I am a big fan of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 as the best alternative to the iPad 2, and I am even happier with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, as it offers similar hardware and performance in a more compact body, which is great for people who are on-the-go and want to travel light.
Usually I carry a purse that is too small to fit the Tab 8.9, but for women who carry medium size purses, the smaller version of the Galaxy Tab tablet should be perfect.
Just like the Tab 10.1, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 has a slow charging time (17% in one hour), compared to the Xoom or the most recent Sony Tablet S which charges at almost 70% in only one hour! The iPad 2 charging time is quite long as well. We suppose that thicker tablets allow for faster charging batteries.
The addition of the Samsung TouchWiz user interface on top of Android 3.1 improves the user experience and offers a more attractive look and feel. (Editor’s note: We did not review the TouchWiz for the galaxy Tab 10.1 because it was not available prior to the introduction to market, at the time of publication.)
Some people would argue that at $469.99, one would expect noble materials for the chassis such as uni-body aluminum, personally, I am fine with the plastic body, it surely helps to provide the light weight.
Last but not least we still regret the lack of a standard USB port and HDMI out connectivity, which is offered by the Xoom, the Toshiba Thrive and the Archos G9.
Processor: NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core processor
OS: Android 3.1 software (Honeycomb)
Samsung UI: Samsung TouchWiz UX, Samsung mini App tray, Social Hub, Music Hub, Readers Hub
Display: 8.9” WXGA 1280×800, capacitive touch screen, pinch to zoom, TFT (PLS)
Connectivity: 3.5mm jack, WiFi a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (“WiFi only”)
Camera: backside 3 MP camera AF with LED flash – frontside 2 MP camera (webcam)
Video: 720p HD video capture – 1080p full HD video playback @ 30 fps -
Flash support: Adobe Flash Player 10.2 in web browser
Memory: 16 / 32 GB built-in, 1GB DDR2 RAM
Sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Digital Compass, Ambient Light sensor
Weight: 447g g – 1 lbs
Size: 230.9 mm x 157.8 mm x 8.6mm
Thinness comparison: Xoom: 12.9 mm – iPad 2: 8.8 mm – Galaxy Tab 10.1: 8.6 mm
We always have a hard time ensuring objectivity in our reviews, since different people use electronic devices in drastically different ways depending on their needs and lifestyle. By telling you how I use a tablet, it will be easier for you to decide which aspects of this review will be useful for you to help make up your mind. I have used the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 for a few days as an additional device to my desktop computer, my MacBook Pro (running Windows), my Macbook Air (running Windows) and my Smartphone. Since I have bought the Macbook Air, I do not use a tablet for meetings as much any more, it has become more of an entertainment device from which I watch movies in my bed or in the plane, read news and books, play with apps (ie Angry Birds, Music Sreaming apps), Skype/chat with friends, check Facebook updates, play music on a mini Bluetooth speaker.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 features the super thin and elegant design that we all know from the 10.1, and I wish the Korean manufacturer had removed the ugly big number (CE0168) printed in the back or at least made it more subtly engraved.
External design (very good)
Display (very good)
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 has the same screen resolution (1280×800) as its larger sibling the 10.1-inch, thus providing a higher pixel density, and consequently, a sharper image.
You may know that I am a huge fan of the AMOLED displays featured in the Samsung high-end smartphones, because they offer super saturated colors that make reality look better.
It’s not a secret that IPS and AMOLED display technologies are currently fighting for the image quality supremacy on the high-end. Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. As it is always the case with AMOLED, the contrast is extraordinary, with black levels that LCD displays simply can’t reach. On the other hand, IPS LCDs tend to have a better color reproduction (out of the box) and consume less energy when displaying bright images. All in all, they are both excellent choices, but there’s no point debating this further as there are no 8.9” or 10.1” AMOLED tablets anyway.
Although the Galaxy Tab tablets’ displays are not AMOLED (except for the 7.7”), they tend to provide brighter and more saturated colors for a similar image quality when compared to the iPad and the Asus Transformer Prime (both offering IPS displays) a feature that I highly appreciate. See the comparison of several tablets displays in the picture, note that the iPad 2 has the lowest resolution (1024×768), all the others deliver 1280×800 .
