I've been testing Samsung's new 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 tablet (my full review is at TabTimes) and, in some ways, I like it better than the iPad. Sure, the newest iPad's Retina screen (ironically, made by Samsung) is more dazzling and the iPad has a faster processor, a bigger screen and Apple's famed ease of use, but the new Samsung has its advantages too, beginning with a much smaller price tag. At $250, it's half the price of Apple's third generation iPad and $150 less than the iPad 2.
It's also smaller and lighter. The Tab 2 measures 7.6 x 4.8 x .42 inches and weighs 12.2 ounces. The new iPad, of course, is longer and wider and weighs 1.44 pounds though, at .37 inches, it is thinner than the Tab 2.
If the Apple rumors are true ...
Steve Jobs famously once said that "7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad," but if the rumor mill has it right, Apple might finally release its own 7-inch iPad later this year. It would be a smart move. Even though Apple is doing fine with its current form factor I suspect it could grow the market even further with a smaller, cheaper and lighter iPad.
Size and price aren't the only differences between these two machines. The Galaxy Tab 2 features Google's new Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and comes with some unique features, including an IR blaster and a Peel app that allows you to use the tablet as a smart remote control for your home entertainment system. I found the remote app to be a bit frustrating. I got it to work with my TV but never could get it working right with my satellite receiver. Apple is also rumored to be working on a TV set and, if it ever does release such a product, I'm sure it will find a way to allow other iOS devices to work as a remote control and possibly an extra screen for watching TV.
The Tab 2 and the iPad fundamentally do the same thing, but the experience is different. For one thing, the Tab 2 has no physical home button like the one on the bottom of iOS devices. Instead, it has virtual buttons on the bottom that bring up the home screen and task manager, along with a back button and one that takes a snapshot of the screen.
Numbers above letters and a microSD card are pluses for the Tab
Numbers are on the same screen as letters on virtual keyboard
One difference I appreciate is that Samsung's virtual keyboard has numbers at the top just like standard PC keyboards, so you don't have to enter a special numeric mode when typing in passwords and other text that includes numbers.
Unlike the iPad, but like other Android tablets, the Tab 2 supports Adobe Flash. Also, Samsung has equipped its new tablet with an microSD card reader, which means the 8-gigabyte unit Samsung loaned me can easily be upgraded with an additional 32 GB of storage for as little as $18.
Also, with portable devices, size and weight do matter. The 7-inch form factor makes for a much more portable device that, unlike an iPad, can actually fit into some large pockets.
Samsung's proprietary charging and data cable
One thing I wish Samsung hadn't borrowed from Apple is the idea of a proprietary charging and data transfer cable. Most other Android devices use a standard micro-USB cable, which means if you forget your cable, you can easily pick one up or borrow someone else's. Samsung, like Apple, has its own cable, which annoyed me recently when I couldn't find mine and had to wait three days for a replacement cable to arrive via UPS.
Good but not an iPad
For the budget-minded shopper or anyone who appreciates a tablet that's even more portable than the iPad, Samsung's Tab 2 is a good choice. Still, there's something about the feel of an iPad that just makes it, well, better. It's the subtle things that Apple has perfected that make its products stand just a little taller than the others. Which leads me to my hope that the rumors are true and that Apple does introduce a smaller and less expensive iPad.
This post previously appeared on my Forbes.com blog