Just ahead of the official start of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung held its own press conference where it announced the second generation of two of its high-profile devices: the Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer. Neither launch was much of a surprise, considering the news had leaked online days in advance...right down to screenshots and specs. Nevertheless, Samsung still tried to pull its own variation of Apple's "one more thing" and the end of an over-long conference in order to reveal its newest tablet.
Samsung started its press conference talking stats associated with the original Galaxy S. Actually, scratch that - this is Samsung, after all - the same company that brought you "Zoll" during CES. (If you don't know what that's all about, check out Engadget's archive for details of one of the most bizarre press conferences ever.) No, Samsung didn't start with stats. It started the press conference with a live performance from an orchestra, violins and everything. This was a show!
It was also a bad sign, as it turned out. But we're not going to review Samsung's performance at the event (well, maybe a little) - we're here to talk new toys.
Galaxy S II
The Samsung Galaxy S II, is the second generation of the popular Android smartphone from this manufacturer and this time around, the specs are beefed up a little.
The new version will have a 4.3" Super AMOLED Plus screen, 8 megapixel camera and 2 megapixel front-facing camera, support for 1080p video, a dual core processor, an improved 1650 mAh battery, support for HSPA+ and a lighter (116 grams), slimmer (849 mm) form factor. It will run Google Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") and some models will be sold with NFC built in. NFC, or near field communication, is an emerging technology that will be used in mobile payment systems designed by operators, banks and maybe even Google itself.
On the software side, the phone will offer four Samsung branded apps - "Hubs" as they're called - one for Music, one for Games, a Social Hub for keeping up with your friends and an iBooks-like Readers Hub that will feature "2.2 million books and novels, 2,000 global and local newspapers in 49 languages and 2,300 popular magazines in 22 languages," according to Samsung's announcement.
It's unclear whether or not the Samsung Hubs and the experiences they offer will come downstream to the original Samsung Galaxy S phones - and the execs I talked to weren't sure either. One even told me that there's not a single answer to that question, because the content varies by region. (In other words, Galaxy S I owners, don't hold your breath.)
Another new feature called Samsung Live Panel offers a new take on customizable homescreen widgets that can also feature Web content, content from apps, and messages. Plus, Samsung's Kies Air software has been updated so you can sync your phones on Windows PCs without having to tether it to the computer via USB cable - the syncing occurs over-the-air.
Other new enterprise features have been added, too, like Exchange ActiveSync (for Email, Contacts, Calendar + GAL searches) support for Cisco's VPN, WebEx, and Mobile (VoIP) services. A partnership with Sybase brings mobile device management capabilities, and, says Samsung, the phone is the first Android device to offer on-device encryption.
Galaxy Tab 10.1
Then there was the "one more thing" - the next gen Galaxy Tab II that was meant to be a final pick-me-up after a long, and rather embarrassing collection of cheesy PR videos that featured in no particular order a "cold" boss who turned out to be a secret kitten rescuer, a senile grandma who uses her phone to remember poetry she thinks up while in her garden, a skateboarding kid whose phone helps me make friends in a new city and an Indian fashion designer who likes taking pictures of saris. No really, it was painful. YouTube it. I swear at one point I thought the execs were actually messing with us, an audience of tech press, many of whom were operating off one hour's sleep (*cough, cough*), especially when they came out at the end of each video and asked, "Now, wasn't that wonderful?" I was sure that this was, in fact, some form of parody.
In any event, the Galaxy Tab 10.1's reveal was also as expected, except for the name - it's actually the Galaxy Tab 10.1, not the Galaxy Tab II as previously thought. Its name refers to the screen size, of course. It also has a Tegra 2 processor, 8 megapixel camera, support for HD playback and recording (Full HD, 1080p) and will come in both 16 GB and 32 GB sizes. It will also run Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb").
No exact details on pricing or U.S. launch dates on either of these devices, but they will be coming to Asia and parts of Europe in March. And no, original Galaxy Tab owners, you won't be receiving a Honeycomb upgrade - ever - due to hardware limitations.
Oh yes, and there were some stats announced somewhere in between the orchestra and the awful videos. We were told Samsung sold 25 million smartphones and tablets during 2010, 10 million of which were Galaxy S smartphones. We were not told, however, how many Galaxy Tabs were sold. That's because we don't know, says Kim Titus, Samsung's Head of PR for Mobile, when I asked him later on. The operators would have to tell us that, he said. Hmm.