T-Mobile LG G-Slate Review


18.04.2011

T-Mobile LG G-Slate Review

We have to thank people from T-Mobile for introducing the world 1st Android 3.0-powered tablet. This was done this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The bad part for the carrier was the fact that the G-Slate info was given in a period where around 100 tablets were introduced at CES this year. So, you can imagine this was a reason why the LG-built tablet was lost a little in the background. Another reason for the tablet to not be in the spot light has come from the people from Motorola and their XOOM product.

But later this weekend T-Mobile will finally embark on their Honeycomb product because the device will see the store shells. From what it seems at the moment the launch will be a quiet one if we compare it to the XOOM one. That doesn’t mean the LG product is not worth our attention. When the tablet came in our room I was the one who said: “this one is mine”. So, I managed to play a little with it and discovered some interesting things, good and bad at the same time. Overall the T-Mobile table managed to surprise me in different aspects. At one point I can even state this could make that iPad 2 line not worth the effort and you should consider buying a G-Slate instead. Here is my full review over the product. Sad to say I will have to give the tablet back this evening.

Things Interesting Inside:

Most of you already know about the “Honeycomb” OS, Android 3.0 coming from Google and what this OS can do for your system. One point that I want to make clear is the fact that although this offers a lot of interesting things there are numerous aspects that makes this a version little rushed. Although we have to admire the effort put by Google into making big steps in technology this one was a little too early in my opinion and was so because the device producers had managed to achieve a superior product with more complex and powerful hardware. This required a new OS.

So, it’s obvious Google had to make the leap and present 3.0 to the market. This was also done because a response was needed to be offered to Apple’s iPad. Before Honeycomb, most tablets still used an OS made entirely for smartphones. Probably most of you who have Froyo tablets at home already noticed the fact that although good, this Android version would implement itself better on phones rather than tablets. We don’t say it’s terrible, but comparing to iOS and how iPad is working, things needed a change. Also, if we take a look at webOS on the upcoming TouchPad and RIM and their QNX-based OS that will be available on the PlayBook we see the flaws Android Froyo had on tablets.

Now let’s return to our Honeycomb OS. Overall the layout is very familiar because it uses the same user interface found in previous Android versions. One thing different is the size of things showed on the screen. Also there are a few interface tweaks and refinements that will add different improvements on what is, if you ask me, a rather old and dull UI. The Honeycomb OS also uses at its best the larger canvas afforded by tablets offering bigger widgets and also a brand new system bar that has a new notification system. This is one feature that I like, letting the user to have navigation controls and a task manager button in the bottom left corner of the display. Also, the status panel is located in the lower right corner. You are probably used to notification being displayed on the top of the screen. This was changed and now, this type of announcement is placed on the right side of the system bar.

This is another thing I like. Basically, it works like other notifications in previous version of the OS but offering an upgraded UI that looks better with Honeycomb. The notifications will simply pop up for a brief period of time and will be reduced to a simple icon if there is no interaction made. Pressing them will make the notification to reaper. Another tap on it will make the app to start having also the possibility to close it by pressing X in the corner. The only thing that I would improve about this system is adding a method with which you can dismiss all notifications with just one tap. There are days when you are installing apps like mad and it is frustrating at one point to take them one by one (believe me, I’ve installed around 50 apps at one point and I’ve spent 10 minutes just closing them).

Although I find the Honeycomb UI a step forward in comparison with previous Android builds there are some aspects that make it a little too juvenile for my taste. Seeing how it looks now I can state this is a vision of the future from the 80s or early 90s. Things like the base color which is black and blue, muted tones and thin blue lines that are just separating certain elements and some fonts used are just borderline ridiculous (one example is the one used on the digital clock). Although it looks like a superficial UI, many will love it.

But would you also love the fact there aren’t so many apps available for it? There was a time when the thing that matter was the UI design. But things have changed these days. Now is the time for apps to be the main factor when it comes to choosing a tablet or in fact any device. For any platform to have a successful run you need to have an abundance of apps, sector in which the Honeycomb tablet is a failure for the time being. With and Android Market offering so many products for Android lovers it’s sad to see a nice OS not having what to run.

With hundreds of apps being available on the market from which most are offered by third party developers you will notice there are just a few available for this Android tablet. And most are optimized for use on a tablet with Honeycomb from other devices or Android versions. If we would compare this to the almost 85,000 iPad apps offered by Apple this is one low point scored by the 3.0 version in the slate sector.

A good point would be that fact that almost all Android apps created for smartphones can be run on the G-Slate. But that doesn’t make an app to be a tablet app!

Things Interesting Outside:

If you are familiar with the phone industry you already know the fact that LG has a history of building devices that are good and bad. We have to put the G-Slate in the good sector.

The device’s face is made entirely out of a single sheet of glass. Although you may think at one point another coat of “something” could offer an improvement you will notice you have a solid, strong and slick glass. Also the slate has some nice wrapped edges with a nice gray hard plastic bezel that will keep a nice impression on touch. You won’t have a cheap feeling of using some plastic device and the back rubber will provide a nice grip of the device. The brushed metal strip across the center contains the “Google” branding (showing who the master of the domain is).

