A Tablet That Talks To Your TV -- Or Tries To

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Samsung's new Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is smaller, lighter and cheaper than the iPad. So at least it's not automatically doomed.

This WiFi-connected Android tablet, which arrives Sunday for $249.99, also includes an ingredient absent from Apple's recipe: a universal-remote app and an infrared transmitter to control TVs and other audio or video devices.

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Unlike Amazon's $50-cheaper Kindle Fire and its cut-down version of Android, the .74-lb. Tab 2 runs a full and up-to-date release, the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich edition of Google's operating system. (A larger model with a 10.1-in. screen is due May 13 for $399.99) Lest including current software seem unremarkable, consider that six months after Google began showing off "ICS," this is only the second device I've reviewed to ship with it.

On the Tab 2 7.0, ICS didn't exhibit the crashes that I saw on a tablet running its predecessor, Honeycomb. But the selection of tablet-optimized Android apps remains weak, with the number of programs using the extra screen real estate intelligently (for instance, Evernote and Gmail) dwarfed by those that, like Foursquare and Twitter, simply scale up a phone-oriented interface.

This lack of quality add-on software may make the Tab 2's paltry eight megabytes of storage less of a problem–although if and when that changes, you can expand this capacity with a microSD Card.

The inadequate 3.2-megapixel camera on the Tab 2's back looks like a cost-saving move too. Most phones beat that resolution two years ago, and many of them can also auto-focus on nearby objects properly. Likewise, the screen's 1024-by-600 pixel resolution already seems like a last-generation component next to the new iPad's fantastic "retina display."

Samsung did not, however, scrimp on the Tab 2's battery. A model loaned by Samsung PR beat quite a few competitors in my usual tests: almost nine nine and a half hours of Pandora Web-radio playback with the screen on, 86 percent of a charge left after 24 hours idle.

I was optimistic–too optimistic–about the Tab 2's Smart Remote app. Most cable and satellite boxes have awful interfaces, and putting a better set of controls on a touchscreen device that will spend much of its time on a coffee table should be a good call.

Instead, Smart Remote (developed by Mountain View, Calif.-based Peel) suffers from the same curse as every other allegedly-universal remote I've tried. Although it successfully ordered around three TVs, it had no idea what to do with a new Blu-ray player and a three-year-old DVD recorder. It could turn on a Roku 2 and a Sony soundbar but couldn't issue basic commands to either.

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I had equally elevated hopes for its its interactive, learning program guide; as you tap star or "x" buttons to express approval or disapproval of shows, it's supposed to recommend others that fit your tastes. At first, I appreciated how this let me choose a specific category of content (not just "Drama," "News," "Comedy" but particular sports); even with my limited set of over-the-air channels, Smart Remote had me discovering new things to watch.

But when I took the Tab 2 to a neighbor with Fios TV, this app showed maybe a tenth of the channels available through an aging Verizon-issued set-top box–even after I reset its settings and repeated its setup routine.

Set aside this universal remote that isn't, and you have a decent, low-cost iPad alternative that doesn't quite jump off the shelf. Two years after the iPad's debut, you'd think competitors could do better than that.

Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery