Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich. This is the upgraded version of Honeycomb, which was the first tablet-focused version of Google’s operating system.
Samsung has dropped-in some of its own TouchWiz touches too – this is Samsung’s proprietary user interface – and in all honesty it doesn’t look all that different to last year’s Honeycomb-based tablets.
Whatever way you hold the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 – landscape or portrait – on the home screen there’s shortcut and notifications bar at the bottom of the screen, and links to Google search and the apps menu up top.
Although reasonably intuitive, this is a layout that feels more at home on a 10in tablet than a smaller one like this. When held portrait, it feels as though you should be able to access most features with your two thumbs – but you can’t thanks to Google’s obsession with spreading links across the screen. And having the toolbar constantly sitting at the bottom of the screen can make the display feel a little cramped – a feeling you don’t get with 10.1in Android tablets.
It’s almost enough to make you miss the days of Android 2.3 Gingerbread tablets running what’s essentially a phone OS, like the original 7in Samsung Galaxy Tab. We say almost because the benefits of a proper tablet OS still far outweigh the niggles – key among them having tablet-optimised apps to play with.
Samsung UI TouchWiz doesn’t dramatically alter the DNA of the Android OS, but it does tack some neat extras on. Among the most front-facing is the screenshot-taking button on the home screen toolbar. Previous versions of Android have made it bafflingly difficult to take a screenshot, and we find it a most welcome addition.
Samsung AllShare also comes pre-installed. This is the manufacturer’s own DLNA interface, and it’s consistent across many home gadgets including TVs, phones and Blu-ray players. It lets you stream media over Wi-Fi and – as long as each end is AllShare compatible – takes most of the fiddliness out of the pairing process.
TouchWiz offers its own keyboard, too. It’s not particularly pretty, but it makes typing quick and accurate on the 7in screen, and if you really don’t like it, putting a replacement in its stead isn’t difficult.
Apps and Games
Activities that benefit most from the large screen of a tablet, over a smaller smartphone display, are things like web browsing, video-viewing and email-sifting.
Enriching browsing, Adobe Flash support is in, and the 7in form is a good size for reading web pages. With a good web connection pages render fairly quickly, and the responsive capacitive touchscreen makes whizzing around them a joy. A higher-resolution display would make reading more comfortable, but it’s like to be a while before we see super high pixel density tablets do the limbo under the £200 barrier.
Games and apps suffer from the lower resolution a little too, but not primarily because of a lack of pure pixel density. It’s more an issue of compatibility and optimisation.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 has full access to the Google Play app store and plenty of its hundreds of thousands of apps and games. However, with an unusual 1,024 x 600 pixel resolution, many apps and games are not fully optimised for the tablet, and some are not compatible at all.
For example, in the popular Unreal Engine 3-powered Dungeon Defenders Second Wave, the graphics appear to be upsized from those of a lower resolution device (most likely 800 x 480 pixels or similar). When using most 1,280 x 800 Android tablets, such as a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, they’re nice ‘n’ crisp.
With high pixel density devices flavour of the month, it is unlikely that many more devices of this resolution will be made. And therefore developer support is unlikely to increase much. In fairness, most games look and play just fine.
It’s a pity, though, because the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 packs a decent punch for an affordable tablet. In the AnTuTu benchmark it scored 5220 points. As a point of reference, last year’s similarly-priced, dual-core Time2touch HC701A scored just 2870 – and that seemed pretty zippy at the time. The Tab’s CPU is a TI OMAP 4430 dual-core 1GHz model with 1GB of RAM, roughly comparable with last year’s top-end Android tablets.