March 17, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 Review

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Visitors try ...
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I had been watching tablets for a while, not really committing myself to the idea of buying one for myself.  Slowly, over time, that opinion changed.  EBooks were the biggest influence of me changing that idea - I could get books through Overdrive from my library, sometimes I can find books I want cheaper in the digital format than in the paper format, and most of all, I could carry one tablet containing many eBooks instead of a few paper books while on long travels, especially by plane.  In addition, there are some nice tablet applications out there, and having something I could quickly and easily browse the Internet and check email via a wi-fi connection is a nice bonus.

I've played with an Apple iPad 2 at work, and while it is okay, I'm not really thrilled with it being so tied to iTunes.  Trying to get files onto the iPad was not as easy as it should have been.

I have Android on my smartphone and like it, so decided to go for an Android tablet.  I looked at those Android tablets that were easily available locally and that seemed to be getting favorable reviews, so I basically looked at Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet, Samsung's Galaxy Tab series, and Asus' Transformer Prime.

While their prices were nice, I ruled out the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet pretty quickly, as I did not want to be tied down to their markets for apps, books, or media.  I wanted to shop between the various stores for the best price and did not want to go through the hassle of having to root a device to have that freedom.

The Transformer Prime was tempting for quite a while, and while the wi-fi problems made me a bit reluctant to go with it, the main reason why I did not go with it was because I did not want the weight and bulk of a 10 inch tablet.  Sometimes I like to read while eating and hold a book in my left hand.  I thought the size and weight of a 10 inch tablet would be too much.

That left things to the Galaxy Tab.  As I did not want the cost of a 3G/4G connection, that narrowed things down to the Galaxy Tab 7.0 and Galaxy Tab 8.9.  I narrowed the choice down to the Galaxy Tab 8.9 because I wanted a bit more screen size and it still felt light enough.

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 has some nice things going for it - it has a nice screen, feels comfortable in my hand, and is eventually supposed to be upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich.  Disappointments from the start - no SD memory card or USB slot.

When it comes to using it, I am pleased.  Operation feels smooth and similar to my Samsung Droid Charge.  The mini task bar at the bottom allows me to select from a number of functions, but I usually just go into the Task Manager to close an application that is still running.  I look forward to see how things will be when the Galaxy Tab 8.9 gets Ice Cream Sandwich.

My biggest gripe ended up being getting my files to the tablet.  Unlike my smartphone, computers do not see the Galaxy Tab 8.9 as a USB drive; instead the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) is used.  Samsung provides their Kies program for transferring files to the Galaxy Tab, but this is only available for Windows and the Mac OS.  On top of that, it limits the files you can transfer to contacts, music, photos, video, and podcasts.  Tough luck if you want to transfer eBooks you purchased outside of the Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Google Play.  Still, I tried using Kies in OS X.  The first time, Kies just wouldn't connect with the Galaxy Tab.  Later, Kies didn't see the Galaxy Tab at all.

One solution to this is to upload files from a computer to some sort of cloud storage, such as Dropbox.  In my case, I used Pogoplug.  It was not a big deal here, as there is an Android app for this solution, but if you want to transfer a large file, such as a video, this solution can take a long time.

I ended up following a solution for setting up the Galaxy Tab for file transfers under Linux.  I could not get the applications I would need on my Sabayon Linux desktop, but varied things a little for my Linux Mint laptop.  The necessary MTP applications were for the most part already installed, but I ended up using Qlix.  I connected the Galaxy Tab to my laptop, ran Qlix, it saw my Galaxy Tab, and I was able to transfer files to the Galaxy Tab quickly and easily.  Whether or not there are easy workarounds for Windows or OS X, I do not know - I didn't pursue it.

Despite the extra work to be able to transfer files easily, I am pleased with the Galaxy Tab 8.9, though it would be nice if the price was lower.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the market after the rumored Asus made Google tablet comes to the market.

Update (4/11/12) - I found a workaround for transferring files on my MacBook Pro.  As it has Bluetooth, I went into the Bluetooth section of System Preferences, paired my MacBook Pro and Galaxy Tab, then was able to transfer files via Bluetooth.  There are probably ways to do the same thing with Bluetooth on Linux and Windows machines.
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