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

One hopes that third-party apps designed explicitly for Android tablets will come in time as more tablet-sized hardware finds its way to market, though with Google's whispered plans to create a discrete operating system for tablets this may not happen.

Another important comparison point for Apple and Samsung's slates is web browsing. My family uses our iPad daily to surf the Net on the couch, at the kitchen table, and in bed. The Tab performs well in this capacity, too, but with a caveat. Since Android is technically a mobile operating system, websites will think you're using a mobile phone. That means some pages will automatically display in mobile format (including the ). You'll need to manually change each of these sites to display in full HTML, which is a bit of a drag.

However, the Tab's Android browser has one major advantage over iPad's Safari: It supports Flash Player 10.1. Apple has taken heat for not supporting Adobe's multimedia platform, which is used widely across the Web. As someone who has been using an iPad for half a year, it was refreshing to be able to surf on a tablet without worrying which videos and multimedia applications will work.

On the subject of video, the Tab not only does a fine job of playing back 1080p format video (though in downscaled 1024-by-600), it can broadcast full HD to DLNA-supporting televisions and PCs. I wasn't able to try this feature, but its appeal is clear for those who intend to use the Tab to download and watch movies and television shows.

The Tab also has some hardware perks that may turn a few iPad users green with envy. Like a microSD card slot to let users supplement its 16 or 32 gigabytes of built-in flash storage. This makes it much easier to, say, begin viewing video or pictures captured on your camera.

Of course, you may not need to import pictures or video since, unlike the iPad, the Tab has a camera built in. Two, actually. The one on the back is capable of decent 3 megapixel stills and SD video, while the screen-side 1.3 megapixel camera handles video calls. As an aside, I found framing a subject on a seven-inch screen to be an unexpectedly engaging experience; it almost feels like you're watching a video rather than actively shooting one.

Meanwhile, fans of mobile web browsing will appreciate that you can tether the Tab to any Android 2.2 device. That means if you buy a one without a data plan you can still access the web on the go via your existing phone and its data package. This ought to make the Tab quite appealing to those who already have a handset like the Galaxy S.

One last thing worth mentioning: Europeans will be able to use the Tab as a phone, but not us. I was told voice calling was removed from the North American version of the Tab because U.S. carriers weren't anxious to offer this functionality. Canadian carriers, on the other hand, have apparently expressed some interest, so there's a chance voice could be introduced here via a software update in the new year. Video calling is available through third party apps like Skype.

Now to get back to the question so many people have asked me: Is the Tab better than the iPad? The answer isn't as cut and dried as you might like. As with so many gadgets, it comes down to intended use.

Want something small that you can throw in your bag or purse that will let you read books on the subway with one hand while hanging onto a pole with the other? The Tab might be your best bet. Need something with a bigger screen slightly better suited for reading magazines? Think iPad. Want a device that lets you tether it to your phone so you can have richer web browsing and e-mailing experiences on the go without paying for another data plan? Go with the Tab. Is it important to you to have access to a wealth of excellent games and apps designed specifically for your platform? Then choose the iPad.

Ignore the hype and select the one that's right for you - assuming that one of them is right for you. Remember that tablets are still in their infancy; they have a lot of growing to do. Plus, more slates with unique forms and features - such as Dell's Streak and BlackBerry's PlayBook - are on the way. It might make sense to simply bide your time for now. Just because tablets have done such a remarkable job of capturing our collective curiosity doesn't mean it's yet time for everyone to buy one.

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