Where Apple spent years carefully giving birth to a single iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab family is expanding with all the thought and consideration of a hutch full of bunnies. The latest tablet to pop into life is the mid-sized Galaxy Tab 8.9, a slim widescreen tablet with a High Def display and motion-sensitive goodies. So much for the carrot – the stick is a stiff £400+ price-point that puts it head-to-head with Apple’s only child.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – Build

Where was the 8.9 every time we tried to use an iPad one-handed or squeeze one into our hand luggage? This is the size tablets were always meant to be: small enough to carry easily but big enough to enjoy web pages and movies without squinting. The plastic-bodied 8.9 is a whisker thinner than the iPad and tips the scales at 150g less – just enough for an airport grab bag of Maltesers.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – Screen

Widescreen rules. Despite being lighter and more comfortable than the iPad, the 8.9’s stretch display is actually only 5mm shorter on its long edge, so that web pages and movies look almost identical. Except that they’re also a bit sharper, thanks to 237,000 extra pixels. The 8.9’s screen doesn’t look so good from an angle, though, and in portrait format websites and ebooks feel cramped.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – TouchWiz

While you’re waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich, Samsung’s Honeycomb skin has a few tricks up its sleeve, starting with resizable home screen widgets. Pop-up mini apps give (whisper it) a good Windows-esque experience for task managing, calendars, memos and more. Then there are two motion modes that let you zoom around webpages and photos by tilting the tablet (gimmicky), and move icons by waggling it back and forth (plain useless).

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – Performance

Forget those first awkward Honeycomb tablets that fell over more often than a Premiership striker (yes, Xoom, we’re looking at you). This Tab feels confident and assured, breezing through 3D games and juggling dozens of widgets, feeds and multi-tasking apps without a stutter. It’s all the more impressive as the processor, a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2, is really nothing special these days.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – Media

Thumbs up for Samsung’s Media Hub film and TV store, which rivals iTunes for video quality and ease of use (if not quite range). Thumbs down for a dog’s dinner of third party services covering e-books, magazines, music and newspapers, each of which requires its own separate log in and account details. Expect the Kindle Fire to burn the Galaxy Tab’s media playhouse down. There’s a decent 3MP camera and a good 2MP webcam on board, too.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – verdict

Stand the Galaxy Tab 8.9 next to the iPad and it’s far from a foregone conclusion. The 8.9 is lighter, skinnier and has a better screen, plus home screens that catapult you right into the action. But with pricing this close, many will still be wooed by Apple’s superior build quality and app dominance.

Samsung should also be counting its lucky stars that the Kindle Fire still hasn’t got a UK release date yet. A couple of inches isn’t much between friends, especially when Amazon’s 7-inch tablet promises the seamless media integration sadly lacking in the 8.9 today.

Stuff says... 

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 review

A fast, fantastic-looking device that redefines tablet portability. But the price needs a drop to threaten Apple and (soon) Amazon