By Harry McCracken | Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 4:30 am
I’m in Berlin for IFA, Europe’s biggest consumer-electronics trade event. The show floor doesn’t open until tomorrow, but yesterday and today have been filled with press conferences by major tech companies–and Samsung’s conference this morning ended with the official introduction of its Galaxy Tab tablet, the biggest IFA news so far.
The Tab is certainly an iPad-like device, but there are some striking differences. Its screen is 7″, making the device a bit larger than a Kindle and substantially smaller than a 9.7″ iPad. (Samsung says it’s pocketable, and it is…if you’re wearing a jacket.) The Tab weighs 13.4 ounces–far less than the pound-and-a-half iPad. It has cameras on the front (for video chat) and back (for snapping photos and apps such as augmented reality). And like the 5″ Dell Streak, it’s not only a 3G data device but a 3G device that can make phone calls.
Samsung estimates that the Tab will get eight hours of battery life; it’s hard to judge that until you know whether the company is talking like a notebook maker (in which case eight hours might be ludicrously optimistic) or is using iPad-like realism. In either case, the iPad’s ten-hour battery beats it, which makes sense given that Apple’s tablet is so much larger and heavier.
Google’s Tablet-friendly version of Android, 3.0 “Gingerbread,” isn’t ready yet, so the Tab runs a version of Android 2.2 Froyo that Samsung has customized for the device’s larger screen and 1040 by 600 resolution. (The company says that it’ll eventually upgrade the Tab to Gingerbread–and is planning an entirely different tablet which will run “Honeycomb,” yet another Android variant.) The IFA preview showed glimpses of an e-mail client that looks rather like the one on the iPad, a social app, and a music store:
Samsung says the Galaxy Tab will be available in Europe in October. It isn’t saying anything about when it’ll go on sale in the U.S. or how much it’ll cost–but it plans to sell it through wireless carriers, so expect a relatively low price and a contract obligation.
How exciting is the Tab? It’s tough to tell from the canned demo at Samsung’s press event. The iPad is so interesting mostly because Apple nailed the user interface, and the Tab will be a winner or a dud based largely on how well the software works. Judging from this morning’s unveiling it has potential, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy to make a smartphone-centric OS like Froyo work will on a tablet. And while Samsung says that most existing Android apps will run on the Tab, they won’t take advantage of its large screen in the way that iPad apps do.
I hope to get a closer look at the Galaxy Tab–and maybe even other tablets–before IFA is over.
(Standard full disclosure: I’m participating in a couple of panels at IFA, and the show’s organizers are covering the travel costs for my visit here.)