In direct sunlight, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Galaxy Tab 8.9 are similar to the iPad 2, they have a comparable level of reflection, to our knowledge, those tablets deliver the least reflective displays and their view angles are also similar. (see picture above).
Virtual Keyboards – Samsung, Android, Swype and Swiftkey – (very good)
The Samsung Galaxy 8.9-inch offers the default Android keyboard, the Samsung one and
Swype, all are well designed and comfortable to use. I am not sure why Samsung designed its own custom keyboard, the responsiveness is similar to the Android keyboard, previously it was a little buggy when used in the browser, and now it looks to work fine with the updated software.
Swype comes pre-loaded in the Samsung Tablets, you may all be familiar with this innovative keyboard that allows users to literally swipe from one key to the next, the word recognition is very accurate and thus, offer faster typing especially for smartphones.
However, the app cannot handle more than one language at the same time unlike Swiftkey (manage 3 languages simultaneously), a virtual keyboard that can be downloaded for as a free 30 days trial from the Android Market (a premium version can be purchased as well).
The speakers audio quality is good for a tablet , it is comparable in sound power and quality to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. In the 8.9 version, they are located at the bottom of the body. On the Galaxy 10.1, speakers are located on the side, and the sound can be blocked by the hands when holding the tablet.
I have compared the Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 with the iPad 2, the Xoom and the Playbook with the same song. All tablets offer a comparable audio quality, the iPad 2 being slightly better with a deeper sound texture, the Samsung sounding more acute and slightly “metallic”.
The Playbook provides the most powerful sound volume with a good audio quality, which is surprising given its smaller size.
With headphones, the audio quality is really good, much better than with the built-in speakers.
The Sony Tablet S speakers have a less powerful sound volume than the Tab 10.1 and Tab 8.9’s ones, however, the Sony audio quality is slightly better than Samsung’s with headphones. I could not notice any differences with the other tablets.
Performance and hardware (very good)
Perceived Performance (very good)
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 runs the dual-core Tegra 2 System-on-Chip, just like the Xoom, the Sony S, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The device is very responsive, especially for web browsing: the dual-core boosts web page loading. The powerful GPU integrated in the SoC offers a smooth interface, enables fast scrolling of web pages loaded with graphics and provides a fluid full HD video playback experience.
Tested against the iPad2, Xoom and the Playbook, the overall system’s perceived performance was similar on all tablets.
Software: Android 3.1 and Samsung TouchWiz (good)
The Galaxy Tab 8.9, runs Android 3.1 with Samsung custom software on top, TouchWiz, that was launched in August on the Tab 10.1 (see the home screen picture at the top of the review with the custom widgets). I have covered in details the Android 3.0 interface in my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review, if you are not familiar with Honeycomb you can check it out and you can read the Android 3.1 official page for the updates. When I got the 10.1 unit in May, Touchwiz was not released yet, so I am going to write about it here.
The Touchwiz custom user interface makes the home screen looks slightly different from the regular Android 3.1 design. (see comparative pictures) Personally, I like the Touchwiz widgets design, they look bright, vivid and larger than the regular Android widgets, offering more real estate for interacting with each application directly from the start screen, which is practical, especially for the Social Hub. However, I tend to prefer the Android news widget better because I can flick through multiple top stories using a 3D mini carousel (see the Youtube example at the top left of the Android screen shot).
The system icon re-design is not the best, but it looks better than the Android tron-like style. The typeface used to display the time is more elegant than the tron-style font displayed in non-custom versions of Android.
Each mini app launches as a small window that you can expand to full screen, additionally, the mini window stays on top of any other Android application that you run (see pictures)! So for the multi-tasking aficionadas like me, it is a great feature. It might also make Android look a bit more like Windows…
Mini Apps Tray
By clicking on the arrow in the middle of the task bar at the bottom of the display, you will get access to the Mini Apps Tray that offers the following applications: Task Manager, Calendar, World Clock, Pen Memo, Calculator and Music Player.
