Thursday, 04 June 2015 15:59

Samsung’s latest mid-range Tab A tablets in familiar 4:3 ratio Featured

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A range of 8 and 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab A tablets, with and without stylus, have been launched by Samsung to battle the iPad and Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

Cynics might say the ‘A’ in the ‘Tab A’ branding stands for Apple, given the 4:3 screen ratio of both the 8-inch and 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab A models.

Apple’s iPads have had 4:3 screen ratios since they launched, originally available in a 9.7-inch size, and then a smaller 7.9-inch model.

Now, while tablet sales may have slowed, tablets are still highly popular pieces of modern technology, able to take the place of laptops for many while delivering screen sizes smartphones and phablets can’t reach.

And with Apple’s tablets still the most popular, who can blame Samsung for seeking inspiration from the profitable market leader - and seeking to deliver a higher spec in the hope and expectation this will sway consumers to Samsung’s side of the force?

Unfortunately for Apple’s competitors, better specs have reliably failed to deliver competitors the upper hand - Apple is still the company to beat, still the biggest profit maker, still the one setting the standards.

But this does not stop competitors from trying and nor should it - we need a healthy and competitive market, after all, to keep all players as honest as possible and for them to keep each other on their toes.

So, we come to the two new Galaxy Tab A models, with and without a stylus, in two screen sizes, both with and without 4G LTE connectivity, and unlike many modern tech launches these days, all of Samsung’s new Tab A models are available to buy in stores now.

Prasad Gokhale, VP of IT & Mobile at Samsung Electronics Australia said: “The new Galaxy Tab A offers long lasting battery life, access to apps and an outstanding viewing experience while the Galaxy Tab A with S Pen offers all of these along with advanced stylus technology.

“As the Australian household becomes increasingly digital, it is essential to offer a tablet that is ideal for those who require a versatile product – whether used by Australians jotting down notes on-the-go or the kids playing their favourite educational games at home.

“The new Galaxy Tab A tablets expand our offerings to once again reaffirm our strong commitment to delivering a great tablet for all Australians,” said Gokhale.

Now obviously, if you get a model with the S Pen, you can write directly onto the screen with a specially designed stylus. Samsung says you can ‘jot down phone numbers, contact info, even text messages’, with Samsung’s handwriting-to-text engine able to ‘automatically convert notes to text.’

If you’re thinking that you get some of the benefits seen with the Galaxy Note series of smartphones, then you’re right. I’m sure the Galaxy Note offers even more advanced stylus features, given the Note’s premium status against the Tab A’s mid-range status, but that’s only to be expected.

We’re also told that you can hover ‘the S Pen over the screen and pressing the button on the side to bring up the Air Command menu’ to save time, giving ‘quick, easy access to helpful functions.’

But what of features available to both models, seeing as not everyone will splash the extra cash for a stylus-equipped model?

Both Tab A’s feature a ‘Multi User Mode’, so up to eight users can personalise their own tablet experience. Samsung says that ‘family members can save their favourite settings and apps under an individual login.’

As noted, you can create up to eight separate, customised logins, meaning family members ‘can comfortably share the Galaxy Tab A around the household.’

Of course, separate user logins won’t save data from accidental liquid spillages or broken screens, but it is a feature that Apple still does not yet offer with iOS. We might see something happen come iOS 9 on this front, or we might not, but if you’re an Android user interested in one of these two new models, it doesn’t matter too much what iOS 9 does or doesn’t do.

Another feature not found on iPads is a Kids Mode.

Samsung states this feature ‘gives parents some added peace-of-mind while providing a colourful, engaging place for kids to play’, allowing parents to ‘monitor their children’s access and how long they spend using it, all while helping keep their own documents private’, keeping personal content and children ‘safe and secure.’

The caveat is that Kids Mode must first be downloaded free of charge from the Samsung Galaxy Apps store, and of course, liquid spillages or broken screens can still play havoc with parents getting access to truly important data, so make sure you have truly important data backed up to a cloud service, or buy your kids a separate tablet to minimise child related damage to your own!!

