The American tablet market is heating up. With the iPad now in its second generation, the BlackBerry PlayBook attempting to capture a new audience, the Acer Iconia Tab targeting bargain hunters, and the Motorola Xoom already deemed a failure, where does the T-Mobile G-Slate (aka the LG Optimus Pad) stand? Well, time will reveal the sales, but from our time with the device, the forecast is decidedly hazy.
In all categories, but especially in design, the iPad 2 has become the standard all upcoming tablets are measured against. Apple is currently in the driver’s seat. It started the tablet market and it has no plans to relinquish its winning position. To compete, a new tablet must stand out. LG has made a few bold, and odd, attempts at garnering attention.
Partnering exclusively with a single wireless carrier in the United States is a unique move, but LG has gone a step further, renaming its Optimus Pad 3D to the G-Slate and branding it the “T-Mobile G-Slate.” Unlike the iPad’s storage, color, and connectivity choices, there is only one model of the G-Slate available and it has 32GB of storage, a HSPA+ connectivity, and comes in a maroonish brown. The only actual choice you have is exactly which monthly data plan you’d like to buy: 2GB of data for $39.99, 5GB for $49.99, or 10GB for $84.99. The tablet itself will run you $529.99 ($749.99 – $120 instant discount – $100 mail-in rebate). So really, you’re going to be paying $629.99 up front.
To help sweeten the deal, LG has included another hot feature in the G-Slate: 3D video recording and playback. The tablet comes packed with a 5-megapixel rear stereoscopic camera array. We doubt anyone is demanding 3D recording yet, it would be a cool feature if not for its one, huge, fatal flaw; it can only record in anaglyph (red and blue) 3D. Yep, remember the terrible 3D glasses that used to come in cereal boxes or early 90s PC games? They’re back. LG, for its part, has included the nicest set of red and blue 3D glasses we’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t stop everyone who sees the glasses from giggling. Including actual passive 3D recording would have been fine, but this was a waste of money. If anything, this 3D recording is a mark against the G-Slate. Well, unless there is a rich, dedicated anaglyph community we haven’t heard about.
The standard single-camera recording is 1080p, which is as good as it gets, currently. The LED flash and 2-megapuxel front-facing camera are nice additions as well.
Crazy 3D aside, the G-Slate is a pretty standard Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet, if one can really say there’s a standard yet. Like the Xoom and Iconia Tab A500, it runs on a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, has 1GB of RAM, and has a 1280 x 768 pixel screen (though the other two have 1280 x 800). It can also connect to T-Mobile’s “4G” HSPA+ network or mirror itself to a TV with its mini HDMI port. The lack of an SD card slot is noticeable, but with 32GB of onboard memory, most users shouldn’t have a problem.
Then there’s the G-Slate’s 8.9-inch screen size. We’re not sure if this is a negative or a positive. LG’s screen seems a bit brighter and crisper than the 10.1-inch Xoom and Iconia Tab and definitely has a larger viewing angle, but the slightly smaller tablet is even more difficult to type on in landscape mode. LG has chosen a wide, longform design with a plastic casing. Despite its smaller screen, the G-Slate is about as long and thick (.5 inches) as the Xoom, but about an inch shorter lengthwise.
Strangely enough, though the G-Slate weighs only 1.37 pounds to the iPad 2′s 1.33 pounds, it feels a lot heavier than Apple’s tablet, likely due to uneven weight distribution. The iPad 2 is also about two thirds as thick as the G-Slate, though they do share a flat-back and tapered edge. The G-Slate one-ups Apple with two speakers, located on either end of the tablet, if held lengthwise horizontally. The speakers face to the left and right, which is slightly better than the backward direction of the Iconia Tab speakers (though they have a bit more power), but not as good as the BlackBerry PlayBook’s front-facing speaker set. A nice power button rests on the left side of the unit, as does a high-speed charging port and headphone jack. On top is a volume rocker, which works fine, but does not reorient itself with the unit; if you are holding the tablet in a landscape fashion, the left side of the volume button is for + and the right side is -. This is a bit jarring since turning the volume higher is typically up or right on most consumer electronic devices (and other tablets), depending on orientation.
We’ll keep our Honeycomb comments brief, but as you can read in our Iconia Tab review, we’re not particularly fond of Google’s first tablet OS just yet. It runs a bit sluggishly and is oddly unintuitive and overly complicated at times. Still, despite our preference for the BlackBerry Tablet OS and iOS, we have grown used to Android 3.0 well enough, and it serves its purpose.
LG has pretty much left the OS untouched with the exception of a few apps it has chosen to include. T-Mobile TV, Need for Speed: Shift, QuickOffice, a 3D recording and playback app, Doubletwist player, some T-Mobile Web links, and a Get Flash shortcut are all included. No widgets were added. Need for Speed is fun, but we did not get much use out of T-Mobile TV, which offers a free month of use if you hand it your credit card. Normally, the service runs $4.99 per month for live channels like Fox News, MSNBC, ESPN MobileTV, Disney, PBS, and ABC Now. T-Mobile has a few of its own channels as well and select on-demand content is available from Comedy Central, USA, NBC, Syfy, VH1, Spike, Nickelodeon, CBS, Bravo, CMT, Oxygen, and Univision, among others. We’re still holding out for Hulu and Netflix to support Android. Come on, guys.
Android Market support is great. It seems like more and more Honeycomb-only apps are popping up all the time.
The Web browser included runs identically to the Iconia Tab and Xoom, but the smaller and brighter G-Slate screen makes the browsing experience a prettier affair. I had a fair number of freezes and lockups while using the browser, as I have with every Honeycomb tablet so far. I’m not sure why Google doesn’t allow its Chrome team to make its mobile browsers as well. For some reason, the Android team does it. With tablets, it might be good for Google to rely on its teams that live and breathe browsing and let its Android folks concentrate on other things.
The G-Slate appears to get a little more than 8 hours of battery life, which is about on par with most tablets, which seem to range between 7 and 10 hours, with the iPad 2 leading the pack. On standby, the G-Slate has a fine battery, though using “4G” HSPA+ for data will drain your unit faster than Wi-Fi.
The LG G-Slate is a fine tablet with fine features, but because of its price and lack of configuration options, it is a tablet only meant for those who can afford an expensive price tag and monthly fee. No Wi-Fi-only version is available. Whoever decided to add red and blue 3D to this tablet made a big mistake as well. All it has done is add to the weight and cost of the unit. A general lack of 3D content to play also means you won’t be doing much 3D work, even in anaglyph.
The G-Slate’s screen is a slightly smaller 8.9 inches when compared to the iPad’s 9.7-inch display, and most large Android tablets’ 10.1-inch widescreen displays. However, the display shines brighter and has a larger viewing angle than most of its competitors. But the smaller size makes finger typing more difficult than 10.1-inch tablets.
If you’ve got $629.99 and $39.99 a month to kill on data charges, the G-Slate may be a good option for you. For the rest of you who really want a tablet, I’d take a look at the Acer Iconia Tab. It’s a bit larger and Wi-Fi only, but it only costs $450 with no mail-in rebates or monthly fees attached. Don’t get yourself locked into a two-year tablet contract. The market is changing too fast for that.
- Bright screen with wide viewing angle
- 1080p video recording
- Dual speakers work well
- Pure Android experience
- Android Market is filling with tablet apps
- Cheesy red and blue anaglyph 3D
- No SD card slot
- Steep price tag
- Screen is a bit small for finger typing
- Feels heavy compared to iPad 2
- Wonky volume rocker