I had major deja vu writing this. That's because as cool as the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is, it's basically just the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but slightly smaller. Which actually makes it noticeably better.
Why It Matters
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best Android tablet I've used. It's light, slim, quick. The Galaxy 8.9 Tab is almost perfectly identical to the 10.1, they just managed to get the same goodness into a smaller package.
Everyone I've handed the 8.9 to has had this moment of, "Oooh, this feels nice!" It really does. It's an extremely tight package. The 10.1 felt a little flimsy, but despite having a similar plastic back plate, this one just feels much stronger. I don't know if they've upgraded the plastic, or if it's just stronger because it isn't stretched across as large an area, but that worrisome flex is gone, and that's a very good thing.
It comes running Android
3.2 3.1 (Honeycomb) with Samsung's TouchWiz UI overlay. I'm not generally into these 3rd party skins, but this is one of the least offensive ones. It comes pre-loaded with some of Samsung's proprietary software like Media Hub, Music Hub, and Social Hub, none of which are particularly compelling, and it just emphasizes why I kinda wish Samsung would stick to hardware. It does come with a full version of Polaris Office, which is excellent for creating/editing documents on the go.
I'm loving the 8.9-inch screen. It really feels like they've hit the sweet-spot, size-wise. It's big enough that watching movies and playing games looks good, but it's small and light enough that it's super portable. I can fit it in my jacket pocket and walk out the door, which is more than I can say for some 7-inch tablets that are thicker. Also, while the screen is smaller it has the same number of pixels as its 10.1-inch brother, giving it a little better pixel density. It's no retina display, but it's damn good. It's also light enough (0.98 pounds) that, though it's bigger than 7-inch tablets, it's easier to hold than most of them. This will provide a great digital magazine experience.
This thing is just as fast as its big brother, making it one of the fastest tablets you can get your hands on. Even with a ton of apps running at the same time, it was nearly impossible to slow this tablet down, and when it did slow down, it wasn't by much. The slightly reduced size makes it better for typing, too. Battery life was excellent. With moderate use I was able to get three or four days on a charge, no problem, and standby time is even better.
The one thing that seems to have suffered for this size reduction is the audio. The speakers weren't great on the 10.1, but they sound even tinnier on the 8.9, which is too bad. It employs the same rear camera as the 10.1 which isn't great. That said, you probably don't need it for much more than taking a picture of a business card or something, and the 2 megapixel front-facing camera is plenty capable for video chat. One thing I did notice is that sometimes the screen seemed to miss touches. It wasn't constant, but it was enough to kill me a few times while playing Samurai II: Vengeance (which is awesome, by the way).
While it feels stronger than the 10.1, I'd still feel much better about this thing if the whole body were aluminum, not plastic. The only ports the 8.9 has is a headphone jack and a proprietary connector. If you want to connect your tablet to an HDMI display, you have to buy a special adapter. Yeah, I'd really rather not, thanks. (It's DLNA compliant to stream content over Wi-Fi, but most consumers don't have DLNA TVs and stereos yet.) There's also no removable storage slot, so you're stuck at the capacity you buy, and there's no USB port (mini, micro, or otherwise). This makes putting your media on the device more of a chore than it should be. Oh, and maybe most significantly, at $469 for the 16GB model and $569 for the 32GB version, it's just too expensive.
If this tablet cost $300, I would recommend the crap out of it. Of all the Android tablets I've played with, this is my favorite (with the Sony Tablet S coming close). For 470 bucks, though, it just doesn't make much sense. Obviously this is a more capable device than the Kindle Fire, but the Kindle Fire is only $200. Is this thing really $270 dollars more capable? No, it isn't. It's about $100 more capable. Also, in the coming months we are going to be seeing tablets that are way better. My crystal ball tells me there will be quad-core processors and true HD displays. Those much beefier tablets will probably launch right around this price-range, too. Tech moves too fast. $470 and $570 just barely made sense in January of this year, but here in October it makes no sense at all. As soon as there's a real, significant price-drop, then I'd absolutely recommend it. If Samsung is smart, they won't wait.
8.9 inch 1280x800 screen
1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
3MP rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing
No expandable storage
Weight: 0.98 pounds
Price: 16GB/$469 32GB/$569