Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) review: A nice price, but where's the 'wow'?

Samsung's latest 7-in. tablet is a pretty good device at a really good price -- but before you buy, there are a few things you should know.

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A new flavor of Ice Cream Sandwich

The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) ships with Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich -- the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. Samsung did modify the OS with its proprietary TouchWiz skin, as it typically does, but the changes here are far less severe and regressive than what we saw recently on Samsung's Galaxy S II smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2
A "Mini Apps" button, which Samsung added at the center of the bottom of the screen, brings up a menu of applications.

With the Tab 2 (7.0), for the most part, you're getting the actual ICS-level interface with some arbitrarily changed colors and fonts that make it look a little less classy and polished. Samsung added a handful of features, too, such as a "Mini Apps" button -- found at the center of the bottom of the screen -- that brings up a menu of applications, all of which can be loaded in small overlay windows from anywhere in the system.

Samsung replaced the stock ICS Camera app with its own, too -- a cosmetic change, more than anything -- and added a somewhat intrusive screen-capture icon to the main system navigation area. (Ice Cream Sandwich has a native screen-capture command that can be activated by pressing the volume-down and power buttons together, making Samsung's addition rather redundant.)

The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has Samsung's usual sets of Hubs (interfaces for buying and managing music, games, multimedia files and news/magazine content) and bloatware as well, but Ice Cream Sandwich gives you an easy way to disable and hide most of these if you don't plan on using them and want them out of your way.

Bottom line

All things considered, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a pretty good tablet at a really good price. However, I find myself wondering why Samsung bothered creating it. The tablet bears no real improvements over its eerily similar predecessors; the few changes that it does have are either lateral or marginally regressive.

If the company's goal was to offer a respectable 7-in. tablet at a lower cost, I think a far more customer-centric approach would have been to deliver an ICS upgrade and a $100 price drop to its existing 7.0 Plus model (which is still awaiting Android 4.0, with a vague promise but no specific time frame for delivery). As it stands, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) lacks any "wow" factor and leaves Samsung's existing Tab users looking like second-class citizens in a waiting game with no end in sight.

(A similar situation may unfold with the company's upcoming Galaxy Tab 2 10.1-in. model, which is slated to be released on May 13 at a price of $400. Although review units weren't available at press time, it appears that, like the 7-in. model, the Tab 2 (10.1) will offer few significant changes over its predecessor -- which has also yet to be upgraded to Android 4.0.)

In addition, Google's I/O developers' convention is just over two months away. Asus has already discussed plans to release a $250 quadcore 7-in. tablet between now and the end of June, and Google is rumored to be working on a next-gen 7-in. tablet that will cost in the $150 to $200 range and could be available this summer.

In short, anyone in immediate need of a low-cost 7-in. tablet would do well with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0). But with tomorrow's technology almost upon us at budget-level prices, it's hard to recommend dropping that cash on yesterday's technology today.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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