We go hands-on with the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G, Australia's first 4G tablet.
It's all about 4G
Apple's new iPad has 4G capabilities that won't work in Australia, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G is compatible with Telstra's new 4G network. In fact, it's the first 4G capable tablet to launch in Australia and just the third product to work on Telstra's new 4G network, period. The telco released the 4G USB modem in October last year and then followed that up with the HTC Velocity 4G Android smartphone. Does 4G make the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G a big deal?
The answer is both yes and no, simply because Telstra's 4G coverage is currently pretty limited. It's available in all eight capital cities (5km from GPO) and their respective airports in Australia, along with around 80 regional and metropolitan centres (3km from city centre). Unless you're using your tablet regularly in one of these coverage zones, the benefit of 4G will be minimal.
Admittedly, 4G coverage on the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is pretty impressive if you can get it. Running a speed test app in our North Sydney office, we managed to achieve regular download speeds of over 20 megabits per second (Mbps), with upload speeds reaching an impressive 15Mbps. Like all mobile networks, the speeds you manage will depend on a number of factors including network congestion, location, time and content. Given Telstra's 4G network is still in its infancy, congestion is minimal. You're definitely going to get impressive speeds with a 4G device like the Galaxy Tab 8.9.
When you're not in a 4G network zone, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G will simply fall back to Telstra's regular Next G network. Like HTC's Velocity 4G smartphone, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G has dual channel HSPA+ connectivity, meaning its 3G data speeds are likely to be faster than many phones and tablets on the market. Officially, Telstra quotes typical download speeds from 1.1-20Mbps in a 3G zone, though as usual we found real world figures somewhat less.
Just another Android tablet?
4G capabilities aside, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G is really just another Android tablet. We love both the size and display — in our opinion the 8.9in screen is a great balance of portability and size, while the device itself is pretty well constructed. It's a mere 8.6 millimetres thick and weighs only 470g, making it thinner and lighter than the new iPad and the iPad 2.
Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G uses a proprietary dock connector and doesn't have a memory card slot for extra storage. This will disappoint many potential buyers, especially when flexibility has been promoted as one of Android's key strengths over Apple devices.
We think the biggest let down is the fact the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G runs the outdated Android 3.2 "Honeycomb" operating system. That means all of the common complaints about tablets running Honeycomb software apply here. We've only used the device for a few hours but we can already tell you that the unlock screen remains a mess (admittedly this is a Samsung issue), the browser is often sluggish and still automatically switches to mobile versions of many Web sites, the home screen jitters if there are more than a few widgets on the screen, and transitions between screen are choppy. We expect many of these issues to be resolved once Samsung upgrades the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G to the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, but until it does, we can only judge what Samsung has delivered now.
Price is also an issue. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G comes in 16GB ($720) and 32GB ($840) variants. Comparative models of Apple's new iPad will sell for $679 and $789. Alternatively, Telstra also sells the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G on a range of data+tablet plans over 24 months, starting from $49 per month. The question is, do you really want to be locked into a two year contract for a tablet? We suspect not.
We'll have a full review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G up next week. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.