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30 Dec 12 Samsung Year in Review: Galaxy Triumphs, Apple Losses

Samsung produces a number of products – from kitchen appliances to PCs – but it was the company’s mobile division that made the most headlines in 2012.

The Korea-based company dominated the mobile phone space, introducing several new Galaxy devices throughout the year. But it couldn’t shake one its biggest rivals, Apple, which proved to be a worthy opponent in the courtroom and in stores.

Still, despite all the hysteria surrounding the launch of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, it was Samsung and its Android-heavy lineup of devices like the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II that were the really mobile winners in 2012. Those two smartphones were only introduced in the second half of the year and they have already sold at least 30 million and 5 million worldwide, respectively.

Samsung didn’t fare as well in court, however. Though it nabbed a few patent victories here and there in its battle with Cupertino, it suffered a huge setback in August when a California jury handed down a $1.05 billion judgment; Samsung is appealing.

The Galaxy Train Steamrolls the Competition
The year opened with some hands-on time with the huge, 5-inch Galaxy Note “phablet” at CES. Samsung unveiled the massive smartphone/tablet at IFA several months before, and PCMag was a tad skeptical that it could succeed. But by March, Samsung announced that the Galaxy Note had been snapped up by 5 million consumers.

The first half of the year also saw an LTE-powered Galaxy Nexus for Sprint, the Galaxy Tab 2 with Ice Cream Sandwich, the rugged Rugby Smart, and the Galaxy Beam, a phone plus projector.

In late April, Samsung unveiled its new Exynos Quad 4 chip, which it said would power the next-generation of Galaxy devices. That included the much-anticipated Galaxy S III , which Samsung showed off during a London press event in May. It hit Europe later that month and the U.S. in June. It has been released for all major U.S. carriers and sold at least 30 million units worldwide.

Apple Patent Breakdown: Which Samsung Tech, Gadgets Infringe?

One hit smartphone was not enough, however, and Samsung followed up with the Galaxy Note II, which was even bigger than its predecessor at 5.3 inches. Despite its almost comically large size, shoppers were intrigued by the gadget and its built-in stylus, snapping up more than 5 million by the end of November.

Samsung also released the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, which included a split-screen mode, and the Android-based Galaxy Camera. The company will also try its hand at the Windows Phone platform with the Ativ S smartphone.

We’re already hearing rumblings about a Galaxy S IV, which could make an appearance at February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, so stay tuned.

Patent Showdown at the Cupertino Corral
But despite all of Samsung’s successes with its Galaxy lineup this year, the company spent a good chunk of its time (and money) battling Apple over patents.

The two companies have been battling since April 2011, when Apple sued Samsung for “slavishly” copying the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad with its Galaxy lineup of devices. For the first half of 2012, there were a number of headlines about wins and losses in German and Dutch courts, but things really got rolling when Apple and Samsung faced off against a jury in a California courtroom this summer.

Following several weeks of sometimes intense and sometimes boring testimony, the jury gave Apple an early Christmas present in the form of a $1.05 billion judgment. The jury did, however, find that Samsung did not infringe on Apple’s iPad design patent, so the judge lifted a ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S.

That’s not the end of it, of course. Samsung is appealing and the two companies have another, very similar case in the same court that will go to trial in 2014. Just last week, meanwhile, Judge Lucy Koh denied Samsung’s request for a new trial over juror misconduct and shot down Apple’s injunction demands.

Samsung did score a small victory in the U.K., when a court there required Apple to state publicly – on its website and in newspaper ads – that Samsung did not copy the iPad with its Galaxy tablets. An initial post on the Apple website did not satisfy the court, and Apple was forced to update its “noncompliant” message.

While it might seem like Apple is the bad guy here since it started things, Samsung hasn’t gotten off with some scrutiny of its own. Last week, the European Commission accused Samsung of patent abuse by not offering Apple fair and reasonable licensing terms for its 3G patents. The patents are considered “essential” for the operation of today’s most popular gadgets and Samsung, therefore, has an obligation to license them at a fair price, but Apple claims Samsung is asking for too much. Samsung, naturally, disagrees. Samsung now has a chance to respond to the EU’s charges and the commission will then decide what, if any, action to take.

