Nov. 14, 2011 -- In a world where bigger is better, Samsung's latest tablet proves that small goes a long way. Coming in at 8.9 inches, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is decidedly smaller than Samsung's more popular Galaxy Tab 10.1, but its size proves to be its biggest advantage.
Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of choosing a tablet is deciding on the size that's right for you. Size can easily be overlooked in favor of processing power, memory, etc., but it's an important factor and predictor of how much use you'll actually end up getting out of a device.
A big screen will make those HD movies look extra gorgeous, but it won't work for those who prize portability.
The 8.9 is sandwiched right in between Samsung's two other tablet offerings -- the Galaxy Tab 7.0 and the 10.1. If the 7.0 feels too small and the 10.1 a bit big, the 8.9 is just right. Size-wise, it appeased the Goldilocks in me.
The 8.9 feels good in one's hand and is light enough (just under 1 lb.) that it never becomes physically straining to hold for extended periods. The smaller size also makes it convenient for slipping into a purse or bag without having to worry about it taking up much space.
One neat discovery was how the 8.9's size is ideally suited for typing BlackBerry-style. Holding it in landscape mode with one hand on either side, I could easily bang out text with my thumbs. No more of the hunting-and-pecking style of typing that I've grown accustomed to on other tablets.
Of course, the option to connect a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard is also available, but going without one makes it that much more portable. In addition, the tablet gives you the option of using the default virtual keyboard or the Samsung Keypad, which comes in two sizes for bigger and smaller hands.
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 runs Android's 3.1 operating system (Honeycomb) on a dual core 1GHz processor, and is as zippy as you'd expect a good tablet to be. No problems there. One slightly annoying issue, though: In interacting with Android's touch interface, whenever I tapped on a webpage link, more often than not, I was redirected to a page I didn't originally intend to go to.
It's one area where additional screen real estate may have been helpful, if only so that content-heavy webpages don't appear shrunken, in order to squeeze everything onto one screen.
Still, the intuitive pinch-to-zoom motion works just as well for zeroing in on links. I also noticed that tapping just slightly beneath a link would send me to my desired destination. It's an initially-frustrating quirk that I imagine one eventually gets used to, after being conditioned to tap in just the right spot.
Samsung's Media and Music Hubs provide movie rentals and music downloads at the usual prices, from $1.99 for a TV episode to $2.99 - $3.99 for movie rentals. Most music tracks are either 99 cents or $1.29. Movies look great on the 1280x800 HD resolution screen, and the audio is better than I'd expected.
Bad news for Hulu and Vimeo fans: Videos from these sites are not viewable on the Galaxy Tab 8.9. The blame lies more with Hulu and Vimeo and less with Android, but for video enthusiasts, this could be a deal breaker.
Some quick specifications: The 8.9 can be had for about $450 with 16 GB of memory; $550 with 32 GB. Internet connection is by Wi-Fi only. It has a 2-megapixel camera in front, and a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash in back.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a solid Android tablet. Size matters and the Galaxy Tab 8.9 demonstrates that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Smaller will do just fine.