AT&T will begin selling the Sony Tablet P March 4, for $400 with a new two-year contract, the carrier announced Feb. 28. In a tablet market rich with Apple iPad impersonators, the 4G-enabled Tablet P bears a stronger resemblance to Sony's Nintendo DS console, with two screens that fold up clamshell-style.
Its two 5.5-inch touch-screens can work in unison, creating a single, large image, or users can, say, use one screen as an online keyboard and the other as a displayor one to view a video game and the other as a controller.
The Tablet runs Android 3.2, and Sony's "Select App," which enables users to download games and other applications optimized for the device's dual screensthough the Android Market's complete Android lineup are also compatible.
The Tablet P runs a dual-core, 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and has 1GB of internal memory, 4GB of internal storage capacity and a microSD card slot that comes with a 2GB card, though up to 32GB can be supported.
The 5.5-inch displays have a resolution of 1,024 by 480 and feature Sony's TruBlack technology, which according to Sony, offers more vibrant colors and "truly amazing image quality." There's a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity on are board, in addition to 3G and 4G capabilities.
The Tablet P measures 6.2 by 7.1 by 0.56 inches, weighs 13 ounces, or 0.8 pounds, and is said to have a battery life of seven hours.
AT&T subscribers will need also to purchase a DataConnect plan of either 3GB for $35 a month or 5GB for $50.
Sony first introduced the device in April 2011, under the code name S2. Emphasizing the mix of cloud-based services, books, games and other content it planned to offer, Sony senior vice president Kunimasa Suzuki said the company was "aiming to create a new lifestyle by integrating consumer hardware ... with content and network."
Apple introduced the first iPad in April 2010, and that May, a Sony executive told Bloomberg that Sony was keeping an eye on the market and, Apple aside, had been considering it for a number of years, since it seemed to create some "interesting opportunities."
In January 2011, Suzuki told Reuters that Apple was obviously the "king of tablets," but the rest of the royal court was still up for grabs.
"But what is the second- [ranking tablet], what is the third?" Suzuki told Reuters. "Who is taking the second position? That is our focus. We would like to really take the No. 2 position in a year."
Since then, Samsung and Amazon have hopped on the podium. According to Feb. 16 data from iSuppli, for the full year 2011 Apple held a 62 percent market share, Samsung 9 percent and Amazon 6 percent. During the fourth quarter, Amazon enjoyed 14 percent of the market to Apple's 57 percent and Samsung's 8 percent. Barnes & Noble grabbed a 7 percent share for the quarter, and Asus followed with 2 percent for the quarter and 3 percent for the year.
What hope does latecomer Sony have for muscling in behind Apple?
Analyst Jack Gold, with J. Gold Associates, says that Sony can be a player in the tablet space to the extent that it can leverage its entertainment and gaming reputation with consumers.
"The P does have some interesting possibilities, but also some challenges. Its not low cost. ... It runs an older Android [3.2, I believe, and not 4.0, which is probably related more to AT&T requirements than Sonys]. It's not really directly targeted at a specific segment of the market, other than broadly 'entertainment,' Gold told eWEEK. "So, it may be a tough sell."
The dual screens and the ability to set up a custom keyboard admittedly have a cool factor, he added. "But I'm not sure how well this will sell, given the price point with the AT&T connectivity cost on top."
Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK that Sony "has been out of the money for a while, and their brand has been hurt by that; gaming is the only real brand they have now, since the rest of their stuff has basically been pushed out by Apple."
Still, Kay has a teenage son and says he can see the gaming potential in dual screens appealing to a younger, mostly male demographic.
"So yes, I think there's a market there. There might also be an echoing of older guys, in their 30s or even 40s, with time [and some money] on their hands." It's not the mainstream, said Kay, "but there are enough demographics for them to go fishing after."
Sony has shown that it can think outside the iPad box. Whether that will win it buyers, remains to be seen.