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Samsung HighNote on Sprint SlashGear Review
Sprint recently announced the Samsung HighNote, and we’ve certainly been surprised at what this phone has to offer. The HighNote is a music-based phone just as the name implies. It appears to be a hybrid of the LG Chocolate and the Samsung Juke, but it far outperforms both.
The HighNote comes in a small package, measuring 4.0″ x 1.9″ x 0.6″ and weighing 3.5oz. The phone has a 2-inch, 172 x 220 pixel display; the 2-megapixel camera supports video as well as having a digital zoom and night mode. Although the device only has 32 MB of internal memory, it is made up for with a microSD card slot. The HighNote includes GPS, 2.0 Stereo Bluetooth and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The HighNote is very well built, no more dropping your phone and accidentally destroying the slider. The scroll wheel spins freely within the beautifully laid-out face keys. The big twist with the HighNote is the hidden speaker, just slide the screen down to reveal one of the loudest speakers we have seen in a phone.
Navigating the menus is straightforward on the HighNote, the main menu is displayed at the bottom of the screen with sections listed in a line. As you scroll left and right through the options the contents of a section will pop up when you stop, displaying everything in a quick, easy to read list. A convenient shortcut menu completes the GUI, making quick navigation even easier for the user.
Browsing the Internet on the HighNote is not a walk in the park, pages take a very long time to load, with the phone often running out of memory before the entire page is displayed. The part of the webpage that we were able to load however looked as it should, but with a screen so small it would be very hard to navigate.
Now we get to the heart of the HighNote: music playback. Sliding the screen down will reveal the hidden speaker and also activate the Music, TV and Games quick launch menu. Playing music and creating playlists is a very easy task; while playing a song its album cover art is displayed, and if you have other songs in the same playlist as the song you are listening to a slight rotation of the scroll wheel will allow you to cycle through the available music. While watching video on the HighNote’s small screen is not the most enjoyable, the video playback was not of poor quality. Videos looked relatively good, considering the screen resolution, and we found ourself wishing for either an AV out option or, at the very least, a bigger, higher-resolution display. During a video turning the scroll wheel will raise and lower the playback volume.
The battery lasts all day with medium usage and plenty of talk time. Browsing the online store is pretty quick with very little waiting time, videos stream to the handset with no hang-ups at all. The hidden music speaker is extremely loud for such a small device, however with high volume the tone is very sharp and at times ear-piercing. We found that it sounds better with the phone closed as it has a fuller tone. The HighNote includes a car mode: at the press of a button the phone will read any incoming text messages to you.
Overall we recommend the HighNote to any music lover who needs a little of both worlds. Those who are looking for a phone with a user interface that is pleasing to the eye are going to be disappointed with this phone. We do not recommend this phone to those who surf the Internet or use email frequently, who would likely be looking for a larger display, better keypad and, most importantly, improved software. However it’s perfect for listening to music on the go wherever you are. Call quality is very good and dropped calls are few and far between. We give the Samsung HighNote a 7.4 out of 10.
The Samsung HighNote is available on Sprint now, priced from $99.99 after a mail-in rebate and with a new two-year service agreement.
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SlashGear Week in Review – Week 47 2010
Welcome to this week’s edition of the SlashGear Week in Review! I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and all those irritating family members you really didn’t want at your house have finally gone home. Early in the week Cox Communications unveiled a new whole home DVR solution that was sure to make fans of TV and movies with packed DVRs happy. The service lets you watch and play DVR programs on any TV in your home.
Apple iSO 4.2 for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch landed this week. The update adds some really nice new feature to the iPad like AirPrint, AirPlay, Game Center and more. Audi unleashed its sweet TTS autonomous racecar to attack Pikes Peak. The car went up the legendary mountain racecourse in 27 minutes. A car with a driver is expected to make it in at least 17 minutes.
The NVIDIA dual GPU GTX 595 video card leaked and the thing looks very impressive. The leak claims that the card may be using dual GF110 GPUs inside. We grabbed some hands on time with the cool Dell Inspiron duo convertible tablet. First impressions are that it’s a heavier tablet than we are used to and we figure it’s more for the at home user than the mobile type.
