I guess we have Amazon to thank for proving that you don't need a premium tablet to be successful. While Samsung tried competing on the premium tablet front for the last year and will continue to do so, it's finding this strategy to be more difficult than anticipated.
With the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the company is, thankfully, learning from its mistakes and taking a price cue from Amazon by offering a full-featured tablet for $250. The market isn't stagnant, though, so will Samsung actually have time to capitalize before more powerful and still cheap alternatives enter the fray?
The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 sports a slightly altered design from the Tab 7.0 Plus, but you'd be hard-pressed to notice those differences at first glance, unless of course you're as intimately familiar with the Plus as I am.
The shape and weight are about the same with some slight dimensional differences. The new tablet's outer plastic shell spills a bit into the bezel at the right and left sides and the power/sleep button and volume rocker are more pronounced and feel slightly more responsive. Also, the IR blaster is a bit larger than the one on the Plus.
Aside from that, they're pretty much physically identical. The Tab 2 7.0 is fairly thin, although not Tab 7.7-thin. It's also comfortable to hold, with smooth, rounded corners. Samsung identifies the color that covers the back of the tablet as "titanium silver," which seems apt enough.
The microSD card slot allows you to add an additional 32GB of storage on top of the built-in 8GB. Samsung provides 50GB of free Dropbox storage for a year on top of that. The door to the microSD slot is easier to open now and doesn't get stuck as often as the Tab Plus' did.
The 2-megapixel front camera from the Plus has been replaced with a VGA one here, but the rear is still rated at 3 megapixels, albeit sans an LED. Thankfully, each camera is located in the upper left corner when you hold the tablet in landscape, thus allowing them to avoid unwanted fingers creeping into the camera frame when taking a picture.
Equidistant from surrounding dual speakers on the right sits a dock connector, and the left edge houses a headphone jack and microphone pinhole. The ambient light sensor sits about an inch away from the front camera on the bezel. However, the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the tablet's brightness when auto brightness is turned on is calibrated too sensitively. When typing, my hand would occasionally cover the sensor making the screen darken. This was so consistent (and annoying) that I was forced to turn off auto brightness on the tablet while I used it.
Sadly, as with most Samsung tablets, there's no HDMI port, requiring you to purchase an adapter if you'd like to play video from your tablet on your TV.
Possibly the biggest selling point (other than its price) of the Tab 2 7.0 is that it ships with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3 to be precise) installed, making it the first Samsung tablet to do so.
Samsung's TouchWiz UI skin is of course included and comes with custom Samsung apps like Music Hub, Media Hub, and Game Hub, a built-in screenshot app, and the Mini Apps tray located on the bottom of the screen. Tapping it brings up a tray of apps consisting of a calculator, notes, calendar, music player, and clock. However, the most useful of these is still the task manager, though which you can quickly kill any app running in the background; this comes in handy when apps become otherwise unresponsive.
The basic look and design of ICS are retained, just with a TouchWiz skin and a few extra shortcuts for quickly turning off Wi-Fi, GPS, screen rotation, and so on.
Peel's Smart Remote App
“The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 offers an excellent value and a full Android 4.0 experience that no other tablet can currently match for the price.”
The IR blaster found on the Tabs 7.7 and 7.0 Plus makes its way to the Tab 2 7.0 and, in conjunction with Peel's included Smart Remote app, helps turn your tablet into a remote control for your TV. Peel can take the place of your cable or satellite channel guide and display a list of shows currently playing locally on your cable or satellite provider's channels. Go to the currently playing tab and click on a show, and your TV switches to the appropriate channel. Peel does a great job of holding your hand initially through a step-by-step setup wizard. The setup only requires that you know your TV's manufacturer's name, your cable/satellite
provider, and your ZIP code. Thankfully, Peel spares us from having to know any more detailed information; however, be aware that Smart Remote does not work with regular monitors, only TVs or monitor/TV combos.
Once it's set up, you can browse shows by category, mark shows as favorites, or prevent shows you'd rather not see on the list from showing up again. Thankfully, Smart Remote now syncs with over-the-air listings, but its accuracy as to which shows and channels were available to me left a bit to be desired.
Navigating the interface took some getting used to, but was easy enough to pick up; however, I took issue with the method by which cable TV screen menus are controlled by the interface. Peel went with a swipe interface that requires you to flick the screen in one of four directions to highlight different menus. While this method works and after some time could be gotten used to, I would have much preferred more-direct directional controls.
As I learned with the Tab 7.0 Plus and Tab 7.7, Smart Remote's accuracy is very closely dictated by the information cable and satellite providers choose to release. So, while the Smart Remote guide might indicate that "Law & Order" was on right now on Channel 12, selecting it didn't always take me to the appropriate channel. In addition, sometimes the channel wasn't available to me or there was a different show on the channel at that time.
