Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Samsung refines its Tablets to Rival Apple in Specs and Choices

In what Samsung hopes will be enough to continue its onslaught to Apple's stranglehold on the Tablet PC marketshare, Samsung has just revealed its answer to the iPad 2--a new set of Galaxy Tab tablets. In terms of specs, they're just slightly better than Apple's offering.

Apple's iPad created the new tablet PC market, and the company just revealed a brand new iPad 2 version that upped its game even before competing devices were really arriving on the market in meaningful numbers. The biggest challenger to Apple so far has been Korea's Samsung, whose Galaxy Tab 7-inch Android tablet was touted as the most successful rival to the original iPad (although it may not have sold in huge numbers).

Samsung "doesn't believe in the one-size-fits-all" strategy and have therefore announced two new Galaxy Tab tablets; a 8.9-inch edition and a 10-inch version. Apple has gone on record against smaller tablet form-factors when Steve Jobs made it clear how he feels about it, ""No tablet can compete with a smartphone. And given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pocket, giving up screen area to fit in a pocket is a bad trade-off".

The "new and improved" 10-inch version has been tweaked a little since its limited debut at the Mobile World Congress because the company deemed it inadequate to the new Apple iPad 2. After Apple announced its iPad 2, on March 02, 2011, Lee Don-joo, executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile division, told Yonhap News Agency, “We will have to improve the parts that are inadequate, Apple made it very thin.” Samsung slimmed the 10 inch tablet down from it previously announced weight; it weighs in at 595 grams. The prior 10 inch device was originally 1.5 pounds or 680 grams, which was heavier than the iPad 2's 1.33 pounds or 601 grams. Looks like Samsung has met it's goal of being lighter by 6 grams. It also wanted to make it thinner than Apple's offering. Its in a super-thin chassis that's just 8.6mm deep. Apple's iPad 2 is 8.8mm deep.

Inside there's a 1GHz dual-core CPU, dual Wi-Fi antennas, a rear-facing 3-megapixel camera and front-facing 2-megapixel unit and has a quoted 10 hours of battery life, plus a custom TouchWiz UI on top of Android 3.0, an e-book "reader's hub," 1080p video playback, a dual speaker solution for "surround sound" and Flash 10.2 support. It also supports HSPA+ tech for up to 21 Mbps mobile Net speeds, with an LTE and WiMAX version coming in the future. The cameras on the Samsung offering are slightly better than the iPad 2. The Samsung offering will support Flash, while Apple has been very public about it thoughts on Flash and why it won't offer it.

The Samsung 10-inch version's screen is slightly bigger than the iPad's 9.7 inch screen. Samsung has priced a 16GB version with Wi-Fi connection only at $499 and the 32GB edition at $599. Both these units matches Apple's iPad 2 unit prices for the same storage. Apple offers an 64GB Wi-Fi unit as well or $699. The Samsung units will hit store shelves on June 8, 2011 in the U.S.

Compare these specs to the iPad 2: Starting at $499 for a Wi-Fi-only version, the iPad 2 has a 9.7-inch screen, a 8.8mm-deep metal chassis, a weight of 601 grams, "up to ten hours" of battery life, up to 1080p video playback, 1GHz dual-core CPU, dual "HD" resolution video cameras, a built-in e-reader app ... and so on. While Samsung's offering is lighter and thinner by very close measures and has slightly better specs, it does allow Samsung to market its tablet as the "thinnest, lightest and most full-featured large-screen tablet" there is. Just to be sure they covered all the bases, they offer one just smaller than the iPad 2, but bigger than their 7 inch model.

The 8.9 Tab has a similar design, battery life, 8.6mm depth, an 8.9-inch WXGA screen, and comes with a plug-in accessory that adds USB and SD card-reader support. The 8.9-inch version will cost $469 for the 16GB edition and $569 for the 32GB, but its launch date has merely been confirmed as "Summer" 2011.

Will these new tablets be enough for Samsung to capture any meaningful market share from Apple. Can a company just tweak past Apple without bringing some true innovation to the Tablet wars? Why just duplicate the lower end storage capacities at 16GB and 32GB? Where is an 128GB or higher device from the competition? Wouldn't these additions differentiate them more from Apple? Is slightly better specs enough? Is slightly lighter and slightly thinner an advantage? Is offering Flash enough to sway people to the Android tablet camp? They are adding a Mirco-SD and USB support via an add-on accessory, so have they done enough?

Apple does have a few advantages though. It has a huge head start with over 15 million original iPads sold and probably another million of the iPad 2 sold since March 11. It has a huge select of tablet-ready applications (apps). And let us not downplay Apple's marketing genius; no one else has been able to duplicate the lines that its product releases produce nor the media attention that accompanies it. Heck, just go look at Apple's website and then peek at Samsung's; Apple clearly understand product presentation.

Even though Apple's closed garden-approach gets a lot of slack (even by me); no one can argue the ease of use of its devices. You can hand an iPad to a 2 year old, a 102 year old person or anyone in between and they all can use it right away. I am not sure anyone has reproduced that on an Android device to date, well just have to wait and see. Either way you can argue that this is a victory for consumers, who'll now get an aggressively-priced Android tablet to rival Apple's iOS one, for way cheaper than the Motorola Xoom costs, and this sort of market diversity is a good thing. With Blackberry's Playbook and HP's Touchpad yet to be released, will they make tweaks to improve on or surpass Apple's tablets? It they do, the consumers will truly have great tablet choices this year? Sometimes just being better isn't enough, can anyone say Neo-Geo?

By Carl W. Brooks

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