Thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and Android Honeycomb

Getting down to the meat of the issue. After lots of considerations I finally got myself an android tablet. The device I choose is the Galaxy tab 8.9. I have used the device for close to a week and here are my thoughts about it, android honeycomb and tablets generally.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Hardware Basic Specification 

  • Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
  • 8.9″ WXGA display (1280×800)
  • 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 CPU
  • 16/32GB storage
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 2.0MP front-facing camera, 3.0MP camera around back
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Samsung’s TouchWiz UI

The device is very thin and light. This makes it very easy and convenient to hold with one hand for reading and stuff. I also love the 8.9 inch screen size which for me is just the right sweet spot for a tablet. I have reservation about the 10.1 and the 7.0 form factor, didn’t want a device which looked like I’m carrying a tray or one which looks like a giant mobile phone. The galaxy tab 8.9 is just right, just perfect for me. Very light, very easy to hold, with just the right vertical real estate when held in landscape mode. 

2011-11-02 13.45.41  2011-11-03 14.44.14  2011-11-03 14.45.39

Did I say it was thin? Super incredibly thin. Its thinner than the Iphone 4. A shade thinner than the Apple iPad 2. It is the thinnest tablet there is (for now).

2011-11-06 09.09.01  2011-11-06 09.09.48

Default Firmware

galaxytab8.9tw

The device is running Android Honeycomb 3.1 (while writing this) which is not the latest version of honeycomb (that one is 3.2). It comes with Samsung Touchwiz UX for tablet. (From what I have heard and seen of default honeycomb experience, its not as a total make over as is the case with the gingerbread version of Touchwiz.)

Samsung has included some software, widget and tools and made some modification to stock honeycomb applications like emails, calendar etc. I have not used a tablet with pure honeycomb experience before hence its hard to put in perspective the advantages or otherwise of Samsung’s Honeycomb additions.

One thing I can say about the out of the box experience of the device is  that its very laggy. The lag is obvious when flipping through the desktops screens (in landscape mode), or applications grid. Although the lag does not carry over to the general function of the devices (applications are start very snappy and I don’t experience slow down in the general performance of individual applications, and seems to disappears when the device is used in landscape mode) Still the obvious lag and stutter of transitions creates an air of things being slow. I found this very unfortunate for a device running a dual core Nvidia Tegra chip, clocked at GHz with 1GB of memory. This device should be as smooth as liquid.The lag issue seems to have been fixed with honeycomb 3.2 (which is not yet available for the galaxy tab 8.9 – sigh).

The Good news is that the aforementioned lag seems to appears to be a bug with the default honeycomb 3.1 / Touchwiz  launcher and should be fixed with a software upgrade. A work around the problem is the installation of the ADWlauncher ex. (Though I found the launcher to overwhelm me with options.) Luckily for me though, I got the device around when Custom ROM development for it started to take shape. Because the galaxy tab 8.9 is very new in the market (was released last month) custom ROM development has been quite slow. However the hugely popular overcome ROM for the galaxy tab series has been ported to 8.9 and it was the first thing I installed when I got the device.

Installing Overcome on the Galaxy Tab 8.9 improved the speed and reduced the lag considerably. Here are some of the Improvements Overcome brings to the Galaxy tab 8.9 Over the custom Samsung firmware

  • Fully Deodexed
  • Fully Zipaligned
  • Rooted/Busybox installed
  • Stock kernel with modified initramfs
  • Slightly Themed with stock-ish Honeycomb look
  • Optimized Launcher (enabled HW accel, optimized images inside to significantly reduce footprint, removed all the crap samsung put on our screens by default)
  • Ads blocked
  • Updated Maps to 5.11
  • Updated Music to 3.0.1
  • Updated SamsungApps to 3.10.024
  • Updated Flash Player to 11.0.1.153
  • Overscroll Glow enabled
  • Browser Modifications (UAString chooser in Advanced Options, Overscroll Glow enabled, plugins set to load ON_DEMAND instead of ON, Default Zoom and Text Size options added under advanced, LightTouch disabled)
  • Bootanimation.zip support (cool boot animation included thanks to gammaRascal in the Iconia forums)
  • Overcome CWM Recovery 5.1.2.6
  • Extended Power Menu (Reboot, Recovery, Download)
  • Status Bar Hide/Show mod in extended power menu (thanks to MaximKat for original mod!)
  • App_process pre-compiled binary from Android 3.2 included (improved smoothness/responsiveness)
  • Roboto font included

If I was on the fence about the galaxy tab 8.9 before, installing Overcome ROM completely won me over and I fell in love with the device. It became even faster, and most of the crapware Samsung included in the device were removed. Perhaps the tweak which brought the most improvements was enabling hardware acceleration for the default launcher which (for some reason was disabled by Samsung), this more or less removed the lag experienced when flipping through the home screens or application menu grid (though not to the point of nirvana).