While Peel's Smart Remote is still missing some features, it's well-implemented overall. However, I'm still waiting for Hulu and Netflix integration, and an actual search feature would be useful. Also, while I found that the remote reliably functions from 10 to 20 feet away, performance is definitely more reliable within 8 feet. Also, the tablet does not handle obstructions like coffee tables as well as my normal remote does, requiring you to be much more precise when aiming it.
The Tab 2 7.0 houses a 1GHz dual-core OMAP 4430 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. Tablet mainstays like 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 3.0, and GPS are included as well as gyroscope, accelerometer, and digital compass support.
The two speakers on the bottom of the tablet deliver typically "OK, I guess" tablet-quality sound that gets a bit staticky and distorted if you increase the volume too much.
The Tab 2 7.0 uses the same PLS-based panel tech the Plus does, running at a resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. I consider that resolution middling for a 7-inch screen, as some run as high as 1,280x800 pixels and look considerably sharper doing so. The Tab 2 7.0's screen clarity isn't bad, but it doesn't reach the pixel-dense heights of other 7-inchers, like the Thrive 7-inch.
Also, either there are different tiers of quality when it comes to PLS panels, or Samsung really didn't devote much time or effort to calibrating the Tab 2 7.0's color. Compared with the 7.0 Plus, its screen looks noticeably greener and colors appear washed out.
When swiping through screens and navigating menus, the screen matches the sensitivity of some the most responsive Android screens out there, like the Transformer Prime. Also, apps launch without delay and settings menu options appear readily after tapping them.
Web and app download speeds matched most other Android tablets when within 5 feet of our test router and even when up to 20 feet away the connection retained much of its strength. While scrolling through Web sites was smooth, there was a noticeable degree of clipping as the processor attempted to keep up with its rendering duties. Nothing that broke the experience, but it was definitely noticeable.
Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the tablet's CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. Thanks to its faster 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos 4210 CPU, the Tab 7.0 Plus renders the game with a high frame rate
that looks to approach 60 frames per second. The Tab 2 7.0's TI OMAP 4430 CPU, in comparison, fails to come close to that performance. It's not choppy and it's pretty consistent, but it's just not as buttery-smooth.
In 2D games like Angry Birds Space, we didn't notice any performance difference aside from slightly slower load times on the Tab 2 7.0.
As mentioned, the Tab 2 7.0 has a front-facing VGA camera and a 3-megapixel back camera. Compared with the Plus, the difference between images and video recorded on the front camera was quickly apparent. A picture of my face taken with the VGA camera, for example, lacked many embarrassing and detailed blemishes, while a similar pic from the Plus' 2-megapixel retained many of my facial "features" I'd rather people not see.
The 3-megapixel back camera fared better, capturing more details, but the Tab 2 7.0's pictures still looked washed-out and lacked contrast. While the 7.0 Plus' camera took a longer time to focus, it resulted in higher-quality pictures.
720p video playback from outside sources was smooth and crisp; however, try as I might, 1080p video files would not play on the tablet, though Samsung claims it's compatible with the format.
Our Tab 2 7.0's battery drained fairly quickly with normal use over the course of several hours. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results.
Though it gives up a few things to get there, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0's very competitive $250 price does a great job of making you ignore those sacrifices. However, there may be tablets on the horizon that could shine a light on corners Samsung cut.
The Asus Memo 370T is, as of this moment, still slated to be released in the second quarter with a higher-resolution screen, an 8-megapixel camera, and a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU. All for the same $250 price. There's also the rumored $150-$200 Tegra 3-powered Google Nexus tablet possibly coming in July to consider as well.
That said, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is out this month, on April 22, while the aforementioned tablets have yet to receive concrete release dates.
The $200 Kindle Fire is available now, however. The Tab 2 7.0 is $50 more than the Fire, and doesn't give you full access to Amazon's impressive content ecosystem. On the Tab 2 7.0, books, magazines, and newspapers are accessible via the Kindle app, and you can stream or download Amazon's Cloud Player music, but "free" Amazon Prime books aren't available, nor is any Amazon video content. With the Tab 2 7.0 you can stream movies through Netflix or rent them on Google Play, but there's currently no way to purchase TV shows on Android, unless through a Kindle Fire. Still, that might be worth the trade-off for Amazon fans who want the Tab 2 7.0's extra features. Expandable storage, Bluetooth, IR blaster, dual cameras, microphone, and GPS isn't a bad deal for just $50 extra.
There's something to be said for convenience, though. Once your Amazon account is installed on the Fire, you can begin consuming all of your books, video, and music immediately, rather than deal with different apps and log-ins during your initial setup. It may not sound like a big deal on paper, but it's one of those intangible conveniences you only truly appreciate once you've reset your system a few times.
Also, Amazon has been very consistent with Kindle Fire updates, making many useful and tangible performance and interface improvements. Meanwhile Samsung tablets launched last year are still waiting for ICS. Something to consider when making your decision.
The Fire is a simply a gentler introduction into the world of tablets that's relatively safe, controlled, simple, and convenient. If that sounds appealing and you don't care about cameras, and 8GB of storage sounds like all you'll ever need, then the Kindle Fire is your best bet.