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Samsung Galaxy Tab: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Photo courtesy of Samsung

We purchased AT&T’s U.S. edition of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab on the release date in November, 2010. It’s been a wild ride ever since. First, the good news. Steve Jobs is dead wrong. A 7″ tablet is far from being DOA. In fact, the Galaxy Tab is the ideal form factor for a business person that wears a suit, sport coat, or jacket. The device fits perfectly in almost all coat pockets. Unlike the iPad, you can hold the Galaxy Tab in one hand rather than balancing the device between your knees. The screen is dazzling. Performance is respectable, Flash works reliably, two cameras are included (even though no app yet uses the front-facing camera), and at least so far, the SIM chip in your AT&T iPad is interchangeable with the AT&T Galaxy Tab using a $2 Micro SIM to SIM card adapter. So all of the shortcomings of the iPad have been addressed. With more than 200,000 apps in Google’s Market, you now can find comparable applications to most that are available for the iPad. And, while the Android apps weren’t specifically designed for a tablet, we never noticed. This contrasts dramatically with the half-baked iPhone/iPad app conversions that Apple attempted to pull off.

Photo courtesy of Samsung

With Android’s open platform and near perfect hardware, what could possibly be wrong with this device? Well, just about everything unfortunately. Between Google, Samsung, and AT&T (and we assume the other U.S. oligopolists aren’t far behind), the device has been crippled in just about every possible way. Not only is the tablet locked to the specific carrier even though you paid full retail ($700+) for the unit, but cell phone usage also is blocked by all four U.S. carriers. No collusion, of course. 🙄 This functionality is available on all European models. Fortunately, for those in the U.S., Bria for Android will let you make SIP phone calls using any SIP provider you wish to use.

To add insult to injury, applications for the device are locked down to only apps available in the Google Market. This means, for example, that you cannot load thousands of tech books available in .apk format from O’Reilly. More importantly, you can’t restore your device from a backup. And, yes, Google has been quick to respond to requests to remove any apps that would let you root or tether the device. All of this might be understandable if AT&T offered an unlimited data plan and had to worry about users eating up their precious bandwidth. You may recall that AT&T’s only unlimited data plan offering lasted less than a week with the iPad. But AT&T now charges for Internet service on a pay-as-you-go basis. So there’s really no rational explanation for crippling the device for which you paid full retail and which you own.

While you still can root the device with a little creativity, flipping the setting to permit downloads of non-market apps using the latest Samsung firmware now bricks the unit since Samsung has added a checksum to the configuration file.

It would be easy to blame AT&T for being evil. They seem to regard it as a badge of honor. But Samsung and Google have aided and abetted the carriers’ wishes enthusiastically, albeit secretly. In fact, Samsung reportedly will announce the Galaxy Tab II this week at the Consumer Electronics Show with checksummed firmware that will take device crippling to new lows, far beyond what Apple has been willing to do on the iPad platform. In other words, you can kiss custom ROMs goodbye on Samsung’s "open" Android platform. For all of these reasons, AT&T’s device wins our 2010 Award as the Most Crippled Device of the Year, with dishonorable mentions to both Samsung and Google.

Fortunately, U.S. consumers have a choice. Just refuse to buy any more of this junk until the carriers and manufacturers clean up their act. We really could love this device, and it’s puzzling why the carriers and the manufacturer and Google feel compelled to cripple these devices in the U.S. market when all four of the major service providers offer the same device at the same price with the same (crippled) feature set. It’s almost like it’s part of their DNA to cripple everything they sell that has their name on it. Little wonder that folks are looking elsewhere to purchase new technology.

The other sad reality is that the technical writers in the U.S. for the most part roll over and play dead with these companies in order to secure the latest story and to get the free pass to the Vegas tea parties to yuck it up with their pals. And, of course, for some there are still loads of free toys. It’s easy to find glowing reviews of the Galaxy Tab from so-called pundits, but just try to find an article laying out what we’ve documented. We’re not tooting our own horn here, just wondering why folks that get paid for reviewing these products as their livelihood don’t do their homework instead of regurgitating manufacturer press releases. Unfortunately, it’s much the same reason that all of the cell phone companies are so chummy and cookie cutter comparable.

We couldn’t end this disappointing review without a word about Samsung’s service operation. Apple it’s not! A week after purchasing our device, we accidentally dropped it down a flight of brick steps. HINT: Buy a case. It’s too bulky to hold in one hand while you’re walking unless you have hands the size of Seinfeld’s old girlfriend. One-handed operation works fine sitting in a chair. If you’ve ever seen what a baseball can do to a plate glass window, then you have a pretty good image of what our Galaxy Tab looked like. The device still worked perfectly if you didn’t mind slicing your finger. That was Thanksgiving Day. Three weeks later we still were arguing with the Samsung Repair Facility in Texas which insisted that the IMEI number of their own device wasn’t in their computer system. Thus, they refused to repair it even though we were willing to pay for the repair. After dozens of calls, we finally reached the head of Samsung USA service who managed to manually enter the IMEI into the system so that we could get a quote on the repair. Samsung has only sold a million units. Wouldn’t you think someone might have thought about repairs? Incidentally, the cost was $170 including shipping in both directions which we thought was quite reasonable. And a week later the device arrived with a new screen AND the new crippled firmware which everyone else will get to enjoy shortly.