Battling for the Smartphone Crown
Many of the Samsung-related headlines this year, meanwhile, touched on Samsung’s domination of the mobile phone market. The success of the Galaxy lineup even helped Samsung best Nokia, which had been the biggest phone maker for the last 14 years.

The Galaxy S III gave Samsung a boost in smartphones earlier this year, a lead that closed a bit with the release of Apple’s iPhone 5, but was not enough to give Cupertino the crown.

For more, see PCMag’s year in review for Apple, Google, Intel, Facebook, HP, and Amazon.

For more from Chloe, follow her on Twitter @ChloeAlbanesius.

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22 Dec 12 Flipboard Proves — Again — That Android Tablet Apps Don’t Have to Suck

Flipboard’s new tablet-optimized Android app proves, yet again, that Android tablet apps don’t have to be lousy. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

Flipboard’s tablet-optimized version of its Android app is everything you expect if you’ve ever used Flipboard on another gadget, which is to say it’s awesome. And it’s exactly what other big-time app makers should be doing, but too many aren’t.

The elegant app puts Twitter, Facebook, Rdio, Spotify, Instagram, Dropbox, eBay, Yelp, Foursquare and everyone else on notice: Your Android tablet apps don’t have to suck, and if they do, it’s because you’re lazy. It isn’t that these companies can’t make apps that look as great as they work, it’s just that they chose not to.

Flipboard’s app looks and works fantastically on both 7-inch and 10-inch slates. The stiff board turns seen in Flipboard’s other apps are just as responsive on the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets we tested the app on. My Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, SoundCloud, Tumblr and Facebook feeds appeared without a hitch. So did articles and videos pulled from dozens of sources around the web. Everything was laid out in Flipboard’s lovely magazine-like user interface — exactly as expected.

The app responds to the various screen sizes found in Android tablets, taking full advantage of the platform’s widescreen displays and perfectly scaling as needed. Flipboard said it spent more than a year working with Samsung to ensure its app works seamlessly on the Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Note tablets, but you can also run it on any other Android tablet, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes Noble’s Nook.

Flipboard isn’t alone in making a slick Android tablet app. Netflix, Hulu, Plume, Mint, Instapaper and Tiny Co. offer tablet-optimized apps that rock. Google has released plenty of design tools for tablet-optimized Android apps and practically begged developers to get on board. And of course Google builds fantastic tablet apps, providing many examples for others to follow.

But Flipboard remains remarkable. The app that Steve Jobs loved on his iPad has lost nothing in its translation to Android tablets and makes full use of their different form factors. This is significant, because it proves once again that good Android tablet apps are possible and gives users the great experience they deserve.

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18 Dec 12 CyanogenMod 10.1 nightlies spread to more Nexus models, ASUS and …

CyanogenMod 10.1 on a Nexus 4

There was a certain degree of irony to the first CyanogenMod 10.1 nightly reaching a lone device that already runs Android 4.2. What about the rest of us? Thankfully, logic is getting the upper hand with the arrival of regular test builds for a much wider hardware selection. All versions of the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 get their expected turn at the code. However, the mix also includes devices that weren’t predestined to receive an official update to the latest instance of Jelly Bean, such as ASUS’ Transformer Pad Infinity and Samsung devices ranging from the original Galaxy S through to both Galaxy Tab 2 slates. It’s still throwing caution to the wind by running an unfinished version of unofficial firmware, but we’re sure CyanogenMod’s target audience is comfortable enough with the risks to visit the source link.

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10 Jun 12 Android this week: Toshiba’s small slate; Galaxy S III details; patent wars worsen

Here in the U.S., Android was front and center early in the week as five carriers announced they would be selling Samsung’s Galaxy S III. Verizon, Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular are all prepping pre-orders or hyping their launch dates for Samsung’s flagship phone. Some may start selling this month, while others will deliver the goods in July. Either way, this launch differs greatly from last year’s Galaxy S model, which first launched overseas in May but didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 4 to 6 months later, depending the carrier.

Perhaps more interesting is Samsung’s “one phone for all” approach. Instead of multiple Galaxy S III models with slight carrier tweaks, Samsung has taking an Apple-like approach and created one singular design for the phone.

