Here's something you probably don't expect to find in a tablet box: a pair of glasses. The plastic shades that come with the T-Mobile G-Slate, LG's first Android 3.0 tablet, let you watch 3D video right on its 8.9-inch screen. This device is also more portable than the Motorola Xoom, promises 4G speeds, and comes with fun apps for watching TV, reading magazines, and playing games. At $529 with a two-year contract, the G-Slate costs $200 less than the 3G version of the iPad 2 with the same amount of memory (32GB), and $70 less than the Xoom. So is LG's Honeycomb tablet as sweet a deal as it sounds?
The G-Slate's 8.9-inch display makes it a bit of a tweener. It sits between 7-inch tablets such as the BlackBerry PlayBook and original Samsung Galaxy Tab and the 9.7-inch iPad 2 and 10-inch Motorola Xoom. The G-Slate is not as easy to fit into a purse or large coat as 7-inchers, but it's still portable enough to tote anywhere.
Measuring 9.6 x 5.9 x 0.5 inches and weighing 1.3 pounds, the G-Slate is lighter than the Xoom (1.6 pounds) but weighs as much as the iPad 2. Actually, it feels a bit heavier because Apple's tablet is thinner and distributes its weight over a larger footprint. Still, the G-Slate has a solid design with nice rounded corners, and the "with Google" engraving on the back silver stripe adds a touch of geeky elegance.
When held in landscape mode, you'll find a small power button on the left of the G-Slate and volume controls up top. The power port, headphone jack, and one speaker also sit on the left, while two more speakers decorate the right side. A mini HDMI port, microUSB port, and charging contacts for an optional dock line the bottom of the device.
The back of the G-Slate is smooth but not slippery. Here you'll find the dual cameras for recording 3D footage, along with an LED flash.
Display and Audio
Yes, the 8.9-inch G-Slate sacrifices a few pixels versus the larger 10.1-inch Xoom (1280 x 768 vs 1280 x 800), but we're happy to live that trade-off. LG's tablet has a brighter, crisper screen with wider viewing angles. However, while we appreciate having a sharper resolution than the iPad 2 in a 8.9-inch device, it results in smaller text when reading webpages in portrait mode. We had to zoom in to read articles comfortably.
You don't have to make any trade-offs when it comes to sound. The G-Slate's three speakers produced impressive volume and power when we streamed Keane's "Perfect Symmetry." Recorded videos also sounded loud and clear.
Software and Interface
Like the Motorola Xoom, the G-Slate provides a "pure" Android 3.0 experience, with no special skins or widgets added on top. The home screen by default shows shortcuts to pre-installed apps and an interactive bookmarks widget for launching one of your favorite sites with a tap. A search box sits on the top left of the screen, and an Apps button for seeing all of your apps is in the top right corner. To add more widgets to any of the five homescreens, change the background, and make other tweaks, just press and hold on the desktop or tap the + button.
The System Bar at the bottom of the screen is persistent. That's where you'll find the Home, Back, and Recent Application buttons (which look like space-age line drawings) on the left side. The bottom right houses the notification area, where you can do everything from glance at incoming e-mail alerts and skip to the next song to adjust settings like brightness. When you open an app, the Action Bar will appear, which presents contextual menu items at the top of the screen. For example, when viewing a photo you'll see options to start a slideshow, share, and delete, along with a dedicated menu button to use other options.
Given that the hot-selling Nintendo 3DS is out there and glasses-free 3D phones from LG and others are going on sale this summer, it's just odd to see a tablet paired with 3D glasses. The G-Slate gives you three options for recording 3D videos: mixed, anaglyph, side-by-side, and single. Anaglyph records videos with two color layers (red and cyan), which works in tandem with the included glasses. Side-by-side 3D technology splits the image into two frames (left and right), which is compatible with 3D TVs and 3D notebooks that use active shutter glasses. Recording in single mode requires playback on a 3D TV, accomplished via HDMI output.
The glasses did create a stereoscopic 3D effect, but they felt somewhat chintzy, and they didn't really create that immersive an experience. Footage of a golden retriever walking toward us popped a little, but not enough to warrant schlepping around the glasses. Plus, we noticed that video quality degraded significantly when recording in 3D vs. 2D. The resolution maxes out at 720p--instead of 1080p for 2D mode--and the picture looked fuzzier.
Camera and Camcorder
At least the G-Slate can record video at 1080p in 2D mode, something the Motorola Xoom can't do (720p max). Video recorded outdoors of a rain shower showed accurate colors in the grass and sidewalk, and we could easily make out drops hitting a puddle. However, we did notice some flickering and pixilation. A separate clip of traffic in New York City delivered good detail and loud audio but exhibited some visual noise when panning around and random white flashes.
The G-Slate's 5-MP still camera was a mixed bag. It captured sharper images than the iPad 2, but was slow to fire. And while we appreciate having a flash on board, it blew out subjects unless they were at least a couple of feet from the tablet.
The G-Slate lets you start making video calls right out of the box with Google Talk. You just press on the video camera icon next to a person's name, provided they have a webcam on their notebook or Android 3.0 tablet. In our tests the other caller said our picture looked bright and clear, even when we waved our hand in front of the camera. Too bad you can't make video calls over 4G. It's Wi-Fi only, which is strange since the Xoom lets you chat over 3G.
