on March 26, 2014
It seems like there are at least a million choices in tablet computers nowadays, so it's becoming very difficult to figure out which are the best values. First off, you have to figure out what features and functions you want the tablet to have, then prioritize your list. AFAIK, all tablets can play music and video clips, and they all have WiFi so that you can browse the Internet and do email, and there are more apps than you can even comprehend. All tablets can serve as e-book readers, although some are optimized for this function, like the Kindle. There are even several choices in operating systems: various flavors of Android OS, Apple's IOS, Windows Mobile, and probably others. I am most familiar with Android v2 (Gingerbread), having owned a 4" Samsung Galaxy MP3 player for several years, that came with this OS (I still have it and it still works fine, but the screen is too small for comfortable ebook reading, which is why I decided to upgrade to a tablet). I am happy enough with Android, and the available apps on Google Play Store, do I decided to narrow my shopping list to Android tablets.
I looked at all of the available devices on Amazon, which range in price from $100 to $600, and screen size from 7" to 10". The very cheapest ones turned out to be no-name Chinese knockoffs of questionable quality and stability, with lots of problems reported by owners, so I eliminated those from consideration. Likewise, I decided to limit my budget to $350, so that cut off the big 10" models with ultra-high-resolution screens. I also noticed that the 10" models were double the weight of the 7" and 8" models, and I wanted something that would be comfortable to hold for extended periods of reading.
Next, I started researching models for which user-replaceable batteries are available, a feature that's important to me, as I hate dumping electronic gadgets in the trash just because the battery is worn out and can't be easily replaced. This search quickly narrowed the choices down: I found only a couple of manufacturers for which replacement batteries are available. One of these is Samsung, and the others were all brands that I had already eliminated from consideration for other reasons. I was disappointed to not find a battery replacement for the ASUS MeMo Pad seies; these were high on my list, due to having a much higher screen resolution at the same price point as most other brands, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3.
After extended research, I finally had narrowed the choices down to one of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 models, and based on weight, size, memory, and price, the 8" model for $269 looked like it was the best value for me. I purchased the tablet and a MoKo case [http://www.amazon.com/MoKo-Samsung-Galaxy-Tab-Case/dp/B00CSMYBFS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1395853862&sr=8-5&keywords=samsung+galaxy+tab+3+8%22+case], and so far after a couple of months I am very happy with the purchase.
This tablet has Android v4.2 Jelly Bean as the operating system, which is similar to the older v2 Gingerbread on my MP3 player, except for one major - and extremely annoying - difference: Mass Storage Mode has been removed, and I have not found ANY way to re-enable it or add it back in as an app. Mass Storage Mode allows you to plug the Android device into your desktop or laptop PC with a USB cable, and easily transfer files back and forth between the PC and the device's internal or MicroSD card storage in Windows Explorer. Mass Storage Mode basically turns your device into an "SD Card Reader", just like you might use to download images from your digital camera's SD card. You can use various file management tools, like WinMerge, in Mass Storage Mode to compare (synchronize) files on the PC's hard disk to files on the Android device.
Well, when I first plugged this tablet into my desktop machine, which runs XP-32/SP3, the only access I could get was "digital camera mode", which limits you to downloading JPEG photos, and only from the DCIM folder on the tablet. After many hours of research on the Internet, and downloading several supposed "fixes" for the problem (most of which did not work, including Samsung KIES, surprisingly), I finally found the following solution, that enables the MTP Protocol on Windows XP: 1. Install Windows Media Player Version 11. 2. Install Microsoft User Mode Driver Framework for XP. These two packages finally got MTP mode working on my PC, so I could see the files and folders on the tablet, but MTP is basically crippled from the get-go. You can not use file management tools like WinMerge with it, so it's not really a substitute for Mass Storage Mode. All of the above problems I experienced are supposedly taken care of in Windows 7 and 8 with built-in MTP drivers, but I have no PC running either of those OS's to test this tablet on. And MTP is still a lousy downgrade from Mass Storage Mode.