Honeycomb

galaxytab.overcome

Coming from Android Gingerbread, Honeycomb (or Samsung’s modification of it) takes some time to adjust to. I had to relearn almost everything I have come to know about Android. Although the UI idea and concepts carry over from Android 2.x (Multiple home screens, widgets, application grid, notification etc). However the implementation of this ideas are quite unique to honeycomb. Here are my thoughts on Android the Honeycomb way.

Beside the power and volume rocker buttons, the galaxy tab 8.9 Lacks any control Hardware button. All the buttons for interacting with the OS (Back, Home and Menu) are software based. This makes a lot of sense as it allows for consistency which ever orientation the device is displayed. Whether I’m using it “upside down” landscape or portrait you would always find the buttons aligned with the current screen orientation.

galaxytab8.9-softbuttons

I didn’t miss the physical keys at all. I also like the way Honeycomb handles notification, just as unobtrusive as gingerbread, but still makes use of the screen estate. Notifications pop up is similar to that  of KDE. In the case of email notification, clicking on the main body of the notification brings up the email, but notification can also be dismissed by clicking on the “X” button.

Tapping the clock at the button right side of the screen brings up quick way to turn on (or off) wifi, notification, sound, and auto rotate. It also allows adjustments of screen brightness, quick access to settings and log of unread notifications. I am a bit indifferent to this functionality. I find it useful but it also gets in the way sometimes. I feel it could be better implemented. It was meant to replace the pull down notification drawer of gingerbread, but unlike the latter it could be activated accidentally.

Honeycomb’s software buttons are same with Android 2.x. well more or less. There is the home and back button (which perform the same functionality as with gingerbread). However, the menu button is missing. Menu is now more integrated within honeycomb applications – more on that later – and there is a “new recent application” button which is for switching between recently opened applications. It comes very handy and really improves multitasking on the tablet.

While the recent app button displays a list of recently opened applications, holding down the home key shows a list of running applications (as was the case in gingerbread). One cool thing samsung has added is ability to close this applications and free system memory.

I find this quite handy and removes the need for a 3rd party task manager. Samsung also added a button for taking screenshots, which also comes in handy (I guess…).

The difference between honeycomb and gingerbread is quite huge, from widget, wallpaper management. App menu grid (which is now paginated) and may more.  A detailed overview of android honeycomb can be viewed here.

Applications  and Utilities

Like everyone who owns a tablet, the browser is my most used application on the galaxy tab.

The default browser for honeycomb bear very close resemblance to chrome on the desktop. It doesn’t disappoint and has done well with every web page thrown at it. It has a support for adobe flash (which I removed – my quality of life is better without flash) and handles java script laden sites quite well. Minor grips I have with it is the fact that even though capable of displaying desktop view, by default the browser tend to present the mobile view of websites which really looks ugly with lots of white space and tiny text. Luckily I could change the default User Agent from Android to full desktop (whether this is an overcome ROM feature or something which came standard with the default Samsung ROM I am not sure). I also wish the x and + buttons for closing and closing a page on the browser were a little bigger I never seem to be able to close a page at first try (or maybe my hands need to be a little smaller :p). Overall the browser is fast and scrolling is butter smooth. The screen vibrant screen, pixel density all connive to make the galaxy tab 8.9 an amazing web experience.

Another area where the galaxy tab shines is emailing. Or well gmailing. The official Gmail application for honeycomb is a killer. It improves on the gingerbread email application and makes good use of the tablet screen estate. It supports multiple gmail address and just freaking awesome nothing more to add there.

 

Application Ecosystem

In theory all of the 500,000 applications in the Android market should be installable on the galaxy tab, however only a handful were actually developed for honeycomb or even optimized for a tablet screen estate. Since using the galaxy tab. I would group applications available for it into 4 categories.

Honeycomb Optimized Applications  These are applications which have been optimized to take advantage of the honeycomb APIs. They not only take advantage of the tablet real estate but also make use of honeycomb APIs in area of hardware accelerations  and incorporate the new honeycomb approach to menus into their UI. Honeycomb lacks the menu button which was part of standard OS button for android 2.x.  Application menus are now part of individual application UI (usually on the top right corner of the application).

Applications under the categories offer the best experience on Honeycomb . They make good use of the Tablet screen, are usually butter smooth when scrolling. and offer neat transitions. Unfortunately applications like this are in the minority and are usually only work on honeycomb.

