Size matters for tablet PCs

The move to small tablet PCs with 7-inch displays is happening, whether buyers like it or not.

ViewSonic's ViewPad 7, a tablet PC with a 7-inch display, is the latest in a line of machines that bridge the gap between a smartphone and a tablet.

While there's still confusion about whether or not the ViewPad 7 will be able to make phone calls (mainly because ViewSonic is still in discussions with wireless carriers AT&T and T-Mobile about distribution), the device itself comes equipped with a SIM card for both voice and data.

The ViewPad 7 also comes with the Android 2.2 OS, a 800x480 pixel touchscreen, 480p video playback, 512MB internal storage, a VGA camera in front, and a 3MP camera in back. It's set to launch at the end of the month for $479.

Other manufacturers have released similar-sized models such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch tablet and phone (without phone service) starting at $399 with a Sprint contract. Then there's the Archos 7o, a 7-inch display tablet described more as a media player that retails for $199, and the Dell Streak, a 5-inch combo smartphone/tablet that costs $299 with a two-year contract.

So far, none of the models has really captured the imaginations or pocketbooks of businesses or consumers.

I used to think it was because Apple was rumored to be working on a 7-inch iPad, and that manufacturers were trying to offer something similar, but several of the models were probably in development long before Apple allegedly decided to make a Lilliputian iPad. And all that speculation was before Steve Jobs recently squashed any tiny iPad rumors and called all 7-inch tablets "dead on arrival," saying that all their deluded manufacturers would soon make them larger.

While manufacturers should innovate and create diverse products to keep the market constantly evolving, the in-between size "tweener" device is still an unknown. I see the reasoning behind it: People love their smartphones, so why not make more powerful handhelds like it?

But once they get up to 7-inch displays, they're not really handhelds anymore--at least not for anyone without man-sized hands. For me, it would be like holding a dessert plate for an extended period of time.

The 9.7-inch iPad can be used when set down on a table or a lap, but when a device becomes a few inches smaller, it's no longer useful on a lap or ergonomically viable. And while I've heard a few commenters say they're more than willing to use a Bluetooth headset for an unwieldy device such as the Dell Streak or the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, does the average person really want to lug around a phone that weighs close to a pound? It may make sense for on-the-go employees who need to travel light, but the majority will find themselves torn between their smartphones...and a bigger smartphone.

While the tablet computer market is enriched by a diverse supply of products, it will be up to consumers to decide whether they want or need these "tweeners" in the next year or two. Until then, business owners may want to a wait a while before investing in a new technology that could become obsolete soon.

Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter: @bhern.

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Barbara E. Hernandez

PC World (US online)
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