Personal Technology

July 18, 2013 6:54 pm

The right fit with the new in-betweeners

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GALAXY Tab 3 8-inch

Some canny manufacturers have realised that we all like a range of physical size as well as variety of functions for our gadgets. Samsung’s new 8in Tab 3 tablet is a classic in-between type of device – smaller than a full-size tablet such as Apple’s iPad – but bigger than smartphones.

Usually, I don’t like in-between devices because they often involve too many compromises, but with the 8in Galaxy Tab 3, Samsung could be on to a winner. For a portable tablet you can just about squeeze into a jacket pocket or small bag, this device deserves to be at the top of your list. I have also been testing its more powerful sibling tablet, the Galaxy Note 8.0.

Three years ago there was a near-stampede in the Taylor family when Apple launched the first iPad. We all wanted one. But at the risk of offending fellow Apple fans, the company’s attitude towards consumer choice can only be described as rigid: as far as Steve Jobs was concerned, an iPad had a 9.7in screen. It was not until a year after his death that Apple launched the iPad mini with its handier 7.9in screen.

The 8in Galaxy Tab 3, on sale in the US from $299 and available soon in Europe, is $30 cheaper than the iPad mini, its main rival, which is also a bit bulkier despite having a slightly smaller 7.9in screen.

The other two Galaxy Tab 3s are a 7in screen budget version for $199, and a 10.1in model that costs from $399.

The Tab 3s all look like big versions of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones. The 8in device runs the latest version of the Android operating system, has a super-bright touchscreen, rear and front cameras, and storage is expandable using a microSD card. I have one grumble: I have to seek out a WiFi connection or use a personal WiFi hotspot device to go online. The Galaxy Note 8.0, however, allows me to go online wherever there is a mobile phone signal.

A couple of millimetres thicker than the iPad mini, the 8in Tab 3 is noticeably narrower, which makes it easier to hold in one hand. How useful a tablet or smartphone, such as the popular Samsung S4, is depends on when and where you use it, for example whether on a crowded train or on the sofa at home.

When the first tablets were launched – setting the standard for the full size measure – most people expected them to be used passively. They would be great for viewing YouTube clips, movies or digital photos, but not for creating content, mainly because of the lack of a physical keyboard.

That has turned out to be only partly right. While I have yet to hold a tablet up to my face to make a phone call or, more amusingly, hold it at arm’s length to take a digital snap in the street, I have begun to use tablets for activities previously done on a laptop.

Samsung s4

Samsung's S4

For example, I use an app running on my iPad mini or iPad to check the heating and cooling settings on my home automation system, lock the doors and switch off any remaining lights just before I go to sleep.

I have also been using my Tab 3, paired with a personal hotspot, to check and answer emails during my rail commute because it is much easier to use its virtual keyboard than the equivalent on a smartphone.

I’ll concede that for viewing video on the couch at home or checking a recipe in the kitchen, a large-format tablet, such as the iPad or the 10.1in Samsung Tab 3 is much nicer. But for more general mobile use, I am now a convert to the convenience and flexibility of a midsized tablet such as the iPad mini (4/5) or the 8in Galaxy Tab 3 (4/5).

Ultimately, however, if I were looking for the most powerful tablet that incorporates a pen and ability to connect over a mobile phone network as well as WiFi, I would choose the Galaxy Note 8 (5/5): it has a more powerful processor than the 8in Galaxy Tab 3, and an “S” Pen for onscreen note-taking and drawing.

Planet of the Apps

Paul Taylor selects his favourite from the latest crop

What it is: Boingo Wi-Finder (free for desktop PCs and Macs, iOS and Android devices)

Why you should try it: I have been a fan of Boingo’s global subscription WiFi service for years. Wi-Finder, free to download even if you are not a subscriber, helps travellers automatically connect to Boingo and free commercial WiFi hotspots. It also provides a one-click virtual private network to help WiFi users at home, the office or in public hotspots to secure their connection from hackers and keep communications private.

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