The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus uses Honeycomb (Android 3.2) , but it's also modified with Samsung's TouchWiz interface. I'm not a fan at all of modified interfaces, but the TouchWiz mostly works in Samsung's favor on the smaller Galaxy Tab. Mostly. There's a handy toggle for frequently adjusted settings on the notifications window, for instance. That means you're only two taps away from locking the screen orientation while reading or turning off sound or notifications while you're in a meeting. That's useful. Other interface changes are of questionable value, such as the default notifications set to make noise every time you get an email message.
There's an on-screen screen capture button, which is great for people like me to write about Android, but not so great for anyone else. Everyone I've handed the Tab to has accidentally hit the screen capture button at least once. There's also a series of quick launch apps that pop up when you tap the bottom of the screen, but they don't appear to be adjustable. That's fine if you're going to constantly access the choices Samsung made for you: Task manager, Calendar, World Clock, Pen memo, Calculator, and Music player. If you think the World Clock isn't that useful or want to substitute Pandora or Google Music for playing your tunes, forget about it.
Meanwhile, most of Android remains clean. Samsung hasn't changed things to the point that an Android tablet owner would be totally confused with the interface, and unlike the Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tabs don't tend to rapidly drain batteries when they're idle, so you can get away with every other day charges for the tablet, depending on your usage habits.
Samsung offers a navigation feature that zooms the screen on websites when you hold two points and tilt the screen. It works, but it seems pointless when you can use the more natural two-fingered pinching motion.
Galaxy Tab as a Remote
The Galaxy Tab ships with an Android version of the popular iOS Peel app and a built-in infrared port. This means that your Tab can be used as a smart remote for a large variety of TVs and home theater systems without having to do anything special or buy extra hardware. I couldn't get the app to work with my projector, but that looks to be a software issue with Peel and isolated to Mitsubishi projector owners. I tried a different TV and had no problem getting it to work. Once the Peel app is tuned to your TV system, it functions as an interactive TV Guide as well as a remote.
Movies and TV Shows
Not only can you use your Tab as a remote, it's a great entertainment device. You can rent movies from YouTube, the Android Market, and Samsung's Media Hub. You can also view subscription content from Netflix and Hulu Plus. Amazon content is also viewable from the Browser app. HD movie previews play back beautifully, and the sound is surprisingly good for a device that chose to put the speakers on two corners of the screen when oriented vertically.
Dueling App Stores
The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus comes with both the Android Market and a separate Samsung Apps store. It doesn't insist that you use one over the other, and Google even offers a few apps in the Samsung Apps store. You can also enable third-party app installations if you want to use the Amazon App Store or some other third-party store.
The Screen and Size
The whole point of the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is that it's small enough to fit anywhere you'd fit a paperback book and even lighter. It lives up to this, and the screen is sharp and fantastic. That said, the small size of the screen still becomes an issue when trying to poke at small icons and make text selections, and Samsung's extra app bar is especially pesky when the screen is oriented vertically. Samsung does offer an optional conductive stylus accessory, but in the age of the iPad, this seems like a step backwards.
You can read books in virtually any format with ease. You can download the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo apps, and Samsung also brings a serviceable eBook app, which opens ePub and PDF files. You can hold the tablet easily in one hand and read books, newspapers, and magazines.
The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus comes with a micro SD slot for memory expansion. One friend who was shopping for a Kindle Fire asked me why you'd need such a thing. If you plan on watching movies or listening to music when your tablet is out of Wi-Fi range, you'll really like having an expansion slot. Not every user is going to need it, but it's very handy for those who do.
The Galaxy Tab 7 comes with several on-screen keyboard options. There's the default Android keyboard, the Samsung keyboard, and the Swype keyboard. Of the three, Swype is by far the fastest option, especially when the tablet is oriented vertically. I was able to answer email messages and type memos much faster using Swype than I was on an iPad. If you're not a Swype user, fear not. You can always use a Bluetooth keyboard. That's not something the Kindle Fire can brag.
The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus has two cameras. One front-facing for video chatting and one rear-facing for taking pictures. The cameras are undersized compared to other devices, with the rear-facing camera only capable of 3 megapixel images. Chances are that your phone does much better. That said, it's still a camera, and that means you can take quick snapshots and mark them up or email them.
This is an expensive tablet in the new age of the Kindle Fire. It's faster, more flexible, and packed with more options, but it's still at least a $400 commitment compared to the $200 Fire. The Galaxy Tab 7 is the better option for someone who is looking for more than an eBook reader but doesn't want to carry something the size of an iPad. It would be even better if Samsung stuck to innovation in hardware and optional apps instead of modifying the interface, but this is still a great tablet for power users who want a small tablet, and it's one of the few tablets this size that comes with optional 4G access.
However, I'm still not sure I'd have spent $400 on one. Part of that is the size - I prefer the larger tablets, but part of it is simply the timing. The Kindle Fire has become a unit of currency in my mind, and the Galaxy Tab costs two Kindles. No matter how much better the hardware is on the Galaxy Tab, a lot of people are going to be just as happy with their Kindle Fires.