Samsung's Galaxy Tab 8.9 has a lot going for it. It packs the popular Galaxy Tab 10.1 into a smaller, more portable package and it has the honour of being Australia's first 4G tablet. This all seems to add up, and yet, we're still not sold on Samsung's latest slate.
At risk of attracting a vulgar image in the minds of our more tender readers, the phrase "if you've seen one, you've seen them all" is most apt here. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 appears exactly as you might expect, just like a slightly smaller Galaxy Tab 10.1. Its 8.9-inch LCD screen is set within an inch-thick bezel, with stainless steel trim and an attractive white plastic cover on the underside. Along the top you'll find buttons for power and volume alongside a 3.5mm headphone socket, and a proprietary charging socket on the bottom bookended by small external speakers.
You'll notice this description makes no mention of an HDMI port for TV out, a microSD card slot or a USB port of any size. If you're looking for this sort of connectivity and interested in the Tab 8.9, Samsung does sell a range of accessories that attach to the proprietary port. Each single-purpose attachment will set you back between AU$40 and AU$50 each, though.
At 455 grams, the 8.9-inch version of the Galaxy Tab is a fair bit lighter than the 10-inch model, which is always a good thing when you're speaking about portable electronics. The tablet's PLS TFT display is bright and colourful, and offers excellent off-axis viewing angles.
If you've spent any time with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you'll know exactly what to expect here. The 8.9 shares the same Android Honeycomb base with Samsung's TouchWiz UI on top. TouchWiz for tablets isn't a particularly aggressive user interface overlay, offering only minor adjustments to the default Android experience, including a number of unique widgets and a handy quick launch taskbar, which is visible at the bottom of the home screen.
Performance-wise, the 8.9 seems to be a couple of steps behind the 10.1, and so behind much of its direct competition as a result. In BrowserMark benchmarks, the 8.9 manages a result nearly half of what the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and iPad 2 score, and on the Android-specific Vellamo benchmark, it is also a fair bit off the pace. Interestingly, the 8.9 outperforms a number of its competitors in a straight OpenGL 3D rendering benchmark, suggesting an issue relating directly with the way it browses the web, and not a slow CPU.
Asus Transformer Prime
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7
Motorola Xoom 2
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Anecdotally, the general performance of the Tab 8.9 is only average at best. We often encountered considerable pauses between animations across the user interface, and nearly constant scrolling stutters. Launching the multitasking function usually takes a second or two, and while this isn't going to set you back in your work day, it does detract from the impression that this is a premium quality tablet worthy of the same price tag as an iPad.
Battery life is good, but not outstanding, with the 8.9 managing about six hours in our heavy-duty 720p video test. This is a little better than the Xoom and Asus Transformer Prime (without the dock), but it's nowhere near the amazing 10 hours of battery you'll get out of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 with its power-efficient AMOLED screen. Also worth noting, the 6100mAh battery takes nearly as long to recharge as it does to discharge under heavy use; as you can see in the screen capture below, a full recharge takes just over five hours.
The cells in this graph represent one-hour increments of time. You can see that recharging (the green line) takes about five hours from beginning to end.
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9||Apple iPad (2012)||Motorola Xoom 2||Asus Transformer Prime|
|Android 3.2||Apple iOS 5.1||Android 3.2||Android 4|
800 x 1280 pixels
1536 x 2048 pixels
800 x 1280 pixels
800 x 1280 pixels
|Dual-core 1.5GHz||Apple A5X, dual-core 1GHz||TI OMAP 4430, dual-core 1.2GHz||Nvidia Tegra 3, quad-core 1.3GHz|
|1GB RAM||1GB RAM||1GB RAM||1GB RAM|
|16GB, 32GB storage||16GB, 32GB, 64GB storage||32GB storage||32GB, 64GB storage|
Considering the pedigree of Samsung camera phones behind it, the Tab 8.9 should be expected to take a decent photo. The smaller tablet size also makes it slightly less ridiculous to use, but you'll still get a few sideways glances from passers-by we imagine. Overall, the quality of photos taken by the Tab 8.9 are quite good, and definitely Facebook-worthy, though you can see in the blue sky of the second image that there is a fair bit of pixellation in the way it represents gradients of colour that detract from our opinion of this camera. That said, this pixellation is quite difficult to see when viewing the photo on the tablet itself, and with a screen this big, you are most likely to be showing off your most recent memories using this display rather than a larger monitor.
Scary, yes, but this pic also shows good detail captured by the camera, especially in the orange hair.
Notice the pixellation in the sky.
One area where the Tab 8.9 excels is in the way it handles a wide variety of media playback. Out of the box, this tablet can play video files including DivX and XviD formats, and files in an MKV container. Audiophiles will love its recognition of the OGG audio container, though they may be disappointed that it doesn't play FLAC files alongside the usual array of MP3 and AAC formats.
If anything, this extended file playback only re-enforces for us that Samsung should be including a TV-out option in the box with the tablet. We can understand that the Samsung design team might not want to sacrifice this tablet's slim profile to include a port on the tab itself, but having the adapter in the box as a value-adding bonus would elevate this product substantially in our esteem.
As much as we love the size, weight and appearance of Samsung's latest tablet, it is let down considerably by the same performance issues we've seen across other tablets running Android Honeycomb so far. Despite employing a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, everyday use of the Tab 8.9 is interrupted by near constant spikes of lag and jittery animation. Worse still, the tablet's 4G network compatibility amounts to very little with a web-browsing experience on par, at best, with other 3G tablets. You can download large files quickly, and this may appeal to some business users, but everyday browsing and streaming have no discernible improvement in performance.