Microsovision unveiled another of its tiny pico projectors early in the week called the SHOWWX+ laser projector. The thing is able to directly connect to Apple devices. Google Chrome OS notebooks have been delayed according to Google’s Eric Schmidt and won’t land for a “few months”. However it appears that the beta version of the OS is set to land soon.
The official website for the Notion Ink Adam tablet has gone live. The site gives you an easy to navigate area that tells all about the machine for those interested in getting hands on one. If you updated your iPhone to iOS 4.2 this week and want to jailbreak, Dev-Team has the steps you need to take. The bad news is that iPhone 4 users need to tether each time you reboot or turn the device off.
A really cool Acer 4.8-inch screen Android smartphone was unveiled with a screen resolution of 1280 x 480 and we are excited about the thing. It has a 1GHz CPU, 8MP camera, and a lot more. Acer also debuted a cool dual-screen laptop called the Iconia that is really awesome. The thing runs Windows 7 and I want one pretty bad.
If you like to take your iPad with you everywhere and want to keep it dry and safe from dust and more the Drycase was revealed this week. The Drycase is sort of like a big zip lock baggie for your iPad and will keep liquids and more at bay. Scientists have devised a special food that can be fed to pigeons. Once the birds eat the food, their poo is sort of like soap that will clean your car and the things they crap on. This is cool and really gross all at once.
Moshi has unveiled a cool iPhone dock called the MM03i that has a Bluetooth phone attached that you can use for making and receiving calls. It reminds me of one of those old phones from back in the day. Google TVs from both Toshiba and Vizio are expected to surface at CES 2011 according to some rumors. That really is no surprise that the offerings are coming, whether or not people will be interested since networks have killed the best features of Google TV remains to be seen.
Russia is planning to spend about $2 billion to clean up some of the space junk in orbit around the Earth right now. The plan is for a pod that will knock stuff out of orbit where it would crash into the ocean or burn up in the atmosphere. Tokyoflash unveils a new watch called the Kisai RPM that looks really cool. The watch has a black stainless steel case and blue LEDs, and I can actually read the thing.
The TSA is the source of a lot of ire over their security practices and the penchant for fondling people. If you want to show them what you think on that full body scan you need these 4th Amendment underwear. Rumors are circulating that the long talked about Sony Ericsson PlayStation Phone will land at MWC 2011. If the thing does land then it had better be more interesting than the PSP or the PSP Go.
Some awesome space tires surfaced Friday that were granted a 2010 R&D Award and were designed by NASA and Goodyear. The tires are built out of 800 interwoven load-bearing springs and look like they were stolen off the lunar lander from the 60’s. That’s all for this week’s edition, have a great weekend!
SlashGear Review: O2’s minimalist Cocoon cellphone
Cocoon, if you remember, was a film about a bunch of cantankerous elderly people who discovered the alien key to prolonging their life; with that horrible thought in mind, I grudgingly agreed to review O2 UK’s Cocoon cellphone, fearing that at any moment a trio of elderly men might leap out and deliver a touching message about not marginalising the old. Thankfully, O2 have been a little more up-to-date with their latest own-brand handset, and while it’s nowhere near perfect have still managed to inject it with a bit more life than some rivals.
It’s not a small phone. The white casing doesn’t help, to be frank – any fashionista will tell you that white will make you look wider – but the amply curved profile and sharp edged sides conspire to make the Cocoon feel bulky in the hand. Where some manufacturers would use that as an excuse to squash in screens galore, Pantech (who build the handset) have instead gone for a band of hidden LEDs that spell out incoming numbers, the time, the first part of SMS messages and MP3 track names as a scrolling marquee. Five discretely engraved icons – for alarm, message, missed call, battery and silent mode – are illuminated as appropriate. Clever, yes, but frustrating in equal measure: the at-a-glance purpose of an external display is hijacked in favour of style, and the whole thing, undoubtedly attractive, is simply not as convenient as a normal screen.