That means, for example, that the U.S. models will have the same hardware button on the front as the international versions. The only differences for the U.S. are the chip that powers the phone and the amount of memory. Since Samsung’s quad-core Exynos processor doesn’t yet have LTE integration, the company is using Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon S4 for all U.S. Galaxy S III handsets and boosting the RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB. I haven’t yet used a U.S. version of the Galaxy S III, but I expect this combo to be similar in performance to the international version.

Samsung has been in Apple’s sights in the courts lately — Cupertino is already trying to stop the Galaxy S III from being sold in the U.S. — but the bigger target seems to be HTC and its Android phones. Last month, Apple’s legal efforts were enough to hold up shipments of various HTC One models in the U.S., which forced HTC to make a change to its software. That change was enough to get shipments flowing again, but this week, Apple said that’s still not enough to solve the problem. This entire situation is worth watching because the alleged patent infringement — as I read it, that is — could apply to any Android hardware maker. In some sense, Apple is indirectly fighting with Google by aiming at the smaller targets: The handset makers themselves.

Just as the week came to a close, I received a review unit of Toshiba’s Excite 7.7 tablet; one of the few that ships with Android 4.0. The device is a Wi-Fi-only model, which may disappoint some, but the positive is that there’s no monthly bill for mobile broadband. The Excite 7.7 is physically very similar to the Galaxy Tab 7.7 I purchased earlier this year and has the same 1280 x 800 resolution using what Toshiba calls a “Pixel Pure AMOLED Display”. I see little difference between the two screens.

Where I can see variance is in the overall experience and performance. Toshiba opted for Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip, which keeps apps, games and video moving quickly. Plus, I find the tablet experience to be improved with Android 4.0; my Galaxy Tab 7.7 is still stuck on Android 3.2. Toshiba didn’t hide Android with a skin either; it’s generally a pure experience; the only exception being some apps grouped in folders on the home screen. I’ll have a full review soon, but the key data point that stands out is the price: $499 which may be too much for a small slate. Here’s my first look so you can start to decide for yourself on the value.

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26 May 12 Top Free Android Apps

If you own an Android smartphone, you will no doubt want to download plenty of great apps. While you may wonder about the best deals you can get from Google Play, formerly known as the Android Market, but there are plenty of quality apps you can get for free. These are all well worth exploring and downloading to your phone so that you can have the best experience in many areas, including entertainment, personal finance, navigation and more.

Google Wallet is one of the best free apps that is available for download on many Android smartphones. Created by a top developer, you will no longer have to worry about the best credit cards to have on hand when you are on the go as you can simply enter your information into this app and use it to make purchases at a variety of different vendors. This is a great app to have right at your fingertips on your phone, especially if you are a bit of a scatterbrain who occasionally forgets your wallet! It works with MasterCard credit card information.

Pandora Internet Radio is a fantastic app for Android smartphone owners who enjoy listening to music while on the go. Essentially, you can create your very own personalized radio station that you can listen to directly on your device. It runs on ads, but this is not an issue as the majority of what you will get is music. Simply select an artist or a band and the app will play them and artists and bands that are similar, which is a great way to be introduced to great music you have never heard before.

Facebook for Android is an essential free app that you can enjoy on your smartphone. It keeps you in the loop with the social networking website and all of your friends who use it. You receive many of the same features that you would have on your computer and can easily and quickly post status updates, reply to friends’ statuses and post photos and videos right from your Android phone.

Skype is a great free app that allows you to engage in video chats and IM sessions with others. You can use it to chat with anyone who has Skype, whether they have it on their own smartphone or on their computer. It is fun, easy and convenient to use.

Angry Birds is the most widely popular and successful game for mobile devices, including Android smartphones. It has recently reached one billion downloads with good reason as it is a great way to pass time. You may find yourself having loads of funs for hours on end while flinging the charismatic, colorful birds at the silly green pigs that have stolen their eggs. Even if you play for minutes at a time, you will find yourself coming back for more.

While many Android nay-sayers claim that Android has nothing over Apple when it comes to the number of apps, there is no doubt that Android does have a large number of high quality apps.  So if you have an Android phone, make sure to have the aformentioned apps on your phone to have the best Android experience possible.

