I’ll admit to being skeptical about T-Mobile’s G-Slate Android tablet at first.
I’m not big on this idea of selling tablets through wireless carriers, so when I heard the tablet would cost $750 unless purchased with a two-year service agreement, I didn’t have high hopes for it.
As it turns out, I actually like this tablet quite a bit and I think it has a few unique features to justify its selling price—to the right person. I still personally think that $750 is way too expensive for a tablet and I can’t imagine getting locked into a contract for two years in order to save a couple hundred bucks but I’m just a simple man with a keyboard, so your feelings may differ.
Let’s light this candle.
There’s some tricky math going on, so let’s get the pricing information straightened up right away:
– If you buy the tablet unsubsidized, it costs $750.
– If you buy the tablet and agree to a two-year data plan at between $30 and $85 per month, it costs $630.
– If you buy the tablet and agree to a two-year data plan at between $30 and $85 per month AND you add voice service OR you’re already a T-Mobile customer with voice service, it costs $630 and you can send in for a $100 mail-in rebate card.
– Data plans are as follows: $30 per month for 200 megabytes, $50 per month for five gigabytes, or $85 per month for 10 gigabytes. The five and 10 gigabyte plans don’t have overage charges but once you go past your data allotment, T-Mobile can slow your connection speeds down. The 200 megabyte plan has overage fees of 10 cents per additional megabyte.
– If you’re already a T-Mobile voice customer, you can save 20% off the monthly data plan—so between $24 and $68 per month instead of $30 and $85 per month.
See all that? That’s why tablets shouldn’t be sold by wireless carriers.
The G-Slate is stocked with similar hardware as the rest of the new Android tablets on or coming soon to the market—Motorola Xoom, Acer A500, Asus Transformer, to name a few—but it claims three distinct differences: a 4G connection, the ability to take 3D photos, and an 8.9-inch screen.
I think the 8.9-inch form factor is the perfect size for a tablet. In the G-Slate’s case, it’s big enough to sport a 1280×768 screen but small enough to hold in one hand. Battery life lasts around eight hours, and the G-Slate weighs 1.3 pounds but doesn’t feel too unwieldy or heavy. I shall call her Goldilocks.
From left to right: the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, the 8.9-inch T-Mobile G-Slate, and the 9.7-inch iPad.
T-Mobile’s 4G network will vary where you live, but I found it to be mighty impressive here in the Boston area. I got around four megabits-per-second download speeds and around two megabits-per-second upload speeds.
In one instance, I’d forgotten to reconnect the tablet to my home Wi-Fi network (Comcast) and didn’t notice that it’d been using T-Mobile’s connection for almost an entire day. And the data plans come with free hotspot capabilities so you can share the tablet’s 4G connection with up to five different devices, which is a huge plus.
The backside of the tablet houses two cameras for shooting high-definition 3D video. You’ll need to use the included pair of blue and red glasses to get the effect, but everything works pretty well. I wouldn’t buy the tablet just for the 3D, though—it’s more gimmicky than practical unless you’re a 3D nut. If you’ve got a 3D TV, too, you can use the tablet’s built-in HDMI connection to watch your recorded videos on the big screen.
There are 32 gigabytes of storage on board, but the G-Slate is curiously missing an expansion slot—that’s been a selling point over other tablets that rhyme with “my dad” if you catch my drift, so it’s an odd omission.
Google’s Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) software is relatively slick given that it hasn’t been on the market for too long. Everything runs pretty smoothly on the G-Slate despite the Android Market having fewer than 100 tablet-specific apps at the moment and most of the older phone-centric Android apps I tried worked just fine, too.
I’ve experienced occasional pokiness and one instance where the tablet just reset itself for no reason but I’ve been pleasantly surprised for the most part. The overall experience feels a bit complicated at first but it doesn’t take long to catch on. I was initially worried that Google’s insistence on using software-based Home, Back and Menu buttons instead of physical buttons would make for a bumpy ride but it hasn’t been an issue for me at all.
T-Mobile includes a TV and movie streaming app that has a few live TV streams by Fox, the Weather Channel, and a handful of no-namers plus a smattering of on-demand movies and TV shows from the likes of A&E, Discovery, and the History Channel. There’s a free 30-day trial, after which it costs $10 per month plus extra for movies.
Other than that, we’re dealing with a stock Android 3.0 interface. I’m hesitant to compare Android 3.0 to the iPad’s interface but seeing as though it’s an inevitability, I’d say that right now Android 3.0 feels like an SUV to Apple’s sports car. Both get you around town just fine; the SUV can go some places the sports car can’t while the sports car goes fast, handles like butter, and has a ton of cool apps in its app store. Whoops, that analogy went right off the track there.
Whatever the case, Android 3.0 is a quiet place right now but it’ll get more lively over the course of this year as more apps pour in and more tablets hit the market. The core stuff works pretty well already, though—now it just needs a little sanding and polishing.
Is this tablet worth $750? I don’t think so, especially given the $450 Acer A500 and the $400 Asus Transformer—both of which pack similar hardware, minus the 4G connections and 3D cameras. I absolutely love, love, love the G-Slate’s 8.9-inch form factor—look at it! It fits perfectly.
But I don’t love the form factor enough to pay $750 for it, unfortunately.
That being said, if I were already a T-Mobile customer and I happened to be willing to add another chunk to my monthly bill, I’d consider the tablet at $530 for sure, especially given the ability to use the G-Slate as a 4G hotspot. People who are in the market for both a 4G portable hotspot device and a tablet can find excellent value in the G-Slate as well.
If LG, which builds the G-Slate, releases a Wi-Fi version of the tablet independent of T-Mobile, I’d probably pay a slight premium for it—maybe $50 to $100 more than the least expensive Android 3.0 tablet—given its size, weight and overall build quality. But right now the tablet seems too expensive unless you fit a pretty specific buyer profile.