Review: T-Mobile’s G-Slate 9-inch tablet tweener

April 19, 2011, 10:27 PM UTC

The form factor isn’t the only factor.

G-Slate with great browser on 8.9 inch screen

I’ve been playing with T-Mobile/LG’s 8.9 inch Android 3.0 tablet for the better part of a week and I think it is an interesting piece of hardware.  This is the first time I’ve played with Honeycomb, Google’s (GOOG) tablet OS, extensively so it took a bit of getting used to.

There are plenty of things wrong with this tablet and I’ll get to those below.  But there are some good things here as well.

The 8.9 inch screen wide form factor might be the best part of this tablet.  To get an idea of the size, imagine a 10-inch iPad watching a 16:9 movie.  Chop off the letterboxing of the screen and you have the 8.9-inch G-Slate.  Add to that, the G-Slate screen has a much higher pixel count and can display 720P video natively (the resolution is 768×1280) and you have a very useful screen.

The device itself is handsome with a dark brown-gray metal rim and plastic posterior.  It weighs about as much as an iPad (630g) but because it is narrower, you can grab it around the back with your hands.

It also sort of fits in a cargo pants pocket but feels like you are carrying a bullet-proof metal plate when you try to walk.  It probably fares better in a purse.

The battery isn’t bad, either.  It lasts about as long as a Samsung Galaxy Tab or about 8-9 hours of normal use.  As for ports, it has a Mini HDMI-out on the bottom which will do full 1080P movies.  There is a headphone jack on the side and a volume rocker on the top.

On the software side, there were a few bright spots.  They YouTube app is fantastic and watching 720P content was very impressive on this screen.

Google’s Maps application is also very impressive with 3D graphics rendering at lightning speed.  The device has a built in GPS and was pretty quick to pick up a signal in most instances (for some reason while driving it was much slower to pick up a signal – which may be a software glitch)

The browser is also impressive and I am happy to say that the tabbed browser tabs were great to use.  I’ve really wanted this for awhile and I think that the 1GB of RAM in these Honeycomb tablets make that possible.  Flash worked flawlessly on SD video from sites like Crackle and PBS.  Adobe says HD video will play better in an upcoming update.

The Books app is also beautiful, allowing you to enjoy Google Books in a native app in both landscape and profile modes.  Gmail as well

Also the Google Talk app allows decent video conferencing over Wifi and 4G to people on other Honeycomb tablets and Gmail. The video quality wasn’t fantastic but the connection was persistant and the controls are simple and easy to use.  The Google Talk application is well designed.

Some of the third party apps I liked the most were T-Mobile’s TV app which streams live TV over 4G.  CNN (parent company disclosure here), Pulse and USA Today app all make great news reading tablet apps for Android.  Many more are on the way.

As for the service, T-Mobile happens to be the fastest and most reliable network in my particular area and this device took advantage of it.  When Verizon and Sprint move in with their 4G offerings, things may be different.

That’s the good.  Unfortunately, there is a ton of bad to go along with it…

The G-Slate has dual rear 5-megapixel cameras and comes with a set of 3D glasses to allow you to shoot and watch 3D pictures and movies.  The 3D requires a separate app.  If you’ve seen consumer grade 3D, you’ll know what you are getting here.  It is a neat trick but hurts my eyes/head after a few moments.  I suppose you could record 3D videos and watch them on a better external display.  The camera quality overall isn’t great.  I’d put it in the medium range smartphone category with graininess being an issue even with normal light.

The front and rear cameras do their job for video conferencing but you aren’t going to get point-and-shoot type quality for stills or video.

The Honeycomb experience overall is fraught with problems.  Built-in apps like Google Body crash pretty regularly and there are a lot of rough edges.  The good news for T-Mobile and LG is that these issues can be ironed out in upcoming updates.

Speaking of updates, Android tablet software is still in its infancy with only a few hundred apps designed specifically for tablets available at this writing.  That being said, hundreds of thousands of Android phone apps scale well.  Facebook, for example looks great as an app on Android.

The device charges with a proprietary AC adapter rather than the lower power micro-USB chargers that most phones use which is unfortunate.  Its weight, while not much heavier than an iPad 2, is significantly heavier than a Samsung Galaxy Tab.  This is where tablets need to be if they want to be eBook readers.

The killer, however, is the price (which will have to come down).  T-Mobile wants $530 with an expensive $30+/month two year contract.  Off contract, the device is $750. Yes, that is more than a comparably equipped iPad 2.  I don’t expect that they will sell well at this price.  If however, T-Mobile and LG drop the price significantly below the iPad, there is definitely a market for great 8.9-inch tablet hardware.

The G-Slate goes on sale on April 20th and will be available at T-Mobile and other third party resellers.

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