Yes, I have a Galaxy Tab: Here's why

People have noted several times, with varying degrees of questioning shock, “You have a GALAXY tablet?” It does seem odd. I’ve been meaning to write a post on my decision, but it’s fallen by the wayside until, well, now.

My tablet history

I’ve had a tablet since the day of the first iPad launch a few years ago. Then I had an iPad 2, and then I had a new iPad. I’ve also had several iterations of Kindles, including a Kindle Fire. A few months ago, I sold my Fire and new iPad and bought a 7-inch Verizon Galaxy Tab (GT). For a dyed-in-the-wool Apple fangirl to abandon her iPad, this move raised many eyebrows. Why did I do it (aside from “I wanted to learn another platform and was bored”)? And—more to the point, given the bruhaha about the probable new iPad Mini—do I like it better? Read on.

Size

At the time I bought the GT, I had a new iPad and a Kindle Fire and was using both regularly, although I used the Fire more hours of any given day. In fact, when I realized this is when I started investigating the GT. I used the Fire more simply because its size allowed more extended comfortable use and transport. It is the size of a book and could go in my regular bag. The iPad is not huge, but it requires more of a messenger-ish bag, and perhaps I’m sensitive, but after I held it for an hour or so (which I often did, because I usually read for hours every day) my wrists and neck ached. I could read on the Fire without any issues just as with a dead-tree book. Charging and syncing two tablets is irritating, so I carefully considered what exactly I was using the two for to see if I could get away with getting rid of one or the other. Initially I thought I would probably sell the iPad and keep the Fire only, because the Fire got so much more use. I ended up deciding I really needed a few capabilities the Fire lacked.

Use cases

I know people use tablets for all kinds of different things. That is one of the things that makes tablets such a versatile and popular platform. This post is of necessity about the things I use them for. I have a MacBook on which I do the bulk of any serious production, so tablets for me are mostly consumption devices. However, I write a lot, and I prefer to write in MultiMarkdown. A tablet with Bluetooth allows me to do that easily with an external keyboard and sync everything effortlessly with my MacBook. That is a hugely important productivity need for me. The Fire has no capacity to connect an external keyboard, so keeping it as my sole tablet device wasn’t going to fly.

Consuming information is tasty on any of the three tablets. All three screens are gorgeous, although to my feverish imagination the GT screen equals the new iPad screen. I read book after book on the Kindle app, which works basically the same on all three tablets with the exception that the Fire allows borrowing from the Kindle library via Amazon Prime, a feature that I did use. The Fire and GT both use Android apps, so the choices are nearly identical, although one downside to Android that I haven’t quite figured out is that some applications are “not available for your version of Android,” with no obvious way to change your version. And right there is the Apple argument for forcing conformity. At any rate, many of the apps I happen to use for consuming RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook are available on all three devices, so that was not a major factor in my decision.

The Fire is tightly wed to the Amazon streaming video library, and you can also use Netflix on it. The iPad does great with Apple store video but chokes on streaming other video. I believe that it now streams from Amazon, so that’s another option. All three tablets have some things they won’t do with video, so it depends on what you want and whether video is super important to you. It isn’t to me. I watch video on the giant TV screen at home and that’s about it.

But related to video is storage. The Fire gives you 8 GB, which isn’t much. The iPad will cough up a lot of storage, but the price tag goes way up with each iteration. The GT uses a micro SD card, and I like that because in effect you get limitless storage. Because the GT is not an Apple device and therefore cannot take advantage of Photo Stream, I need a storage card if I want a bunch of photos on it.

I did enjoy the Photo Stream capability and the photo-editing apps for the iPad, many of which I was used to from my iPhone. I used the iPad more than the MacBook for photo editing and liked the integration among the three devices. That lack is a major drawback to using the GT. The GT is interwoven with the Google/Picasa ecosystem, so if you’re a fan there that’s all fine; I’m not, so much. Dropbox now automatically uploads all photos to the cloud and provides a very Photo Stream—like experience, but I end up not using the GT for photos much. The iPad was a winner there.

I never had a data option on my iPads, but I did purchase Verizon data (I have an AT&T iPhone) for the GT, and I like having the data option. I’m sure that would be the same between the iPad and GT (the Fire doesn't have this option), but I’m just tossing it in there.

Speed

The iPad felt faster to me than either the Fire or the GT. The difference isn’t enough to put me off the GT or I’d be off it, because I am not a patient person. If I liked graphics-intensive games or anything that really made the tablet drag, I would chafe. As it is, I notice slight delays with launches and that’s about it. It is barely noticeable, so it may even just be my imagination, but totally subjectively the new iPad seemed super slick and fast compared with the Fire or GT.

The GT also gets bogged down with runaway processes and has to be babysat more than an iPad in terms of ensuring that closed programs are actually stopped. The endless customization options, although compelling, bored me after a day or so. Yes, it’s nice to be able to make things look and sound exactly the way I want them to, and I wish Apple would pull its head out and allow this, but it does seem to make the tablet a bit crashy. Apple has a point. Customization leads to instability.

Apps

The Apple ecosystem has so many more apps that there is no point even really discussing the issue of the superiority of iOS vs. Android apps. What I will discuss is the effect of the differences, which I’ve found to be minimal for me. I don’t want to use the GT for much other than reading, following Twitter and Facebook, and using a text editor. Android apps are available to do all of that just fine. I also like having a few basic games around, and since Angry Birds and Temple Runner are available for Android too, I’m good. I have a metric ton of apps on my iPhone and never saw the point in duplicating most of that mobility on a tablet, so I didn’t have many on my iPads either. However, if tablet apps are important to you, the Android tablets may not be such a good choice.

Compatibility

I mentioned the lack of integration of the GT with Photo Stream. It also declines to play nicely with my MacBook for syncing media at all. I downloaded and tried several solutions for attempting it, and the GT simply refuses to recognize my MacBook. This would be a deal-breaker if I used a tablet for music, but I rarely do, and when I do it’s generally via a streaming service such as Spotify or Slacker. If I could find a way to sync iPhoto with the GT, I would be a happier camper. As it is, I just don’t do much with photos on the GT.

Otherwise, compatibility for me rides on cloud syncing. I use Android text editors to work on files I’ve pulled up via Dropbox, and that is basically the same process as on the iPad. It may be marginally simpler on the iPad because of the new iCloud syncing simplicity, but only marginally. I use Gmail and Google Calendar, and those work fine on the GT and have no issues.

I never relied on apps that synced between the iPhone and iPad (Omnifocus and so on), but people who do will not want to become GT users. There is no communication between iOS and Android apps, with very few exceptions.

Verdict

I’ve left price out of this because the Fire is much cheaper than the other two, which are…not cheap. A debate over price vs. features would be endless. So I think the iPad is better overall, but for me size wins. I like the GT better than the current iPad simply because it’s small. For me, if I’m going to carry around anything larger than a Fire or GT, I might as well take my laptop, and the Fire as a sole tablet was a nonstarter because of its lack of Bluetooth and storage capacity. The GT has a ton of downsides, so I am firmly rooted in the camp cheering for the iPad Mini rumored to be coming out soon. I probably won’t get one until my Verizon contract runs out (anyone believe that?), but for me that would be perfect. It would give me back my photo-syncing and -editing capabilities along with all the other benefits of the iPad and iOS ecosystem without being just ever so slightly too big.