Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series boasts seven distinct models. Throw in all of the variants of each one — LTE, WiFi, WiMAX and even the Galaxy Note 10.1 if you want to be picky — and all of a sudden the number of tablets produced by the Korean electronics giant over the past sixteen months shoots up to exceed twenty. In a vast sea of incredibly similar-looking Android slates, there’s one model that dares to be different: the Galaxy Tab 7.7, an oddly sized tablet with a stunning Super AMOLED Plus display.
Last month, we were given the opportunity to review the global version, and definitely liked what we saw. It’s an understatement, then, to say that we were ecstatic to give Verizon’s LTE version a run for its money (which, at $ 500 with a two-year commitment and $ 700 without, is a lot). What did Big Red choose to tweak? How’s the battery life once you factor in that next-gen network? These answers and more are coming your way after the break.
When we reviewed the HSPA+ Galaxy Tab 7.7, we were actually a bit surprised at how different it is from the rest of the tablets in Samsung’s stable. It isn’t just a me-too tablet, and the design choice is absolutely refreshing. We must say that brushed metal spanning the back of the device makes for an elegant look, not to mention a clear departure from Samsung’s usual all-plastic build. Granted, the Tab 7.7 still takes advantage of plastic on the top and bottom to allow each antenna the ability to do what it does best, which actually makes the device look as though Sammy has taken a page out of HTC’s design book.
When it was Verizon’s turn to make its own changes to the tried-and-true tablet and offer the device on its own LTE network, Big Red didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. If it’s not broke, why fix it, right? Aside from the obvious — it swapped out the original HSPA+ / EDGE radios with LTE / EVDO / CDMA — we noticed the addition of an IR sensor similar to the one found on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which is mainly used in concert with Peel’s Smart Remote app. This version also sports a different color scheme, with the light gray plastic ends replaced by a darker hue.
Adding LTE to the tablet also translates into a microscopic increase in thickness. We’re talking an extra .11mm, or .004 inches for all the Americans reading this. For a device that is already amazingly thin at 8mm (.31 inches), this extra padding shouldn’t have any bearing on your opinion of the device. It also puts on some more weight, but just as we noted regarding the thickness, five grams (340g compared to the original’s 335) isn’t going to dissuade potential buyers.
The display is just as brilliant as it was before, but it’s no longer the bar-raiser.
What hasn’t changed is the Super AMOLED Plus display, which boasts a resolution of 1280 x 800 and a pixel density of 196ppi. When we first reviewed the Tab 7.7, this was one of the best tablet screens we had laid eyes on; it’s still as brilliant as it was before, but it’s no longer the bar-raiser. No, not even two months later the competition already looks up to a new contender, which happens to sport a 264ppi Retina display. This doesn’t downplay the beautiful color saturation found on Samsung’s panel, of course; it’s just no longer the absolute best.
That said, we love the idea of having a top-notch 7.7-inch display. Truly, the form factor and screen size come together to achieve a near-perfect balance between easy content consumption and portability. No, it’s not going to slip into your jeans pocket, but it fits easily into most purses and even managed to find a home in this editor’s suit pocket. But what if you’re not donning either (or your suit lacks the tablet-sized pockets)? Fortunately, it’s still small and light enough that you don’t feel like you’re carrying around a laptop or netbook, which is to say you could get very comfy using this on the regular.
Taking a tour around the 7.7, Samsung made use of all four sides. The left edge features a microSD and Micro-SIM slot, each one veiled by a flimsy cover that feels like it’s just barely hanging on for dear life. External memory may be an important factor here, since the Tab only comes with 16GB onboard. On the bottom you’ll see Samsung’s proprietary tablet charger flanked by two speakers that offer superb audio quality — provided you don’t care about a stereo sound experience when watching movies in landscape mode, that is, since these are the only speakers found on the device. The right side is blessed with the all-important power / screen lock, volume rocker and aforementioned IR emitter, placed smack-dab in the middle. How about the top? Not much besides a mic and 3.5mm headphone jack.
