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Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 Samsung recently introduced a slightly smaller tablet than its 10.1-inch brother, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, and they provided Consumer World with a review unit to test.

Consumer World was wowwed by the 10.1 (see review), and its little brother doesn't disappoint in most respects.

The 8.9-inch screen is magnificently sharp and bright, and that is with the brightness only set to about 50%. The unit only weighs a pound, and is slightly thinner than a DVD case. It is a bit easier to hold than the 10.1, and is more of a 16:9 format shape than an iPad.

This unit came with 16-gigs of memory, and only hooks up to the Internet via wi-fi. You can easily go without recharging the unit for several days with moderate use. This Tab still does not have a direct USB input for a thumb drive or other device, and there is no SD card slot.

The built-in browser is very zippy at rendering websites, but sometimes the text on some sites is impossibly tiny. One can use two fingers to stretch the page, and that increases the font size. But, there is no separate font size control for the browser at all. The screen is very touch sensitive, so much so that when I now use the same light touch on my Magellan GPS, the GPS does not respond at all (and by comparison seems like it needs to be pounded into action). What is not so sensitive is the address bar in the browser, which, unlike the 10.1, needed repeated poking sometimes to pop-up the virtual keyboard.

The 8.9 comes with the Android operating system 3.1, and is loaded with various apps, but thousands more are available in the Android Market (store). Quite a number of apps will not work until you link them to your gmail account.

What Samsung did with the 8.9 is place several widgets on the home screen for weather, news, time, etc., thus cutting down on the space available there for your choice of apps. (You can easily remove them, however.) For example, the critical settings icon was not even on the home screen. Although I am used to finding where stuff is hiding on a tablet like this, a new user will likely be initially frustrated in their search for various features or switches. Unlike the 10.1, the 8.9 has Adobe Flash already loaded, so only an update is needed.

The biggest improvement over the 10.1 is the sound. The two tiny speakers on this one are located on the bottom edge instead of on either side, and the sound is shockingly loud and clear compared to the 10.1

One can make free phone calls with the 8.9 by downloading GrooVe IP, an app that makes Google Voice work on a non-cellular tablet. The built-in voice recognition software lets you visit websites by simply speaking the name -- "go to" . You can also say "navigate to 50 State Street, Boston", and using the built-in GPS you will get guided to that location.

While the 8.9-inch Tab is a handy device, many people may still prefer a full-size tablet. Check both sizes at a local retailer before you buy to see which works best for you.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 retails for about $469.99. Other flavors of it with more memory and cellular data access are higher.

October 2011

UPDATE December 2011: Samsung provided Consumer World with a Tab 8.9 loaded with AT&T's new 4G LTE data network. Wow. In speed tests, the tablet hit an amazing high of 36 Mbps download speed and most times around 11 Mbps upload. The download speeds were very variable, however. Do a test one minute, and it is 11 Mbps down. A minute later, it jumps to 25 Mbps. There was no rhyme or reason for the speed changes. Most of these speeds are greater than most people's home Internet service, so you can expect very speedy Internet surfing. ========================================================

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