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Four major cell carriers to sell Samsung Galaxy tablet

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Samsung Electronics has secured the four largest U.S. cellular carriers to sell its upcoming tablet computer called the Galaxy Tab.

The device has a 7-inch touch screen and runs Google's Android mobile system. Samsung first showed the Galaxy Tab two weeks ago at a conference in Berlin.

As of last week, Samsung had deals locked up with the three largest cell carriers -- Verizon Communications, AT&T and Sprint Nextel, Gavin Kim, Samsung's vice-president of content services and enterprise mobility, said in an interview with The Times. T-Mobile USA signed on shortly before Samsung's Thursday announcement in New York.

The carriers expect to begin selling the tablet before Christmas. Samsung and the carriers have not set the price.

Having all four carriers on board could bolster the potential market for the device. Apple's 3G-network-enabled iPad is available only with AT&T service. But Apple also offers a less expensive tablet, which connects to the Internet using Wi-Fi.

Apple sold 3 million iPads in the first 80 days in stores. Apple didn't unveil the 3G iPad until 27 days into that period. While the company doesn't provide a breakdown of how many of each model was sold, AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said he wasn't confident that consumers would want to pay a subscription for yet another gadget.

[Updated, Sept. 17, 1:36 p.m. A Samsung spokesman says the company "plans to bring a Wi-Fi-only version to the U.S." this year. Kim said in an interview last week that Samsung hadn't intended to sell a Galaxy Tab product untied to a carrier. But Spokesman Brett White said Friday that those plans "were far from final" last week.]

The hardware maker is looking to preserve relationships with carriers that it's cultivated through cellphones, including the recent Android-equipped Galaxy S smart phones available on the four big carriers.

"We're looking forward to expanding our computing device portfolio and giving our AT&T customers more great choices with this innovative device," Glenn Lurie, president of AT&T's emerging devices, said of the Galaxy Tab in a statement.

Samsung-galaxy-tab-cameraThe Galaxy Tab will inevitably be compared with the iPad. Samsung's tablet is smaller, thinner and lighter than Apple's 9.7-inch gadget. The Galaxy Tab has two cameras -- a 3-megapixel shooter on the back and a 1.3-megapixel one on the front for video conferencing -- while the iPad has none.

Kim and another Samsung representative provided The Times with a preview device to test for about an hour. The liquid crystal display was very bright and responsive to the touch. The light-weight hardware could make it a good e-reader. While not quite the ratio of a wide screen movie, the display seems great for watching video, and it's thin when held in a portrait position, making thumb-typing feel fairly natural.

The gadget we used looked pretty sleek, but the design may change depending on which carrier version you buy, Kim said.

The Galaxy Tab has Android's app store with access to programs designed specifically for the larger device. Samsung is working directly with software developers -- Fring and Skype for video chat, as well as e-reader developers, news organizations and video-game makers, Kim said.

Samsung estimates the Galaxy Tab will get 7 hours of video playback on a full battery charge.

Developers will be able to tap into some fairly powerful hardware under the hood. A gyroscope, along with an accelerometer, can facilitate the kind of twisty-turny games that thrive on the iPad. However, third-party developers won't be able to code apps with access to certain Galaxy Tab features, such as the front-facing camera, without talking to Samsung first, Kim said.

With the Galaxy Tab, Samsung will launch a digital video store called Media Hub.

Google says its Android software isn't designed for tablets, though the Internet giant is reportedly working on a version that plays nicely with bigger screens. That could debut alongside a tablet from Motorola, which Co-Chief Executive Sanjay Jha said the company will introduce early next year, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

In the meantime, Samsung designers, with Google's cooperation, resurfaced many of the apps and widgets included with Android to take advantage of the larger screen. The mail program, for example, switches to a two-pane view when the Galaxy Tab is turned on its side.

When Google shows its tablet-optimized Android software, Samsung will evaluate and adopt some of the changes, Kim said.

Some hardware makers are waiting for Google, while others, like Dell with the 5-inch Streak and Augen Electronics with its budget-priced Gentouch78, have simply installed the system designed for phones onto larger gadgets.

"That's the wrong approach," Kim said. "If we did that, this would have been out a long time ago."

"Android has become one of our biggest software platforms," Kim said of Samsung's mobile devices, which also include products running Microsoft's Windows platforms. "I haven't been more excited about a product in a long while."

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian 

Photo, top: Samsung's Galaxy Tab held in a landscape position. Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images. Photo, bottom: Testing the camera function on Samsung's Galaxy Tab. Credit: Odd Andersen / AFP/Getty Images

 
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