Powered by a dual-core 1-GHz Tegra 2 processor and packing 1GB of RAM, the G-Slate has plenty of muscle for handling Flash websites and intense 3D games such as Riptide GP. Switching between apps was also quick. In the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the G-Slate scored 3,120, slightly higher than the Xoom (2,995). In the Graphics portion of the same test, the G-Slate notched 388.1 vs 380.7 for the Xoom.
Despite all of this horsepower, the G-Slate suffered from the same software bugs that plagued the Xoom. Various apps (such as the browser, Android Market, and Facebook) crashed during our testing, and at one point the browser showed the address bar twice--one on top of the other. We also noticed that the accelerometer was slow to react, taking a little under 2 seconds to rotate the screen. We hope Google issues a software update soon.
In addition to Google's own apps (E-mail/Gmail, YouTube, Books, Music, Maps, etc.), T-Mobile bundles the G-Slate with a bunch of apps to help you get more fun out of this tablet. These include T-Mobile TV, Need for Speed Shift HD, and Zinio.
T-Mobile TV can only be used over 4G--not Wi-Fi--but the video looked pretty smooth when we watched an episode of Dinosaur Train with the kids. Other than children's programming, the selection is mostly limited to news and content from A&E, Lifetime, and TLC. You get a 30-day free trial, and after that its costs $9.99 per month. We don't think it's worth it.
Need for Speed Shift HD impressed us with its detailed 3D graphics and fast-paced action. Zinio lets you download thousands of magazines to the tablet. We found the text in an issue of Maxim to be small to read without zooming in, but overall the experience was good.
At last count the Android Market listed only 62 tablet apps, which is sad compared to the more than 65,000 available for the iPad. Still, we found some compelling titles in there, including Angry Birds Rio, Pulse News, and Kids ABC Letters HD. Our favorite app was Speedx 3D, a blazing fast racing game that makes use of the G-Slate's 3D screen.
Nvidia also provided us with a sneak peek of three games coming to its Tegra Zone store for Android tablets and phones: Galaxy on Fire 2, Riptide GP, and Pinball HD. We couldn't get the first game to work, but we enjoyed the frenetic action and water effects in Riptide GP, which turns you into a daredevil water cyclist. Pinball HD is just pure old-school fun with different themed tables (including Wild West).
Web Browsing and 4G
Right now the G-Slate has an edge over the Xoom in that it taps into T-Mobile's 4G network. Motorola's tablet will require an update to surf Verizon's faster LTE network. It's important to understand, though, that T-Mobile offers different tiers of 4G devices. While the Samsung Galaxy S 4G phone has a theoretical maximum download speed of 21 Mbps, the G-Slate is rated for 14.4 Mbps. And we didn't get anywhere close to the latter speed.
This tablet maxed out at 3.3 Mbps and delivered an average data rate of 1.4 Mbps on the downlink. Upload speeds averaged 548 Kbps, with a high of 1.5 Mbps. The Galaxy S 4G, by comparison, peaked at 5.5 Mbps on the downlink and averaged 2.4 Mbps downloads and 1.4 Mbps uploads.
Still, websites were fairly quick to load. With a strong 4G signal, NYTimes.com loaded in about 12 seconds. Over Wi-Fi the G-Slate was just about as speedy as the iPad 2, finishing a second or two behind in many cases (probably due to Flash). At least Flash is an option on this tablet.
If you want to share the G-Slate's 4G connection you can use this tablet as a hotspot without paying extra for data. It counts against whatever bucket of megabytes or gigabytes you sign up for.
The G-Slate's 6,400 mAh battery lasted a very good 8 hours and 16 minutes in 3G mode on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing on 40 percent brightness). That's 16 minutes longer than the Motorola Xoom but behind the iPad 2's 8:59 over Verizon's 3G network. Over Wi-Fi, the G-Slate lasted just under 9 hours, which is less than the iPad 2's epic 11:11 but still enough for getting through most of the day unplugged.
Pricing and Value
T-Mobile sells the G-Slate for a contract-free price of $749 ($50 less than the Xoom), but most shoppers will opt for the cheaper $529 version, which requires a two-year contract. T-Mobile offers three data plans for this version, but the amount varies based on whether you're already an existing voice customer. For example, the 5GB plan costs $39.99 per month for T-Mobile subscribers and $49.99 per month for mobile broadband only. Other options include 200MB ($23.99/$29.99), which we don't recommend because it's so little data. You could also step up to 10GB ($67.99/$84.99).
While the iPad 2 remains our top pick among tablets because of its vast app selection, those who are interested in Android 3.0 should take a good look at the T-Mobile G-Slate. In fact, we prefer the G-Slate in some ways to the Motorola Xoom because it has a better display and it weighs less (even though you get a smaller screen). To us, the 3D camcorder and glasses are just a bonus--and not a very compelling one at that. The Xoom is better for those who want faster 4G speeds, but Verizon hasn't yet made that upgrade available.
But the G-Slate isn't just competing against the Xoom. We'll soon have reviews of aggressively priced, Wi-Fi-only Honeycomb tablets like the Acer Iconia A500 ($449) and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (reportedly starting at $399). So you really need to ask yourself how much you want/need built-in mobile broadband and if you're willing to pay extra for monthly data. If the answer is yes, you'll like what the G-Slate has to offer.