T-Mobile kicks off sales of Galaxy Tab

Other U.S. carriers offer it, but analysts predict sales will lag behind Apple's iPad

The Samsung Galaxy Tab T-Mobile USA kicked off sales of Samsung's 7-in. Galaxy Tab tablet computers today, with other U.S. carriers soon to follow suit.

While those carriers plan to offer the Galaxy Tab, analysts generally believe the touch screen device won't offer much competition early on for Apple's popular iPad, which has a larger, 9.7-in. touch screen. The iPad went on sale in April and has already grabbed 95 per cent of the global tablet market .

Apple has sold an estimated 8 million iPads since the tablet's launch.

"I think it's going to [take] a long while for the Galaxy Tab to catch on," said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group. "It has a long way to go to gain the same level of acceptance and viability [as the iPad]. That said, I also think it has one of the best shots at being a viable iPad competitor, simply because of Samsung's manufacturing and distribution prowess and its ability to work on [a variety] of networks."

T-Mobile, the fourth largest wireless carrier, featured the tablet on its Web site today for $399.99 after rebate with a two-year service contract and two data plans.

Verizon Wireless plans to begin selling it tomorrow, with Sprint Nextel beginning sales on Sunday. AT&T also plans to sell it, but hasn't announced a sales date or pricing.

In addition to online sales, T-Mobile also has the device in its stores nationwide. At the largest Framingham, Mass. T-Mobile store, a sales rep said in a phone call that his store had just four Galaxy Tabs in stock and urged buyers to act quickly before stock is depleted.

T-Mobile seems to be positioning the device as a multimedia access tablet for consumers; T-Mobile's online promotion says, "Say hello to big entertainment on the go.... Announcing our first touch-screen tablet with Android -power entertainment for the whole family."

Verizon, meanwhile, has focused on both consumer uses and business productivity capabilities.

Sprint is offering the Galaxy Tab under terms similar to those from T-Mobile: $400 and a two-year contract. Verizon plans to sell it for $600 with no long-term contract and four monthly wireless access plans. Those plans start at $20 for 1GB of data per month and range up to $80 for 10 GB of data.

Verizon's data plans for the Galaxy Tab are the same as those for the Wi-Fi iPad /MiFi mobile hot spot bundle that it started selling on Oct. 28 .

Verizon has begun airing TV ads for the iPad + MiFi bundle, but it's unclear how committed it or any of the carriers will be to heavy TV marketing for the Galaxy Tab.

Analysts believe that the iPad will still be the top choice of consumers for many reasons. One is price: The 16GB iPad with 3G access from AT&T is $630, just $30 more than the Galaxy Tab from Verizon. (The Galaxy Tab has 2GB of onboard memory and comes with a 16GB microSD card pre-installed.)

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said that with the pricing so close, it's easy to imagine two people opening presents Christmas morning: "One gets an iPad and the other a Galaxy Tab," he said. "I can see the second one saying, 'Oh, thank you, I was really counting on an iPad.'"

Aside from iPad's market cachet, Dulaney said its 9.7-in. screen is preferable to Galaxy's smaller screen. "We are not big believers in the 7-in. form factor," he said, given all the multimedia content and reading that a user would want to do on a tablet. He noted that mini-notebooks started out with 7-inch screens and "quickly" moved to 10 inches, which he predicted will be the same pattern for tablets.

Both tablets offer similar screen resolutions. The Galaxy Tab's resolution is 1024-by-600 pixels; the iPad's resolution is 1024-by-800 pixels.

Dulaney also said buyers are tired of signing up for two-year contracts, having already agreed to them with smartphones . "People cannot afford more," he added.

Howe said another limiting factor on Galaxy Tab sales will be the availability of applications. Although the number of Android Marketplace apps now totals more than 100,000, Apple's App Store offers more than 300,000 apps for the iPad.

Fans of the Galaxy Tab note that it has two cameras, while the iPad currently has none. Polycom has signed an agreement with Samsung to add HD videoconferencing to the Galaxy Tab in coming months, although not at launch.

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