Inside, though, things take a huge leap into practicality. Number keys are almost a centimetre-square and indecently easy to use, while a large, simple platter of end/dial and softkeys surrounds the distinctly thumbable D-pad and centre-select. The whole thing is surmounted by a gorgeous, 2.1-inch QVGA display capable of 262k colours, and a discrete internal VGA-quality camera for video calls. Special mention has to go to the retro-simple volume wheel, embedded into the clamshell’s hinge, which also does duty as a zoom control for the 2-megapixel main camera.
O2 are positioning the Cocoon as a their flagship music handset, and so there are obviously external controls (track skip and play/pause, as well as a hold switch and toggle between FM radio and MP3) and memory expansion above its inbuilt 2GB thanks to a MicroSD slot. More unusual are onboard stereo speakers, which sound full-bodied and are easily capable of annoying fellow travellers on public transport, and – disappointingly – no 3.5mm headphone socket. Instead you have to use either the headphones O2 supply (which are, admittedly, pretty good) or the included double-adaptor. Stereo A2DP Bluetooth is supported, too, if you’re allergic to wires.
There’s no denying that the Cocoon is different; eye-catching, too, with the broad, solid body and monochrome colour scheme. The main camera – complete with autofocus and an LED flash – takes par-for-the-course photos and YouTube-friendly video, while HSDPA cellular broadband and quad-band GSM mean the internet browser (which, as ever, pales a little in comparison to the S60 browser Nokia’s handsets are blessed with) does a decent job making the most of that gorgeous internal screen. The heavily-O2-customised UI is thankfully more classic than garish (helped by the carrier’s dark blue colour scheme), and borrows a lot of imagery from the recent sponsorship of the O2 arena in London (formerly the much-maligned Millenium Dome). Indeed, if you step into the arena with your Cocoon, it’ll automatically start a venue guide and offer further music information.
Consider, then, the O2 Cocoon as a fashion-phone, with the usual compromises that title predicts. It looks good and performs reasonably as a phone, and there are flashes of brilliance such as the ample onboard memory and straightforward music and volume controls. However battery life and a sense of style over function prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly. If the external display tickles you, then you’ll be far more likely to appreciate the handset as a whole so, just like most fashion, it’s a particularly subjective thing.
The Cocoon is available now from O2 UK, priced from free with a new contract.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Review – ANC in the big leagues
Active noise cancelling earbuds were arguably the stand-out product of 2023, and Samsung is starting out the new year with its latest offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro. Launching alongside the Galaxy S21 family of smartphones, the new earbuds promise not only audio isolation from the hubbub of homeschooling and working from home, but the option to intelligently blend the real world with your bubble of silence.
It’s hardly a segment with no competition, however. Apple’s AirPods Pro are arguably the best-known, but there’s no shortage of alternatives from familiar names and otherwise. At $199.99, the Galaxy Buds Pro aren’t the most expensive out there, but they definitely sit in the premium category. To justify that, they need to stand out.
The charging case is the same as we saw on the Galaxy Buds Live, a squared-off clamshell with a USB-C port on the back and support for wireless charging. Flip it open and the two earbuds nestle magnetically inside, with a multi-color LED to show charging or pairing status. Samsung says you’ll get up to 5 hours of playback from each earbud with ANC on, or 8 hours with it off; the case adds a further 13 hours or 20 hours, respectively. Five minutes of charging in the case adds enough juice for about an hour’s more listening. I’ve found Samsung’s numbers to be accurate in my testing.
You can wear them more places, safely, too. There’s now an IPX7 rating for water resistance – making the Galaxy Buds Pro safe in fresh water for up to 30 minutes at up to one meter’s depth – which means rain and sweat are no problem. They’re not designed for swimming, though.
I have fussy ears when it comes to in-ear buds, particularly those which need a tight seal in order to deliver decent ANC performance. While I was a little skeptical initially about the way the Galaxy Buds Pro fit into your ears – the eartips at the bottom, with the rest of the bud nestled into your ear – and the fact that, at 6.3g apiece, they’re heavier than each 5.4g AirPods Pro, they actually turned out to be surprisingly comfortable.
