The Galaxy Tab

“It’s like when you take the pan of brownies out of the oven because you think they’re done, but they’re not done, and you just end up with a gooey mess.”

I tasked my double-second-cousin-in-law with the initial test of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1″ because she’s the only one in the household who carries an Android phone.  (The rest of us rock two iPhones and a Blackberry Torch.)  After a little playing around, I thought that I should staff the evaluation out to someone who was already familiar with Android, so as to diminish the familiarity bias I have for iOS.  And since she’s never used an iPad either, it was a true test of the utility of the Android tablet qua tablet rather than in comparison to anything else.

The early reviews were not good.  The settings were complicated, and everything seemed to take an extra step.  The thing was too difficult to hold in portrait mode (probably due to the wrist leverage from its length) and everything was generally optimized for landscape anyway, which sort of undercut the Kindle app.  But the Kindle app itself was fine, and she was able to create and start up an Evernote account without a fight.  Plus streaming video from SyFy seems to work just fine, and she seems to be happy with the Redfin app (they are house-hunting, as you would expect anyone living with me to do).

For my own part, I was a little put off by the inability of one of the flagship Android devices to run the Economist application, which was annoying.  But then, maybe I didn’t have the download preferences set properly to allow non-Market downloads, which might be necessary.  I did find apps for Twitter, Foursquare and Evernote without a fight, although the UI was not as satisfactory for any of them.

Most puzzling, though, was the utility of the Google apps themselves.  The Maps app was fine until I got into Street View, at which point I could only navigate by dragging the little pegboard man to a new place – where the view would then be reoriented.  The tradition “just click on the line down the street to advance down it” familiar from the web – or the iPhone – wasn’t there, and that was a little surprising.  The Google Reader app, meanwhile, wasn’t materially different from the mobile version of the Reader website.

Long story short: it’s not terrible or unbearable by any stretch.  They seem to be enjoying it perfectly well.  But after a night and a day of experimenting with the combination of the latest OS and the newest hardware, I would be hard-pressed to offer a typical civilian user a good reason to take it over an iPad.  The only legitimate cases to be made for it are either highly technical or ideologically colored; it’s not going to win on price, weight, screen clarity, speed, app selection or ease of use. Although if you’re willing to use your Google account for everything, it does do a superior job of integrating with those services (and backing the tablet up to same).

So…will keep poking away and see what’s doing.  But I’m not expecting this to make a major dent in my current mobility assessment.

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