Looking for an inexpensive but capable tablet that does a lot more than the Kindle Fire? Check out the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 with 7-inch screen. It's the first Android tablet that's priced like a Kindle Fire but offers iPad-like features. With any luck, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) will launch a whole new category of affordable Android tablets that can compete with low-end iPads.
The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) Wi-Fi-only model with 8GB of built-in storage and a 7-inch screen costs only $249.99. That's only $50 more than the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire owns 54.4% of the Android tablet market, according to comScore. But the Kindle Fire is a custom device with limited features and functions compared to more general-purpose tablets such as the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. That's how Amazon can sell the Fire for $199 and grab a larger share of the market.
Unlike the Fire, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 provides rear- and front-facing cameras, GPS, and flash-storage expansion. Previous Android tablets with this many features typically cost almost twice as much. The $150 to $250 price range appears to be the sweet spot for grabbing the attention and credit cards of people who might not want to spend between $499 and $829 for one of the third-generation iPads.
Smaller screen: mostly a plus
Back in 2010, Steve Jobs dismissed tablets with 7-inch screens as "dead on arrival". And yet the Kindle Fire's quick rise to popularity shows that some consumers prefer smaller tablets.
A tablet with a 7-inch screen is harder to touch type on in landscape mode. On the other hand, thumb typing in portrait mode is much easier than on a larger tablet or even on a smartphone. I hacked an even better solution by hooking up my old Stowaway Bluetooth folding keyboard, which lets you prop up the tablet.
The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has a 1024-by-600-pixel resolution, the same as most netbooks. However, it offers only 60% of the resolution of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which has a 10.1-inch screen with a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. This means far fewer Android widgets will fit on one screen. You'll have to use multiple home screens to house all your widgets.
As someone who spends most of the day with a notebook computer, I've found it very convenient to use a tablet as a second screen. I use the tablet to check email, use a calculator, or search online. This saves me from having to rearrange windows on my notebook. A smaller tablet like the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a lot easier to take along as a second screen because it does not require a large carrying case.
Mo' better hardware
Unlike the $200 Kindle Fire or other low-cost Android tablets, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has lots of cool features. Although the $250 tablet only provides 8GB of internal flash storage, it has a microSD slot, which can be used to add up to 32GB of additional storage. I bought a 32GB microSD card for $22.34 to provide a total of 40GB of storage. The combined cost of the tablet and additional flash storage was still under $275.
Gadget freaks will appreciate the infrared port (top left in the photo below), which lets the tablet be used as a remote control for a variety of consumer electronic devices such as TVs.
The tablet has a sub-megapixel 648-pixel-by-480-pixel front-facing camera for video chats, and a 3MP rear-facing camera for taking photos and videos. It has no flash. My photos came out reasonably sharp. However, all the photos and videos I took using the tablet's default settings came out overexposed with washed-out colors. Below is a photo I took in a well-lit outdoor area.
Another annoying design flaw is the USB connector. It's in a bad spot--on the bottom of the device, between the tablet's two speakers. It's also proprietary, which means you can't use the standard micro-USB cable you might already carry for your phone or other mobile electronic devices. Samsung is taking a page from Apple's playbook here. Apple has its own proprietary connector for devices, but at least Apple's has widespread support from third parties for cables, cars, clock radios, exercise equipment, and more. Samsung might be successful with this connector, but it's unlikely to attain the level of support that Apple has.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has a lot going for it. It's inexpensive, small and easy to handle for the most part, and fully equipped, including the latest version of the Android operating system.
Although smaller than the iPad's screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0's 7-inch display is big enough for reading and writing. For those who don't want to shell out money for an iPad or a larger Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a good choice.Price: $249.99