One of the things Samsung says it has improved is how much the Galaxy Buds Pro protrude from your ear this time around. The Galaxy Buds Live looked a little like bubbles of liquid metal had settled on the side of your head; these new earbuds are definitely smaller and less obtrusive. Quite honestly, I wish Samsung had gone for a matte-finish top cap rather than the shiny version, as that would’ve left them even more surreptitious.
The design may not stand out, but the audio certainly does. There’s a 6.5mm tweeter and 11mm woofer in each unit, and I’ve been more than impressed both by the amount of bass on offer and the clarity of the high-end. I’d go so far as to say they’re the best-sounding Samsung earbuds for music so far, and the nice thing is that you don’t even need to tweak the EQ mode for that to be the case.
There’s more bass than you get from AirPods, and the soundstage is fuller and richer. If it’s absolute masses of bass you’re after, I think Sony’s WF-1000XM3 still have the edge – even with the Galaxy Buds Pro in “bass boost” mode – but Samsung’s sound is more balanced and its earbuds are definitely more discreet than the beefy Sonys.
If you’re using a Samsung phone then the Galaxy Buds Pro rely on the company’s own Scalable codec, potentially cranking up to a higher bitrate than the AAC and SBC codecs the earbuds also support, Bluetooth connection strength depending. Of course you don’t get that if you’re using them with an iPhone (though they’re otherwise compatible for the most part) but in my general listening I can’t say I particularly noticed a difference.
As for the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Samsung uses a mixture of external and internal microphones, along with its Wind Shield system to digitally and physically cut down on external sound and wind noise. The boast is 99-percent of external background noise can be cut out, though as always with ANC earbuds you’ll need to make sure you have a tight seal with the right sized eartips first.
Samsung offers two levels of full ANC – high and low – along with the option to turn it off completely. Or, you can switch to Ambient Sound mode, which offers a blend of ANC and external noise, adjustable across four levels. It’s useful if you’re trying to focus but still want to be able to hear someone else in the house or office; or, for that matter, if you’re trying to cross the road and not get taken by surprise by a truck.
ANC performance is subjective, and tastes differ. What I can definitely say is that this is the best ANC on Samsung earbuds I’ve heard so far. Not only do the Galaxy Buds Pro do a solid job of isolating repetitive background sounds – the dishwasher churning, for example, or road noise – they do it with less of the hiss that some ANC earbuds seem to layer on instead. That’s not to say you should expect perfect silence, and as always irregular sounds will make it through, but I’d say it’s on a par with what AirPods Pro can do.
Voice detect is a little less useful, in my experience. The idea is straightforward: temporarily switch from ANC to Ambient Sound mode when the Galaxy Buds Pro hear you talking, so that you can speak to a barista, chat with a spouse, or try to plead with your cat that she’s already had three lunches and isn’t getting a fourth. After 5, 10, or 15 seconds of no speaking, the earbuds automatically switch back to the full ANC mode.
It works – as soon as you talk, the earbuds flip over and you can hear more ambient audio, and then after a pause they switch back – but it proved to be a reminder of just how much I talk, or sing, to myself. If you’re cruising through your favorite Spotify playlist, having an impromptu karaoke session, you can expect the Galaxy Buds Pro to keep automatically flipping into Ambient Sound mode.
You can tap an earbud to prematurely cancel voice detect, but in the end I just turned it off. Your music pauses when you pull an earbud out, after all, or you can tap the outer touch pad once to toggle play/pause. A double-tap skips a track or answers/ends a voice call, while a triple-tap skips back a track.
If you’re not a Bixby fan, then, you’re going to be frustrated. You could argue the same for Game Mode, which promises less lag between audio and video when you’re playing games: it only works on Android P or higher Samsung phones, or Multi Mic Recording, which allows for simultaneous phone and earbud microphone use in the Pro camera mode on Galaxy smartphones with One UI 3.1 or above. Clever? Sure, but I’m not convinced they’ll swing the needle on a purchase decision.
