You can cut the irony with a knife: I'm writing these first impressions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Android tablet on an iPad. But I digress before I even start. I got a chance to drag my fingers across the 7-inch screen of the Tab last night at the grand U.S. unveiling in New York City. While it's sleek and sexy, it's not quite the iPad alternative we long for.
Everyone seems to be asking the if Tab will be an iPad killer and bending over backwards to compare the two devices. While we really like Tab (mostly), here are five reasons why it won't challenge iPad — and why that comparison itself is false.
Tab is half iPad's weight, 0.8 pounds vs. 1.6 pounds. Tab's tidier form factor means it can fit comfortably into the inside pocket of a sports coat or the thigh pocket of a pair of cargo pants — even in the back pocket of your jeans (just don't forget it's there and sit on it). Its portability will be a key motivator to tablet buyers.
iPad's 9.7-inch screen, however, almost swallows Tab's 7-inch display. The difference seems much more than a mere 2.7 inches; the three-inch difference between the 4-inch Galaxy S smartphone screen and Tab seems about the same as that between Tab and iPad. If you're a movie watcher or game player, it's hard to image you'd give up that extra screen real estate. Not that Tab is a bad movie viewer — it's certainly superior to, say, a Galaxy S smartphone, but iPad is on another planet, video viewing-wise.
Considering all the oohs and aahs about Tab having a camera and iPad not, I'm frankly stunned Tab has only an anachronistic 3MP camera and only 720 x 480 (i.e. non-HD) video recording. After all, the Galaxy S smartphones include 5MP still cams and HD video capture. How could Samsung take a giant imaging step backwards with Tab? And you can bet that if (when?) Apple upgrades the iPad this holiday season, it'll have at least iPhone's 5MP HDR imager and be able to shoot HD video. Not that Tab's still and video images are bad — they're just not as high-tech lovely as the rest of it.
Another supposed technical advantage of non-iPad tablets was supposed to be more handy jacks. Yes, Tab has a microSD memory card slot, and I assume the Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile will pre-install some memory in addition their Tab's built-in 16GB like they do on the Galaxy S smartphones. But instead of a handy USB jack, Samsung has instead opted for an Apple-like proprietary jack. I think I understand Samsung's motivation — they want to create an iPod/iPhone-like accessory licensing program — but it's an approach that worsens, rather than improves, the consumer experience.
Android's open nature makes converting apps from smartphone tablet tricky. Samsung execs say 200 of Android's most popular apps will be optimized for Tab, and Tab can "provide access" to 85% to 90% of the 80,000 apps in the Android Marketplace. In reality, non-Tab-optimized apps, if they work in Android 2.2 Froyo, float at actual size in the middle of Tab's screen (non-iPad-optimized iPhone apps can be zoomed to 2X on iPad, and all work). This "Will this app work?" worry is bound to give folks pause.
There's no WiFi-only Tab, and there won't be one "for a while," which means you have to sign up for another 3G cellphone contract to get it for cheap. That's going to piss off a lot of potential buyers. But a subsidized price may be the only way Tab can compete with iPad. Pricing hasn't been revealed, but if Tab is priced at, say, $600 without a contract (Dell's 5-inch Streak is $550 unsubsidized), that makes it the same price as the WiFi 32GB iPad (assuming carriers add in a 16 GB card as they do with the Galaxy S smartphones). So, $600 for a 7-inch tablet with a limited number and questionable apps, or a 10-inch tablet with 300,000 apps?
But, as I said, I don't even think Tab is a competitor with iPad. The difference in form factor can easily mean separate customer types. And, finally, whatever specification advantages Tab has at the moment will be mitigated in a month or so. Next month, Apple will release iOS 4.2 for iPad and, perhaps in a couple of months from now, an iPad 2, which likely will include FaceTime fore and aft cameras and video recording, all of which will change the nature of the competition, whether it exists or not.