As for us, thanks to a law degree, it’s only a quick trip to the courthouse next week to drag Samsung into court to explain why they erased our device and installed newly improved crippleware rather than simply replacing the screen which we contracted with Samsung to repair. We’ll keep you posted.

Our Bottom Line for those that haven’t been to law school: JUST SAY NO!

Originally published: Monday, January 3, 2011

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  1. I am very sorry to hear about your problems. I purchased my Galaxy Tab here in Germany, and despite it has the T-Online version installed I had no restrictions in using a different providers SIM or using whatever kind of software I like. I also can root the device.
    I also can fully use the phone functionality, which works perfectly.
    Maybe it would be a nice idea to import a device from europe and compare it to the US Version.



  2. What a sad "state of affairs" with our oligopolies that have now dragged Google into it as well.

    Unfortunately, the game of "playing dead" extends to the highest levels of journalists that include major network anchors. After all, they too need to get those big interviews!

    And, Ward, so much for your "puppy love" with this device when you first bought it.

    PS: I refuse to buy any Apple and other products that are "closed". I never bought an iPhone and waited until Android came along. For the record, Apple make beautiful products; they are just not for me.

    [WM: That’s the problem with "puppy love." Things don’t look quite so rosy the next morning. 😉 ]

  3. Ward,

    Thanks for taking the time to document your issues with the device and vendors. I came close to buying one but my wife really had her heart set on a Color Nook.

    Her experience with the Nook has been very good, although she’s interested in having it rooted so that she can load a few apps that she already enjoys on her G2. Marginal battery life is the major issue.

  4. I’ve reacted very negatively to your article on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Specifically your belief that lawyers should get better treatment than us normals, and that the proper reaction to all issues is to "drag [them] into court."

    [WM: Lighten up, Patrick. Anybody can sue anybody. You kinda missed the point of the article.]

  5. Ward – take a look at the Nook Color. It is one bluetooth driver away from being a nearly perfect 7 inch tablet and it only costs $250.00 and is easily rooted.

  6. It’s AT&T. They’ve locked down all Android devices on their network that way…look at android devices from other carriers and it’s a different story.

  7. The Galaxy Tab is going down in flames. Stop making excuses for a half-baked product. Many Android craplets will come, none will be beat the iPad. It’s that simple.

    [WM: Get ’em, fanboy!]

  8. My daughter sells these for Verizon and I found the review compelling enough I sent it to her so she could honestly assess for her customers what kind of experience they may have. For the sake of those customers, Apple needs some stiff competition. And the Tab has an attractive form factor–but too bad the big players are hedging their bets and protecting their legal and technical backsides. The consumer loses. But thanks for an informed and informative review.

  9. Ward,

    It is truly disappointing to hear that Samsung and AT&T conspired to cripple what looked to be a very promising device. Although I’m sure Google did nothing to try and intervene, I’m not sure they sanctioned it. The whole point of Android was to give manufacturers freedom to develop, as they saw fit, let the best device win.

    That being said, if it is possible in any way, shape or form to root that device and/or put it in firmware flash mode, there will be custom ROMs. HTC couldn’t stop it on the G2, Motorola couldn’t stop on the Droid X, and Samsung won’t be able to stop it on the Galaxy Tab. It may take time, depending on the number of devices out in the wild. But, as sure as shootin’ somebody will crack it wide open.

    I’ve been eyeing a color Nook as well. I think, if I do get any tablet, I’m going to stick to a WiFi only version. I can tether it with my phone, if I just gotta have non-WiFi data. I think it will just be safer to have a product that was never even designed to work on "mobile" networks, and therefore, not subject to the "suggestions" of the US wireless carriers.

  10. Ward,
    Thank you for sharing your painful experience. I had high hopes for the Galaxy Tab. I shall pass on it now. You have highlighted items that make it a no-deal for me.

  11. Stick to WiFi only devices and get a no-contract Virgin Mobile MiFi with their $40 a month unlimited plan for use where you don’t have WiFi coverage. Even the GPS functionality works with the MiFi, either by triangulating WiFi router locations or cell phone tower locations. Accuracy is good enough for general navigation or LBS.

  12. It is true that android is not for IT dummies…

    Whilst, I await my Notion Ink Adam… I just installed the Notion Ink Adam software on my Viewsonic G Tab, and boy it is amazing…

    Thanks a lot Notion Ink and the XDA Guys !!

    And the best part is I am not limited to a contractual telecom company…. !!

    and Pixel Qi will be awesome…

  13. Re: Galaxy Tab review..most people have known for years that you only buy a device from a network provider if you are prepared to pay the price. This involves signing a contract for perhaps several years and accepting the probability that the capabilities of the device will likely be crippled in some way. WELL KNOWN FACT. If you want the fully functional version just buy one at the full retail price and it will not be locked to a carrier or crippled.

    [WM: Yep. That’s the traditional wisdom. As mentioned in the article, the AT&T unit was purchased at full retail price with no contract and no cellphone capability. But thanks for the history lesson.]

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