Excellent battery life
Great software experienceCons
Slightly dated designOur Verdict
It’s far from the best budget phone on the market, but Samsung fans looking for a cheap alternative to the company’s flagships won’t be disappointed here.
Despite the profound impact of the coronavirus pandemic in 2023, the deluge of Samsung phones shows no sign of abating. At £245, the Galaxy M31 is one of the most affordable devices in the company’s current lineup, aiming to provide a great smartphone experience at a fraction of a cost of the S and Note lines.
With a mammoth 6000mAh battery and competitive specs across the board, on paper it looks like Samsung is onto a winner. But how well does that translate to real-world usage? Read our full review to find out.
Design and build
Samsung has clearly cut some corners with the Galaxy M31’s design. The most notable is the plastic back and frame of the device, meaning any illusion of this being a premium device is quickly lost. I was initially fooled by the Galaxy A51’s so-called ‘glasstic’ design, but there’s no mistaking that Samsung has opted for the cheaper material here.
It frustratingly remains a fingerprint magnet, but on the black model I tested the smudges aren’t too noticeable. The phone’s also available in blue and red, if you’d prefer.
While these things would be significant drawbacks for some people, I found they quickly faded into the background once I started using the device as my main phone.
That’s due in part to the screen, a gorgeous 6.4 Full HD (1080×2340) OLED panel which offers rich, vibrant colours and an excellent level of detail. I often wonder just how much of a tangible benefit displays of 1440p and above actually provide, so this was a wise compromise for Samsung to make.
It’s only 60Hz, but with the latest iPhones still not supporting a higher refresh rate, it would be wrong for me to complain about its absence here. That is something you’ll find on the £179.99 Realme 7, though.
Where I will complain is the teardrop notch, which protrudes into the top of the display and houses a 32Mp selfie camera. It feels completely unnecessary, particularly when the bezels aren’t the smallest and there’s a sizeable chin.
It does at least support a face unlock, offering a mostly reliable alternative to the physical fingerprint sensor on the back of the device. The latter is a bit higher up the phone than feels natural, but was impressively resistant to dust and moisture in my testing.
Next to it is a rather imposing camera module, housing 64Mp main, 8Mp ultrawide, 5Mp macro and 5Mp depth sensors. It doesn’t quite sit flush with the back of the device, but it’s sufficient that there’s not too much rocking when flat down on a table.
There’s not much to write home about the sides of the device, which thankfully means there’s no Bixby button in sight. Power button and volume rocker on one side, dual SIM card tray on the other, simple as that.
It’s at the bottom where you’ll find the most notable inclusion: a 3.5mm headphone jack. The M31 is something of an outlier in a world where most phones, including many Samsung handsets, have ditched the port. The phone supports Bluetooth 5.0, but it’s still nice to have the option to connect wired headphones.
Hardware and performance
The Galaxy M31 comes running the Exynos 9611 chipset, which combines with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on the model I tested. Samsung’s own processors have typically struggled when compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line, although there are signs it’s fighting back. Performance on the Exynos 9611 is thought to be similar to the Snapdragon 712, with both found primarily on mid-range phones.
Unfortunately, in my testing time it fell short of what I expect from phone in 2023, even one that’s priced so affordably. The main problem I encountered were app freezes, with Chrome one of the big offenders. It would often lag on a website for quite a few seconds, although that may be due in part to the number of open Chrome tabs I had.
The other notable area of slowdown was in opening and switching between apps. I found it taking a comparatively long time to launch everything from Facebook Messenger to Spotify, while the aforementioned double tap of the power button to launch the camera was far from instant.
These issues don’t make the phone unusable by any means, although they are frustrations you’re likely to experience on a regular basis. It’ll still work fine if you’re willing to be patient, but the M31’s shortcomings are more glaring when you consider the strong performance in so many other budget phones.
The performance gap is illustrated in the below benchmarks, where the M31 pales in comparison to some of the best cheap phones around
Another area of performance that’s worth noting is the speakers – and it’s a much more positive story here. A single downward-firing speaker combines with the earpiece to provide clear, rich audio. I still wouldn’t recommend listening to music or watching a film on it, but for the occasional YouTube video and social media it’s more than acceptable.
