In the past week I’ve met with two different sides of Samsung, one division that handles mobile devices and one that makes notebooks. If you asked me a couple of years ago which part of the company would be bringing the its first tablet to market, I’d bet on the PC guys, not the ones who sell phones. But times have changed. In the new-media tablet category, led by Apple, you need mobile DNA. And that means touch-friendly interfaces, long battery life delivered by ARM-based processors, and (in more and more cases) mobile broadband connectivity. The new Galaxy Tab brings all of the above to the table(t) and more, and when it launches later this fall it will be the first bona fide contender to the mighty iPad.
While such PC makers as Archos, ASUS, Dell, MSI, and others have either launched Android-based tablets or will be bringing theirs to market soon, Samsung Mobile has put together the most compelling model yet. This 7-inch device runs Android 2.2, which means it will support Flash, but so will pretty much everything Android slate that lands on shelves this holiday. What makes the Galaxy Tab different is that Samsung has custom-designed bundled applications such as the calendar and e-mail, optimizing them for a larger screen. Plus, this gadget will provide access to the Android Market for downloading third-party apps. During our briefing Samsung said that some developers would be pouring more resources into supersizing their apps for bigger displays, but others will wait to see how the market develops.
Samsung isn’t waiting when it comes to delivering entertainment. As Best Buy’s vice president of computing told us during a recent interview, the retailer simply won’t sell a slate that lacks a rich ecosystem of content behind it. And it seems that the Galaxy Tab passes the retailer’s litmus test, because it will tie into Samsung’s own Media Hub store for downloading movies and TV shows. The company explained that only by controlling both the hardware and software was it able to offer progressive downloads, which means you can start watching flicks almost as soon as your purchase is made. Other content partners include Kobo (for ebooks) and Zinio (for magazines).
As for the hardware, there’s something uniquely compelling about a 7-inch tablet. When held in portrait mode, for example, it’s easier to type quickly on the Galaxy Tab than on the iPad. And unlike Apple’s hot-selling device, this one will have two cameras—one 3.2-megapixel sensor on the back for taking photos and another 1.3-MP up front for video calls. Battery life is expected to be 7 hours, which is 3 hours less than the iPad, but pretty strong considering this machine’s smaller size. While the display itself doesn’t use AMOLED technology like the Galaxy S Series phones, the 1024 x 600-pixel screen still looks plenty bright and sharp.
All of these ingredients add up to a formidable iPad foe, but there are also a lot of unanswered questions about the Galaxy Tab. How much will it cost, and will consumers expect to pay less because of its smaller display? Also, can Samsung do as good a job as Apple demonstrating how its tablets and other products work well together? For instance, at Apple’s special event this week Steve Jobs wowed the crowd when he streamed a movie purchased on the iPad (running the upcoming iPad 4.2 OS) directly to the new Apple TV using a feature called AirPlay. Samsung has a similar technology called AllShare, but it’s not quite as seamless.
To be honest, I was getting a little bored of the parade of crappy tablets trying to steal the iPad’s thunder. The Galaxy Tab is different. And while the selection of Android apps for slates need a serious growth spurt, this device looks pretty impressive overall. If other Apple opponents are smart, they’ll follow Samsung’s lead.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.