Why Samsung’s Bet on Tweener Tablets Is a Long Shot


At the CTIA event this week, Samsung unveiled one of the year’s worst-kept secrets by taking the wraps off new Galaxy Tab slates. The company began to sell a 7-inch version last year and is supplementing it with two additions: an 8.9- and a 10.1-inch tablet. Both new tablets will run on Google Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, which is optimized for tablet devices. But is there a big market for that middle size of 8.9-inches?

Before starting the debate, here’s a look at what the two new Galaxy Tab devices will offer when they begin to arrive on June 8. First the 8.9-inch version:

  • 1GHz dual-core processor
  • 1280×800 touchscreen
  • Dual cameras: 3-megapixel rear sensor with auto-focus and dual-flash, 2-megapixel front camera
  • Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, 21 Mbps HSPA+ support
  • Dimensions of 230.9mm x 157.8mm x 8.6mm with a weight of 470 grams.
  • 6000 mAh battery

The new Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses the same resolution on a larger screen and essentially uses the same internal hardware as the 8.9-inch model. The dimensions and weight obviously increase: 256.6mm x 172.9mm x 8.6mm with a 595 gram weight. Both are thin; thinner in fact than the new iPad 2, although only by 0.2 millimeters. Both Samsung slates will be available with storage capacity choices of 16, 32 and 64 GB and all support microSD cards up to 32 GB for additional memory expansion. WiFi-only models will start at $469 for the smaller device and $499 for the larger. Bumping up to the next storage level boosts the costs $100 per model.

Now back to that 8.9-inch size: opinions on this will certainly vary because device choice is a personal preference, but my suspicion is that the 10.1-inch device will handily outsell the smaller one, especially if Samsung creates a Honeycomb version of the 7-inch Galaxy Tab. Here’s my rationale, which is of course, arguable.

The 7-inch tablet size is about the upper limit of a pocketable tablet. For example, I can carry my Galaxy Tab in a jacket pocket or the back pocket of my jeans —  but just barely. When I have a cover on the device, it doesn’t fit in my pants pocket, although it still works inside a jacket. Any larger, and the device must be carried in the hand or a bag of some type. The device is my “use anywhere” tablet for this reason and why I sold my first iPad: The latter tablet was getting left behind when leaving home.

So the 8.9-inch form factor will be the next size considered by folks looking to stay mobile, but it’s not pocketable. And clearly, the even larger, 10.1-inch model isn’t pocketable either. But at only a $30 price difference between the two, I expect more consumers to choose the larger display. They gain a bigger screen, which can make for a more enjoyable visual experience while not sacrificing much in terms of size or weight over the 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab. The variance between sizes between the two models are pretty small, and there’s little portability difference because neither can be put in a pocket.

Does this mean Samsung’s smaller Honeycomb tablet won’t sell? Of course not; mobile devices are highly personal, and there will surely be folks that want a 8.9-inch tablet. In fact, they can choose between the new Samsung Galaxy Tab and LG’s upcoming Optimus Pad / G-Slate, which is also an 8.9-inch device. But for many, the focus will be on the 10.1-inch size and that’s why I expect that model to noticeably outsell the smaller one.

As I mentioned, choice of device size is highly personal as we all have different needs and preferences. There’s no “right” or “wrong” sized tablet that’s going to work for everyone. But I’m curious if prospective Android tablet buyers are considering the size factor in their decision. If you’re in the market, does the 8.9-inch tablet form factor have an advantage over larger sizes other than the weight savings?

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