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Summary:

I’m either an early adopter or niche gadget lover with my 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab: People still tell me daily there’s no market for such a device. News from three different manufacturers says otherwise as new devices are planned; some with Google Android Honeycomb 3.0.

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I’m still asked on a daily basis why I prefer a 7-inch tablet over a larger sized device, such as the 8.9-inch G-Slate or 9.7-inch iPad 2. While personal preferences will vary, I enjoy the portability of my Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s small enough to take anywhere, fits in a jacket or back pants pocket and offers an improved experience over smaller-screened smartphones. Others will disagree, and that’s okay. But for all of the “there’s no market for a 7-inch tablet” talk, I see plenty of recent activity in this space.

Gingerbread Is Baked for the Tab

Although I’m running an unofficial version of Froyo on my current Galaxy Tab, Samsung is now rolling out an official Gingerbread update to device in Italy. It’s a safe bet that other regions will see the same, although Samsung hasn’t published an update schedule. The 7-inch Galaxy Tab has voice calling capabilities in addition to 3G data, so regional-based carrier testing is likely required, which could slow the software rollout. Sadly, this update is reportedly for version 2.3.3 of Android, which isn’t the most recent version of Gingerbread.

My hope was to see the next Gingerbread version, 2.3.4, on the Tab as it brings video chat though Google Talk. Since the Galaxy Tab has a front-facing camera, that functionality would be a welcome addition to the device. My expectation is that the current 7-inch Tab won’t see additional major updates, at least not officially. All the new tablets arriving now pair Android 3.0 with more-powerful dual-core processors than the Tab. I suspect the same will officially hold true for Android Ice Cream Sandwich, a version of Android that will unify the platform for both smartphones and tablets when it arrives in the fourth quarter of this year.

Acer’s Small Honeycomb Slate Delayed?

One of the first companies out of the gate to announce a 7-inch Honeycomb tablet may be slowing up a bit. Amazon’s U.K. page for the Acer Iconia Tab A100 originally displayed a May 14 launch date, but the Carrypad blog says Amazon now shows a June 30 date. In some sense, the tablet can’t technically be delayed if Acer didn’t officially announce a launch date to begin with, but folks hoping for the device sooner rather than later may have to wait a bit longer. I’ve reached out to contacts at Acer for an official statement and will update with a reply. Earlier this year, some blogs reported the device would launch by the end of April, so there’s clearly some confusion.

Regardless of the actual launch date, I’m looking forward to seeing how Honeycomb works on a smaller screen. Due to the application fragments supported in Android 3.0, optimized software should work well on either small or large tablets. Apps will switch to a list view when a carousel view won’t fit, for example. Performance-wise, the A100 should handle Honeycomb nicely, as it’s expected to be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2  dual-core processor.

Viewsonic Joins the Game

With a potential delay from Acer, the first 7-inch Honeycomb tablet may come from Viewsonic, according to PocketLint. The site reports Viewsonic will debut the ViewPad 7x at next month’s Computex show in Taipei. The company already makes a 7-inch slate in the ViewPad 7, but, like my Galaxy Tab, it runs the smartphone version of Google’s Android operating system.

Details on the new tablet are scarce and will likely become available at Computex, but PocketLint has some information: Android 3.0, dual-core processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, support for HSPA+ mobile broadband, HDMI support and a weight of 380 grams, making the device highly portable. HTC’s Flyer is likely to hit the market before the ViewPad 7x – the device can now be pre-ordered in Europe —  but the Flyer comes with the Gingerbread version of Android. HTC says Honeycomb will be available as a future update.

Best of Both Worlds?

While I wouldn’t expect these 7-inch devices to rival Apple’s iPad 2 in terms of sales, there’s a growing interest by manufacturers to keep advancing 7-inch slates. Adding voice capabilities to the devices can bring both the smartphone and the tablet experience in a single device. You wouldn’t want to hold one of these up to your head for a call, but Bluetooth headsets, as well as wired ones, work just fine for the 7-inch slates market that isn’t quite dead yet.

  1. Kevin, I’m with you. My brother-in-law picked up an iPad2 recently and tossed me his Galaxy Tab and I love it. It is an international unbranded version so I’m hoping I’ll get official Gingerbread shortly. Might plug into Kies tonight and see what there is.

    7-inch is where its at if you plan on taking the thing out of the house.

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    1. Glad to hear that the Tab fits your needs. Your last statement reminds me of one thing that I probably don’t make clear to folks. You can certainly take a larger talbet out of the house, but I find it easier to use the 7-inch slates in more locations out of the house. I don’t see many people standing around using an iPad, for example, like they do with smartphones. You can easily use a 7-inch tablet in all the same locations / use cases as a smartphone. That’s a huge appeal for the smaller device IMO. ;)

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  2. You forgot to discuss Blackberry Playbook.

