Tablets ? Slates? Overgrown smartphones? Call them what you will, but the category that was defined by Apple’s iPad last year has become a major force in IT.
Because of their portability, wireless connectivity and the variety of applications that can connect them to all types of data, tablet devices  are finding their way into federal workplaces to solve problems previously unsolvable by traditional devices.
One of the newest contenders in the smart tablet battle is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab . Based on Google’s Android operating system and available with 3G wireless data service from a number of cellular network providers, the Galaxy Tab is smaller and in some ways more enterprise-friendly than the iPad.
The Galaxy Tab has a bright, sharp color screen that measures 7 inches diagonally — much larger than a smartphone screen, but not quite as big as the iPad’s 9.7-inch display. It’s the perfect size for thumb-typing e-mail while standing or sitting, using its virtual keyboard in either the landscape or portrait orientation.
You can really go hyper-mobile with the Galaxy Tab. It has built-in 3G wireless data connectivity, providing a nearly nationwide connection to the Internet and reach-back to enterprise data. There’s also built-in support for 802.11n wireless networking. And for those times when you need a full-blown computer on the road, the Galaxy Tab can be used either as a tethered wireless modem or as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five other devices.
It can tote a lot of data, too. The Galaxy Tab sports a Micro SD slot that comes with a 16-gigabyte card installed, and you can swap that out for a larger 32G card without having to buy a new tablet. You can plug the tablet into your desktop or notebook to transfer files so you can view them on the road — Microsoft Office documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs or anything else you can find a viewer application for on Android.
Once you’re mobile, the Galaxy Tab can help you get around as well. It has a built-in assisted Geospatial Positioning System capability, using a combination of GPS and cellular signals to provide location data. And it comes with Google Maps installed.
The major enterprise advantage of the Galaxy Tab is that it is based on Google’s Android 2.2, known by Android geeks everywhere as “FroYo” (as in frozen yogurt). Google has an Android app store filled with free and commercial software, but you can also deploy software to the device without using the store and without having to buy an enterprise developer’s license.
Another major benefit: The Samsung Tab’s built-in web browser can play Flash content and video, and run rich Internet applications built with Adobe’s AIR platform . You can develop a single set of apps for both desktop and mobile users based on Flash components.
The IT organization also doesn’t have to buy or build anything to integrate the Galaxy Tab into your enterprise. Its mail client is compatible with Microsoft Exchange, as well as POP and IMAP mail services. And if you’re considering using cloud-based applications such as Google Apps for Government, the Galaxy Tab is cloud-ready with Gmail and Google Docs support too.
There are a few drawbacks to being an early tablet adopter. One is that Samsung hasn’t equipped the Galaxy Tab with the latest version of the Android OS, Android 3.0. Known as Honeycomb, the new OS is designed specifically to support tablet computers and adds a number of interface features optimized for the devices’ larger screens.
The Galaxy Tab’s input function is a good example. The device has not one but two virtual keyboard options: a QWERTY layout and an input tool called Swype, which detects gestures across a keyboard layout. Using predictive text allows you to use a single finger to quickly enter words.
But the space bar on the standard Samsung QWERTY layout, even when the screen is oriented sideways, is strangely small and wedged next to programmable buttons. And the Swype interface, while it offers a slightly better keyboard, also adds a lot of complexity to what should be a simple function. This isn’t a real problem for daily use, but it is a minor annoyance.