz dual-core processor, down from the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ 1.2-GHz dual-core processor. The processor change might account for why in the PCWorld Labs tests the Tab 2 took 14 seconds longer to boot up than the Tab 7.0 Plus; and it turned in noticeably slower framerate on the two GL Benchmark tests we run.

Other sacrifices: As noted earlier, the Tab 2 has just 8GB of memory, down from 16GB of memory found on the Tab 7.0 Plus. At 8GB, the Tab 2's built-in storage is on a par with Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. And the front-facing camera drops from 2-megapixels on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus to a mere 640 by 480 resolution on the Tab 2—a significant real-world quality drop that resulted in pixellated conversations when using the camera for video chat.

Samsung's Plane to Line Switching (PLS) display is 1024 by 600 pixels, same as on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus before it. At this point, this display is merely average, as several 7-inch tablets with 1200 by 800 resolution are now available. I noticed colors were slightly off on the Tab 2 compared to how they appeared on the older 7.0 Plus model; detail in images viewed in the native Google Gallery app appeared slightly worse, too, although the tablets still scored closely on our display subjective tests. I'm currently investigating this issue. Some of the differences may be attributable to the display itself; or, they may have some root in how Google has changed Android's image handling between Android 3.2 (which shipped on the Tab 7.0 Plus) and Android 4.0.3 (which shipped on the Galaxy Tab 2).

Another interesting difference between the two tablets: The Tab 2 has better audio output. Music sounded fuller, and not in an over-processed way. The Tab 2 does have an equalizer option, which the 7.0 Plus lacked, but none of the effects were on.

As a bonus over its Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet competition, the Tab 2 adds Bluetooth and GPS, too. Together with some of the other features already discussed, the Tab 2 is ahead of the Fire and Nook when it comes to features.

Tab 2: The Software

The Tab 2 series is Samsung’s first to ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. In addition to Android 4.0, Samsung includes its own TouchWiz UX overlay with convenient pop-up launcher tweaks for fast access to a sliding bar of widget-like apps provided by Samsung (such as calculator, e-mail, and world clock). TouchWiz also provides an easy screen-capture utility and super-handy customizations to the settings pop-up, along with some Samsung-specific software apps, such as AllShare for DLNA network media sharing, and Samsung’s own app stores for games, media, books, and music.

In addition to the Samsung-branded apps, the Galaxy Tab 2 comes with a handful of useful Android apps pre-installed. Among them: Dropbox (with a year of 50GB Dropbox service included); the Peel Smart Remote app for use with the infrared port; and Polaris Office. The Peel app is a mixed experience, though; while it makes it easy to discover content visually, configuring the settings can be frustrating, and browsability could be improved. Ultimately, Samsung would do far better to write its own, more basic remote control app, as Sony has done on its Tablet S.

If you own a Samsung Wi-Fi camera or a HDTV, you may be able to benefit from some additional capabilities of the Tab 2that tie into Samsung’s product stable. Remote Viewfinder works with Samsung's Wi-Fi cameras. The Remote Viewfinder feature could have some interesting applications for group photos, for example; with this capability, you can use Wi-Fi Direct to form a connection between the tablet and the camera, and together with an app on the tablet, you can then use the tablet to control the viewfinder, shutter, zoom, and flash of the camera. Smart View lets you mirror content from your TV on the tablet, but this only works with Samsung 7000 series LED HDTVs, circa 2011 and beyond.

Bottom Line

Even though the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 has some nifty features like the infrared port and Wi-Fi Direct, it is neither a premium tablet nor a pure-play budget tablet. The big question is whether full Android compatibility and those extras are worth paying $50--or 25 percent--more than what you’d pay for an Amazon Kindle Fire or a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. The answer: A resounding yes, with a catch.

The catch, of course, lies with what lies around the corner in tablets—namely, Asus’s upcoming $250 tablet that's expected to have 1200 by 800 resolution and a Tegra 3 processor. That model still doesn’t have an announcement date beyond “second-quarter,” so for the moment, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 is safely in the lead among inexpensive 7-inch Android tablets. It has flaws, but it delivers the most full-featured set of options among its current competitive set.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)

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