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17 May 12 Diablo III Delays; Android Jellybean Details; Synced Tabs for Chrome

Topping tech headlines on Tuesday was the launch of Diablo III. PCMag’s Jeff Wilson got a few minutes with the game in the early-morning hours; check out his first impressions and come back later for a full review.

Other players weren’t so lucky, with many encountering the dreaded “Error 3006″ thanks to server overload. Activision Blizzard was forced to take the Diablo III servers offline at least twice on Tuesday to fix “several issues” that were impacting the game.

In other news, Google reportedly plans to give multiple mobile device makers early access to its next version of Android, dubbed Jellybean. The new strategy would be a major shift away from Google’s current practice of working with a single maker of smartphones or tablets on a “lead device” based on a new Android release.

Google also released a new, stable version of its Chrome browser that adds tab synching to the mix. Users who are signed into Chrome will be able to surf the Web using Chrome on their work computer and pick up where they left off on a personal laptop at home, for example.

And in Facebook news, a new AP-CNBC poll found that about 46 percent of people believe that the social network will “fade away as new things come along.” But another 43 percent believe Facebook is here for the long haul. Meanwhile, Facebook moved quickly – again – to address concerns that it wasn’t doing enough to satisfy mobile users by buying the developers of the Lightbox Android photo app.

Also topping headlines on Tuesday:

For more from Angela, follow her on Twitter @amoscaritolo.

For the top stories in tech, follow us on Twitter at @PCMag.

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13 May 12 Me, Android, and my Mom [opinion]

Today being Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but look back and think of the role my mom has played in my life so far. It’s kind of difficult not to when people keep sharing this beautiful PG advertisement on Facebook.

Sure, I might not be an Olympian, but to her I’m running a different race that holds as much importance. We spend a lot of time together, often play golf together, and she’s one of the first people I share anything I create with. More often than not, she doesn’t fit the target demographic, but her approval, and more importantly the excitement she has gives me a whole lot of encouragement.

Going against the usual “iOS is more user-friendly” cliche thrown around the web, my mom actually prefers Android. In fact, a few weeks ago someone brought their new iPad over to have me set up a few things. As an experiment, I opened Google on both the iPad and my Galaxy Tab 10.1, and gave them to my mom asking her to tell me which she preferred.

The Galaxy Tab won, hands down. No over-heating, brighter screen and settings in the notification area were the main reasons. One of the main reasons I want to buy a new phone is so I can pass on my current myTouch 4G to her, so that she’s no longer infuriated with her iPhone 3G (which was given to her by my sister, who has horrible taste in phones).

I often spend time just watching her use my tablet since it gives me some vital knowledge in understanding how people who aren’t as technologically aware as us interact with the device. She found her comfort zone very fast, learning pinch-to-zoom on her own, and even sometimes puts on YouTube while working in the kitchen.

My gift to her on this day? Besides taking her out to dinner, I’ve decided to add her Google account to my tablet, so she can easily read her mails in the app instead of opening the browser. So far, I hadn’t because I didn’t want to keep getting notifications for the chain-mails that her friends’ circulate. But, hey, I can make that little a sacrifice. She’s happy with using the browser so far, but gets annoyed at times when she can’t get the mail she’s reading to take over the complete screen space.

I really hope someone takes out the time to educate this particular demographic the benefits of Android. There’s a lot of money involved here, especially in the tablet market considering for people like her it can act as the only personal computing device required.  For some strange reason, it seems like manufacturers have just assumed that this demographic is only interested in Apple. To a certain degree, that’s true, but its generally because of the advertising strategies employed (especially the Droid series). I’d love to see everyone stop taking potshots at Apple, or talking about robots and stuff, and simply focus on family.

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13 May 12 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 review: Dual-core in a quad-core world

While the Tab 2 10.1 uses a PLS screen, its color accuracy unfortunately isn’t up to standard.

Josh Miller/CNET)

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was one of the premier
tablets when it launched in 2011, with specs that, at the very least, matched top tier Android tablets of the time.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 feels almost like a disappointing prequel, rather than a full-fledged “we’ve improved on every feature!” sequel.

