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First look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab Add to ...

As I carried around and used a pre-production model of Samsung's Galaxy Tab in Toronto during a regrettably brief two-day evaluation, I learned an interesting thing: It's been half a year since the iPad launched, but people are still extremely curious about tablets.

Commuters stole long glances on the subway, diners asked questions in a restaurant, and parents all but interrogated me while I sat on a bench at my daughter's playground. A school teacher, a businesswoman, a stay-at-home dad, an elevator maintenance worker, and even an awkward elementary school student expressed interest in it.

I fielded several questions from people asking if it was Research in Motion's recently announced , and still more from people wondering whether it was some sort of tablet/phone hybrid. However, the most popular query I encountered was this: "Is it better than an iPad?"

As one of the first and most ballyhooed challengers to Apple's tablet supremacy - Rogers and Bell will begin offering it in mid-November but have yet to reveal prices or data plans (you'll also be able to buy it without a contract for between $650 and $700, according to Samsung - about the same as an iPad) - it's fair to wonder how the two stack up. Thing is, they feel surprisingly different from one another.

For starters, the Tab is only about half the size and, at 380 grams, a little more than half the weight of an iPad. Its bright, seven-inch TFT LCD has a resolution of 1024-by-600, which is lower than an iPad but, given its smaller size, higher in pixel density, meaning you're less likely to make out individual dots of light when viewing it closely.

Unlike the iPad, I find I can hold it in one hand for long durations with ease. Surprisingly, I found it fit easily into the pockets of my loose khakis when I was going for a walk, though, admittedly, it created a rather large bulge. Still, I appreciated this unexpected semi-pocketableness when I wanted to hold a drink in one hand and my daughter's paw in the other.

With a 1GHz processor and 512MB of memory, it's just as nimble as an iPad. There's virtually no wait between tapping an app tile and its launch. The user interface feels much the same as that of the phones that share its operating system - specifically Samsung's handsets. The Korean company's TouchWiz 3.0 UI overlay - found in sister devices like the - is all but identical.

The virtual keyboard is also similar to previous offerings from Samsung, and the screen is narrow enough that smart phone-style thumb-typing feels fairly natural. Haptic feedback - brief vibrations that come with each tap of the screen (which I find make for a more confident and comfortable touch-typing experience) - is switched on by default.

A benefit of the Tab's smaller size is that it may be more appealing than an iPad for people who plan to use it as an eReader. Samsung's Reader HUB app uses Kobo for novels, a clean and simple reading program that I've used on other devices and enjoy. And the Tab's screen is a perfect size for a standard page of paperback text.

Reader HUB also features PressDisplay, which provides access to some 1,600 newspapers, and Zinio as a portal to more than 2,000 magazines, though these services weren't up and running for my evaluation. I wonder, though, how a magazine page will look on such a small screen. I suspect the iPad's much larger display - which I currently use to read visually rich publications like Wired - is better suited for this style of reading.

On the subject of apps, selection will likely play a key role for those choosing between an iPad and a Tab. Apple's slate now has more than 25,000 platform-specific apps while the Tab has almost none, save those that Samsung has developed itself and placed on this device, such as an email app with a pleasantly clean interface and dual panes when viewed in landscape mode, and Samsung's Social Hub, which combines feeds from various social networks (though it wasn't installed on my pre-production unit). More of these device-specific apps created by Samsung and its partners will be rolled out through the Samsung Apps portal.

However, just as the iPad is capable of running iPhone apps, so too can the Tab run apps originally intended for an Android phone. But there's an important difference: Whereas iPhone apps appear blurry when enlarged for the iPad's bigger screen, Android apps scale more cleanly to the Tab display - assuming they've been designed according to Google's recommended development standards.

A Samsung engineer told me that about 90 per cent of Android's most common apps run well on the Tab. I tried a handful of free ones - Twitter, Angry Birds, Bloomberg, and ESPN ScoreCenter, to name a few - and they all looked nice and performed well. The only sign that they were intended for a smaller screen is that their text and buttons felt a bit large. This sort of problem doesn't exist for iPhone apps that have been redesigned to create a user experience better suited to the iPad's larger screen.

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