Then we get to each tablet’s 4:3 aspect ratio. Samsung says this delivers ‘an exceptional viewing experience for family members with a screen optimised for email, web browsing, social networking, playing games, watching movies, and reading websites or documents.’

This is in stark contrast to the 16:9 widescreen configurations that Samsung and others have been delivering in the past, and is a confirmation that Apple’s choice of a 4:3 screen ratio was right all along. It’s just more natural, so in the end, it is no surprise to see Samsung having copied it.

However, given the fact the Tab A series is a mid-range tablet, both the 8 and 9.7-inch models only feature a 1024 x 768 resolution. This is a far cry from Apple’s 2048 x 1536 resolution and means no retina-class sharpness, but clearly, Samsung hopes the other features it offers will make up for this.

‘Multi Window’ is another Samsung feature that it hopes will sway you away from the world of Apple or Microsoft, delivering easier multi-tasking, which can be enhanced by using Microsoft Office for Android, letting you review and save changes to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel directly on the tablet.

Samsung’s Milk Music gives you endless streaming radio music to enjoy and is pre-loaded, as are Netflix, Presto and Foxtel Go. A free three-month subscription to ‘The Australian’ newspaper is also included.

Thanks to Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft, you get 100GB of cloud storage on Microsoft’s OneDrive for two years, while a range of other apps and content is also included as part of the Galaxy Essentials and Galaxy Gifts apps in the Galaxy App Store.

Battery life is up to 12 hours on the 8-inch models and up to 14 hours on the 9.7-inch models, while ‘Power Saving’ and ‘Ultra Power Saving’ modes can deliver more battery life if needed at the expense of various features until your tablet can be recharged once more.

So, what are the prices?

Galaxy Tab A, 8-inch with Wi-Fi in White: $299
Galaxy Tab A, 8-inch with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi in White: $449

Given the fact the Tab A offers 1024 x 768 resolutions, these prices compare with the original iPad Mini, still on sale, which costs $299 for the 16GB model with Wi-Fi, and $459 for the 16GB model with Wi-Fi and 4G.

Samsung's complete list of tablets in Australia show more expensive higher-end models aimed at better competing with the more expensive iPad Mini 3 and iPad Air 2.

Galaxy Tab A, 9.7-inch with Wi-Fi in White: $399
Galaxy Tab A, 9.7-inch with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi in White: $549

Galaxy Tab A with S Pen, 8.0-inch with Wi-Fi in Charcoal: $349
(no link as yet at Samsung’s site).

Galaxy Tab A with S Pen, 9.7-inch with Wi-Fi in Charcoal: $449
Galaxy Tab A with S Pen, 9-7-inch with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi in Charcoal: $599

Specs for the 9.7-inch Wi-Fi model are as follows:
These specs are representative of the specs across the models above, click the links above for specific specs for each model. 

Model
Tab A 9.7 WiFi

Part Number
SM-T550NZWAXSA

Colour
Sandy White

Display
9.7" TFT

Weight
450g

Thinness
7.5mm

Chip
1.2Ghz Quad Core

Memory
16GB SSD (10GB User Accessible)
1.5GB RAM
MicroSD Expansion (Up to 128GB)

Connectivity
Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) 2.4GHz + 5GHz
Wi-Fi Direct
Bluetooth v4.1

Cameras
5.0MP Auto-Focus (Rear-Facing)
2.0MP (Front-Facing)

Battery Size
6000mAh

Battery Life
Video Playback: Up to 14 hours

Applications
Memo / Smart Manager
Catch-up TV/ Kindle / Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneNote / Microsoft Excel / Microsoft Powerpoint
Mircosoft Word / Skype / Galaxy Apps / The Australian / Briefing

Google Features
Chrome, Drive, Photos, Gmail, Google, Google+, Google Settings, Hangouts, Maps, Play Books, Play Games, Play Newsstand, Play Movies, Play Music, Play Store, Voice Search, YouTube

Input/Output
Micro USB, MicroSD, 3.5mm Audio Jack

Connector
Micro USB

Operating System
Android 5.0 (Lollipop)

In the Box
Device
Travel Adaptor
Data Cable (USB 2.0)
Stereo Headset
Quick Start Guide

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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