Mar 22nd, 2011

Just as everyone expected, Samsung went ahead and announced new models of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The first an 8.9 inch model with the same great Tegra 2 processor that powers most Android 3.0 tablets, but they’re including HSPA+ (21mbps) radios and will implement an HD resolution display (1280×800). Other specs to round the hardware out are a 2 megapixel webcam, a 5 megapixel back camera with flash capable of HD video recording and more.

Samsung’s big thing with this introduction was its thinness and weight. The 8.9 inch version of the Tab is just 470g light and 8.6mm thin, making it not only the lightest tablet in the game, but also the thinnest. (Only its 10.1 inch big brother can compare.)

Another big talking point was the software Samsung’s included on top of Android 3.0. They’re calling it TouchWiz 4.0, of course, but it’s not as bad as you might imagine. It’s a user experience more than it is a user interface as they’ve only included own-built applications and widgets that you remove and add as you wish.

Social Hub is also included and while it’s still not the most robust social networking experience that can be had, it’s cool for new users who’d rather have all that stuff in one central location. Honeycomb itself is nearly untouched so users shouldn’t have to worry too much about upgrades.

Another cool feature was the “Mini Apps Tray”. Regardless of where you’re at in the OS, swiping your finger up at the bottom of the screen brings up a list of Samsung-made mini apps that can be used without leaving the app you’re in. You can do things like use the phone, send messages, check the weather, write memos and more. The app is easily closable by pressing the X button in the upper right corner. I can see this being a very good utility if Samsung opens it up to developers.

Samsung also introduced a new 10.1 inch model that has the same 4G radios inside and the same WXGA display. This one looks a bit different from the version we saw at Mobile World Congress – it’s a lot thinner at 8.6mm and a lot more light at 596g. It doesn’t have the same grippy back of the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, something I actually liked. The design still looks nice, though. The software is identical to that in the aforementioned 8.9 inch Tab. Samsung will be introducing tablet versions of a Books Hub, Music Hub and Movie Hub but they didn’t have the applications available for demo at their booth.

Samsung has already announced pricing and availability, something they don’t often do. There are a couple of different configurations you can get for each model. There is a 16GB version of the 8.9 inch that’ll cost $469.99 while the 32GB version will be $569.99. Samsung only gave a general “early this summer” window for that. The 10.1-inch is unsurprisingly a bit pricier coming in at $499.99 and $599.99 for the 16GB and 32GB versions, respectively. It will be available June 8th.

I have to admit: I was a bit skeptical when I heard Samsung would be customizing the device. What they’ve done is pretty lightweight though, and it works well enough for me to tolerate it. I can remove most of the elements if I don’t like them with the only exception being the mini apps tray. (That doesn’t really get in the way, though, and I see myself using that feature quite often.)

The original rumors were true, but not really. Samsung never said they wanted to change the Galaxy Tab they’d already introduced, but never said anything about a new version of the 10.1 inch version. It does make me wonder what the point is, though: we all know the original model will evaporate and supply will be “limited” at retail. We’ll have hands-on video up for you guys soon enough.