Galaxy Tab 8.9

If you think there isn't much more to say about Samsung's Galaxy line of tablets, you're probably right. Since the Galaxy Tab 10.1 launched this past summer, it has been dissected and discussed a million times over. We love the screen, we love the thinness, and we almost love TouchWiz. And these feelings translate to the younger brother in the Galaxy Tab line, the 8.9. So instead of bending your ear about things we've already said, let me take a different perspective. We know what the Galaxy line has to offer, but what does the 8.9-inch form factor do to push the line even further? And most important, what can consumers get from the more compact size that they simply cannot with the 10.1? 

The Good

The screen is tremendous, the performance is outstanding, and the 8.9-inch footprint is the standard all tablets should live up to.

The Bad

I wish Samsung could have squeezed a microSD slot in there. Also, the $469 base pricing is a bit high.

Conclusion

This is the Galaxy Tab we have all been waiting for. If you can stomach the price, and don't mind limited storage space, you cannot find a more refined, powerful, and beautiful Android tablet on the market today.

Just as the 10.1 impressed me with its sturdy-as-nails build, the 8.9 is a beautifully made device. It’s a hair thinner than the 10.1; at 8.6 millimeters thick, it’s technically the thinnest tablet on the market today. That’ll change over time, drastically we’re sure, but if you’re into extremes, the 8.9 is as extreme as you’ll get today. It’s also noticeably thinner than the 10.1; I don’t have a scale around to weigh the two devices, but the 8.9’s smaller footprint does indeed include its weight.

Galaxy Tab 8.9 Galaxy Tab 8.9

Galaxy Tab 8.9 Galaxy Tab 8.9

And about that smaller footprint: I’m in love. As someone who forked over $500 for my Galaxy Tab 10.1, I’m kicking myself right about now. The 1.4-inch difference, while miniscule on paper, makes a world of difference. If you’ve handled a 10.1 and thought it was just a bit too big, you’ll feel right at home with the 8.9. You’ll be able to hold it in one hand without fatigue, and in both hands, you’ll be able to type with your thumbs. Samsung clearly put a lot of thought into these different size points, and I for one am grateful. Take note, heavy readers: the 8.9-inch display is ideal for e-reading. You will not be disappointed.

Galaxy Tab 8.9 Galaxy Tab 8.9

Galaxy Tab 8.9

Though the 10.1 and 8.9 share the same screen resolution (1200 x 800), the smaller screen reigns supreme, as its size lends itself to a sizeable bump in pixel density. And don’t think you won’t notice it. Compared side by side, the 8.9 looks noticeably brighter, sharper, and more colorful than its bigger brother. This isn’t to say that the 10.1 doesn’t have a gorgeous display, but the 8.9 is certainly more beautiful. And that’s really saying something.

Galaxy Tab 8.9

Size differences aside, the only other discrepancy you’ll notice hardware-wise is the speaker placement. On the 8.9, the speakers are located on the bottom of the tablet, beside the charging port. Compared with the 10.1’s speaker placement on the left and right side, I didn’t notice any difference in sound quality. Both produce loud, clear volume, though remember, they are tablet speakers, and sounds as such. You won’t be replacing your stereo speakers anytime soon.

Software

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 ships with Android 3.1 out of the box, running beneath Samsung’s TouchWiz optimized for the Galaxy line of tablets. I’ve really grown to love TouchWiz on the Galaxy Tabs, as I think it’s a huge improvement over stock Honeycomb. Aside from the aesthetic improvements, things seem much more user friendly. The row of “quick apps” at the bottom of the screen work flawlessly, though I wish they were customizable. TouchWiz does a number on Honeycomb widgets, and that’s a good thing: they are resizable, prettier, and easier to customize.

All of Samsung’s custom applications are here, too, including Media Hub, Social Hub, and Samsung’s own app store. I really love Media Hub: its competitively priced, and the content is nothing to sniff at. I also really love the ability to purchase movies or TV shows and have them accessible across all of my Samsung devices. My interest in Social Hub is less enthusiastic, though that can be chalked up to my general distain for anything that aggregates my social networks.

Nothing can be said about TouchWiz that hasn’t already been covered ad nauseam: if you’re still curious and haven’t had a chance to try it out in person, check out our detailed guide to TouchWiz here.

Performance

OK, here’s where things get interesting. Remember when I said that this review would be more about how the Galaxy Tab 8.9 advances the Galaxy line where the 10.1 left off? Well, this is what I’m talking about.