On the right edge you will find the thin volume rocker while on the left you will notice things like a microUSB port, an HDMI-out port and contact points for the optional dock accessory. On the bottom edge there is the speaker and the microphone. Another speaker can be found on the top edge located just between the power/lock button and a 3.5mm audio jack. Also in the top right corner is the front-facing camera that will have 2-megapixel. On the back of the tablet you will find two 5-megapixel cameras with a LED flash feature.

At 1st, I have wondered myself why there are two 5-megapixel cameras on the back. After some reading and the fact the tablet offers 3D video recording capability things were clear. Also looking on the bottom of the box in which the tablet came I’ve noticed a 3D glasses pair. The device also has an inbuilt 3D video player. Although this won’t offer a glass free 3D experience like the announced LG Optimus 3D, HTC EVO 3D and last but not least the Nintendo 3DS, I had a very pleasant experience using it. The 1080p HD videos were a joy to watch and record, at some points an even greater joy than all that 3D stuff.

Now let’s focus a little on the display. From the start I think this is the place where LG have done it. With an 8.9-inch, 1280 x 768-pixel HD display, the G-Slate display is fantastic. You will notice from the 1st time you run a video the playback is outstanding and if you will look at any high resolution photos you will be amazed by the quality of things. There is a little difference and the quality is not that of Samsung’s Super-AMOLED screens, but what I can tell you is the final result is outstanding. The only thing that I think it’s a little frustrating is the odd dimension of the screen. The display is set for a 15:9 aspect ratio, a thing that will make most of the content to not be displayed on the full screen. When it comes to browsing and even reading eBooks the device is grate but when it comes to playing video things could be better.

Good Points

As I sad earlier when it comes to apps the quantity is a little too short when it comes to honeycomb tablets for the time being. The good side is the fact that almost any Android app will run on the G-Slate. But there is always the thing that the experience needs an improvement in most of the cases. If we had to compare with what Apple offered as a solution for running iPhone apps on iPad, the G-Slate has a thumb up. For those of you who don’t know, if you desire to run iPhone apps on your iPad you will be able to do so in the center of the tablet and with the feature of zooming. You can imagine the pixel mess you have on your display and at some point you even forget you have in your hand an Apple tablet.

The LG slate works so fine with other Android apps because most of the phones that run the Google OS have different screen sizes. So, most of the apps have their US designed in such a way to scale according to what the user has. Let’s take the Twitter app for example: it will work perfectly on the G-Slate display with full coverage of the screen but the fonts will be ridiculously tiny showing this app is not intended for an 8.9-inch display.

Another thing that I have noticed is the fact there is no method of distinguishing Honeycomb-optimized apps from those that “might” work on the tablet. For the time being the only ones you will be sure to work are the ones highlighted in Google’s small “Featured Tablet Apps” section that has around 62 apps (this was at the time I wrote the review-to little from my point of view).

A thing that I couldn’t understand at 1st is the fact that G-Slate does not support Flash. But users will be able to find this with a link in the center home page that points to Flash Player 10.2 in the Android Market place. Although there will be persons among you who would consider this strange keep in mind that this will enable the user to always have the latest Flash version regardless of when the product is manufactured. After the installation is made videos run smoothly. There were a few times when things like zooming and panning caused a little problems but nothing that may make you say: the playback is bad.

One thing that I especially like is the build. It’s a solid one giving the user a very high-end feel. After a long usage you might feel this to be a little hefty but things are ok. One thing that makes this device a little heavy is the battery life which is incredible. It could even compare to the iPad when it comes to battery life although it has its limitations. Regardless of these limitations, I have the confidence it will run several days with normal usage. My testing was done over a 24-hour period in which I had done numerous things like streaming video, hours of streaming Pandora radio and some 3D video recording. I’ve even played a few games although this isn’t a reason to buy a tablet in my eyes. Adding these things and the fact I downloaded a tone of apps made the battery life to make a positive result: only drained around 75% of total juice inside.

Another good thing I need to point is the integration of 4G HSPA+ which is fantastic if you manage to live in areas with solid coverage. Around places like New York City people said they have reached speed between 3Mbps and 6Mbps. When it comes to uploading stuff you will find speeds between 2Mbps and 4Mbps to be a common thing. You will feel just like having the device connected to your WiFi home network. This was done most thanks to the extremely low latency the T-Mobile 4G network is offering. Although other technologies like LTE and WiMAX have some improved features in comparison to HSPA+, the T-Mobile network is making a good impression when it comes to latency and speed of things.

Bad Points

Now let’s see the things that didn’t manage to impress me regarding this slate. The 1st thing on what I have to point is the sluggishness of the UI. Although people from LG might point to Google and their OS for some problems I remember that when I played around with Motorola’s Xoom things weren’t so bad. You already probably noticed on different Android smartphones some lag issues. Well, let’s just say these lag problems are amplified on the G-Slate tablet.

