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When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. When is a tablet not a tablet? Never. A tablet is always a tablet, whether it’s a tablet that doubles as a phone (a phablet) or a tablet that doubles as a laptop (a hybrid, or 2-in-1). With so many tablets, and so many choices out there, how does a company differentiate its product?
If you’re Samsung, the smart route is to reinvent the lineup you have, add new features, and keep the price low. The Samsung Galaxy Tab A hits that on all cylinders, and throws in a slick form and light weight to ease any portability questions.
Let’s start with what makes the Tab A different. Samsung Galaxy Tab series tablets have always been fairly well equipped, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It has a 9.7" TFT touchscreen display with XGA 1024 x 768 native resolution, which makes web browsing and image viewing a joy. It uses a 1.2GHz Quad-Core, Qualcomm APQ 8016 processor with 1.5GB of RAM, with 16GB of onboard storage. It also has (thankfully) a microSD card slot for up to 128GB of additional storage.
"Using productivity programs and apps, I could squeeze almost ten hours of work into one sitting without a problem, and about 20 hours over the course of four days netted the same result."
Where the new Tab A moves ahead is in the improved battery. The units each contain a 6000mAH lithium-ion battery that boasts up to 178 hours of music play time and 14 hours of video play time. Those numbers are not far off; I used the unit for light web browsing, social network checking, and some games—about four hours per day—and I came back three days later, with the battery still showing a 20% charge. When I tasked it to run an eight-hour Nurse Jackie marathon, I was still left with a little less than half the battery. That is an impressive amount of juice. Using productivity programs and apps, I could squeeze almost ten hours of work into one sitting without a problem, and about 20 hours over the course of four days netted the same result. The Galaxy Tab A ran fine through my network, using its 802.11 a/b/g/n adapter. Thankfully, it can run on dual bands, accessing either my 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz Wi-Fi effortlessly.
It uses Android Lollipop 5.0 as the OS, and I observed some slight stuttering and frozen frames during a few web searches and applications. The processor seems to be unable to handle a heavy workload, even though it’s touted as being able to run multiple windows simultaneously. I did get a multi-window session going, but the speed at which I progressed through my tasks (Word document and YouTube in separate windows) was less ideal than you would find on similar tablets. When going back to a single window, I saw fewer problems, but did still have some trouble seeing videos in Facebook, and experienced frame drops during some gaming. What to blame, here? The 1.5GB of RAM? The processor? Lollipop OS? Take your pick.
The cameras are fairly standard for a tablet: a 2.0MP front-facing camera and a 5.0MP rear-facing camera with 4x digital zoom. The video, shot at 720 fps, was fairly standard, and you should not expect much from a tablet with these specs. When compared to similar tablets, the video was slightly grainy but still fairly smooth. I have to admit, I don’t shoot a lot of video on a tablet. It’s not what they’re made for, and I look pretty foolish holding one up in a crowded venue. But, this is passable for recording a birthday party or your kid’s violin recital. If your kid doesn’t play the violin, that would be an awkward video shoot.
What this tablet does do well is interconnect with your other Samsung devices. Like Apple, if you’re invested in an ecosystem that revolves around this brand, then you’ll appreciate features like SideSync 3.0 and Quick Connect. SideSync 3.0 lets you sync data from other Samsung devices, like a smartphone or another Samsung tablet, using the USB 2.0 port on the device. Samsung SmartSwitch is another feature that lets you transfer some of your iOS data from one device, like an iPhone or iPad, to your new Galaxy Tab A. For people who have extensive contact lists, photos, or browser bookmarks, this feature could be invaluable.
Besides the battery life, though, a real improvement featured in the 9.7" Galaxy Tab A is the price. Retailing at less than you’d expect, this is not only the best in class for its price, but it makes a great gift for grads and dads. It also adds value by including a full version of Microsoft Office; add a Bluetooth keyboard, and you have an almost perfect entertainment/productivity device. Another perk: the tablet weighs less than a pound, and is slight and thin so that buying a protective case is not only mandatory, but it will add so little bulk to the product that, even with a hard case, you won’t feel this in your backpack or shoulder bag.
Looking for a great tablet without a lot of fancy bells and whistles? Something to satisfy your multimedia appetite while offering some useful productivity tools? Look over here. No, over here. That’s right. The Samsung Galaxy Tab A answers the question: when is a tablet not just a tablet? When it’s fun.