I mean, when a premium tablet gets a follow-up, it’s not a crazy thing to expect a lot from said follow-up; however, Samsung went the “budget” route with the Tab 2 10.1, limiting its advances. The problem is, since the Tab 2′s announcement, two Tegra 3 tablets (from Asus and Acer) have been released at very similar (or in Asus’ case, lower) prices than Samsung’s offering.

Still, the Tab 2 10.1 includes an IR blaster, its unique Touchwiz UX interface, and comes with 50GB of free Dropbox storage for a year.

Check out the full review to see whether that’s enough to be worthy of your consideration.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (photos)

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23 Apr 12 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Review: A Low-Cost, Full-Featured Android Tablet

On the surface, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 appears to be little more than a low-key refresh of its six-month-old predecessor, the in-betweener Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. And while that’s true, the Tab 2’s noticeably lower cost—at $250, it dropped in price by 38 percent from the 7.0 Plus–coupled with its numerous features give it a clear advantage over leading value tablet competitors Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet.

With that sizable drop, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 marks the first time a premium Android tablet maker like Samsung has gone full-bore after the value space. The Galaxy Tab 2is competitively priced against the $200 of Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. Those popular 7-inch tablets each use their own customized versions of Android. These variants on Android can provide a more integrated experience for some tasks, such as reading books and magazines, or acquiring media, but it comes at the cost of the wider compatibility of the Android app universe; both Amazon and Barnes Noble require you to purchase apps only via their respective storefronts.

The Galaxy Tab 2 runs Android 4.0, unlike those other inexpensive Android tablets (the Nook and Kindle Fire both run variants built on Android 2.3; that means it can handle standard Android phone and tablet apps in the Google Play store. It also offers features that neither the Kindle Fire nor Nook Tablet do, among them an infrared port and a rear-facing camera. Samsung sacrificed built-in storage capacity (just 8GB, same as the other two value tablets and half of the 16GB provided on the Tab 7.0 Plus) to achieve the Tab 2′s low price, but that doesn’t detract from the Tab 2’s widespread appeal.

Galaxy Tab 2: Design and Performance

The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is an evolutionary step over the extremely similar Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Both models weigh 0.76 pounds, and both feature a similar design and build quality, and both have similar dimensions. Both measure 4.8 by 7.6 inches, but the Tab 2 is slightly thicker at 0.41 inches, compared to the 7.0 Plus’ 0.39 inches. The balance and weight are such that this tablet isn’t onerous to hold one-handed, though I’d like to see the weight get lighter-still.

Only subtle tweaks distinguish the two. For example, the Tab 2’s plastic bezel curves around to the front of the screen, giving the front-face of the tablet a pleasing look. Tab 2 also has a larger infrared port, located along the top edge of the tablet when holding the tablet in landscape mode; the port now wraps around the back of the tablet, presumably to improve communications between the tablet and your entertainment components. The power button and volume rocker, also along that same edge, have a more rounded, easier-to-press shape. The microSD Card slot door is slightly (by millimeters) wider, too, and ever so slightly easier to open, but you’ll still need to do so using a fingernail. You can add up to 32GB of storage via microSD, a big benefit over Kindle Fire, which lacks any expansion slot for local storage.

The back of the Tab 2’s case is a light, “titanium”-shaded plastic, as opposed to the darker brushed gray of the earlier model. And while the rear-camera is the same, at 3 megapixels, the Tab 2 lacks the flash found on the 7.0 Plus.

Scrapping the flash is just one thing that the Tab 2 sacrificed to achieve its low price. Inside, the Tab 2 has a 1GHz dual-core processor, down from the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus’ 1.2-GHz dual-core processor. The processor change might account for why in the PCWorld Labs tests the Tab 2 took 14 seconds longer to boot up than the Tab 7.0 Plus; and it turned in noticeably slower framerate on the two GL Benchmark tests we run.

Other sacrifices: As noted earlier, the Tab 2 has just 8GB of memory, down from 16GB of memory found on the Tab 7.0 Plus. At 8GB, the Tab 2′s built-in storage is on a par with Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. And the front-facing camera drops from 2-megapixels on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus to a mere 640 by 480 resolution on the Tab 2—a significant real-world quality drop that resulted in pixellated conversations when using the camera for video chat.

Samsung’s Plane to Line Switching (PLS) display is 1024 by 600 pixels, same as on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus before it. At this point, this display is merely average, as several 7-inch tablets with 1200 by 800 resolution are now available. I noticed colors were slightly off on the Tab 2 compared to how they appeared on the older 7.0 Plus model; detail in images viewed in the native Google Gallery app appeared slightly worse, too, although the tablets still scored closely on our display subjective tests. I’m currently investigating this issue. Some of the differences may be attributable to the display itself; or, they may have some root in how Google has changed Android’s image handling between Android 3.2 (which shipped on the Tab 7.0 Plus) and Android 4.0.3 (which shipped on the Galaxy Tab 2).

Another interesting difference between the two tablets: The Tab 2 has better audio output. Music sounded fuller, and not in an over-processed way. The Tab 2 does have an equalizer option, which the 7.0 Plus lacked, but none of the effects were on.

As a bonus over its Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet competition, the Tab 2 adds Bluetooth and GPS, too. Together with some of the other features already discussed, the Tab 2 is ahead of the Fire and Nook when it comes to features.

Tab 2: The Software

The Tab 2 series is Samsung’s first to ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. In addition to Android 4.0, Samsung includes its own TouchWiz UX overlay with convenient pop-up launcher tweaks for fast access to a sliding bar of widget-like apps provided by Samsung (such as calculator, e-mail, and world clock). TouchWiz also provides an easy screen-capture utility and super-handy customizations to the settings pop-up, along with some Samsung-specific software apps, such as AllShare for DLNA network media sharing, and Samsung’s own app stores for games, media, books, and music.

In addition to the Samsung-branded apps, the Galaxy Tab 2 comes with a handful of useful Android apps pre-installed. Among them: Dropbox (with a year of 50GB Dropbox service included); the Peel Smart Remote app for use with the infrared port; and Polaris Office. The Peel app is a mixed experience, though; while it makes it easy to discover content visually, configuring the settings can be frustrating, and browsability could be improved. Ultimately, Samsung would do far better to write its own, more basic remote control app, as Sony has done on its Tablet S.

If you own a Samsung Wi-Fi camera or a HDTV, you may be able to benefit from some additional capabilities of the Tab 2that tie into Samsung’s product stable. Remote Viewfinder works with Samsung’s Wi-Fi cameras. The Remote Viewfinder feature could have some interesting applications for group photos, for example; with this capability, you can use Wi-Fi Direct to form a connection between the tablet and the camera, and together with an app on the tablet, you can then use the tablet to control the viewfinder, shutter, zoom, and flash of the camera. Smart View lets you mirror content from your TV on the tablet, but this only works with Samsung 7000 series LED HDTVs, circa 2011 and beyond.

Bottom Line

Even though the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 has some nifty features like the infrared port and Wi-Fi Direct, it is neither a premium tablet nor a pure-play budget tablet. The big question is whether full Android compatibility and those extras are worth paying $50–or 25 percent–more than what you’d pay for an Amazon Kindle Fire or a Barnes Noble Nook Tablet. The answer: A resounding yes, with a catch.

The catch, of course, lies with what lies around the corner in tablets—namely, Asus’s upcoming $250 tablet that’s expected to have 1200 by 800 resolution and a Tegra 3 processor. That model still doesn’t have an announcement date beyond “second-quarter,” so for the moment, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 is safely in the lead among inexpensive 7-inch Android tablets. It has flaws, but it delivers the most full-featured set of options among its current competitive set.

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21 Apr 12 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 review: Very good Android tablet value for the price

At $250, the new Samsung tablet, which will be available April 22nd,  is strong competition for Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire but – given Apple’s market domination – it’s far from an iPad killer. Still, its price, light weight and small footprint could dissuade at least some people from spending $499 for a third generation iPad or even $399 for an iPad 2.

The Tab 2 measures 7.6  x 4.8 x .42 inches and weighs 12.2 ounces. The Kindle Fire is pretty close to the same size and slightly heavier at 14.6 ounces. The new iPad, though of course longer and wider, is actually thinner (.37 inches) and weighs 1.44 pounds.

Its technical specs are generally lower than that of the iPad as well as Samsung’s earlier Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, but the new Tab 2 is equipped with Google’s new Ice Cream Sandwich Android operating system, a cool “Peel” TV remote control app (coupled with an IR blaster), front and rear cameras and you get 50 GB of free Dropbox cloud storage that works with the Tab’s camera app so that pictures you snap are automatically synced to the cloud.

