When one thinks about purchasing an Android tablet, then choosing one is not an easy task. Buyers are spoilt for choice in terms of form factor, features and more importantly price. Of course, when one homes in on the sub-10-inch form-factor, the Google Nexus 7 becomes an obvious choice, but this year Samsung has also brought its Galaxy Tab 3 311 to the table flush with the new Galaxy S4 design language. With the Galaxy Tab 3 311 being able to double up as a phone as well, the Nexus 7 does not remain an obvious choice for a premium sub-10-inch Android tablet. That said, in typical Samsung fashion the user needs to deal with certain Samsung specific idiosyncrasies and the fact the Galaxy Tab 3 311 does not provide the top-of-the-line specsheet is a bummer. However, as always one does not judge a book by its cover and we ran the device through our test hoops. Read on to find out how it fared.
Samsung has now established an unified design language across its products, which filters through even to the Galaxy Tab 3 311. So, elements like a glossy hyper-glaze chassis and a faux chrome spine is retained in the Galaxy Tab 3 311 akin to recent smartphones like the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Mega. The main advantage of this industrial design is that Samsung is able to keep the tablet incredibly thin at 7.4mm and it weighs only 314 grams. Additionally, Samsung has shaved off the bezel on the screen to such a degree that one feels this more of 7-inch tablet than an 8-incher. All these little figures mean that the Galaxy Tab 3 is ergonomically delightful to use with one-hand, something which cannot be said about sub-10-inch tablets from other OEMs, save for the iPad mini.
The biggest disadvantage of this design is that it feels cheap and when compared to the iPad mini or even the Nexus 7. The build quality falls short of one’s expectations in a product at this price bracket. The plastic exudes a slimy and slippery feel to it, but at the same time this very plastic has proven to be quite durable to dents and scratches when compared to metallic finishes seen on the iPad mini.
Like most modern devices, the front highlights the large Super AMOLED display which has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. Below the display, we have the three Android keys, arranged in Samsung’s traditional style, with a large pill shaped home key in the centre. Above the screen, one finds a front-facing camera and the regular arrangement of sensors.
As this device also boasts voice calling capabilities, the left spine houses a micro SIM slot which is covered by a flip-out door. Additionally, there is also a microSD card slot, which supports up to 64GB microSD cards and this too is covered by a flip-out door. The top of the tablet is home to a lonely, 3.5mm audio output port, and the right spine houses the power key, the volume rocker and the IR blaster. The bottom end, has the micro-USB port and the stereo speakers.
The back of the device is punctuated by a Samsung logo in the middle, and the top left corner has the 5-megapixel camera. The camera does not get a flash companion so, it’s safe to say the low-light performance is nothing exceptional. Overall we also found that the colors depicted in the photos were not very accurate and looked a wee bit over-saturated.
Probably the biggest problem with the Galaxy Tab 3 311 is that unlike most Samsung products, it just does not resonate to the consumer in terms of its cutting edge specs.
What we get is a tablet that runs on a dual-core Exynos processor, which is clocked at 1.5GHz, 1.5GB of RAM, a Mali-400 GPU, 16GB of internal memory, a 4,450 mAh battery, a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera, an 8-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. Additionally, it has the ability to make phone calls, something which neither the iPad mini nor the Nexus 7 can claim to do.
On a personal level, we are averse to the idea of using such a large device to make phone calls, but one is cognisant of the market dynamics and consumer needs and hence this indeed turns out to be a popular feature, especially for consumers in India.
One of the main reasons people revert to Samsung devices is that in the scheme of things, their products tend to have some of the newer versions of Android installed out of the box and lot of the software features are unique. Obviously, this is a double edged sword as the Galaxy S4 proved to be, but mostly people like these features due to the familiarity born out of the popularity of the brand and the convenience of Android. Though, again, we are not big fans of the cartoonish design ethos of Samsung’s TouchWiz user-interface.
Running on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the Galaxy Tab 3 311 runs on a totally ‘Samsunged’ version of Android which is loaded to the hilt with extra software features that are a part of the TouchWiz package. So features like Multi-Window multitasking are present, but it does not work perfectly which is most probably due to the underpowered nature of the device. Other software features include a Reading Mode which can be assigned to any app but works well with apps like Kindle or the web browser. There is also Samsung’s own Memo app, a smart remote app that is there to be used with the IR Blaster, S-Translate and Story Album.
The Smart Remote app recognises Samsung TVs, but configuring it with DTH services like Tata Sky requires a bit of imagination. It’s also not as feature rich as the solution provided by LG on its smartphones, which we deem to be vastly superior.
As always, Samsung has modified stock apps like the music player, the video player and the gallery. The gallery, for instance, gets deeply integrated with DropBox and all the images from DropBox get synced in the gallery app. Users also get the benefit of 50GB of free DropBox storage.
Overall, one is getting a pretty standard Samsung software package, which mostly works as advertized but can become a tad confusing to the layman just because of the sheer wealth of functionality.
Right from the start it was pretty evident that the Galaxy Tab 3 311 was going to be no speed demon. That being said, the Galaxy Tab 3 311 performs perfectly fine for a tablet that one would use to consume media, browse the web and read books on. It delivers solid battery life and can last for around 8 hours of usage on a single charge with 3G enabled on the SIM card.
Of course, as it is powered by an older generation the 1.5GHz Exynos dual-core chip, its performance is not in the same league as the Galaxy S4 smartphone. However, navigation of the user interface remains smooth for the part and there are no major glitches in the navigation of the UI. In terms of gaming it falls behind the iPad mini and the Nexus 7, which basically have more powerful GPU stacks, so games like Dead Trigger just don’t feel as graphically realistic as one would experience it on the aforementioned tablets.
For reading and watching videos, the Galaxy Tab 3 311 is a brilliant tablet thanks to its sublime Super AMOLED panel which offers insanely deep blacks, good viewing angles, and decent outdoors legibility. People who find the colors of the Super AMOLED panel to be overly saturated can manually adjust the color temperature through a setting Samsung has provided. The user gets a number of options in this regard including an Adobe RGB setting. The reading mode in particular reduces the stress on the users eye while he/she is reading a book for long periods.
The 5-megapixel shooter on the back reproduced perfectly decent images in normal lightning, but the moment one took it in a dimly lit environment, the lack of the flash became evident and the images were pretty abysmal. Anyways we are not big proponents of clicking pictures with a tablet, so this should not be a deal breaker for most.
The call quality on the tablet was decent. We faced issues regarding volume levels and sometimes the caller on the other-end would fail to hear us as the microphone was so far away. This is a relatively common problem with tablet/phone hybrids and this issue can be daily mitigated by using an earphone with inline mic.
The Galaxy Tab 3 311 is a perfect Android tablet for someone who is looking for sub-10-inch tablet with calling as it provides an excellent ergonomic design, a great screen, solid battery life and calling facility in one package. At Rs 25,500 it also is a little expensive, and if one does not want the calling functionality, then Google’s Nexus 7 definitely comes out on top, though there are certain advantages the Galaxy Tab 3 311 provides over the Nexus 7 which include a rear camera, a lighter and more ergonomic design, a better screen and a microSD card slot that supports 64GB of storage.
Photos: Sahil ‘Bones’ Gupta