Friday, September 17, 2010

Samsung’s Android-powered Galaxy Tab to debut on all four big U.S. carriers

Samsung’s just-announced 7-inch Android tablet is definitely coming to the states. Even better news: The Galaxy Tab will be arriving on not one, not two, not three, but all four of the big U.S. carriers in the "coming months."
We’re still waiting for details on exactly when — and for how much — the Tab will pop up on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, but it’s a safe bet that the snazzy, 7-inch tablet will be priced competitively with Apple’s competing, red-hot iPad. Precise pricing and availability details for the Tab, the European version of which was officially unveiled earlier this month at the IFA consumer tech show in Berlin, will be announced separately by the individual carriers, according to Samsung execs.

The specifications for the North American model of the Tab are pretty much the same as they are overseas — that is, we’re talking a 13-ounce, 0.47-inch thick tablet with a 7-inch "enhanced" TFT-LCD display (not Super AMOLED, as with Samsung’s Galaxy S Android smartphones) running on Android 2.2 "Froyo," complete with Flash support.

While Android 2.2 doesn’t officially support tablets, the Galaxy Tab does come with the Android Market installed, with some custom-designed apps (such as email, contacts, and the calendar) scaling to fit the Tab’s display and even switching to two-column mode when the tablet is held horizontally. Standard Android apps will appear in an 800-by-400 window on the Tab’s 1024-by-600 display — and having seen the Tab in person, I can tell you that windowed Android apps on the new tablet actually look pretty good, certainly better than iPhone apps look on the iPad.

The Galaxy Tab will also come with a pair of cameras: one in back with a 3-megapixel sensor (including an LED flash and auto-focus), and a 1.3MP lens in front, good for video chat over Wi-Fi with apps such as Qik and Fring.

In addition to Wi-Fi, the Tab will support cellular 3G data networks — not a huge surprise, given that the tablet will soon be offered by the four largest U.S. wireless carriers. Like the iPad, though, the Tab will only support wireless data and won’t do voice calls. What kind of 3G data plans will we get? Presumably, we’ll learn that info as soon as the four carriers in question make their respective Tab announcements. Not interested in a 3G version of the Tab? A Wi-Fi-only version of the tablet is also on the way, Samsung execs said Thursday.

Another big part of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab announcement Thursday is the debut of the Media Hub, Samsung’s take on streaming media for its Galaxy phones and the Tab itself. At launch, the Media Hub will offer about 1,000 TV shows and movies from the likes of MTV Networks, NBC Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers. (Samsung is "in talks" with the other movie studies and TV networks, I’m told.) Shows and movies will be available for purchase and rent.
Other features on the Tab include a built-in microphone, GPS, an accelerometer, DLNA media sharing, 16GB of internal storage plus up to 32GB of additional memory through the microSD slot, and a 4,000 mAh battery. Under the hood lies Samsung’s custom 1GHz A8 Cortex processor.

A trio of accessories will also be available, including a full-size (and very heavy) keyboard dock ($100), a desktop dock with an HDMI video output ($50), and a car kit with a bracket that attaches to the dashboard or windshield ($100).

I got a brief hands-on with the Galaxy Tab late last month at the Samsung Experience in New York, and I came away pretty impressed — performance was peppy, the vivid display looked razor-sharp, and the Tab’s 7-inch form factor makes for a nice fit in your hand. (You could even fit the thing into the inside pocket of a blazer, if you really wanted to.)

I am curious to see, though, how the carriers will price the Tab. Considering that the 16GB 3G iPad sells for $629 without a contract, the carriers should shoot for a price point well south of that mark if they plan on offering the Tab with a two-year service commitment.

And while existing apps look pretty good on the Tab’s 7-inch display, I’m concerned that the device is arriving with a version of Android that isn’t specifically designed for tablets. Mind you, everything I tried on the Android 2.2-powered Galaxy Tab seemed to work just fine, but early adopters would be well advised to prepare for disappointment when a spruced-up, tablet-ready version of Android arrives, especially given that users of older Android devices usually have to wait weeks or even longer for an update to their gadgets. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it’s definitely food for thought.

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