Computing

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G: Does Speed Matter?

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 isn’t a new tablet, but the internal chipset that allows it to access Telstra’s 1800Mhz LTE network certainly is. This week’s Mobile Monday ponders whether that’s enough to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Why It Matters

We’re still in the birthing stages of 4G here in Australia, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G has its place in history; it’s the first 4G-enabled Tablet sold in the country. It’s a Telstra exclusive — which makes sense, given that Optus’ 4G network is still a number of months away.

What We Like

Gizmodo US reviewed the 8.9 Galaxy Tab some months ago,, and I don’t particularly want to reinvent the wheel here, especially as most of the points raised in the original review still apply. It’s a nippy enough performer for a Honeycomb-based tablet. Its size makes it extremely portable while not leaving it so small as to lose the advantages of a tablet over a smartphone.

Then there’s the 4G speed. 4G can deliver much better speed than 3G –under the right conditions, that is. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G can really fly; indeed, I can say that in one respect, it’s the fastest tablet I’ve ever used. I set out to test the Tab 8.9 last week across Sydney’s CBD in the same fashion as I’d already tested Telstra and Vividwireless’ competing 4G services, and hit one notable snag. I could get the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G to connect over 4G, but for whatever reason, the Telstra 4G USB stick I was using sat resolutely on 3G. It had full 3G signal, but that’s still a step behind 4G, making head to head comparison somewhat useless, except to point out that the same kind of glitch could hit the 8.9 Tab — or in other words, even under Telstra’s claimed 4G areas, don’t always expect to get 4G speeds.

So what kinds of speeds did I see?

Location Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Central 39 43.43 13.11
Town Hall 53 28.95 14.99
Martin Place 67.66 24.4 10.02
Circular Quay 55.33 15.8 13.3

I had 4G signal according to the Galaxy Tab 8.9′s signal meter the entire time I was testing, and at least in this aspect, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G is very impressive indeed.

What We Don’t Like

When the Galaxy Tab 8.9 first emerged, the US review noted it as the “best” Android tablet — and it arguably was, for its time. The problem there is that since then we’ve seen a bevy of newer, faster tablets hit the market. By comparison there, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G comes off second best.

Specs
8.9 inch 1280×800 screen
1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
1GB RAM
3MP rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing
No expandable storage
4G LTE and Wi-Fi
Weight: 0.4kg
Price: 16GB/$720 32GB/$840

Ice Cream Sandwich is also a factor here; launching a “new” tablet running Honeycomb feels lazy. This is the same criticism I had of the Motorola Xoom 2, another tablet we waited some months before Australian retail availability.

The plastic back of the 8.9 does, as the original review pointed out, feel a little sturdier than on the 10.1, but I’m still not personally a big fan. It’s not quite a deal-breaker in terms of a buy/don’t buy decision, but it’s certainly something I’d suggest you road test in the store to make sure it doesn’t overly annoy you. Likewise, there’s no expandable storage, or for that matter ports beyond headphones and Samsung’s proprietary docking port. Whether that bothers you on a tablet may well just be a matter of preference and usage.

Should You Buy It?

The Galaxy Tab 4G is light, reasonably nippy in performance and blindingly fast when you can get a 4G connection. That’d make it a definite must-buy, right? Wrong.

The outright pricing Telstra’s offering for the 4G Galaxy Tab 8.9 absolutely slaughters any sense of value. When the Tab 8.9 launched in the US in October, it cost $US470. Somehow, waiting six months and adding 4G capability to that sees the price skyrocket up to $720. Even with 4G speeds, that’s not enough to make it a must-buy tablet, especially with so many other tablets — including the promise of other 4G capable models — due this year.


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