A true feast for the eyes, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 for Verizon Wireless is the first tablet of its size to sport a Super AMOLED Plus screen, which is tailor-made for entertainment. This superthin Android slate ($499 with a two-year contract) can also be used to control your home entertainment center, thanks to a built-in universal remote app and IR blaster. Add in Verizon's fast 4G LTE speeds and you have a lot of reasons to consider picking up the Tab 7.7.
The Galaxy Tab series has become synonymous with sleek and slim, and the 7.7 does not disappoint. Most of the back is housed in elegant brushed aluminum. A white Verizon 4G LTE insignia sits in the middle above a diamond cut Samsung logo. Dark gray plastic wraps delicately along the sides of the Tab 7.7 and gently transitions into two thick strips along the tablet's rear. A 3.2 megapixel rear-facing camera sits in the top left corner of the device.
A large glossy display surrounded by a black bezel occupies the front of the slate. Chrome logos for Verizon and Samsung sit along the top and bottom of the tablet. A 2.0 megapixel front-facing camera sits to the right of the Verizon insignia.
The power button, volume rocker and IR sensor line the right side of the tablet Tab 7.7. Slots for microSD and SIM cards lie protected under port covers. A headphone jack resides at the top of the notebook, while the proprietary Samsung connector sits at the bottom between a slim pair of speakers.
At 12 ounces and 7.7 x 5.2 x 0.3-inches, the Tab 7.7 is incredibly light and one of the thinnest tablets on the market. For example, the Toshiba Thrive 7-inch tablet is measures 7.4 x 5. x .48 inches and weighs 13.3 ounces. The Kindle Fire, which sports a 7-inch screen measures 0.45 inches thick and weighs a relatively hefty 14.6 ounces. Even the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which has a smaller screen, was heavier and thicker (12.2 ounces, 0.4 inches).
Display and Audio
If you've been waiting for a tablet with a screen that offers the same wow factor as a Samsung Galaxy phone, the Tab 7.7 fits the bill. Images and video on the Tab's 7.7-inch 1280 x 800-pixel Super AMOLED Plus display are absolutely gorgeous. We were blown away by vibrant colors when we watched a 1080p YouTube trailer of "The Avengers." Thor's bright red cape popped against a crystal blue sky as did the brilliant red-orange explosions and Loki's emerald green scarf.
We were also impressed by the sharp detail that allowed us to see the fine scratches in Iron Man's mask. The caveat, however, is that all of the color and sharpness is lost in darker scenes, leaving us straining to see certain details during night or space scenes.
While there are three distinct viewing modes (Dynamic, Standard and Movie), we found Dynamic mode offered the brightest colors and sharpness. When we took the Tab 7.7 outside and attempted to use it in direct sunlight, we were met with a substantial glare that made reading text or watching video difficult.
Audio from the twin speakers along the bottom of the tablet easily filled a small room. Explosions during "The Avengers" trailer had an ample amount of noise complete with glass shattering and frantic civilians screaming. When we listened to Beyoncé's "Love On Top," the singer's mezzo-soprano vocal sounded rich and full over the horn-assisted track.
The Tab 7.7 features three virtual keyboards, including the Samsung keyboard. We liked that we could access capital letters or special characters by simply long-pressing the primary key. The ability to adjust the keyboard's size is also a big plus. Our favorite features were the clipboard and notepad, which gave us quick access to items we copied and the ability to jot down a quick note.
The stock Android keyboard with its familiar gray and black keys is also included. Although there's a .com key, we wished we didn't have to switch to an alternate keyboard for numbers and special characters.
Swype also makes an appearance. Out of the three keyboards, we were able to enter information faster using Swype's trace technology. Although you can minimize the Swype keyboard, it was easier typing at full size.
Overall, all three keyboard offer large keys with generous spacing in both portrait and landscape modes. All three also offer a strong level of haptic feedback that felt good against our fingers.
Software and Interface
Samsung's TouchWIZ user interface is layered over the Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) operating system, which serves as a complement rather than a replacement. The lockscreen consists of a large digital clock with the date. You can unlock the device with a swipe to the left or right, but doing so too quickly didn't do the trick. We had to be more deliberate.
There are five customizable homescreens demarcated by the five white numbered dots along the top of the display. We were disappointed to discover that the screens didn't loop as we swiped. The initial screen displays a widget with the date and time, an AccuWeather.com widget, a gallery widget and 16 apps directly below. A bookmark widget and a Combined Inbox widget live on the number two screen while Social Hub and Agenda sit on screen four.
Icons for Google Search, Voice Search, Apps and the multitask screen reside in the top system bar. The bottom system bar holds the Back, Home, Recent Apps, Screen Capture buttons along with mini-notifications for email, battery life, network and a digital clock.
This is where TouchWIZ 4.0 comes in. An arrow in the center of the bottom bar calls up a number of mini-apps, including email, Task Manager, Pen Memo, calendar, music player, alarm and world clock. We like that we were able to swap out for other apps, such as the calculator.
Samsung also includes motion controls that allowed us to zoom in and out in Web browsers and the photo gallery by placing two fingers on the display and tilting it back and forth. We were also able to move apps by placing one finger on the chosen app and panning right or left to access a new homescreen.
Overall, we're big fans of the TouchWIZ interface as it gives us a lot of what we love about a stock Android interface with useful and intuitive additional features.
Samsung preloads the Galaxy Tab 7.7 with a number of multimedia apps, including The Daily, a news publication designed for tablets. We loved catching up on the latest headlines in business, arts, gossip and tech with clear text and large eye-catching images. Amazon Kindle is also included.