With the touchscreen being the way you communicate with the device you might thing this has to be one of the main focuses when creating a product. Well this didn’t happen regarding the touch experience with G-Slate. Many people try to deliver an experience similar to paper on a table when it comes to UI touch. To make it simple to understand, if you put a finger on a paper, the paper will sync with the movement of your finger. This will happen regardless of direction or speed. We rather not compare the G-Slate to iOS tablets because the LG product would be then put in a box and delivered back. We don’t say things are that bad but comparing these two gives a very bad point to the LG product.

You will notice there will be many considerable disconnects between where the user touches and what the UI will offer. I have noticed this to happen most of the times I tried to swiping side to side through Honeycomb’s home screens when there are many widgets present. If I would give the screen a swipe to another screen, the animation of changing the panels will only begin when I almost finished the movement and my finger isn’t on the touch screen anymore. If you would add a live wallpaper than you might consider not having many slides a day. I would recommend using a still, classic image for best results.

Another example of “bad lag” is when I tried to play Glow Hockey, a game that is something like air hokey. Take notice that this is an app marked as “featured tablet apps” on Android Market. You will control with the finger your mallet and the point of the game is to score more than you receive. I must admit I “raged quit” when because of the delay I scored in my own defense twice. And believe me, the delay is bad when it comes to making quick decisions.

And this is a thing I can’t understand! Why does a device that has a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor also have a sluggish interface? There will be some places where the touch response is acceptable. But believe me, after seeing the bad side of this feature the good one will pass you without noticing it. And also keep in mind this happens to things made especially for this table and not by some “strange” third party producers.

Luckily I also tried to G-Slate as an eReader. The overall quality was ok although there was the fact that the device does become a little heavy at one point. As I said before, this happens mostly because of the battery. Although you always have the option to put it on something that’s now why a tablet was 1st produced.

Comparing the size to that of the iPad 2, I’ve noticed although the G-Slate is almost an inch and a half narrower, the product manages to be heavy, with 30g than the lightest iPad 2 model and almost 20g more heavily than the heaviest.  All that heaviness makes the tablet a little frustrating after a while and makes you wanting to put it in your lap for a short break. And this happens just after a few minutes of reading in portrait mode. Also, as you probably already imagined, the typing of different things could be a problem. I almost dropped it a few times because my arms were just too tired to keep it in the right position. Holding the tablet in the landscape position could be a solution but typing in this mode it’s just too hard and annoying at some point.

Conclusion

With only a year passed since the iPad has seen the day of light things are changing. Those were the times where almost everyone was rushing to launch a tablet on the market. Now, I have the impression manufacturers are watching closely and are calculating every move when it comes to releasing a new slate product.

Although a big fuss is made regarding tablets people are still not buying them at the rate producers would hope. Other than Apple’s iPad only one other tablet managed to grip the attention of people and that was Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. Analysts still predict that most of the tablets will not reach any success and they will gather only dust on the warehouses.

Speaking about the G-Slate I think this is one product a little ahead of its time. When we look at the terrific hardware we must admit we are impressed. But, the fact that Google didn’t yet managed to offer a nice Android OS that will cope with the hardware possibilities on the market this becomes a big frustration. They have to make somehow to cope with the difference between Android and iOS or they will lose the battle in the slate sector for good.

Returning to the G-Slate hardware, if the OS could provide all the things the system can offer the results would be extraordinary. I would compare this to be like a song with no singers. All the things are there but there is no one to lead them.

Although specialists say the tablet market will have a boom this year I’m a little skeptical. A factor that made me realize this was the earthquakes in Japan. And again the way people are still looking at tablets as things like: “what do I even do with this device”. This is one thing why tablets won’t have the success of the smartphone. People don’t just use a smartphone, they need a smartphone.

When it comes to tablets, these products are just something that you might add to your shopping cart after all other things are already bought. Just think that there are already on the market products that outmatch them in any sector: eReaders for reading eBooks, laptops for business and entertainment and smartphones just take care of the rest.

For the LG product to be a success I think it will need a massive marketing push. Also the price which I think it’s a little too much with the user having to pay $529.99 for a two year contract. They try to cope with Apple’s 16GB iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G and offer at the same price twice the storage space. But on the other hand the iPad doesn’t require a two year contract. If they want to have the same success as the iPad they must also invest hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and marketing to support their G-Slate.

But if you are one of those persons who love Android and T-Mobile is your favorite carrier this product will be perfect. With not to many Honeycomb tablets announced on the market, the G-Slate will be among the top ones. If you can pass that lag we discussed earlier and the delays in certain areas this will be a must have product for you. With T-Mobile making the launch on April 20th the decision of acquiring one or no has to be made fast.

If they manage to send some upgrades fast this could prove to be a must have device. But until then things are still on a “things need to improve” note.

Samfira Cosmin over and out!

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