So, other than the unexpected lack of Mass Storage Mode in Android Jelly Bean, what else do I have to say about the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8"? Overall, I like it! So far, I have two primary uses for it: 1. As an ebook reader, and 2. as a GPS navigator in my car. I have also used it as an alarm clock, as an MP3 player, as an Internet browser and email tool, as a game platform for playing chess, Angry Birds, and Freecell Solitaire, as a remote controller with a Canon 6D camera, and as a night-sky Astronomy tool with the SkEYE App (this app is really cool, if you live somewhere where it's dark enough to really see the night sky).
1. As an ebook reader: the 1280x800 screen is adequate. Obviously, it won't be quite as sharp as the 1920x1200 screen on the ASUS MeMo Pad tablet, but it's not bad. The color rendition for looking at photos or videos is okay, if not brilliant, and the widely adjustable screen brightness can handle almost any environment except full outdoor sunlight. There's no way to make the screen contrast high enough to use this tablet as an e-reader outdoors in full sunlight. In any less challenging conditions, the screen is good. I use the built-in Adobe Reader with my PDF format ebooks, and re-flow the text. The tablet can also read TXT ebooks with the built-in Polaris Office app.
2. As a GPS Navigator, this 8" tablet can give some serious competition to a Garmin Nuvi. It is GLONASS enabled, which gives it better capability to maintain position lock in urban areas where you might be surrounded by high buildings, or in deep canyons (think Utah, Arizona, or any mountainous region). I use the MapFactor Navigator app with free Open Street Maps, and it works well (some stability problems, and occasionally obviously wrong turn directions, but this is a problem with the software and the map, and is not the Tablet's fault). There are several other car navigation and GPS apps on Google Play, I just happen to like this one because the process of downloading and installing bulk map updates is easy and automatic. The big 8" screen on the Samsung Tablet makes it VERY nice as a car navigator, compared to the much smaller screen on most cell phones, Nuvi, and TomTom type devices.
Battery life for non-processor intensive tasks, like looking at still photos or reading ebooks, seems to be at least 8 hours. High-power apps like playing videos, or any app that needs the GPS chipset or the WiFi or Blue Tooth radios, will run the battery down much faster. Browsing the Internet - which means using WiFi, obviously - will use up the battery in about 3~4 hours, same for using any GPS app, so be sure to turn off the WiFi, Blue Tooth, and GPS when not actually needed. The included charger will pump up an almost dead battery to 100% in about 4 hours, and a 50% battery in less than 2 hours, assuming the device is powered off. When actively running as a GPS Navigator, the power draw appears to be as much as 2 amps, maybe even a little more, as my ANKER USB 12 volt, 1.5 amp car charger can't quite keep up, and the tablet battery very slowly goes down, rather than charging back up, until I shut down the GPS app.
Speakers: As a music player, the built in speakers on this tablet are better than the ones on my old Samsung MP3 player, but not nearly as good as the speakers on some IPad tablets. You get what you pay for, and to be able to sell this talet for only $269, Samsung obviously had to save costs somewhere, and the barely-adequate speakers are one of the cost-savers, I guess. If you really want to listen to music or watch videos, you will have to plug in an external speaker or headphones. The speakers are good enough, and actually quite clear, for the voice prompting of a GPS Navigation app, or whatever sound you set up for the Alarm clock app, they're just not quite good enough for real music listening.
Controls: The power on/off button on my copy of the tablet is actually hard to work. I usually have to press it with the edge of a coin, or something else hard and small. Maybe this is a deliberate design, so that it's not easy to power the device on or off with an accidental button press when you didn't intend to? The volume control and the "home" button are both easy and don't require excessive force.
Built-in apps and widgets: There are a bunch of these, only a few of which I think I will ever use. The Polaris Office, Adobe Reader, Alarm Clock, Memo Pad, Email, Google Play Store, Music Player, SPlanner (a calendar app), and the Camera app are all ones I've used. For a general purpose Internet browser, I installed Firefox, and for a calculator, I installed Droid48, an HP-48 Emulator. I also installed The Hacker's Keyboard, which is VERY nice, and gives you most of the functionality of a the QWERTY keyboard that you use with your regular computer, including arrow keys, and a Delete key in addition to the Backspace key. The only downside of this keyboard is that it's a little larger than the default Samsung keyboard, so it takes up more screen space, leaving you less to see what you are typing.