Movie buffs are covered as well thanks to Samsung's Media Hub. The app lets users rent or own movies for $3.99 and $17.99 respectively. Television shows such as "How I Met Your Mother" can also be purchased for $1.99 an episode. VideoSurf allowed us to watch the latest episode of "Family Guy" for free. Users can also check out the Blockbuster, Netflix or the Android Movie Store.
When we caught the gaming bug, we played a few levels of EA's deep space survival horror classic "Dead Space." We switched over to UNO when "Dead Space" got a little too scary.
In terms of productivity apps, there's QuickOffice and Memo and Pen Memo for users that prefer writing with a stylus. (Capacitive styli sold separately.)
Other Samsung-branded apps include AllShare, which allows users to share multimedia content with DLNA-certified devices. There's also Samsung Apps, which displayed app recommendations from our Facebook friends.
Verizon packages the Galaxy Tab 7.7 with its usual suite of apps including VZNavigator, VCast Apps and My Verizon Mobile which let us check our account information. Verizon also added Backup Assistant Plus to import our contacts.
Peel App and Remote Control Capability
One of the most unique features of the Tab 7.7 versus other tablets is that it can be used as a universal remote control. The Peel app works in combination with an internal IR blaster to let you control your TV, cable box, sound system and other components. More importantly, the app learns what you like to watch and eschews a traditional program guide for a sleek interface that puts your favorite shows front and center.
The initial setup took all of seven minutes. After we made sure the Tab 7.7 was on our Wi-Fi connection and within 8 feet of our entertainment center, we followed the prompts to connect our 23-inch HP SmartTouch 520 Desktop PC, Scientific Atlanta Cable Box and Samsung Home Theater system searching out each system by company name and device type. Once the setup was complete, we were happy couch potatoes effortlessly flipping through channels, adjusting the surround sound on our speakers, and setting up the DVR to record "Young Justice."
Our favorite Peel feature is the recommendation feature. Instead of trolling through the channel guide searching for something to watch, Peel took note of the shows we favorited ("Fringe," "Bully Beatdown") and which shows we booted ("Jersey Shore," anything "Real Houswives") and made a guide specifically for us. We also liked the social networking feature that allowed us to post what we were watching to Facebook and Twitter.
Specs and Performance
Packing a dual-core 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos 4210 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 put on quite a show during our tests. For example, the slate effortlessly played the demo version of "Dead Space" with four windows open in the Web browser.
On Benchmark CPU, the Tab 7.7 scored 4,067. That's 1,340 points above the Android tablet average. The Kindle Fire mustered only 3,069 on the same test. The Pantech Element and its 1.5 GHz Qualcomm APQ 8060 notched 3,318 while the Toshiba Thive 7-inch tablet and its 1-GHz Tegra 2 CPU delivered 3,008.
When we ran An3DBench, which measures graphics performance, the Tab 7.7 scored an impressive 8,015, well above the 7,183 Android tablet average. The Thrive delivered 7,635 and the Kindle Fire notched 7,006.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 comes with 16GB of storage that can be expanded to 32GB via a microSD card.
Web Browsing and 4G LTE
We enjoyed fast speeds on Verizon's 4G LTE network. When measured using Loadtimer.org, the full versions of MSN.com and Amazon.com took 4.7 and 5.1 seconds to load respectively while Laptopmag.com took 17.5 seconds
The Tab 7.7 delivered a download speed of 18.1 Mbps and an upload speed of 7.5 Mbps on the Speedtest app. The Pantech Element posted a 35.7 Mbps download speed and an upload speed of 16.2 Mbps on AT&T's 4G LTE network.
The rear-facing 3.2-megapixel camera on the Galaxy Tab 7.7 was pretty fast. Snapping pictures was nearly instantaneous, taking about a half a second between shots. The colors were very rich and bright, with deep reds, soft pinks and electric blues. The pictures also looked fairly sharp on our desktop. However, many of our shots came out dark despite shooting on a sunny day.
Our 720p test video of New York City Traffic had a subtle haze that affected many of the colors. Normally bright cabs appeared dull and listless. However, we noticed reasonably sharp text from ads on buses and taxis.
Images shot with the 2.0 megapixel front-facing camera were decidedly grainy with washed out color. During our Wi-Fi Skype call, our caller reported a relatively clear image with loud audio and a trace of lag. Our caller appeared severely grainy on our end and there was about a second of lag. However, the audio came through loud and clear.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 lasted 6 hours and 28 minutes. That's 13 minutes below the 6:41 Android tablet average. However, that was more than enough to beat the Element, Toshiba Thrive, and T-Mobile Springboard, which lasted 5:26, 5:18 and 5:10, respectively.
Pricing and Data Plans
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 costs $499 with a two-year plan and three tiers of data plans. The $30 monthly plan buys 2GB of data while the $50 plan includes 5GB of data. Heavy data users will want to consider the $80 10GB. All three plans have a $10 per GB overage fee. With the $30 plan, consumers would spend $720 in addition to the tablet for a total of $1,219.
Samsung recently admitted that it's "not doing very well" in Android tablets. Will the $499 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 change that? There's certainly a lot to like here. The device combines fast 4G LTE speeds and a dazzling display and wraps it all up in a .03-inch chassis. Consumers that are put off by the $499 price might want to consider the $249 (with contract) Pantech Element, which offers faster AT&T 4G LTE speeds in a waterproof chassis. If you don't want to make an expensive two year commitment for mobile broadband, consider Wi-Fi-only options like the Kindle Fire ($199) or Toshiba Thrive 7-inch ($379.99)
The biggest challenge for Samsung is convincing shoppers that the Tab 7.7 is worth $300 more than the Kindle Fire up front, not including the monthly data plan. That's a pretty tall order, despite the Kindle Fire's limited app selection. But if you want speedy Web access on the go, a better screen, and faster performance and the ability to control your home theater--this slate is worth the splurge.