It all started 2 years ago at IFA 2010 with the Galaxy Tab 7 and Samsung has been full throttle on their tablet game ever since. First the Galaxy Tab 7, then the 10.1, 8.9, 7.0 Plus and last but not least, the Galaxy Tab 7.7. Judging by the GT 10.1 and 8.9 release, it looked like Samsung was merely doing a size adjustment to the displays, but lo and behold the Galaxy Tab 7.7, which improves upon already great hardware by bring the Super AMOLED display technology and Exynos SoC from its cousin the Galaxy S II–two of the cornerstone components that helped it sell more than 20 million units. In addition the Galaxy Tab 7.7 4G LTE brings connectivity to Verizon’s lightning fast LTE network.
Now we must consider all of these features in light of quickly evolving Android Ecosystem–Tegra 3 is out which brings unparalelled processing power, Android 4.0 is soon to become the de facto standard OS for all falgship devices and devices like the new iPad are setting a new standard for display quality. Can this $499.99 tablet (with 2-year agreement, $699.99 without) hold water in this volatile and ever growing tablet arena? Let’s find out.
The front of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is done in typical Samsung fashion with a plain black face (save for the Verizon and Samsung logos) with a thin gun metal grey bezel that when viewed from a cross section is a semi-circle, much like the Galxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9. However when we come to the back it is quite a different story. Although Samsung’s polymer back plates are well-received in the mobile industry, they have decided to up the luxury factor by adding a brushed aluminum backing that is flanked with gunmetal strips (same as/part of the bezel) across the tops and bottoms.
The button layout is typical of the Galaxy Tab lineup with the power and volume rocker switch placed in the top right. I should note that Samsung has finally kept the orientation of volume down function synchronized with the down rocker switch–no more confusingly increasing the volume while in landscape mode. What’s that little black window smack dab in the middle of the right side you ask? A first for Samsung’s tablets, that is the IR blaster which let’s the Galaxy Tab 7.7 act as a universal remote (more on that later).
The left side of this tablet houses to slots, one for Verizon’s 4G SIM card and the other for a microSD card which allows you to expand the 16GB of internal memory by an additional 32GB.
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is no exception from Samsung’s extremely thin light build philosophy, coming in at a mere 7.87mm thick, the Tab 7.7 is the thinnest tablet I have ever held. However thin, the build quality remains as high as ever–not a single creak or bit of give in this slate. The weight distribution is also very even and when combined with the tablet’s tapered edges, it is quite comfortable to hold.
The 7.7-inch display is the first of its kind, a Super AMOLED coming in at 1200 x 800 pixels with a pixel density of 196ppi. If you aren’t familiar with Samsung’s Super AMOLED display panels, they are known for their incredibly deep blacks, vibrant colors, excellent viewing angles and stellar outdoor performance. The image above was shot in extremely bright sunlight, but the SAMOLED display had no trouble tackling the glare. For more details on the differences between IPS and Super AMOLED displays take a look at our comparison of the LG Nitro’s AH-IPS vs the Galaxy S II’s Super AMOLED Plus.
There are two speakers to the left and right of the proprietary charging port on the bottom of the Galaxy Tab 7.7. The speakers were plenty loud and good quality for tablet speakers, however when watching videos in landscape it tends to shoot the sound off to either side. This is inherent in such a design, but can be aided if you cup your hand so that the sound is more focused towards the viewer.
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is running Android 3.2 Honeycomb with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on top. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 was listed as one of the devices to receive the update to Android 4.0 in Q1 of 2012, but it looks like the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note will be taking top priority and will most likely see it sometime this summer. Even without ICS, TouchWiz and Honeycomb go well together in delivering a smooth and intuitive experience. Android users will feel right at home, and TouchWiz’s various customizations add much needed functionality to Honeycomb.
The quick access settings menu which can be activated by hitting the bottom right of the menu bar gives instant access to a bevy of power saving options including GPS, wireless and mobile data toggle switches as well as immediate access to display brightness. In addition, that little arrow you see in the middle of the bar grants access to a dock with access to 7 of Samsung mini apps. These can be reorganized and customized to your needs and feature apps like calendar, alarm, music player and task manager.
These mini apps are treated like their very own windows which can be moved around and active while already running another app. I have to commend Samsung for this development because it does a lot to build upon Android’s already strong multitasking.
That said, there is also some software you may not be too fond of. In addition to all of Samsung’s additional software (Samsung hubs, Allshare, Samsung Apps, etc.) Verizon threw in some of their bloatware including Blockbuster, Backup Assistant Plus, My Verizon, Amazon Kindle, Quickoffice HD Pro, Videosurf, The Daily and Dead Space. Last but not least there is also Peel Smart Remote–this is what uses the IR blaster on the right side of the tablet. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to test Peel ourselves but it essentially acts as a intelligent TV guide that helps you find shows you like, and then learns your preferences.
Cameras on cell phones always get a lot of love and attention however the same cannot be said about tablet cameras. Perhaps it’s because it looks a tad ridiculous to take a photo with a tablet thus manufactures think we avoid the action altogether? That said, the Galaxy Tab 7.7’s is about middle of the pack when it comes to snapping photos. The resolution and color aren’t anything to write home about, but Samsung’s photo and video editing applications can help you do a lot with a little.
One of the main issues with taking pictures or videos with any tablet is that you’ll be hard pressed to hold this thing still enough to prevent any blur. It certainly doesn’t help that neither front or rear-facing camera are positioned in the center of the device, making it awkward to aim things intuitively.
The dual-core Exynos is the venerable powerplant that helped launched the Galaxy S II to performance stardom and the same can be said about its usage in the Tab 7.7. With it’s clock speed bumped to 1.4GHz, the Exynos performed admirably even with a the increase in resolution as UI objects in Honeycomb–this by far, has been the smoothest implementation of Android 3.2 on a tablet. The Mali-400 GPU easily powered through 3D intensive games such as Droid Gunner and 9mm HD, and the SoC had no problem handling web browsing; pinch-to-zoom is as responsive as ever and image heavy websites didn’t see the typical bogging-down that I’ve seen on many Android tablets.
Verizon’s 4G LTE is as zippy as ever with the Galaxy Tab 7.7 pushing download speeds of 24Mbps and upload speeds of 13.21Mbps–that’s faster than my home internet. Now with all that speed usually comes a single but particularly painful drawback: reduced battery life. And possibly brain tumors from all the radio waves floating around. But thanks to the Galaxy Tab 7.7’s 5100 mAh battery this was not an issue. We easily scored over a day’s worth of use with this behemoth battery and when limited to WiFi, we could see 72 hours of use. Not too shabby eh?
This is by far the best Samsung tablet we have gotten our grubby hands on. The 7.7-inch form factor is light/compact enough to easily be wielded around the office or home, and toted when out and about in your satchel or purse–it is hardly thicker than my latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. The 4G LTE makes using this on-the-go a blast, while the massive 5100 mAh battery makes sure you don’t get caught with no juice during your time of need. Samsung once again wowed us with a brilliant Super AMOLED display and the addition of brushed aluminum to the back brought the whole aesthetic package together.
We get it it Samsung; you’ve developed the ultimate piece of hardware that Android could ever step into, but where is the software? Samsung’s TouchWiz enhancements are a welcome addition to Honeycomb but these enhancements will not do nearly as much good as a full launch on Ice Cream Sandwich could do. Bottom line? Best Android tablet out there, but still overshadowed by iPad due to the hiccupiness of Android’s Honeycomb.