Size, weight, and Form Factor: The Samsung 8" weighs in at around 0.8 lb, about half the weight of the 10" ASUS MemoPad and Samsung tablets. It is too large to fit in a shirt pocket, but might fit in the side or back pockets of some blue jeans. It should easily fit in most any purse, fanny pack, backpack, briefcase, or coat pocket.
Screen touch: The screen feels nice and smooth, like gorilla glass (I'm not sure if it actually is gorilla glass or not), The usual swiping, tapping and pinching motions all work as you would expect - with bare fingers, but not wearing gloves or mittens - and the screen is easy to clean with a damp cloth.
Cameras: The 5mp rear camera is okay, for if you ever really need to take a snapshot and don't have a real camera available, but there is no flash so it only works in daylight, or brightly lit indoor areas. The lens can focus on subjects as close as a 3", so it's got some macro capability, and there is a 4x zoom function. I am not sure if this is an Optical or Digital zoom. Unfortunately, this camera app appears to be hard-coded to use a very heavy level of JPEG compression, and I have not been able to find a setting to change it. The files average 560kB, whereas 5 megapixel photos with "light" JPEG compression should be around 4 mB. This heavy level of compression means that photos with large areas of clear color, like sky, will show a lot of JPEG compression artifacts. The front facing 1 mp camera is very low quality.
SUMMARY: A nice general purpose Android tablet computer with a medium-size screen. A good choice for someone who wants maximum functionality, but doesn't want the extra weight, higher price, and larger physical size of a 10" model.
UPDATE JULY 29, 2014: If your Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 came with Android v4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), I recommend that you stay on this version and do NOT accept the automatic update to Android v 4.4.2 (KitKat) that Samsung is pushing out. KITKAT WILL CAUSE YOU MANY PROBLEMS, especially with Apps that store data on the external SD card. Google made a significant change in KitKat that imposes a new layer of permissions on how Apps are allowed to access storage. For me, the worst effect was that as soon as I rebooted after installing KitKat, all of my GPS and Navigation apps stopped working, as they all store their maps off-line on the external SD card. I had to uninstall three apps, than download and re-install them, then download and re-install several gigabytes of map tiles. A MAJOR irritation that left me with no functional Navigation software for several days. As far as I can tell, KitKat offers no noticeable improvements in the tablet's user interface, so from the User's point of view, it offers no benefit and will actually cause problems for you. Stay away - once you install Kit Kat, EVERYTHING on your external SD card is at risk: music, videos, documents, game stats, maps, etc. It's not that KitKat will actually erase these files, but the extra layer of "permissions" that it imposes on the external SD card will effectively render these files invisible to the apps they are associated with; to fix the problem, you will probably have to re-install the app from scratch, and may have to re-load it's data files from backup to reconstitute the association. Maybe not with music and photos, but that's what I had to do to get my Navigation apps working again.
