Fun With A New Tablet: Galaxy Tab 2 7" Impressions

I've played with many Android tablets of friends, family and store displays along with their iPads and a Surface RT. I always assumed that I'd end up with a Galaxy Note 10.1 or a Nexus 7 3G (or a Razer Edge if I ever become rich). Instead, I recently jumped on the chance to buy a refurbished Galaxy Tab 2 7" for $150 at Microcenter a little over a week ago and have not been disappointed.

According to benchmarks it's supposed to be like a juiced up Galaxy Nexus. According to reviews and forums, Android on a 7" tablet is supposed to feel like using a giant phone. I have felt that sensation in some tablets but I don't feel that with the Galaxy Tab. The resolution is the lowest that I've ever had to deal with in a tablet but the experience doesn't suffer much because of it. It's very easy to read on this screen and games look great. The operating system has been very responsive and I've just finished customizing the tablet to be exactly how I want it.

It came with Ice Cream Sandwich but had an update for Jellybean waiting to be downloaded. I waited two days to do so just to see if I would be too annoyed with what I had, I wasn't. Still, I upgraded just so that I could use the most recent software and I wish that I hadn't. I'm not experiencing performance issues but Samsung decided to screw around with the user interface. It feels like I'm using Gnome 2 on a tablet which isn't pleasing at all. I was fairly fond of the flipped Windows Explorer interface of ICS. You also lose the screenshot button, at least Power + Volume Down work.

Unless an app completely takes over the entire screen you will lose screen space on both the top and the bottom. They shrunk the settings button and have effectively made the notification bar feel like it was designed for a phone. That is only one of two horrible parts of the interface now. There is a mini-apps bar at the bottom of the screen that can be quickly accessed by tapping a little arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

It sucks.

Only the following Samsung applications can be added to the mini-apps bar: Alarm, Calculator, Calendar, Email, Music Player, Task Manager and World Clock. I would have preferred it to just list most popular apps for me to place anything that I would want here. You can't remove it, it's a waste of space. Outside of these user interface changes it's an otherwise great tablet.

I was able to configure the device to use just a single page that I've littered with a few widgets and a ton of labeled folders. I've rebooted just to see how long it would it take it pretty much loads up as quickly as it would when there was nothing on the screen. Everything is immediately accessible and it connects to the web by the time I open a web browser. The connectivity on this device is wonderful.

I love it.

My desktop pc has a pci-x card with mimo (2x antennas) and it picks up a great signal despite being close to the floor and mostly immobile but the driver for my card sucks and I'm knocked offline randomly (I chose a cheap brand, it usually happens as I'm getting ready to log off so I don't bother with replacing it) . My tablet runs circles around it. It gets better data speeds on the wlan than my phones, laptops and any desktop in the house. It connects quickly and will work very well in areas where it shows that it has low signal strength. I tested this out with a few phone calls made using Groove IP. My calls didn't drop, latency didn't pick up, this tablet is a brilliant beast. I normally have a hard time of doing anything via wifi or 3g in the basement but the Tab 2 just doesn't seem to care where I'm at in the house or around it.

Call quality has been great both ends. I have no idea where the mic is hidden but my voice supposedly comes through just as great as any phone that I've owned. The person I'm talking through comes out of the speakers of course. I haven't paired my headset with it (just thought of doing so while typing this) but I'm sure that it will work fairly well too. I'm not an audiophile but music sounds great coming from the speakers of the Tab 2. I tested streaming via Google Music and the on screen interface for tablets is mostly fine (I think the skip-forward button partly overlays with another one).

I play and sync music locally with Winamp Pro. The interface works well on the tablet but the syncing leaves a bit to be desired. When I plug the tablet into my pc both the internal storage the SD card are recognized and I'm able to configure each one separately. That's great. I configured wifi sync but Winamp Pro desktop can only recognize the tiny, 8 GB internal memory portion of the tablet. I don't know if it's Winamp's fault or Samsung/Google's fault but I can't sync songs and data over wifi for music stored on my SD card. I also bought Doubletwist a while back but stopped using it since I don't like the desktop app.

I want to blame Samsung since I can't install anything to the SD card. I would have preferred to keep all of my music stored internally and all of the apps on the sd card but I manage with the current setup well. I got to install and use the usual suspects without any issues concerning space or interface and am content for now. The backside camera leaves a lot to be desired since there isn't any focus available for shots, the front facing one would probably be good enough for hangouts on g+.

The IR Blaster is a big question mark for me since I'm not able to get the Peel Smart Remote app to recognize my tv. It only has one code for it and I'm not sure that tech support will be able to help me. I've contacted them and their response this morning was to clear application cache and try to connect to the tv again. That failed miserably, it also sucks to be treated like an idiot when contacting support. I'm pretty sure my cheap Curtis TV that I use just isn't in their database. There's not much more to say about the core experience here, I'll just quickly comment on a few apps before finishing up on my experience with this tablet so far.

Opera Mobile: Great for web browsing, it adapts to tablets very nicely. It moved the tabs bar to the top of the screen and renders every page without any issue. I actually prefer to browse on my tablet instead of my pc when I don't need to type lengthy things like this ridiculously long post here.

Google Reader: Its' interface works, I can quickly flip between articles in my feeds and read them. I use the widget on my home page to cycle through items I haven't read yet like a news ticker. I wish that it could be configured to look like the notification bar but to appear on the bottom as it cycles through stories.

Pokedroid: It's badly outdated since it doesn't have the latest games inside of it but it's still pretty dang useful. The app hasn't been updated since the author was served a cease and desist notice but it runs well. The entries are a bit too small for my liking since it hasn't been optimized for tablets but it looks and works a lot better than the official twitter app.