The 8.9 has the same dual-core Tegra 2 processor, and the same 1 GB RAM, as its bigger brother, so you’d think that performance is created equal. You’d be wrong. Performance on the 8.9 is leaps and bounds better than the 10.1, and I have no idea why. I know, I know. Specs are the same, software is the same, Android is the same. Heck, even Quadrant produces the same score. What gives? I don’t have an answer for you, other than that side-by-side performance between the two devices does not lie. The 8.9 is noticeably more agile than the 10.1: the stutters, hiccups, and delays that make the 10.1 at times challenging to use are nowhere to be found on the 8.9. apps open instantly, widgets load without hesitation, and multitasking is truly blazing. Things are fast, and I mean really fast. 

And don't think you'll have for forsake speed for battery life. The 6,100 mAh battery last a long time, so long in fact that during my time with the 8.9, I only charged it a few times. When left in standby, on WiFi, you'll easily get a day to a day-and-a-half out of the 8.9. If you turn WiFi off when in standby, or turn the device off between use (it boots fast, so that's not too inconvenient), you'll get upwards of four to five days on a single charge. This thing never dies.

Let me make this clear: I find no joy in bragging about how fast the 8.9 is. In fact, it pains me that I forked over $500 before I got to see what Samsung is truly capable of. Hopefully the software and hardware optimizations that make the 8.9 fly can be added to the 10.1 in an update. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We know you can make a bug-free tablet, Samsung. Now make sure all of your devices reach the bar you’ve set.

Cameras

Same old, same old. The front and rear cameras are identical to the ones on the 10.1, and have similar results. The 2-megapixel front-facer is more than adequate for video calling; in fact, testing out video chat over Google Talk produced really nice results. The rear camera has 3 megapixels and can shoot video in 720p. It’s just fine in a pinch, but you’ll find better on most smartphones on the market today. And to avoid the risk of looking really weird, we advise you to refrain from taking video with any tablet in public.

Galaxy Tab 8.9 rear camera sample  Galaxy Tab 8.9 rear camera sample

Galaxy Tab 8.9 front camera sample

The wrap-up

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a really, really nice device, and I think it’s safe to say that it is the best Android tablet on the market today. Take everything you loved about the Galaxy Tab 10.1, like the screen, the thinness, and the weight, and improve them just enough to push the Galaxy line of tablets to a level to be reckoned with. The 8.9 is super light, it’s super thin, and it’s finally the device I have been waiting for: big enough to enjoy content, and small enough to hold comfortably in one hand. This is a truly portable tablet.

And the 8.9’s beauty isn’t only skin deep. The Tegra 2 processor has been tweaked to really push the 8.9 along at breakneck speeds. I love how fluid the UI is, and how powerful the performance feels. This is how the 10.1 should perform, and hopefully, will perform after a few updates.

I didn’t love everything. I wish Samsung could squeeze a microSD card slot in there somewhere, and HDMI-out would also be amazing. But if these are necessary sacrifices for the amazingly thin and light body, they are sacrifices I am willing to make.

I also think Honeycomb has room for improvement. There are certain tasks that shouldn’t take nearly as many steps as they should, and bugs, while few and far between, are still present. For example, the market needs some tweaking. Fast. Bugs abound. But these are issues with Android 3.1, not with the Galaxy Tab 8.9.

If you’re in the market for a Honeycomb tablet, you’ve met your match. The size cannot be beat, the screen is mind-blowingly gorgeous, and performance is top notch. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 advances the Galaxy line of tablets where the 10.1 somewhat disappointingly left off. This is the tablet that Samsung should be proud of.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is available now in two sizes: the 16 GB model is priced at $469, and the 32 GB model is priced at $569. 

 

Reader comments

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 review

30 Comments

Love it... can't wait to check one out in store just haven't had the time.... It's crazy though that they stuffed a Micro SD in the 7.7 but couldn't fit one in the 8.9 or the 10...

I've seen the 8.9 multiple times in multiple Best Buys and it is by far my favorite tablet, but it's just way to expensive for what it is. If they could have gotten it down to $399 or less, I would definitely be all over it.

It's clear they didn't add the micro USB to make more money. 16Gb for 469 and just add another 16Gb for 569$. 100$ more for only 16Gb more of internal memory. That is a lot more money for them to make.

I'm with you on that one... I've had the 7" since it came out, and I take that thing everywhere. It has become my default media device, and having that SD card has made it that much better! While I'd love to "upgrade" to the 8.9, without he expandable memory, that's NOT going to happen. The price isn't the deal breaker for me, the lack of microSD is!

-B

I got mine for $449, Best Buy had a special a week or so ago. I love it and while I wish it was only $399, I don't regret the purchase.

I really wanted this size, but couldn't wait (my own fault), and purchased the 10.1.

I really wish Samsung had launched both of these Tabs at the same time, or even waited on the 10.1 and puched this one to market first. I think had they done either option the the 8.9 Tab would have sold like hotcakes, but now it may be a little too late.

I would still like to get the 8.9, but unless I can sell my 10.1, there is no need for two tablets (unless I give my 10.1 to my kids to enjoy...Hmmm).

