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Will Samsung's Ugly Duckling Become a Swan?

By Rob Spiegel
Sep 1, 2011 12:02 PM PT

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Note, which sports a 5.3-inch screen -- a size that places it between a typical smartphone and a tablet. It features an HD Super AMOLED display with a 180-degree viewing angle. The device comes with a slide-out stylus called the "S Pen" and sports a rear 8 MP camera capable of capturing video in 1080p HD, as well as a front 2 MP camera for video chat. The unit is powered by a 1.4 GHz dual core processor and runs the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system.

Will Samsung's Ugly Duckling Become a Swan?

The Note's overall dimensions clock in at 110mm x 58.2mm x 12.3mm. The device boasts 16 GB of storage and 1280x800 resolution, which is sharper than the iPhone 4 and the iPad.

Samsung is emphasizing the amount of power the unit wields, for its size, and the usability of its stylus for detailed art work and notes on the fly. The Galaxy Note will be compatible with WiFi, HSPA+ and LTE networks. Samsung has not yet determined a launch date.

Great Specs, Weird Size

While the Galaxy Note is an unusual size, it packs a strong set of features. As for whether it leans more toward being a phone or a tablet, it seems to favor tablet.

"I'll call it a tablet because it will not be supported for cellular voice," Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless at the 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"It does support IP communications such as VoIP and Skype," he said. "It has a very good camera, a great processor, and a great screen. But it's hard not to compare it to Dell's 5-inch tablet, which has not gained much traction in the market."

The in-between size may present a marketing challenge for Samsung. There may be a limited group of potential buyers.

"The size is awkward. Will it fit in a pocket, or will you have to put it in a bag?" wondered Hazelton. "I can see people using this as an alternative to a notepad and pen, but that could be small pools of users. This device is very consumer-oriented -- it's strong for gaming. Yet it's not targeted for any certain type of user or Samsung would have mentioned it."

One important feature is the stylus that comes with the device. With most devices, the stylus is a pricey extra.

"Having the stylus included may draw some users," said Hazelton. "Usually a stylus isn't included and costs an extra (US)$50 to $75, so that could be attractive."

A New Market Segment

The Note could be the next step in a genre of tablets with small size yet large functionality. Packing even more features and power into phone-tablet hybrids could eliminate the need for laptops for some consumers.

"Samsung is clearly carving out a new sub-segment of tabletphones for itself by luring consumers with compelling slim slate design sporting cutting-edge specs," Neil Shah, analyst for wireless devices strategies at Strategy Analytics, told TechNewsWorld.

"Over the next two years, tabletphones are going to emerge as a popular segment as more and more vendors jump into this premium 4.5inch -- 5.5-inch bandwagon," he predicted.

Pocketability and mobility have been the key factors in driving the handset industry until now, Shah pointed out. Even a few inches added to the standard smartphone size can increase its ease of use and screen quality significantly.

"However, the smartphone, superphone and tablet revolution has led to a need for a device larger than four inches," said Shah. "The tabletphones segment offers a compelling form-factor and hits the sweet-spot in terms of size in enhancing the user-experience for a plethora of use-cases, such as better and comfortable Web browsing, HD-quality video viewing, superior gaming, video conferencing and the ability to take notes."

Who Is This For?

On the question of whether it's a phone or a tablet, Samsung may choose to not answer. Or it may say "both." If there is a market for an in-between-size device, it may not matter much.

"The first question to ask is, 'what is it?' Is this a small media tablet or a large smartphone?" asked Jeff Orr, group director of consumer research at ABI Research.

"Samsung is taking the approach that there is a market for a device in between those categories," he told TechNewsWorld.

"The second question is," said Orr, "is 'who is this for?' The demonstrations so far show a range of consumer and business uses from productivity to gaming. Perhaps businesses will look to offer employees larger mobile devices instead of the smartphone, in the future, while retaining the mobility that is not yet possible with media tablets."

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