UPDATE August 5, 2014. After months of frustration at not having Mass Storage Mode, I finally couldn't stand the thought of doing any more file transfers with MTP, and decided to Root the tablet and try out a Custom ROM that promised to give me Mass Storage Mode. The first step, gaining Root access, was relatively simple: I had to install ROM Manager, SuperSU, TWRP Recovery, and a Root exploit I downloaded from the XDA Developers website. WARNING: The Root Exploit and TWRP packages have to be versions compiled specifically for your exact model device! Attempting to install any other version could "brick" your device. So far, so good. After a little stumbling around and a couple of false starts, the installs were done, TWRP, SuperSU, and ROM Manager were running, and the Root Checker app said I had full Root access. So the next step was to download CyanogenMod. Uh,Oh! This Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 (model SM-T310) Tablet isn't directly supported by the "official" CyanogenMod! But I found a link to "unofficial" builds of CyanogenMod, done by volunteers for less popular devices. After a couple of hours of searching, I had located 4 different Custom ROM's that claimed to be for the Samsung SM-T310 8" tablet. Also, at this point, I made a TWRP Full backup of the device. And I will be eternally grateful that I did, because NONE of the four Custom ROMS that I had downloaded would boot the tablet: all four caused unbreakable boot loops. After spending an entire weekend in ever increasing desperation, figuring that I had "bricked" my $279 tablet, I managed to revert the tablet back to the previous (stock Samsung) operating system from TWRP Restore. Of course I lost all the apps and had to re-install them, but my personal data was all safe on the external SD card so I didn't lose any of that. Lessons learned: (1) Tablet computers have a lot of proprietary hardware in them unique to each brand - you MUST be sure that the Custom ROM you are installing was created and tested by Android-savvy techs, who actually know what they are doing, specifically for your model. (2) If your device isn't officially supported by CyanogenMod, it might be for a very good reason: that the Gurus at CyanogenMod simply could not find or create a Kernal that would work with your hardware. (3) Boot Loops are VERY common in tablets, especially Sumsung models, and I was very fortunate to have been able to recover from mine - many owners have irreparably bricked Samsung tablets while trying out Custom ROM's and Recovery programs, and had to junk them. (4) After going through all of the above, I STILL don't have Mass Storage mode, and might never get it unless someone comes up with a build of CyanogenMod specifically for my tablet.
UPDATE: July 16, 2015. The Tablet has continued to function perfectly. I use it several hours every week, mostly as an e-book reader, car navigation device, and for general note-taking and listening to music. The battery is holding up well, and I expect to get at least a couple more years of service out of it. I also found a work-around (actually a Registry setting) that over-rides the stupid block that Google put on Android v4.4.2 that restricts you from directly editing files on the external SD card. The URL for this fix is at: [http://trendblog.net/fix-kitkat-sd-card-write-restriction/]. NOTE: You have to have Root access to your tablet to make this Registry change.
Also, after nearly a year of waiting to see if an official build of CyanogenMod would come out for this tablet, it appears that there will be none. I have been anxiously awaiting this, as CyanogenMod does away with the "bloatware" that is bundled on the tablet when you buy it, and which you can't delete. I tried one of the "unofficial" CyanogenMod builds and at first it put the tablet into an infinite boot-loop, nearly bricking it. I then tried it again, making sure that a full factory reset and Dalvik Cache Delete had been done, and it worked. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that CyanogenMod includes Mass Storage Mode, and it does not.
UPDATE: November 20, 2015. I think the battery is starting to wear out and lose charge capacity. It still powers the tablet for several hours when just reading an E-book, but if the WiFi and/or GPS services are switched on, the battery will drop from 100% to 30% in less than two hours, which indicates that the battery has lost maybe half it's charge capacity from when it was new. Other than that, everything else is still working well. At one point I was thinking of replacing the battery, but Samsung has a couple of newer 8" tablets with WXGA screens (2560 x 1600 pixels) that only cost $320 and have much better performance thanks to a quad-core processor, and that have "official" builds of CyanogenMod available.
UPDATE: July 9, 2016. The battery is definitely losing charge capacity, and I am starting to notice an occasional flicker on the screen, that I can't figure out what is causing it. If I was going to keep this tablet, I would be looking to replace the battery by the end of the year. However, I have decided to replace this tablet with a larger one, and have ordered a Galaxy Tab S 10.5, which has a dual quad-core processor, and double the screen resolution of this tablet. Of course, I will be paying much more for the Tab S, $470, but after 2+ years of ownership of the Tab 3 8.0, I really want a larger screen. That said, if you can get by with an 8" screen, this is a nice tablet for $200 less than the 10.5" Tab S. I have been running CyanogenMod on this tablet for about three months, and love it! It boots up fast, has a very clean UI that provides for a lot of customization, is automatically "rooted" (no need to root the tablet separately), and gets rid of all the useless bloatware that Samsung and Google put on.