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    1. Good point, Dennis. I was rounding up very recent news in this space, but you’re right in that the PlayBook is clearly in this market too. One issue I have with it: it doesn’t fit in my back pocket like the Tab does. RIM went with a larger screen bezel for the gestures, which make it a wee bit too big for my pockets. :(

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      1. Fits my jacket pocket quite neatly – it’s about the size of a paperback, except thinner.

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    2. The Playbook has been a big disappointment to me. They tried to be innovative with using the edges much like the Palm Pre did in adding extra navigation functionality off the screen but on the Playbook it was so erratic it made using it very aggravating. At first I thought maybe it’s just not calibrated so I tried 2 other demo units both were as buggy as the first. I will have to say the Playbook unfortunately gets a big thumbs down. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to see if HP/WebOS can give the Tab and iPad some real competition.

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  3. I would love a 7″ android tablet with voice and a 1280×720 resolution.
    Musts:
    Capacitive multi-touch touchscreen
    1 gb of ram
    processor capable of handling 720p video
    hdmi out
    usb host/otg port
    Completely open bootloader
    GPS

    These are in no particular order.

    This device would lose money, not for you and I, but for carriers and they would prefer you to have multiple contracts on multiple devices. So do I ever see this happening, absolutely not.

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    1. Lenovo is making a 7″ 12×8

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  4. Dont forget about Viliv, upcoming Amazon & new Nook. The 7″ category is strong & will only get stronger.

    While I would never expect it to sell better than the 10″ especially in “bigger is better” america just like ultraportables (& netbooks) never outsold mainstream laptops.

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  5. 7″ may be the upper boundary for me. And 5″ is probably the lower boundary. Anything in between can prove just the right thing.
    Thanks for the update Kevin. Been reading daily on these options too lately.
    What is important in my opinion is the fact that the purpose of the device is to be a primary option on the go.

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  6. Kevin – I don’t necessarily disagree with you (though my wife’s PlayBook seems very cramped when compared to my iPad2) but it certainly seems that the “name” players in the mobile space (Motorola/LG/HP) are leading with the larger size tablets. And while Samsung launched with the 7-inch Tab, the unit they handed out at i/o was the 10-inch and that unit certainly has every indication of being their “headline” product when the refreshed Tab lineup launches. I don’t see ViewSonic as a real player here, as the only way a consumer knows the name (if at all) is as the maker of their monitor. They will sell some units, but I think they end up lumped in with the “other” category and don’t really move the needle

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    1. All good points, Sean. I think the bigger names are trying to “chase” the larger iPad size which has left opportunity for others. Will that opportunity pan out? I don’t know, but I’m hopeful as I see tablets of this size taking the place of a smartphone for some. It already has in some cases.

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  7. Right on Kevin. Seven inch is awesome. I actually use my galaxy tab as my only online device and call out on Skype. This is great deal considering on att its 25 per months plus free text on Google voice. Not sure why anybody would pay over 70 for a phone that does less than a tablet. Guess phone companies will catch on soon can’t imagine they like me saving over 45 per month and having a better experience on my galaxy tab.

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  8. Matthew Frederick Thursday, May 12, 2011

    There may well be a market for 7″ tablets, only time will tell. “I see plenty of recent activity in this space” — aka some manufacturers are or might be building them — doesn’t counter “there’s no market for a 7-inch tablet.” That would require actual sales.

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    1. Completely agree with you on the sales point Matthew. Maybe I’m just overly optimistic. ;)

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  9. Not sure how how this news = market for 7″ tablet. Anticipated market, maybe; hoped for market certainly. But this news is woefully short of actual evidence for a market and very long on a desire for there to be a market. That desire is understandable: it’s a chance to stand in a niche where Apple is blocking out the sun.

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    1. Fair criticism. I don’t think the OEMs would invest the time and money in these devices if they didn’t see a market for them, but your point is well taken.

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  10. I would guess there are a few reasons why tablets sold in the USA generally don’t have voice enabled. The obvious one is the carriers would rather sell you two contracts instead of one. Another reason is the FCC. There is a lot more testing and filing required for telephone device than a mobile broadband device. There is also different standards for the WiFi only versus the mobile broadband. Many laptops and tablet PCs have an internal data card that could easily support voice calling. Some of the mobile PC cards have an input for a headset and allow voice calls but mostly it is deactivated in the firmware. Other countries have different requirements so they can add those features without any problems. When everyone starts making pentaband 3G then there could easily be a bigger ‘grey market’ for voice-enabled tablets.

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