T-Mobile G-Slate: A Modestly Sized Android 3.0 Tablet, With a Price to Match
At a Glance
At 8.9 inches (diagonal), the T-Mobile G-Slate is the first tablet to hit the middle ground in terms of size, landing firmly between the larger slates that resemble netbooks without keyboards and the smaller models that feel like oversize phones. But the G-Slate (made by LG, and shown by that company as the Optimus Pad) also packs in features not found on other Android 3.0 tablets--including twin cameras for 3D video capture, and three speakers for producing stereo audio no matter how you hold tablet. And with that, the G-Slate ($530 after rebate and with a two-year T-Mobile contract, or $750 without a contract; prices as of April 21, 2011) carves out a niche for itself, albeit one largely limited to people looking for a tablet on contract.
After using the G-Slate for several weeks, I found myself appreciating the tablet's more-compact, widescreen dimensions vis-à-vis the Apple iPad 2 (9.7 inches) and the Motorola Xoom (10.1 inches). The sizing--9.6 by 5.9 by 0.5 inches--makes the G-Slate feel less obtrusive to use in social situations, yet it provides a satisfying amount of screen real estate. The contoured sides are comfortable to hold, but I would have preferred the G-Slate to be thinner; at this point in the tablet hardware wars, a half-inch thickness really feels like too much. Likewise, the G-Slate is heavier than I would have expected given its size: It weighs 1.37 pounds, more than Apple's 1.34-pound iPad 2 (the version with Wi-Fi and 3G).
The dimensions were especially agreeable when I held the tablet for reading; the G-Slate felt just right, screen-wise. And even though the G-Slate is heavier than the iPad 2, it felt well balanced. For now, the G-Slate is the only tablet at this size; Samsung plans to ship its Galaxy Tab 8.9 this summer.
The G-Slate, Inside and Out
The G-Slate's core internal specs mirror those of the Motorola Xoom: It has a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory. It also supports T-Mobile's 4G HSPA+ network, as well as Wi-Fi hotspot sharing for up to five devices. Unlike the Xoom and the Acer Iconia Tab A500, however, the G-Slate lacks a memory card slot for additional storage. Adobe Flash isn't preinstalled on the G-Slate, but a Flash icon on the tablet's home screen desktop takes you directly to the Android Market entry for installing Flash Player 10.2.
The front of the tablet is all screen. I have one gripe: I don't like the fingernail-thick gap between the single piece of glass and the edges of the chassis. Beyond that, however, the G-Slate is sturdily constructed, with a backplate made of soft-to-the-touch plastic.
The G-Slate has a design that's largely agnostic in terms of how you hold it. For instance, it offers three speakers: two that run along the bottom edge (when the tablet is vertical), and one at the opposite edge, next to the small power button. This way, no matter how you hold the G-Slate, you're guaranteed to get stereo audio. The volume rocker sits at the right side (or top edge) of the tablet. Unfortunately, the speakers' volume is too low and woefully inadequate; even when I pumped them up to the max, I could hardly hear the tablet's audio with light ambient noise in the background.
The power/sleep button resides by the top corner; its small size sometimes led to my fingers missing it. Another point of confusion concerns the 3.5mm headphone jack and the AC power jack: Granted, the latter is smaller than the former, but on first glance they look similar, and it took me a few tries to remember that the power jack is the one closer to the corner.
On the left edge (or the bottom, in horizontal orientation) are a Micro-USB port and an HDMI-port, as well as the contacts for the optional T-Mobile dock accessory ($40).
Recording in 3D
The 2-megapixel front-facing camera sits in the top right corner (vertical orientation) or the top left corner (horizontal orientation); this position proved a little awkward, as it meant that I had to lean a bit to the left while holding the tablet, to ensure I was fully in frame.
The G-Slate also has two 5-megapixel cameras at the rear, with an LED flash alongside. The cameras are spaced in such a way that you can, through the included 3D Camcorder and 3D Player apps, record 720p HD. Afterward you can play the video back on the display. T-Mobile includes a pair of anaglyph glasses for viewing, but if you already wear glasses, this pair won't fit well over your existing one.
In my tests the stereoscopic recording worked well, if I recorded my subjects head-on. If I recorded subjects on an angle, the 3D effect varied in quality. This feature could be seen as a gimmick, and rightly so; but it's also a bona fide, easy-to-use, and fun way to capture your own video in 3D, and it certainly adds an element of intrigue to what could otherwise be considered a garden-variety tablet.
If you're not recording in 3D, the camcorder captures in 1080p.
The IPS (In-Plane Switching) display looks bright, and colors appear vibrant--a welcome change in comparison with the Xoom's more muddied colors. But it doesn't match the image quality and color balance of the iPad 2. In images shown in the Google Gallery, I noticed that skin tones appeared to have a slight green cast, which wasn't in evidence on the Xoom. The photos also had the same issues as on the Xoom and other Android 3.0 tablets I've seen: When viewed full screen, the image render appears incomplete, resulting in fuzzy images that lack detail. A Google representative told me that the company is aware of this issue, but would not commit to a timeline as to when the bug will be fixed.
The screen is prone to glare in certain circumstances; a visible air gap exists between the glass and the display, and that certainly didn't help the screen handle lighted environments well. That drawback, coupled with the display's not particularly sharp text (which could be as much due to how Google renders text in Honeycomb as it is to the display) and the tablet's overall weight, made for unsatisfactory e-reading. I'd want to read on this tablet only for short spurts, not for lengthy and involved sessions. On the plus side, the IPS display provided an expansive angle of view that competes well with the iPad 2: I could hold the G-Slate and tilt off-axis, and still see no shift in colors.
The OS build is stock Android 3.0; nothing special to report. As a result, the G-Slate has the same pros and cons as other Android 3.0 tablets--that is, the veneer looks good, but if you dig deeper you'll run into the quirks, bugs, and unfinished aspects of Android 3.0.
In addition to the Zinio Reader app and Need For Speed Shift, you get T-Mobile TV for viewing television shows over Wi-Fi or 4G. T-Mobile TV's performance under 4G varied: Some channels came through looking great, while others had artifacting as the image struggled to render on the display. The TV app is designed for horizontal use.
The T-Mobile G-Slate is a reasonable tablet choice if you like the idea of a tablet that, in terms of size, fits in between the rest. But it's worth the investment only if you're willing to lock into a contract. At $750 without a contract, it's far too expensive for what you get--even though the 3D video capture provides novel entertainment.