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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Tablet war erupts with choice

A quality low-end tablet from ASUS and the imminent arrival of Sony’s flagship Tablet Z brings compelling new choices to the market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The war for the South African tablet market took a new turn last week with the unveiling of two major new contendors.

On Wednesday night, Taipei-based ASUS made their biggest foray yet into this market, unveiling not only a compelling new tablet, but also announcing distribution and marketing partnerships that signal its intentions as loudly as do its devices.

To start with, it officially launched the ASUS Fonepad, a 7‚” tablet designed to be used as much for apps as for making voice and video calls. Yes, you do look silly holding a 7‚” tablet to your ear, but ASUS has spotted a trend that silly-watchers missed: younger users are increasingly using their tablets for communication, and that communication is increasingly visual.

It means not only that they are more open to video calls than the older generation, but also that they like to look at their device and continue playing with it while making voice calls. And because music is such an integral element of the way a younger user engages with a tablet, headphones are standard gear.

Enter the Fonepad. It’s lightweight, at 340g and a mere 10,4mm thick. It runs on Android 4.1, offers a 1.2MP front camera for video conferencing and 3MP rear camera for 720p video recording, and a microSD slot for extra storage beyond the 8GB or 16GB on-board options.

The big difference under the hood, however, is the chip. It is the first Android tablet to run on an Intel chip, with an Atom 1.2GHz processor. That’s not only important for performance, but also for marketing. It means Intel will also put its weight behind the push to get this device into consumers’ hands.

At the launch, ASUS also shared the stage with distributors Tarsus and Mustek, two South African powerhouses in getting high-tech products into stores.

Pricing starts at around R3000, making it highly competitive with most name-brand 7‚” tablets, although still well above that of the entry-level device from ASUS’s Taiwanese neighbour Acer. The Acer Iconia Tab B1 sells for R1700 upward in South Africa, and is the device to beat on price.

Across the East China Sea from Taiwan, Japanese electronic giant Sony has been sweating over a convincing device to compete in the tablet market. Its first attempt, the dual-screen Tablet P, vanished so fast it is now a museum piece.

Since then, it has embraced CEO Kazuo Hirai’s vision of ‚”One Sony‚” to integrate the expertise of its laptop, smartphone, sound, camera and TV teams into the creation of a market-leading tablet. The result is the new Xperia Tablet Z, which goes far beyond the obligatory ticking of performance and feature boxes.

It is the thinnest 10.1‚” tablet on the market, at an almost ridiculous 6.9mm, as well as the lightest, weighing in at 495g. Aside from being dustproof and water resistant using the same sealing techniques as the Xperia Z smartphone it also offers the Walkman app’s music integration and Sony’s S-Force Front Surround 3D, which adds a new sensory dimension to music and games.

The one drawback of the Tablet Z will be its price. At a launch event on Thursday, it was announced that the device would be available in South Africa in the first week of July, but pricing had not yet been confirmed beyond a ‚”R7000 to R10 000‚” range. That compares with high-end iPads, but Sony believes it has enough differentiators to set it apart.

It will ship with a charging dock, both LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity, Android 4.1.2 upgradeable to 4.2, an 8MP rear camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 2MP front camera. It runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon quad-core 1.5GHz chip, giving it one of the most powerful engines currently available in the tablet world.

Along with the successful launch of the Xperia Z phone, which places Sony alongside Samsung and HTC as smartphone technology leaders, the Tablet Z solidifies the company’s return as a mobile force.

However, it is entering a tablet market of around 1.3-million devices, dominated by Apple and Samsung at the high end, and with quality brands entering at the low-end.

With both Sony and ASUS bringing highly desirable new devices to the market, the winner here is consumer choice.

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