Seriously, I am now waiting on the Galaxy Note. I really like the idea of having one device (phone and tablet).

I've had mine for 2 week. I think 8.9" is the perfect size (for me). I use my Transformer at my desk, but the Tab comes with me when I leave the house.

I will never buy a tablet without an SD slot... one of the main reasons why I have a tablet is for the kids to watch movies on and keep them happy in the car... and movies take a lot of space quickly. And furthermore the price, for both versions, is not worth it in my opinion.

Awesome review. I'd go out and grab this right now if it weren't for a few things:

1) Holiday season is right around the corner. We're gonna see some good deals on tablets in order to compete with the iPad 2.

2) I want to hear more about the rumored Asus Transformer 2.

3) Google/Samsung may sucker punch us with a Galaxy Nexus Tab. ICS is supposed designed for phones and tablets. Part of me thinks they'll want to put their money where their mouth is, and announce a tablet as well.

I purchased an 8.9, but ended up returning it because the performance was horrendous. Maybe the one i had was faulty, but it was ungodly sluggish - especially with the touchwiz launcher.

Got mine a few weeks ago, one helluva tablet. The size, weight, color and clarity are spectacular. Not too concerned about the lack of microSD; with USB Host, it's not an issue for me anymore.

Puts my Xoom to shame; it's out to pasture, waiting for ICS.

I really want to like Android tablets including the 8.9 and the 7.7 that will have an SD card. My only reservation is multitasking. Blackberry Playbook is bar none the best at multitaksing. Why can't Andriod tablets do something similar?

Android is good enough for multitasking, one touch for recent apps seems fine, and i dont mind going back to the homescreen for all apps

I've played with Playbook (no pun intended) and it's hands down the second best at multi-tasking. In my opinion, it's a poor man's rip-off of the original deck-of-cards idea from WebOS (as well as the gesture bar idea). Now that OS had it nailed down. The TouchPad (the short-lived WebOS tablet) improved the multi-tasking cards with some nice UI improvements.

Blackberry's version is decent, and better than either Android or iOS, but it's got a really un-natural animation that really bothers me. Oh, and let's be clear... neither Android nor iOS truly multi-task from the user's perspective. Android does a great job of task-switching with some background task ability, and iOS does a piss-poor job requiring developers to build in task-switching abilities (thus the apps that haven't been re-written are SOL and will be killed when you hit the home button).

It is a beautiful looking tablet and the size seems perfect. But the price is to high in my opinion and the lack of a memory card port really kills it for me. I just got a new DSLR, how am I supposed to view my photo's on the tab with that beautiful screen with no memory card?

The G-Slate is the other Android tablet on the market that I am familiar with that has an 8.9" screen. I know that the 3D cameras are just a weird gimmick but it had been an excellent tablet experience for the past few months. How does the Galaxy 8.9 compare? I am sure the G-Slate is bested in most ways but I would love to see the opinion of someone who has used both.

Exactly when did the tablet go on sale? I bought my Galaxy Tab 8.9 3 weeks ago in late September from Best Buy. I love every bit of it. I don't mind that it doesn't have a micro sd slot, that's one thing I can live without.

Performance write up between the 8.9 and the 10.1 is pure hype. My wife has the 8.9 and I have the 10.1. I can guarantee you she's asked me a few times why my tab launches apps and flips eBook pages faster. So take what is said in this write up with a grain of salt.

Picked mine up Sunday night. Pure joy so far. The perfect combination of size and weight. Comfortable to hold and type. Great screen. There will probably be something better around the corner but a great first tablet.

Got mine last Friday. I wasn't even in the market for one because I just bought a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet; but I fell in love with it as soon as I held it. I also got it for $449 at Best Buy and I believe that is the only place you can get them in US. This is the best lcd tablet for reading and I don't miss the extra screen size when watching videos. I think everyone wrote this tablet off because it is so close to the 10.1, but it is an awesome tablet for causal use. The Lenovo is a workhorse though.

Really like it.. Have an Acer Iconia Windows 7 tablet and the 8.9 complements it... Its a perfect size that fits amazingly well in the hand... Even though its only one inch smaller, it is much more convenient to carry around than an I Pad... Don't miss the lack of a micro SD slot yet... data can be easily loaded on using a $20 adapter.... battery life is substantial... tablet is very fast... While price is a little high, the system is so comfortable to hold that you just want to use it.

Got this tablet yesterday and it has been just beautiful. It runs flawlessly and the screen looks incredibly. You can see the sneer on the faces of disgruntle avians as they fly into green pork

I like the review. Your comments about the display aren't exaggerated; i use my Galaxy Tab for graphic design, and the screen is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, nearly half of the design firm here in New York owns one of these tablets. And on top of that, it runs on AT&T's 4G LTE network! Awesome product.