An update to the comparatively recent Samsung Galaxy Tab 7+ arrived direct from Verizon, and we were fortunate enough to take it for a test run.

The hardware experience

This new tablet from Verizon sports a 4G LTE radio and is very slim at 0.31 inches. It’s also light at just 12 ounces. Though that screen is little larger than the older Galaxy Tab 7+, because of the 7.7’s thinness, low weight, and contoured brushed-metal back, it feels more comfortable in the hand. I’m still bugged that Samsung places the power button and the volume rocker buttons right next to one another. Too often, I inadvertently switch the device off instead of turning up or down the volume. I wish Samsung would move the power switch to the other side or top of the device.

The tablet uses a 1.4GHz dual-core Exynos CPU, plus 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. There’s also a microSD slot if you need it. This tablet is the first in the United States to sport a Super-AMOLED screen, according to Verizon. It offers a crisp, 1280×800 resolution, with a pixel density of 196dpi. Sure, that might not match the much-hyped Retina display on the new iPad, but make no bones about it: this is a beautiful display with deep contrast, nicely saturated colors and it looks fantastic when playing movies and games. Put it next to the 1024×600 LCD display of the older Tab 7+ and you really see the difference. Hands down, this is one of the best displays I’ve seen on any Android tablet so far.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 has dual cameras. The rear one offers a 3-megapixel sensor and can record video in 720p. It won’t win any awards, but it’s useful in a pinch. The tab also offers a front-facing 2-megapixel camera which is perfect for video calling. Interestingly enough, according to Samsung’s product page, the tablet actually boasts a proximity sensor and earpiece for regular voice calls. You may look a little silly holding this up to your ear, but the ability to place calls when you don’t have a Bluetooth headset nearby is of value.

Personally, I find the 7-inch tablet experience enjoyable. They are easy to carry around and don’t take up as much room as 10-inch tabs, as well as being comfortable to hold. With its great screen resolution, the 7.7 offers plenty of screen real-estate and a good viewing experience, and I like that it’s easy to hold in on hand. Clearly, there is a market for 7-inch and 8-inch tablets, what with the success of the Amazon Kindle Fire, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Apple enter this market one day. Bigger than a smartphone, but not as cumbersome as a large tablet, if they can be priced right, they offer a nice alternative and give consumers plenty of choice.

The software experience

When it comes to software, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is still on Android 3.2 Honeycomb with Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz skin on top. While this is familiar and works efficiently, it’s still a little disappointing that such a new device isn’t on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich yet. With this newer version of Android finally rolling out to devices, it seems Samsung and Verizon missed an opportunity here to market the first 4G carrier tablet to sport ICS. If only they’d have waited an extra month or two.

Still, the version of Honeycomb runs a little more efficiently than the similar version on the 7+. It uses darker accents, like in the Settings area, for a sharper, cleaner look, and because of that beautiful display, everything looks crisp and colorful, especially when using the in-built Google suite of apps. Battery life seems greatly improved over the 7+ too. Perhaps the AMOLED display saves some energy or perhaps the new processor is more efficient?

I found most of my favorite apps worked well, though there still seem to be many not yet optimized for the 7-inch tablet device. I’m not sure if this is an issue with developers or Samsung itself, but it’s common that certain popular apps don’t recognize the tablet as such, and consider it a smartphone instead. Look through the Google Play Store, for example, and the tablet-specific Angry Birds Space HD doesn’t show up, but then again, it’s not there on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 too, so perhaps there are compatibility issues. Hopefully, minor issues like this will get ironed-out with future updates from both developers and Samsung/Verizon.

Our favorite pre-installed app on the Galaxy Tab 7.7 (and hopefully yours!) is Samsung Apps. Here Samsung uses app search, recommendation and discovery technology developed by Appolicious to help users find the best titles specific to the device and its form factor.