When taking a look at the back, your attention is going to be held captive by the copious carrier branding plastering the device. Since Verizon adds its own pair of logos to the top-center of the tablet, it’s awfully hard not to notice. Add in the Big Red logo on the front and there’s absolutely no denying which network this tablet runs on. Sammy’s own name shows up, too, but in more modest fashion. You’ll find the 3.2-megapixel camera in the top left corner, along with an LED flash. Flipping the tab over to the front won’t reveal any surprises except for the 2-megapixel front-facer located near the top of the left landscape bezel — an ideal, out-of-the-way spot for all those times you’ll be using the 7.7 in portrait mode.
And while this should go without saying, we’ll make this crystal clear, given that it seems to be a hot topic at the moment: the Tab 7.7 doesn’t come with a Wacom digitizer built-in like the Galaxy Note does. As a result, the S Pen doesn’t work on it. Sorry, folks — you’ll just have to keep using your finger or rubberized stylus.
The Tab 7.7 does about as well as you’d expect from an Exynos-powered device. Sammy’s proprietary dual-core high-powered SoC is clocked at 1.4GHz, and buffered by a full gigabyte of RAM and Mali-400MP GPU. Those components combine helps the tablet run quite smoothly. As usual, we ran several benchmarks and found most of them to be on par with the international Tab 7.7, though we noticed the device’s SunSpider scores weren’t nearly as good. We also couldn’t accurately compare Quadrant results because our original review was benchmarked on v1, but the LTE version cranked out some impressive (and, we might add, Exynos-worthy) numbers that outshine most comparably specced devices.
|Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE (VZW)||Galaxy Tab 7.7 HSPA+ (global)||Toshiba Thrive 7″||Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus|
|Quadrant (v2)||3,363||N/A||Would not run||2,700|
|Linpack single-thread (MFLOPS)||53.91||53.76||31.37||28.98|
|Linpack multi-thread (MFLOPS)||84.76||81.07||57.08||69.47|
|NenaMark 1 (fps)||59.5||59.5||43.1||59.3|
|NenaMark 2 (fps)||42.6||37.9||19.2||41.8|
|SunSpider 9.1 (ms, lower is better)||1,993||1,488||2,303||1,679|
Overall, we were just as pleased with its performance as we the first go-round. Not that we’re at all surprised — most of the internals are completely the same, after all — but unfortunately this means we also ran into the same occasionally sluggish behavior we’ve observed in other Honeycomb tablets. While games and apps run to our complete satisfaction, the 7.7 stutters from time to time in different scenarios, whether it be web browsing or launching apps. We also noted some lapses in responsiveness to finger input. These flickers were minimal, however, and we expect to see a great deal of improvement once the tab gets an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich in the supposedly near future.
When it comes to LTE-enabled devices, the million-dollar question is, just how skimpy is the battery life? It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges facing phones or tablets using this next-gen technology is some worryingly short runtime. Naturally, we were curious to see how a device like the Tab 7.7 LTE would fare, given the exemplary performance on its HSPA+ counterpart. The 5,100mAh juicepack is rated for 12.5 hours, which is actually a two-and-a-half-hour improvement over the global version’s estimated runtime — an odd concept, since this one offers an identical battery.
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 (Verizon Wireless)||12:42|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 (global edition)||12:01|
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime||10:17|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||9:55|
|Apple iPad (2012)||9:37|
|Motorola Xoom 2||8:57|
|Lenovo IdeaPad K1||8:20|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||8:09|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet||8:00|
|Archos 80 G9||7:06|
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
|Acer Iconia Tab A500||6:55|
|Sony Tablet P||6:50|
|T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad)||6:34|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab||6:09|
|Motorola Xyboard 8.2||5:25|
|Velocity Micro Cruz T408||5:10|
|Acer Iconia Tab A100||4:54|
|Toshiba Thrive 7″||4:42|
Using LTE, this Galaxy Tab 7.7 gave us the best battery performance we’ve seen in any tablet, ever.
Our skepticism, however, was proven completely wrong in this case. The Verizon Tab’s battery lasted a grand total of 12 hours and 42 minutes. To be clear, we had LTE turned on and were playing video the entire time, and it still lasted 41 minutes longer than the global HSPA+ version. This means that moderate users will likely enjoy anywhere between a day and a half to two days before requiring a recharge. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE gave us the best battery performance we’ve seen in any tablet, ever, leaving its globe-trotting twin as a silver medal-winning runner-up. For those who are wondering, these rankings include the LTE-capable iPad that debuted last week. To be fair, Apple’s latest tablet has a faster drain because it’s trying to support a larger screen with a much higher pixel count, but it also uses a mind-boggling 11,560mAh battery — more than double the size of the Tab 7.7′s. Suffice to say, power users should be looking at the 7.7 with a great deal of interest.