Direct access to a task manager without having to look for one in the Android market is a brilliant idea. Note that the Recent Apps feature of Android got an update in the 3.2.1 version that launched with the Asus Transformer Prime. In Android 3.2.1, it is finally possible to close the recently opened applications directly from the Recent Apps tray, a feature that is not in Android 3.1 and not even in the previous 3.2 version that is now available for the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The Pen Memo is a fun note taking app where you can either use the keyboard or your finger as a pen. Colors, brush type and size can be customized.
The Calendar gets the job done, however, I am not a big fan of its look.
Quick Access panel
Another cool enhancement of the regular Android interface is the customization of the Quick Access panel, accessible by taping on the right side of the task bar, from there, thanks to TouchWiz, you can now switch on/off WiFi, notifications, GPS, sound and auto rotation. All kinds of notifications are available from the panel, including email, calendar, and application updates.
Media Hub is Samsung’s movie and TV Show store featuring a visual carousel on the home screen from which you can easily select the movie you would like to view. Movies can also be purchased on the Android market.
Music Hub is the Samsung music store, surprisingly, the user interface is totally different from the Media Hub, no large carousel there, instead you get a regular two-dimensional look and feel laid out on a white background; the total opposite of the dark environment featured in the movie store. Read more details and a comparison to Google Music app in the Entertainment paragraph.
Social Hub aggregates messages from all your email inboxes, Facebook and Twitter. The application is simply done, well designed and very practical for checking all your messages in one place.
Samsung offers its own basic photo editor that can be found in the application section (accessed after clicking on the Apps icon at the top right corner of the display). The functions are basics, and I am sure that you can find a better photo editing application in the Android Market in case you need more advanced features.
TouchWiz offers support for Cisco VPN, WebEx, device encryption, and Exchange ActiveSync version 14 .
The browser performance is the same as in the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, Tegra 2 with its dual-core CPU offers a rapid loading time and a fluid pinch to zoom, thanks to the powerful integrated in the SoC. I tested the loading time speed of the Tab 8.9 against the iPad 2 to make sure, and it was comparable.
I have a slight preference for the Chrome-based browser found in Android tablets over the Apple one because it allows easier and faster web navigation.
Email and contact
The support for Microsoft Exchange, GMail and POP email is good, so even professionals can use it (check with your IT department).
Google Maps with 3D
The redesigned Google Maps for Android 3.x is really well done, when you zoom close enough to buildings, you can see them in 3D (wait a bit to let the system load the data).
Video call is now available in Skype for Honeycomb. We tried it and the video quality was good. I personally like the user interface for video calling in the application. You can also download Tango, a cool an intuitive video calling application. I tried it with the samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 only when video was not yet available in Skype for Android tablets.
Facebook / Social Hub
Samsung provides its own social messaging application (read in the TouchWiz paragraph above), that aggregates all your messages from various sources, including multiple email accounts, Facebook,Twitter and Linkedin, in one place. Personally, I like the app a lot, it increases my productivity on a daily basis. I wish a similar application could be offered in the basic Android package. Note that for LinkedIn, you can only see the public updates but not the private messages that epople send durectly in your LinkedIn inbox.
Media and Entertainement (very good)
Google Music and Music Hub
We have extensively covered the launched of Google Music a few weeks ago, so, for a detailed description of the service please refer to our article. basically, the Google Music application allows user to manage the musics purchased on the Google Music website or from the Android market. Android Market has been recently updated to offer a music section accessible from the top navigation bar alongside “apps”, “books’ and “movies”.
Music Hub is part of the Samsung software customization, it offers a music store and a music library management under the same roof, unlike the Google Music app or the Apple Music app on the iPad 2 (you need to go to iTunes to buy). You can add each song in your playlists and directly buy them from there after listening the 30 seconds preview, I wish I could do that from the Google Music application.
Photo and Video Capture(very good)
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 delivers good quality photo with great contrasts (see picture) compared to other tablets, including the iPad 2 (not good, fuzzy, too dark with lower resolution – see picture) and the Asus Transformer Prime (colors are off, the contrast is not as good- see picture). The camera application user interface is well designed with access to advanced options.