Peel remote control app lets you personalize your program guide.

Adequate hardware

The hardware itself is nothing to get too excited about. Like the earlier Galaxy Tab 7.0, it sports a dual core 1-Ghz processor that’s actually a bit slower than its predecessor’s 1.2 Ghz version, while keeping the same 1024 by 600 TFT LCD screen. It has the same 3 megapixel rear-facing camera but the front facing camera has been downgraded from 2 megapixels to VGA quality.  Even though it has only eight gigabytes of storage, it has a slot for a Micro SD card which means you can easily and cheaply add up to 32 GB additional storage (32 GB cards start at under $20).

By contrast, the Kindle Fire also has a 1024 by 600 pixel 7-inch screen, but doesn’t even have one camera, let alone two.  It too has 8 GB of storage and that’s it. There is no MicroSD Card slot.

And while the Kindle Fire and Samsung are approximately the same size, the Tab’s gun metal gray case is softer and slightly less boxy.

Bottom ridge of Tab2 (left side of picture) shows stereo speakers and proprietary USB connector.

There are two stereo speakers on the bottom of the device which put out surprisingly clear and loud sound. Unlike some other devices I’ve used, I didn’t have to plug in an external speakers to hear the device over the noise of my indoor bicycle while using it to watch video while exercising.

Unfortunately, Samsung uses a proprietary USB cable for power and data instead of the standard micro-USB cables used on most other company’s Android devices. There’s nothing wrong with Samsung’s cable, but if you misplace it or lose it, it’s not as convenient to replace as a standard micro USB cable. Of course, Apple uses its own proprietary cable, but the enormous popularity of iOS devices make those easy to come by.

The fact that Samsung’s new Tab has less than stellar processing power shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone who’s mostly using it to consume content. I tested it by reading a Kindle book, watching Netflix and YouTube video and doing some email and web surfing and had no performance issues. The model I tested is Wi-Fi only. Yes, it’s a bit more sluggish than a third generation iPad but we’re talking a second or two here and there which isn’t likely to bother most users.

Virtual buttons

Like the Kindle Fire (but unlike the iPad) there is no home button on the front. There are virtual buttons on the bottom of the Samsung that bring up the home screen and task manager along with a back button and one that takes a snapshot of the screen. These virtual buttons reposition themselves as you change the screen’s orientation between portrait and landscape.

Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich plus Samsung’s proprietary Touch Whiz skin provides a clean interface and allows for smooth scrolling between screens with no noticeable lag. Although I would prefer that Samsung and other phone and tablet makers avoid putting their own skins on top of Android, the current version of Touch Whiz isn’t overly intrusive.

Samsung loads up the new Tab with a number of its own apps including a media hub, music hub and game hub. There is also a Samsung Apps icon that takes you to the company’s own app store.

Number keys where they belong

Tab 2′s keyboard has numeric keys above alphabetic keyboard

This may be a small thing, but I really appreciate that the standard on-screen keyboard that pops up on the device has a row of number keys above the standard alphabetic keys just as on a traditional PC keyboard. I really appreciated not having to press a special key to bring up the number keys, especially when entering my passwords which, for security reasons, typically have numbers in them.

Consumer or business tablet?

The bundled apps that come with the Galaxy Tab 2 help position it as mostly a consumer device. But the nice thing about Android tablets is that they are extensible and just as iPads are finding their way into the enterprise, it’s certainly possible to use this device for business tasks such as email, web access, sales presentations, as a quick reference tool or for any business related Android apps that work well on a seven inch screen. Just to see if it could be done, I paired the Tab 2 via Bluetooth with an Apple wireless keyboard and did some typing, but even with a keyboard, it’s hard to imagine using the Tab, with its small screen, as a laptop replacement.

Overall impression

How a device feels in your hand and performs is a lot more important than its technical specs and, when it comes to the user experience, Samsung gets high marks. Its smooth physical design, small and light weight form factor and up-to-date software and operating system come together to make the Tab 2 an excellent choice for budget-minded tablet buyers or those who simply want a portable media consumption device.

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