Samsung minitablet debuts in U.S.

Q1 device to sell through Best Buy's online store next week, show up in some of retailer's outlets this summer. Photos: Samsung's Q1 unveiled

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Samsung brought its Origami tablet to the United States on Monday, announcing that the device would go on sale at Best Buy's online store next week and will show up in some of the retailer's outlets this summer.

The Q1 minitablet, with its 7-inch screen, built-in Bluetooth connectivity and Wi-Fi wireless capabilities, will sell for $1,099. Optional add-ons include an extended-life battery and a travel case with a built-in keyboard.

Samsung's Q1

Samsung's Q1 device, which was first shown at the CeBit trade show in Germany in March, uses Intel's ultralow-voltage Celeron, running at 900MHz, has 512MB of memory and runs a version of Windows XP Tablet PC edition that is customized to enable typing via an on-screen "dial" keyboard.

The Q1 will be available May 7 at Best Buy's online store and will make its way into Best Buy's retail stores later this month. Business retailer CDW is expected to carry the device as well. It will also launch in the U.K., France, Germany and China later this month.

Although Microsoft and Intel have been touting a future in which such devices get all-day battery life, Samsung's initial device has a standard battery life rated at up to 3.5 hours.

Monday's launch marks the culmination of a marketing push that generated considerable buzz when Microsoft first started hinting about the Origami devices earlier this year. Origami represents the software maker's code name for the software that powers the minitablets. Intel has also been touting the possibilities of such products, which it calls ultramobile PCs.

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Video: Samsung shows off Q1
H.S. Kim, Samsung's executive vice president and general manager of computer systems, rolls out the company's new Q1 in San Francisco.

Market researcher In-Stat has forecast that shipments of such ultramobile PCs could reach 7.8 million units by 2011.

Intel, though, sees an even brighter future. In an interview, Intel Vice President Gadi Singer said the market opportunity is "absolutely much higher."

"We're looking at a market of 100 million units a year," Singer said, but he did not say when the market would reach that size.

However, analysts have been critical of the first generation of devices, saying they will fall short of the tech giants' long-term goals and are likely to appeal largely to gadget enthusiasts.

In a press conference on Monday, Samsung tried to cast a somewhat wider net.

"Q1 is ready for the typical computer user," said H.S. Kim, exective vice president of Samsung Electronics' Computer System Division. "The goal is to provide users with the freedom to be mobile while connected to their business and entertainment files that are a crucial part of their lives."

But the first customers of the Q1 are likely to be users with specialized needs, such as medical workers that have been using larger Tablet PCs but found them too bulky or too expensive, said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

Most consumers won't want to spend $1,099 on one of these devices just yet, Bajarin said. If vendors can price a minitablet somewhere between $499 and $699, they'll have a better chance of courting regular users, he said.

However, not all analysts were sure that corporations would want a minitablet with so many multimedia features. "It's too expensive for a consumer device, but too consumery for a commercial device," said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC.

Both Singer and Microsoft corporate vice president Bill Mitchell said there are challenges that need to still be overcome, including cost and battery life barriers.

"There are a lot of hard problems," Mitchell told CNET News.com. Singer, though, quickly added that all of the issues are "technically and physically solvable."

"We are excited about the Q1 as the first step," Mitchell said at a press briefing.

Mitchell said the company has already done some work to make Windows run better on a smaller touch-screen device and that it will do more work with Windows Vista. For the first devices, Microsoft added a dial keyboard as well as a more touch-friendly version of Windows Media Player and a version of the popular puzzle game Sudoku.

"You can't just take Windows, plunk it down on a small-form-factor PC and call it a day," he said during a press briefing.

While the first minitablets aren't expected to rapidly take off, the size and features promised by the devices are interesting as prices come down, Bajarin said. "This is the platform that's closer to (Bill) Gates' vision of mobile computing," he said, comparing the Q1 to the Tablet PC.

"Since this is the first, we're really just trying to get user feedback," said David Nichols, director of display marketing for Samsung's information technology division.