Video Playback, NetFlix YouTube / Media Hub
We have a set of HD movies and videos that we use locally in all the tablets we try, I could only play a few of them, for some unknown reason a couple did not work. All the files were playing fine on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The HD video playback is fluid and the image quality is good as well, thanks to Samsung’s great display technology.
The YouTube application was revamped for the Honeycomb launch on the Motorola Xoom in April 2011, I have described it in the review and you can check out our video demo. The user interface is sleek and it plays fluid HD videos with good audio quality (I tried it with a few trailers).
The long awaited Netflix application is finally available for tablets in the Android Market! As of today, Netflix supports Android 2.2, 2.3, and 3.x in the USA, Canada, and Latin America.
Tablets are great devices for digital content consumption, that’s why the ability to access Netflix is one of our preferred feature when it comes to recommending a tablet.
Getting access to my account was pretty fast and I could play a movie instantly, the video playback was fluid and the audio quality was good.
Battery Life (good – charging time is long)
Just like the Tab 10.1, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 has a slow charging time (20% in one hour – 40% in two), compared to the Xoom or the most recent Sony Tablet S which charges at almost 70% in only one hour! The iPad 2 charging time is quite long as well. We suppose that thicker tablets allow for faster charging batteries.
I tested the battery life by playing non stop a HD video stored locally during 1hour 30 minutes, the battery depletes consistently by 7% every 30 minutes under these conditions, with WiFi turned on and the screen brightness at 50%. We expect the battery to last at least 10 hours with video playback, which is the best you can on the market right now (similar to the iPad2 performance).
What is good
The key hardware features that are essential to the tablet experience are similar or better than the dominant product on the market – aka iPad 2:
- the display quality is great with high resolution (1280×800 vs 1024×760 for the iPad 2)
- the battery life is very good
- search is now available in the email application where Exchange emails are managed
- video calling is now available and works well in Skype
- Netflix is available!
- overall performance is good
- the display and the user interface are very responsive across the OS and the applications
- the form factor is thin and light, the small size (8.9 inch vs. 10-inchers) makes it easier to hold with one hand while the screen is large enough for reading books and watching videos comfortably.
- the audio is good
- the camera application is way better than the one embedded in the iPad 2, the shutter virtual button is better located (on the right side vs. at the bottom), the camera application and the photo gallery offer more functions than in iOS
- the browser supports Flash
- the browser user interface is better
- the map application packs more features than in iOS
- the Samsung TouchWiz customization delivers great enhancements to the Android OS: the mini apps tray with easy to access Task Manager- the Social Hub is directly accessible from the home screen, it manages all your messages across email accounts and popular social media sites in a single view.
- access to the Swiftkey application, well appreciated by multi-lingual users, it is not avilable for iPad 2
What is not good
- the charging time is long – it takes 2 hours to charge at 40%
- no Hulu app yet
- why the proprietary USB cable?
- no HDMI out – you have to buy the Samsung HDTV adapter to connect via HDMI to your TV
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a great addition to the Galaxy Tab lineup. The hardware packs an elegant and sleek design combined with great performance, in a thinner and lighter chassis than the Apple tablet. the smaller size (8.9 inch) can be great for road warriors who need to travel light.
Featuring a great display, good audio, and similar battery life, the Samsung device delivers a very good video playback experience, especially since Netflix is now available, and we are waiting for the Hulu application.
For some people, Flash support in the browser is very important, so we can list this as a key feature that Samsung delivers which is lacking in the Apple tablet.
Apple still has the advantage on the app store side (except for the lack of Swiftkey), featuring way more applications than the Android Market, however, we know that the majority of people use no more than 20 applications, and the most popular ones (except for Hulu) have an Android version.
The real downside of this device is the slow charging time: after two hours, it is charged only at 40%. It is just a guess: thinness alongside cost effectiveness might be the reasons for the battery’s low performance on this side. Note that the iPad 2 is also slow to charge.
In conclusion, for the second time (after the release of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1), I am pretty sure that I could use an Android tablet instead of my iPad 2.