In January, I wrote about the premium Android gap that the United States faces when it comes to smartphones. To a lesser extent, there is also one for tablets. Xiaomi is keeping its Android tablets out of the US market, and TCL and Amazon are focusing on the value segment. In fact, mass retailers offer a wealth of inexpensive Android tablet / keyboard combinations that can cover the basics of word processing and web browsing. In the high end, however, Samsung and Lenovo are the only major US market players offering a wide range of Android tablets to professionals and businesses.
It may seem like a natural endgame as tablets gained traction by being placed between smartphones and laptops. Areas where Samsung and Lenovo are respective volume managers. But it also requires persistence to stick to what was Android’s first major venture beyond smartphones, one that would predict challenges that Google would face in categories like TVs and smartwatches. A look at the latest from Lenovo and Samsung shows that companies have attacked similar benefits, but often with different approaches.
Go big, but zero in
Especially to compete with the 12.9 “iPad Pro, both Samsung and Lenovo have gone far beyond the popular 10” and 11 “screen sizes. Both companies offer their latest Pro tablets with 12” + screens. In addition, Lenovo offers its Yoga Tab with a 13.3 “screen, while Samsung’s latest S8 is available in a giant screen size of 14.6”, the largest Android tablet the company has made since 2019’s 17.3 “Galaxy View 2 When it comes to Yoga Tab, offering a tablet capable of multimodality or different postures has not affected the tablet category, as similar flexibility has had on notebooks. That said, there is nothing comparable to the design. of Lenovo’s Yoga Tab line and Samsung’s 8 “Galaxy Tab Active 3 similarly stand alone for frontline applications that invite extreme heat, cold, dust, rain and the risk of falls.
While Samsung has long highlighted the role that its Knox security stack plays across its S-Series tablets and smartphones, it has been encouraging to see the company highlight Knox’s availability in its enterprise-focused A-Series smartphones, which may be a sign on that Knox also comes to its more affordable tablets in the A-series. Lenovo has been further behind in crossover security branding. But with ThinkShield, now one of the few Lenovo-associated PC feature brands currently appearing on their Motorola handsets, it also appears to be appearing more prominently in the mother brand’s P-Series pro Android tablets.
Scribbling for success
While Samsung had a Note tablet sub-brand in the early days, its S-Series tablets took pen functionality before it was cool. Historically, it has handled the ever-annoying problem of pen-docking better than Lenovo; with its latest tablet offerings, Lenovo has taken Samsung’s S7 approach to dock the pen on the back of the tablet, providing an inelegant hump, albeit a removable one, that offers secure storage and can improve grip, especially on the larger sizes.
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With its S8 series keyboard portfolio, Samsung is now offering a compromise. When using the tablet, you can hold it anchored to the back of the tablet where it is charging. But when you are on the go, you can store the S Pen in the foil hinge, where it is slim and secure but does not charge. Both Lenovo’s and Samsung’s pen storage options are more secure than the visible page adhesion options, which are the standard pen adhesion options for Microsoft Surface and iPad. Lenovo has also added a pen button on the screen that is similar to the one Samsung has had on its tablets for years. Like the Samsung version, it includes real-time screen capture options and notes that can be transcribed. In addition to offering some fun features such as AR Doodle, the Samsung version can be expanded, but Lenovo’s version includes a handy screen magnification feature.
While most Android tablets can act as secondary screens with third-party software, Samsung and Lenovo have taken contrasting steps to answer Apple’s Sidecar feature, which allows the use of an iPad as a second screen. Samsung’s approach works with Windows’ screen projection feature and is activated with just the push of a quick settings button, while Lenovo’s is based on its Project Unity effort, which I wrote about last September.
Although Project Unity promises to offer more flexibility, it requires downloading an app today and officially only supports Lenovo PCs (though I found that it worked with other PC brands). Lenovo should also offer a more direct approach, as it has with its largest Yoga Tab, which includes an HDMI-in connector, as the Wi-Fi-based connection, for example, did not work in a Starbucks, even though both devices were networked. While neither Lenovo nor Samsung offer anything as smart as the device-blurring Universal Control feature recently unveiled by Apple, second-screen functionality adds at least $ 200 value as an alternative to buying a secondary laptop screen, only a few of which include their own battery .
One of the biggest differentiation pro-Android tablets have versus cheap versions, or even iPad, has been the ability to switch to a desktop mode. Samsung has long offered this via the DeX feature on its tablets, an extension of the interface it can present when an S-Series smartphone is connected to a screen or television. Lenovo’s more recent response is Productivity Mode, which presents a more subtle change to the user interface, e.g. keeps launcher icons intact while still presenting a taskbar
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Although both can be activated at the touch of a button, and the transition to productivity mode is faster than DeX, most Windows users will find the DeX approach more familiar. That said, Lenovo offers an experimental feature that allows users of its desktop mode to expand the workspace across multiple screens compared to simple screen mirroring, a feature that has historically been limited to “desktop” OSes such as Windows macOS and Chrome OS.
The latest pro Android tablets bring a degree of polish and flexibility that goes far beyond the early days of such devices – with several promising improvements on the way. But they continue to face stiff competition and category friction, which I will explore in my next column.