Tablet Optimized Application This are applications which take advantage of the tablet screen estate (look good on tablets) even though are not optimized to hook on to some of honeycomb’s unique API. Hence they lack hardware acceleration (and you can see this from the jerkiness in scrolling and general transition). There also default to using legacy menu support, hence when started a menu button is displayed just beside the standard OS button. A lot of games and browsers fall under this category. They all general provide a decent (not great) experience on the Tablet

General Android Applications Applications in this category make up the bulk available in the android market. They are the applications written for mobile phones. Although they run on honeycomb tablets, they do so without taking advantage of the tablet screen estate resulting in very Ugly UI with lots of spaces, tiny text (which most times are aligned to the left side of the screen). These applications have been stretched to fit the tablet screen and the result is abysmal. 

Twitter application for android is an example. The UI doesn’t make good use of the tablet screen, instead the application is stretched to file the screen. It also doesn’t use the menu system of honeycomb but defaults to the legacy menu button. The sad part is 95% of applications in the android market fall under this category.

Hybrid Applications  Applications under this category run well both on smartphone and honeycomb tablets. The applications have been written to  default to a particular UI when it senses a smaller screen and another when the screen is larger. A good example of an application which does this is the Kindle app. The same APK I installed on my phone scaled well on the galaxy tab and even adopted the honeycomb menu system. Google reader, IMDB also fall in this category. Thankfully many applications are increasingly falling under this categories. Using a one apk approach for both tablets and smartphones. I have a got feeling that the the release of Ice Cream Sandwich would see more application adopt this approach’

Over all the number of tablet ready applications available for honeycomb pale compared to what is available for the ipad. The good news is the situation is slowly starting to change and it is hard not to find a good tablet application which meets a particular needs.

Below are a List of Recommended Tablet optimized applications that I come to use on a daily bases.

Tweetcaster

After trying out Plume and Tweetcomb, I settled to using tweetcaster as my twitter client of choice. I like the way the UI is laid out on the galaxy tab, resisting the urge to overload the extra screen with information overload (as was the case with the previous two IMHO).

Reddita 

Reddita is the best Reddit application available only for honeycomb tablets. It provides a great way to browse Reddit, create a post, comments and can even send notification of comment reply. The UI is great. Very clean and a joy to use.

Kindle

I guess no tablet experience would be complete without a great e-book reader. If I am not surfing the web on my gtab, I’m reading a book. The Kindle application is well adjusted to honeycomb looks and works great.

Komik

One usage case for tablets is: It provides a great e-comic experience with the large screen, which is about the size of a real comic. One of the first thing I did after setting up my galaxy tab was to load it up with my collection of comics. A little googling showed Komik has the best comic application for android tablets (which it was designed exclusively for) here are some of its features.

  •  CBR, CBZ, and image directory comic support 
  •  Comic collection browser with thumbnails
  •  Quickly zoom in locally on a section of a page
  •  Page thumbnails to quickly scan through comics
  •  Continuous bookmarking for all comics
  •  Gracefully handles dual-spread pages
  •  Easy collection management from the library
  •  Easily zoom into pages

 

 

 

 

 

AndChat

AndChat is the best IRC Client I have found (so far) for honeycomb. It’s a joy to use and supports all the standard stuffs you expect from an IRC client.

  • Multi-Server support
  • Multi-Charset support
  • SASL Support
  • UTF-8 Detection
  • Chat Logs
  • Typing history (DPAD up/down)
  • Timestamps
  • Nick highlight support for multiple nicknames
  • Notifications
  • SSL Support
  • User list
  • Encryption to protect access to password protected servers

File Manager HD

This is what I use for file management. Has got all the tools needed and can even be made to run as root. Nothing else to add.

CNN for Android Tablets

On my mobile I turn to the BBC News, but since the BBC app looks horrendous on my gtab, The CNN

application for android tablet is a nice slot in replacement. Even though CNN is not my first choice when it comes to News, I have to give it to them, their Android tablet app is gorgeous.


These are just a few  of the applications that have come to make me really love my galaxy tab 8.9. There are lots of thousands of other applications, utilities and games available for android tablets and more are being added everyday. I also get to use well known utilities like titanium backup and superuser and they work just as well.

In conclusion, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a great tablet and I would highly recommend it. The hardware is one of the best in the market and although it’s a bit bugged down by some software issues. It’s something which can hopefully be fixed by software upgrades and there are work arounds for these problems. Even then will not call them deal breakers.

I hope I this helps someone out.

 

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  • Joseph Elliott

    Nice article . Will definitely look into the overcome rom and AWDLauncher. Got my 8.9 tab over a month ago and was using Launcher pro instead of touchwiz ux.