Google Talk/Voice: Talk is excellent in portrait mode but landscape leaves a lot to be desired since the line-breaks in messages happen to early for my tastes when reading. Voice lets me text quickly and easily, I can make phone calls via using Groove IP. If this tablet had 3G capabilities I would replace my phone with it. Yes, I'm one of those crazy people that want a tablet sized phone.

Google Now: The best part of Jellybean, it works fairly well but could stand to allow for more configuration options with meetings and other things. I was happy to see that i could change my main mode of transportation to transit but it doesn't provide cards and alerts in times to make trips in a timely manner. It keeps trying to suggest places for me to visit or go to along with directions and I still don't understand why it's picking these extremely random places. I configured it to try to find places but I thought it would know me well after having nearly a decade of data to go through.

DeuterIDE: Love it, frigging awesome ide. I used to use it on a phone (Photon 4G) but using it on the tablet is much more useful. It's easier to see what I'm doing and to edit code.

Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile: I bought this and have never bothered to use it much. The interface works well for this tablet but my precision is off. I did buy a capacitive stylus to use but it's just nowhere near as good as it would be with a stylus and tab combo that uses a digitizer. It's not this apps fault, it's really mine for cheaping out. It's as fluid and intuitive to use on the Tab 2 with a capacitive stylus as it could possibly be, I'm just a bad artist without any talent that can help me to make the most of my tools.

Slide IT: Great stock keyboard replacement, I use it on every Android device. The size of the keyboard can be changed along with the keyboard layout. There are plenty of skins available for it and it's a pretty good Swype replacement for gesture based typing. The only poor point is the default dictionary and the dialogue box in landscape mode. This changes form app to app so I want to believe that it's the actual apps themselves instead of Slide IT but the apps completely disappear from view while typing in portrait mode sometimes due to the type box taking up the entire portion of the screen that the keyboard doesn't cover.

Wii Scale: Works perfectly well, allows me to use the Balance Board to weigh myself. Results are very accurate and presented well. The app itself isn't particularly optimized for tablets or phones, it just exists as a quick to use utility works well. The balance board is much more accurate than the cheaper scale I have and the tab 2 allows me to see results using it while not in the same room as my tv.

Games: I play games on Android a lot now. I didn't bother with them much on a phone despite donating to most of the Humble Bundles and buying games. Using a tablet makes gameplay on Android a much more palatable option, I'm happy with it. It started with me playing solitaire but quickly escalated to me trying out Canabalt and Avadon (which should really be updated, it still has a pc interface for a tablet game). I'll update and go into more detail once I finally connect a controller or play more games for more than a few hours. I've also installed Dosbox Turbo, I'll probably add more info about that later this week or next week for getting Dosbox games from Gog.com to work on Android (it requires quite a bit of work, but Sim City 2000 and Alpha Centauri on the go will not be passed up).

The only other thing to go on about now are accessories and a few of the "little" things. As mentioned earlier I bought a capacitive stylus, it's an Emerge Retrak stylus that I bought from Microcenter. The tip is retractable like the ballpoint of some pens. It looks cagey or a bit like soft, steel wool but it obviously isn't abrasive. It's definitely less accurate than the Boxwave capacitive styli that I bought from Amazon last year. It needs more force to be applied to it than I am comfortable giving it. I probably should have just ordered another Boxwave or tried one of the other brands from the article the Verge put up last year.

I also bought a bluetooth keyboard case. I originally searched for a less goofy looking one that could recharge my tablet while it was connected via the port on the bottom of the tablet but failed. The case itself is actually sturdy and much less goofy looking in person. The keyboard portion is meh since it uses fiber mesh fabric (I'm not a fan of this type). It works, it obviously isn't going to win any medals but it could be useful in a pinch. I don't like how the tablet switches to the stock keyboard whenever I connect it since it doesn't switch back to Slide IT when I'm done with it. The case does keep the tablet safe in my coat pocket which is what I really needed it for. I just decided to get one with a keyboard because it may really be useful someday. Maybe.

I don't like how the charging/data port are proprietary but it works. It's not moreso for charging reasons but for connectivity. I don't often connect flash drives and external drives to my phone or other devices but I like to have that option. I completely discarded this option since the tablet was good enough for the price and mostly fit the wants/needs I have. Sure, I would have loved to receive a Note 10.1 or something else but it's not $350 more of awesomeness. I made a trade-off now that overall I am happy with but I do expect to upgrade to a meatier offering much later this year or next year.

There are plenty of tablets that are cheaper or within range that wouldn't offer me much more utility than what I have now. The Nexus 7 has a better cpu and gpu but I'm not doing much requires those things to be beefy. The screen has a higher resolution but I'm able to read text very well with what I have now and the screen is responsive. The sound quality is good, picture quality is good, the camera's are forgettable but are useful (got to quickly snap a picture of a car for sale that I may follow up on later), the os is mostly great with two mostly ignorable stains and experience is just fine.I would recommend this tablet to anyone whose needs it would fit.

One more note, there are plenty of roms available for this tablet but based upon the XDA forums they don't have complete usability. Whether its' a drivers issue or something else, I'm no longer willing to switch to roms on my tablets or phones that offer me a poorer experience than stock. The roms have some interesting features and offer a better experience in some areas of tablet life but I don't want to give up the stability and any feature that I currently use which is pretty much all of them. I would have posted screenshots and picture samples but I'm currently at work, I can't get that data into a post here from the work pc and there's no usable wifi here.