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Technology Untangled: Samsung 7-inch tablet fills a portable niche

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technology-bourI was intrigued by one of the latest tablet offerings from Samsung, so I bought one to try it out. Today we will review the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. The first two things that caught my attention were the low $250 price and the small 7-inch size.

The gold standard in tablets is, of course, the iPad, but its 10-inch size has never appealed to me. I prefer the 7- to 8-inch size because of the ease of holding it in one hand and the ability to slip it into some pockets. The 7-inch Galaxy is likelier to be with me when I need it due to its portability.

The market for smaller tablets exploded last year with the introduction of the similarly sized Kindle Fire. The Kindle’s low $200 price was a huge factor in its success, and I think Samsung took notice. Samsung has offered Galaxy tablets in the 7-inch size for several years, but at prices closer to the $350 to $400 mark. In a move counter to the normal logic of each new model being “bigger, better and faster,” Samsung released the Galaxy Tab 2 with a slightly dialed-back set of specifications in order to meet a price point that could compete with the Kindle. It doesn’t have the fastest processor, the most memory or the biggest cameras, but it does present a very capable and functional package at a competitive price.

While the size and the 1024 x 600 screen resolutions are the same for the Galaxy and the Kindle, several features make the Samsung product a better value. The Galaxy Tab includes a front- and rear-facing camera, as well as a microSD memory card slot for expansion. The Galaxy also includes backlighting, convenient for reading e-books at night.

But there is one feature that is decidedly top-of-the-line on the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. It includes the newest and slickest Android operating system – the highly anticipated Android version 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. This version was designed to function very smoothly on tablets and smartphones. The Galaxy Tab 2 is a full-fledged Android device, unlike the Kindle, which has a more restrictive Android functionality and an inability to access the full universe of Android apps in the Android Market.

The Android Market was recently renamed the Google Play Store and I think this name change gives a clue as to the target market for Android devices. I will be interested to see if there is much development of Android tablets into more serious work tools or if their niche will remain as more of an entertainment device.

For simplicity, I wanted a tablet that operated in a similar manner to my Motorola Android smartphone, but there were enough differences to make the learning curve steeper than expected. Part of this was due to the newer 4.0 operating system and partly to the interface features that Samsung layers on top of that. It probably would have been just as easy to learn the iPad operating system instead.

The Galaxy has taken over some of the tasks that I had been using my smartphone to carry out. Web browsing works well on this device and it is definitely easier to view the tablet screen instead of the phone’s tiny screen. But since it is a WiFi-only device, it doesn’t connect from everywhere like the phone. Tablet browsing is also more convenient and accessible than sitting down in front of the computer, but there is one drawback. There is no easy way to print a Web page. Thus, it seems that for serious Internet research for work, the laptop is still best. The Galaxy Tab does however have a feature that allows you to snap, save and share a screen capture so you can eventually print it.

For email use, the larger screen is also better than the smartphone, but the lack of a real, tactile keyboard is a drawback. The one nice feature about the tablet’s virtual keyboard is an included “.com” key that saves typing time.

As an e-book reader, I really like the Galaxy. The previously mentioned backlight is an important feature for me. For magazines however, I have to admit that a 10-inch iPad-size screen would be better. But while a larger screen would be easier on my eyes, the size tradeoff and the reduced portability are not worth it to me.

In my limited testing thus far, the closest I’ve come to a legitimate work application was in using the Galaxy Tablet for facilitating a face-to-face meeting via Skype. The connection was surprisingly stable, even while moving around, and the picture quality even with the minimal camera was quite acceptable.

The strong points of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 are as an entertainment and app downloading device. It has a solid set of features and a great price. While it has filled a niche by taking over some of the tasks previously covered by the smartphone and the laptop, it is the least important work-related device of the three. iPad lovers take note that there are rumors that Apple is developing a low-cost 7-inch iPad to also compete in this market segment.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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