Software and features
The Galaxy M31 comes running One Ui 2.5 over Android 10, and there’s no word on when it’ll get the upgrade to Android 11. If you haven’t used it before, Samsung’s skin is quite a departure from the so-called ‘stock’ version you’ll find on Pixel phones, although it’s come a long way from the clunky TouchWiz days.
The big appeal of One UI with regards to this phone is its optimisation for big-screen devices. Samsung divides the display into two sections, with all the controls you’ll need within easier reach at the bottom of the device. It won’t quite turn the 6.4in M31 into a one-handed phone, but does make a big difference to day-to-day usage.
Of course, this won’t extend to all third-party apps, but makes a big difference when you’re moving through Settings, taking a photo or making a call (yes, smartphones still do that!).
I’m a big fan of the quick settings menu, which allows you to make modifications directly from the notification shade, instead of taking you into the main app. Talking of settings, you can also customise the power key to open any app of your choice with a double press. I found the default quick launch of the camera to be particularly useful, but if you’d rather head straight to Instagram the option’s there.
Bixby’s appearances are also fleeting these days, with even the Google Discover-style cards to the right of the home screen ditched on recent One UI versions. It seems like Samsung has finally admitted its virtual assistant isn’t up to scratch, particularly when Google Assistant is available via a long press of the home button.
You can swap out that and the other two on-screen buttons for gestures, but I found the latter to be a bit laggy and generally not enjoyable to use on the M31.
Cameras are often an area where corners are cut on budget phones, but they remain a crucial ingredient of the smartphone pie. The M31 comes sporting quadruple rear lenses, with the main 64Mp sensor joined by 8Mp ultrawide, 5Mp macro and 5Mp depth sensors.
In general, I was impressed with the quality of stills from the M31. They offer a good level of detail and accurate colours, choosing to saturate images slightly less than Samsung phones have done in the past. Dynamic range is also solid, although it can struggle with exposure at times.
The camera app has a built-in scene optimiser, and seemed to do a good job of adjusting the settings automatically depending on what you’re taking a photo of. This includes switching to night mode, although that didn’t make a huge difference to the quality of low-light shots I was able to take.
The depth sensor enables portrait-style shots, although it tended to struggle quite a lot with edge detection. Like many other phones, the macro lens added almost nothing to the experience, as it wasn’t particularly impressive for close up shots.
A 32Mp front-facing camera yields higher quality selfies than I’ve seen on many phones, and it also offers the option to zoom out slightly and get more people into the shot.
The M31 is also capable of 4K video at 30fps on both the front and rear cameras, although the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) makes it a more pleasing experience on the latter.
Battery life is an area where the M31 excels on paper, with a huge 6000mAh cell. That’s larger than you’ll find on most phones in 2023, although it’s matched by the current budget champ in the Poco X3.
A score of 8 hours and 30 minutes in Geekbench 4’s battery test is more average, but I doubt you’ll have any problems with battery life here. In my experience, I was able to get a good couple of days of moderate usage on a single charge.
When you do finally run the battery down, the included 15W adapter gets you back up to around 23% back in 30 minutes. This is marketed as fast charging, although many other devices can be juiced up much faster.
There’s no wireless charging, but that’s not a surprise or dealbreaker at this price point.
Price and value for money
Talking of price, the Samsung Galaxy M31 comes in at £245/ US$ 299, and it’s exclusive to Amazon in the UK. The 6GB/64GB is the only model you can get on this side of the pond, although the International version linked above doubles the storage to 128GB.
That’s just about in budget phone territory, although competition is fierce at this price point. The likes of the Poco X3, Realme 7 and Oppo A9 2023 are all compelling alternatives and more more affordable than the M31.
It’s much more appealing if you’re only considering Samsung phones, with affordable devices like the Galaxy A20e offering a notably reduced experience.
The Galaxy M31 hasn’t been marketed nearly as heavily as Samsung’s flagships or even the mid-range A-Series, so you might not realise the company makes such a solid budget phone.