Cameras don’t get much respect on tablets. Truth is, front-facing shooters typically make more sense on slates than rear-facing ones, since it’s much less awkward to conduct video chats than it is to snap a picture — or worse, a home movie — on the thing. Add to this the fact that the camera here is low-grade even compared to other tablet cameras, and you have yourself plenty of mediocre images. Allow us to emphasize that this doesn’t mean your pictures will be horrid, but the lower resolution — combined with the struggle of keeping such a large device still long enough to get a photo that doesn’t wind up blurry — makes it pretty difficult for us to recommend that you grab this over your five or eight megapixel smartphone cam.
These unpleasantries out of the way, the 7.7 is smattered with tons of settings (panorama mode, macro, metering, white balance, etc.) that can at least increase your likelihood of taking a lovely shot. It offers autofocus and the ability to change the point of focus by tapping on different parts of the viewfinder. Night mode is able to capture some extra backlight to help produce fairly reasonable low-light results, although a lot of noise is still present. We rather like the detail in our macro shots, including texture, particles of dust and so on, but again you shouldn’t expect to see anything better than your average Galaxy S II here. For what it’s worth, the LED flash works well, capturing plenty of color when taking shots in the middle of the night.
All this, and we haven’t actually covered normal images yet. That’s mainly because they’re ho-hum for the most part. Though Samsung is known for its high-quality image sensors, this particular 3.2-megapixel autofocus flavor hovers right around average. We were able to take plenty of detailed shots with natural colors (think a blue-streaked sky), but we found our shots to be the victims of routine wash-outs, especially in the middle of the day. Oh, and what about the 2-megapixel front-facing camera? When taking self-portraits yours truly ended up bathed in harsh light, which ultimately overpowered the shot (as if this editor needed to look paler).
Videos can be recorded in up to 720p, but we can’t recommend using the 7.7 to take movies of your vacation to Texas and inviting your friends over to share the memories on an HDTV. The videos are none too detailed, and moving objects often look blurry. Not to mention it can be difficult to keep your arms and hands from shaking as you try to capture those precious moments in a live setting. Better than nothing when you’re in a pinch, certainly, but don’t get out the popcorn to watch the results.
One piece of software you won’t find on this model is the dialer. Verizon has chosen not to allow native calls, saving you from the temptation to hold the massive thing up to your ear. No VoIP apps come pre-installed on the device, either, freeing you up to grab whatever service you’d prefer.
And yes, there’s definitely bloatware. Samsung brings its usual suite of Hubs as well as Allshare, Samsung Apps, pen memo and a few tools for editing videos and photos. Verizon’s contributions to the selection of pre-installed apps include its Backup Assistant Plus service, Blockbuster, Dead Space (the first level comes free), Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile, Amazon Kindle, Quickoffice HD Pro, Videosurf and The Daily. The Peel Smart Remote app, which takes advantage of the built-in IR emitter, is also included as part of the whole deal but we found it quite useful when we hooked it up to our HDTV and satellite service. Head to our review of the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus for a full rundown of the service.
Pricing and data plans
So let’s just say you’re not interested in getting yourself stuck in a long-term relationship with Verizon. We can’t blame you, of course. Big Red’s a la carte offerings don’t stray away from its postpaid ones, and as a perk for not signing the dotted line, you even get one extra option at $ 20 for 1GB. Want to go over that amount? Sorry, no can do — the prepaid plans stop cranking out the data as soon as you hit your maximum allowance.
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is one of our favorite Android tablets to date, and fortunately Verizon’s version doesn’t give us any reason to doubt our feelings at all. It still keeps the same solid design, good performance and gorgeous display, and it offers better battery life using LTE than what we were able to eke out of its HSPA+ compadre. If you’re specifically interested in a tablet that runs Android, we can’t imagine you’d find much better elsewhere.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.