updated 02:15 pm EDT, Tue March 22, 2011
Company spreads tablet strategy across all sizes
As expected, Samsung unveiled its new mid-size tablet, the Galaxy Tab 8.9, at a special event at CTIA in Orlando. The new device was introduced alongside an updated version of the company's 10.1-inch variant, which arrived as a bit of a surprise considering the first-generation model was introduced just months ago at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Electronista had a chance to preview both devices, though the company has yet to show off production models.
Samsung has taken an interesting approach to the tablet market, offering a seven-inch small size, an 8.9-inch edition in the middle of the road, and two different models with 10.1-inch displays to match the size of Apple's iPad and several other competitors.
We like the new design, which is smoother and built with rounded features rather than the squarish build of the current Tab 10.1. The company worked to squeak under the iPad's specs, shaving 0.2mm of the thickness and undercutting the weight by just six grams. Silver accents have been replaced with gunmetal colors, giving the tablets a look that resembles the dark Xoom.
We were already impressed with the tablet optimizations in Google's stock Android 3.0 release, so we were curious to see how Samsung added its further customizations with the TouchWiz overlay. We like the minor enhancements, which provide several extra features without interfering with the positive aspects of the stock OS. The company seems to have avoided customization just for the sake of differentiation, a problem that we've seen with some Android overlays on smartphones.
Most of the TouchWiz tweaks are optional widgets, which include several 'Live Panel' options for unified social networking feeds, pictures and websites. Users can also take advantage of an application tray that provides quick access to commonly used tools such as the calendar and music player. The application tray is another option that users may or may not find more attractive than Android 3.0's own multitasking system.
Unfortunately, Samsung only showed off the new software on the first-generation devices; the hardware upcoming designs was not functional. Nonetheless, the software was responsive and fluid while switching through different menus. We don't expect any performance downgrade for the production models, as both integrate chipsets similar to that of the Tabs used for the software demos.
From a price perspective, Samsung appears to understand the importance of matching the iPad's pricing structure. While the Xoom was criticized for commanding a significant premium over the segment leader, the 10.1-inch Tab is available in 16GB and 32GB storage options for $499 and $599, respectively, which makes the device a much closer Android alternative to the iPad.
Dropping down to the 8.9-inch models only brings a modest price drop to $469 and $569 for the same storage options, but it is definitely crucial to avoid releasing smaller tablets that are as expensive or more costly than the iPad.
The new Tabs appear to be a fairly formidable contender against the iPad and other tablets. The hardware is not a leap beyond other high-end tablets, but the ratio of features to cost may make Samsung's offerings attractive compared to the current competition.