For £249, you get a gorgeous OLED display, excellent battery life and a highly polished software experience. There’s even a 3.5mm headphone jack, although the impressive speakers and Bluetooth 5.0 mean that might not be necessary.
It’s definitely not all good news though – performance is more than a little unconvincing at times and the sizeable notch and chin will be unsightly for some.
As a result, it’s unlikely to tempt people away from some other great Android handsets around this price point. But if you’re looking for the core Samsung experience at a more affordable price, this is definitely an option worth considering.Specs Samsung Galaxy M31: Specs
6.4in 1080×2340 19.5:9 OLED display, 60Hz
Exynos 9611 processor
Rear cameras: 64Mp f/1.8 wide, 8Mp f/2.2 telephoto, 5Mp f/2.4 macro, 5Mp f/2.2 depth 32Mp f/2.0 front-facing camera
3.5mm headphone jack
Gorilla Glass 3
Even though the Tab 4 8.0 is cheaper than the Tab S and Tab Pro tablets, it’s expensive compared to its rivals. Add to this some outdated specifications and it’s no bargain.
Choosing a tablet from Samsung’s massive range is confusing. This is the brand new Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 4G & WiFi, which means it’s the fourth-generation Tab series with an 8in screen and has a SIM card slot for 4G (and 3G) data as well as Wi-Fi. Strangely enough, it’s also a phone and – if your hands are big enough and you can live with the unwanted attention from people who think you’re mad – you can use it just like a massively over-sized smartphone. See also: The 25 best tablets of 2014
The ‘phablet’ is available in black or white, with or without the SIM card slot, and sits alongside the 7- and 10.1in versions of the Tab 4 which also come in Wi-Fi or 4G & Wi-Fi versions, providing more choice than any reasonable tablet purchaser needs. There are, of course, other phablets to add to your shortlist, such as the Asus Fonepad 7 LTE.
The Tab 4 is aimed at the more price-conscious end of the market as opposed to the Tab S range, which is the flagship, iPad-rivalling series. It lacks the S-Pen of the Galaxy Note models, too, which are also more expensive.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Design and build
Since you can still buy the previous model – the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 – this adds yet more models into the mix and even more confusion since when you compare the specs side by side, they’re basically the same.
What differs is the design. The Tab 4 doesn’t have a faux-metal band around the edge, instead opting for a thin chrome-esque bezel with smaller rounded corners than the old model.
The rear camera is placed centrally instead of in the top-left corner, but there’s still no LED flash. Looking at the back still, there’s a single rear-facing speaker as before but the microUSB port is now on the bottom edge instead of the side.
On the right-hand side are the power and volume buttons. Below these are two pop-out covers: one for the micro SIM card and one for a microSD card (up to 64GB is supported).
Either side of the physical home button are two touch-sensitive controls. These don’t light up – so you can’t find them in the dark – and are a pain when holding the tablet in landscape mode. For example, when watching a videos it’s all too easy for a wayward thumb to press one and go back or bring up the list of recent apps.
There’s no metal in the casing so although build quality is good, the Tab 4 lacks a premium finish.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Screen
As a “budget” Android tablet, it’s no surprise to find a relatively low resolution of 1280×800 pixels. However, this means a very low density of 188ppi which makes text look fuzzier than on higher-resolution screens. Some people may not find this an issue, but if you’re used to a smartphone or previous tablet with a high-resolution screen, it could be a disappointment.
At least it’s a decent quality panel. Samsung doesn’t state which technology is used, but it appears to be the same screen used in the Tab 3. The main points to note are that colours are vivid and viewing angles and contrast are good. It’s also nice and bright, but as with all glossy, capacitive touchscreens, is too reflective to be of much use outdoors in bright conditions.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Hardware and performance
One of the main differences between the Tab 3 8.0 and Tab 4 8.0 is the processor. The older model had a dual-core 1.5GHz chip, but the new one has a quad-core CPU running at a slower 1.2GHz.
It’s fast enough for basic tasks such as email and web browsing, and running two apps on screen at the same time (see Software, below).