  • http://hmusick.wordpress.com/ HmusicK

    Very thorough and interesting article. You covered every area in your review and your pictures are magnificent. I would like to try it out although I feel like I have no use for it (at least not now :p first I want the phone). And even though I don’t understand all the little details you have there I have an idea of the overall experience. And though it took ages to write it is worth it! :) You can get a new job as a reviewer based on this! haha. People would die to hear your opinion because you are able to sound convincing. Proud of you! <3 

  • Cstrife06

    Nice review. And really good pictures too.
    What do you think about the newly launched Nook Tablet? I’m not really into tablets but for its price ($249 USD) I think its a pretty convincing bargain. Plus, I read. A lot.

    • http://bobby.com.ng bigbrovar

      Thanks, the nook 2 looks good on paper. If your primarily need a device for reading and browing the web then its a no brainer. beside if anything is to be made of the OG nook. the second Nook would be hacked which would allow you install a custom rom like cynanogen and by extension even upgrade to ice cream sandwich.

  • Afewgoodmen

    Great Read, Bigbrovar. I think I’d visit your site more often.

    The Galaxy tab appears to be a grande tablet from this review. Something going for it is the amount of customisation it has. Much unlike iOS. However, iOS could conveniently do all that it can without breaking any sweat. And if you jailbreak an iDevice, then perhaps you’d get as much functionality with this behemoth.

    That said, 8.9 is not my sweet spot. If I was to get a galaxy tab, I’d go for the 10.1 version.

    Finally, I’d come back here for more comments. Let me bask in the joy of having an incredible review this fine Sunday morning.

  • s.illes79

    I think 3.2 is available now, there is no OTA, Kies must be used to get it: http://i39.tinypic.com/x4ekjt.jpg

    • http://bobby.com.ng bigbrovar

      Wow thanks, not sure many are aware of this update. i went to the galaxy tab 8.9 section of xda forums and its all cricket there. I have some questions if don’t mind.
      whats your location like whuch region. and when did you recieve  the update? probably its soo new that many are still unaware about. lastly what are your thoughts on this updat, does it improve the tab especially with regards to the lag and stuff.

      • s.illes79

        Location: I live in the UK, London. I bought my galaxy 3 days ago in HMV.

        Tried to mount it to my mac as mass storage to copy some stuff on it, but unfortunately this thing doesn’t support mass storage mode, so I googled and found the Samsung Kies app for mac. First thing it popped up was the new firmware, it wasn’t obvious from the popup that it was actually 3.2, just some magic characters. But I went for it and it’s now 3.2.
        So long story short, there is no OTA for this, you need a PC/Mac to do the job.

        Lag:Seems more response than before, but I only used 3.1 for 2 days. So it a bit hard to tell. I didn’t notice any new feature as such, but maybe because I hadn’t spent much time with 3.1.

  • Anonymous

    Nice read, just got one a couple days ago and love it.  thanks for the reddit suggest.

  • artwales

    Detailed review,guess u must be a very patient person.
    By the way, what version of windows did you connect ur tab to? Windows 7 had no issues with my Thrive, straight out of the box.

    • http://bobby.com.ng bigbrovar

      Yeah has it happens works fine with windows 7 but had issues getting it to work on windows XP

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Bobsen/100001819547810 Bob Bobsen

    Thanks, very well written.

  • James Biggs

    So…I just picked up an 8.9.  Straight out of the box, the device is laggy as can be.  After an hour of playing w/it, it won’t transition from landscape to portrait – it’s stuck in landscape.  While I really like the idea that custom development is out there and ppl can configure as they desire…I think it’s a bit crazy that ppl have to do this to get the device to work properly.  Word up Samsung???

  • guest

    Article is spot on ! Very well specced device as far as hardware, except maybe the nVidia Tegra chip, I have yet to see a Tegra device run or scroll or in fact do anything smoothly without hesitation or lag.
    That being said out of the box this is the worst Tablet I have used to date, i cannot recommend its purchase to anyone, in fact I wouldnt buy one again of it came new for $200.
    Its the Lag I can’t stand the most, also the 20 second lock ups when running more than two programs, the weirdly flashing, intermittently dissapearing lower menu n home screen button that happens 2-3 times per second, real fun when typing as the reappearance of this toolbar will jog the virtual keyboard up half an inch just to drop it again the next time it dissappears.
    Junk ? Absolutely
    Root that thing ? You better ! Or you will end up frisbeeing this thing through a window.
    ICS Android 4.0 ? Is on the way but I think over half the issues are in the Tegra chip and Touchwhiz and 4.0 won’t fix em.