The next Google (s goog) Android Honeycomb tablet arrives on April 20, in the form of the T-Mobile G-Slate, built by LG. The 8.9-inch tablet, priced at $529 after $100 rebate with a two-year data plan, or $729 without contract, sits squarely in between the size of Apple’s iPad (s aapl) and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. Is there room for such a slate? T-Mobile thinks so, and it added one key differentiating feature that no competing tablet offers: a unique, dual rear-camera solution that captures 3-D videos.
|G-Slate Highlights and Specs|
|8.9-inch touch screen (1280×800)|
|32GB internal memory, no memory card slot|
|Dual 5-megapixel rear cameras w/auto-focus, LED Flash and 3D-capable, 2 megapixel front camera|
|1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU; Android 3.0.1|
|Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, HSPA+, microUSB port, HDMI out|
|9.6″ x 5.88″ x 0.5″, weight 22 ounces|
I’ve only had the G-Slate under review for a few days, but given that it uses the same Honeycomb platform and similar hardware found on the Motorola Xoom (s mmi), most of the differences are found in the device size, software features and mobile broadband connectivity. In fact, the same dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 (s nvda) used in the larger Xoom tablet powers the G-Slate although the device feels as though it performs slightly faster.
The G-Slate has a pleasing design, with rounded edges and corners. Aside from the display, there’s nothing visible on the front except for the camera, which is oddly placed at the top left corner of the bezel. As a result, video call tests showed me looking away from my caller on their end, regardless of whether the G-Slate was in portrait or landscape mode. Buttons on the side include power and a volume rocker. A micro USB port and HDMI output are on the bottom.
One smart design choice I found was the inclusion of three speakers: one on the left side and two on the right. That seems odd, but it makes sense, because the G-Slate intelligently shifts sounds to the appropriate speakers, depending on how you hold the device. Use it in landscape, and sound comes from the left and right speakers. Turn the tablet to portrait, and the sound is routed into the two speakers on the right, which are actually on the bottom of the G-Slate in portrait mode.
Just as with the Xoom, the G-Slate uses a proprietary charging port, which is small and thin. Luckily, the device can get through a solid eight hours of use, depending on the activities you use it for. My casual web browsing, managing email, listening to music and playing the occasional game allowed me to get through a regular work day on the non-removable battery.
As the happy owner of a 7-inch Galaxy Tab Android tablet, I wondered how much I’d like the 8.9-inch size of the G-Slate, considering I dumped the first iPad due to size. I find the iPad too big and heavy to use everywhere or to hold for extended amounts of time, while my 7-inch tablet fits in a pocket and is much lighter. This may be a matter of personal preference, but I’d still take a 7-inch device over the 8.9 G-Slate, all thing being equal.
The first challenge is due to text input. You can’t comfortably touch-type in landscape because it’s too small, yet thumb-typing in landscape is a stretch. Secondly, the tablet too big for a pocket and weighs 22 ounces. That compares to a light 13.58 ounces for my just-pocketable Galaxy Tab and 21.5 ounces for the barely-lighter iPad 2. (Note: The image gallery compares the size of the G-Slate to the Galaxy Tab, iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom.)
Of course, neither of those tablets can use T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, while the G-Slate can. In areas of limited coverage, speed tests showed peak download speeds of 6 Mbps. The G-Slate is likely capable of faster speeds, but I wasn’t able to travel to a region with faster coverage. If I do so before sending the review unit back, I’ll update here with the results. Regardless, even the speeds I saw were more than fast enough for most tasks on the tablet. And the G-Slate can be used as a wireless hotspot at no additional charge, so the 4G connection can be shared over Wi-Fi with other devices.
Software Isn’t Completely Solid (Yet)
The G-Slate runs on Google’s Honeycomb platform, built specifically for tablets, but not much (if anything) has changed since the February debut of the Motorola Xoom. The Honeycomb experience is essentially a stock Android interface; there aren’t any T-Mobile customizations that I can see. Aside from T-Mobile TV and a Get Web Now app for activating mobile broadband, there isn’t much carrier-specific software installed.
As a result of Honeycomb’s relative immaturity, some of the same challenges are still present. There aren’t many tablet optimized apps, and even some of the existing Android software is unstable on Honeycomb. Facebook and Seesmic (a Twitter client), for example, crashed a few times just today. That’s sure to get better, but for now, the software experience isn’t bulletproof.
That issue aside, some of the pre-installed apps are a joy. The Need For Speed Shift racing game ran so smoothly that my one race just to try it turned into about an hour-long gaming session. I read a magazine in portrait mode using the Zinio software and found I could read all of the text without zooming, although the app supports pinch-and-zoom gestures. Adobe’s latest Flash Player (s adbe) has even improved. And since I live in the browser on all of my devices, I spent a fair amount of time surfing the web on the G-Slate and found the experience to be reasonably good. If pressed to compare the software performance, I’d say most apps are a half-step behind that of iPad apps, likely due to Honeycomb and not the G-Slate’s hardware.
About That 3-D
I find the 3-D capabilities of the G-Slate a tad gimmicky, but the device does offer 3-D visual effects. You can capture 3-D videos, not stills, and play them back directly on the tablet or on a television set via an HDMI cable. If you don’t have a 3D television (I don’t), you’re relegated to the old blue and red glasses that come with the G-Slate to see the anaglyph effect. The experience can be hit or miss, but it is a differentiating feature. Is it one people will want? That’s difficult to say. If you have an old pair of the 3-D glasses (with one red and one blue lens), you can get an idea of how well the effect works from this 720p 3D video I shot over the weekend with the G-Slate.
As far as the standard camera functionality, the G-Slate handles both stills and high-definition videos fairly wel. The auto-zoom feature is quick, as is the white balance when shifting from areas with differing light levels.
Given the early state of Honeycomb, T-Mobile offers a solid hardware package in the G-Slate, which should get better as Android matures on tablets. Since the 8.9-inch slate doesn’t fit in a pocket and weighs as much as an iPad 2, some may opt to just go for a larger tablet. However, folks within T-Mobile’s HSPA+ coverage areas will find much to like, provided they don’t mind waiting for Google’s software to catch up to the G-Slate’s capable hardware.
Since data plans are essential to mobile devices, it’s worth noting that the plans for the G-Slate are discounted for T-Mobile voice customers. This recent development provides a 20-percent monthly reduction. The $49.99 5GB plan, for example, drops to $39.99 per month, while a 10 GB plan, normally $84.99, is $67.99. For some, those prices, and maybe even the 3-D functionality will make the G-Slate worth the look.