The change of processor also means a change of GPU, from an Adreno 305 to a Mali 400 MP4. If anything this is a step backwards, and the benchmark results speak for themselves. In GFXBench, the Tab 4 8.0 managed only 3.5fps in the tough Manhattan test and also failed to produce much above 10fps in the less-demanding T-Rex test.
Although you’ll still be able to play the latest games, you’ll find that graphics quality is pared back, such as in Real Racing 3, in order to maintain smooth framerates.
In terms of other hardware, the Tab 4 8.0 has GPS receiver, Bluetooth 4 (with aptX support), 802.11n Wi-Fi, support for Wi-Fi direct and also ANT+. The latter isn’t well known but means you can use certain apps which can talk directly to ANT+ sensors such as a heart-rate monitor or a speed/cadence sensor on your bike.
Most people won’t even notice or care about ANT+ support, but might miss the IR blaster which is usually found on Samsung tablets. We tested the Wi-Fi and 4G LTE model which definitely doesn’t have infrared for controlling your TV and other set-top boxes.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Software
Another upgrade from the Tab 3 is that the Tab 4 ships with Android KitKat 4.4.2 rather than Jelly Bean. As with all Samsung tablets, you get the Touchwiz interface instead of plain Android. In some ways this makes it slightly more user-friendly, but in other ways is too bloated.
One feature worth noting is the ability to run two apps on screen at once. This means you could have a YouTube video playing in the top half (when in portrait mode) and browse the web or check your email in the bottom half. You can use split-screen in landscape too, and it’s easy to adjust how much space to give each app by dragging the dividing line.
Other features include SideSync 3 which will be handy if you also own a Galaxy smartphone as it lets you transfer data, copy and paste text and send and receive calls on your tablet.
Similarly, you can mirror your tablet’s screen wirelessly onto a compatible Samsung HDTV using the Samsung Link app.
You’ll find the usual collection of Google apps including the Play Store as well as Samsung’s own app store.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Cameras
Oddly, there are no upgrades in the cameras department. That means that the main camera has just a 3Mp sensor, and the front-facing webcam a 1.3Mp sensor.
The back camera shoots only 720p video, and has no stabilisation at all. Both photos and video are pretty dismal compared to the best tablets, but they’re usable if you’re desperate. As well as the expected lack of detail, the poor-quality lens means parts of the image can be in focus while other areas are blurry, as can be plainly seen in the sample shot below.
One other thing to be aware of is that the lens isn’t particularly wide-angle, so you can’t fit as much in as you might expect. Switch to video mode and the image is even more zoomed in.Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 review: Bottom line
Even though the Tab 4 8.0 is cheaper than the Tab S and Tab Pro tablets, it’s expensive compared to its rivals. You can save a few quid by opting for the Wi-Fi-only version, but at £240, even that’s £60 more than the excellent LG G Pad 8.3. It’s also more than Amazon’s 7in Kindle Fire HDX and Google’s Nexus 7, both of which cost £199 and have far superior screens to the Tab 4 8.0.
The Wi-Fi-only version is £80 cheaper than the iPad mini with Retina screen, but that premium is well worth paying if you can afford it. The Tab S 8.4 is also £80 more expensive but again, if you can afford it, you get a whole lot more for your money.
Price, then, is the Tab 4 8.0’s biggest problem because it’s just too expensive for the outdated hardware.
We’ve rounded up the 25 best Android tablets of 2014, so check that out too.
Follow Jim Martin on TwitterSpecs Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0: Specs
Android 4.4.2 KitKat OS
8in IPS WXGA (1280 x 800) screen, 188ppi
Quad-core Processor 1.2GHz (Mali 400MP 4 GPU)
1.5GB memory, 16GB built-in storage (10GB available)
2G/3G/4G LTE, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (with aptX), ANT+
1.2Mp front-facing camera, 3Mp rear camera, 720p video recording
Mono rear-facing speaker
MicroUSB, 3.5mm mini-jack, MicroSD card reader up to 64GB, Micro SIM card tray
124x210x8mm, 320g (326g 4G model)
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