A few months ago it seemed as if the verdict was in regarding tablet screen sizes – the world had a yen for ten, as it were. The popular tablets were all featuring a 10in screen (or very close to a 10in screen) and other attempts at smaller form factors such as the Dell Streak and the original Samsung Galaxy Tab were mostly being seen as strange failed experiments. Luckily cooler heads prevailed and we’ve seen smaller sizes slowly creep back onto the market.
While many are suggesting that the awfully named “phablet” (the portmanteau du jour for a smartphone featuring an oversized screen) might prove popular (Samsung’s Note being regarded as the best iteration of this so far), we’re going to look at two of the roughly 7in models that are available at the moment: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 and the Toshiba AT1S0.
These two units may seem quite similar on the surface, but there is actually a vast difference, not just in design but more importantly in pricing and positioning. Without a doubt, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is instantly recognisable as a premium model – a beautiful brushed metal back and slimline feel make this seem like a luxury item and the price tag matches, at $579 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model. It closely resembles its larger size 10.1 sibling and Samsung clearly hopes that the 7.7 will have the same appeal.
The Toshiba, by contrast, feels almost like a ruggedised model, with its comparatively chunky width and textured plastic back – again echoing the styling and design of its 10.1in stablemate, the AT100. But at $399 this is an extremely well-priced device, with all the functionality of the Samsung, just a slightly heftier form factor and a bit less processing power.
Price and style are ultimately the differentiators here – the Samsung is a wonderfully-engineered objet d’art, but anyone after a more bare bones and cheaper model should take a good look at the Toshiba. While there are certainly power differences as well, the 7in form factor seems tailor made for content consumption, so a lower power model can be acceptable
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7
The original Galaxy Tab is only 2 years old, but the 7.7 makes it look like it was carved from stone. The remarkably slimline body bears the design hallmarks that has helped make the Galaxy Tab 10.1 such a hot-ticket item and it’s got the processing power to match its looks – 1.4GHz dual core with 1GB of memory.
At under 8mm thin it makes the ATS10 look positively corpulent, although it’s a little longer and wider (196.7x133x7.89 mm). Weight wise, the Samsung is 340g – light enough to be comfortably carried in a shoulder bag or pocket – and is not considerably more than, for example, the Kindle Keyboard (247g).
The brightness on the Super AMOLED screen is remarkable – easily viewed in bright sun - and at 1280 x 800 the resolution impresses and is even capable of Full HD video playback. It’s worth noting that this does come at a battery cost. In terms of benchmark results, the 7.7 returned a truly remarkable 4303 on Quadrant and 1.7s on Sunspider. Compare this to the original Galaxy Tab’s score of 913 and 6.8s and it is easy to see just how far Samsung has come. From a full power off, the 7.7 is up and running in around 26 seconds.
There’s 16GB of memory on board (also available in 32 and 64GB), but the MicroSD port can bump that out by another 32GB. One mild annoyance – Samsung continues its commitment to its proprietary PDMI-like slot for both charging and PC connectivity, rather than the nigh-ubiquitous MicroUSB.
Toshiba’s relatively late entry into the tablet space gave the company some breathing room to see what was happening in a rapidly crowding space. Impressively, Toshiba seems to have pushed for tablets that cater to a more practical audience, eschewing much of the “executive toy” look and feel.
The AT1S0 looks very much like a tumble-dried version of the AT100, complete with the textured and plastic backing. Internally, everything is a little lower spec’d than the Samsung, its Tegra 2 processor giving a Quadrant score of around 1890. Sunspider too was a dash sluggish at 2.3s and the start-up time was approximately 34 seconds.
The screen is a 7in, 1280 x 800 WXGA and while clear, it cannot compete with the brightness of the Samsung. The AT1S0 does have a solid array of ports however, with a Mini USB (we feel Micro may have been more useful), MicroSD card and a mini HDMI out. Although thicker than the 7.7, the dimensions certainly aren’t back breaking (189x128x12.1mm) and at 399g, it’s not quite in the bantam weight division.
In general use, the battery life on the Toshiba was excellent, although we found that heavy video playback could drain it faster than expected, making this a tricky choice as a mobile media player.
Our big complaint is that the proprietary charging cable, despite working off USB, won’t carry data, meaning you’ll need a Mini USB cable for that – something Toshiba hasn’t put in the box… But at the price, this remains an extremely viable tablet for people looking for solid functionality in a simple form factor.