When Apple first released the iPad, naysayers claimed the device was nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch.
On Sept. 16, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Tab, its iPad competitor, in a high-profile presentation at New York City's Time Warner Center. Afterward, the media was allowed to descend with its usual frenzy on the handful of Tabs on display. And while 10 minutes' worth of fiddling may not constitute an exhaustive dissection of a device, one thing seemed immediately clear: The 7-inch Tab is basically an oversized version of the Samsung Galaxy S, the company's latest smartphone franchise.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some 5 million Galaxy S smartphones will ship by the end of 2010, according to Samsung executives at the New York event, which suggests that customers are gravitating toward the device's combination of multimedia-friendly hardware and Google Android operating system. Super-sizing that model could attract buyers curious about tablets.
But questions still remain. Like the Galaxy S, the Tab will be sold through AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. Those carriers will presumably subsidize the cost of the device in exchange for a contract. However, details of the carriers' plans remain scarce. If the Tab is subsidized like a smartphone, with a two-year contract, will users still prefer that to the iPad's "a la carte" mode, which allows users to switch off their 3G connection-and the charges that come with it-on a monthly basis?
Various European Websites already list the Tab for roughly $1,000 in either pounds sterling or euros. On the U.S. market, the 5-inch Dell Streak-Samsung's other Android-based tablet competitor-sells for $299 with an AT&T contract and $549.99 unlocked. But the bigger consideration for Samsung and its partners is the iPad, which sells for anywhere from $499 to $829 depending on memory and connectivity options.
Whatever the price point, Samsung hopes the Tab's features will allow it to seize market share in the burgeoning consumer-tablet space. Those features include an enhanced TFT-LCD display with 1,024-by-600 resolution, Android 2.2 operating system, 1GHz processor, 16GB of internal memory scalable to 32GB of external memory, and support for Adobe Flash 10.1. The device weighs 13 ounces, roughly equivalent of an unopened can of soda, and its slim body can fit into any number of jacket and bag pockets.
The Tab also offers video conferencing, courtesy of a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. During a demo at the New York event, the video was choppy and seemed to lag somewhat behind the audio; that may have been due to the quality of the connection. Samsung is also promoting its Media Hub, an app that allows users to purchase and rent TV shows and movies; the company has signed deals with MTV, NBC, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros.
There could be kinks with the Android 2.2 operating system, however.
"Froyo [Google's code name for Android 2.2] is not optimized for use on tablets," Hugo Barra, director of mobile products for Google, told TechRadar. "If you want Android market on that platform, the apps just wouldn't run; [Froyo] is not designed for that form factor."
The upcoming Android 3.0, code-named "Gingerbread," may fix that by offering 1,280-by-760 resolution for larger-device displays. Samsung executives previously directed eWEEK toward information about screen sizes posted on Google's Android developer Website.
"Applications do not need to work with the actual physical size or density of the device screen," Google noted. "At runtime, the platform handles the loading of the correct size or density resources, based on the generalized size or density of the current device screen, and adapts them to the actual pixel map of the screen."
In practice, the Tab's various widgets and applications seemed to operate with resolution and speed equivalent to the various versions of the Galaxy S-just bigger. But more extensive testing awaits.
Editor's Note: The date of the Samsung Galaxy Tab unveiling has been corrected to Sept. 16.