Samsung's pricing sets the stage for other Windows 8 tablets

As the Windows 8 tablet revolution nears, a major question continues to loom large: Just how much will these next-generation tablets cost? The initial answer comes from Samsung, which became the first Windows tablet maker to reveal pricing for full, x86-based Windows 8 tablets.

Samsung’s not going to attract anyone looking for an inexpensive tablet. But a closer look at the company’s specs reveals that if you like to pack your tablet with content, at least one of Samsung’s models may be more attractive than it first appears. More importantly, Samsung’s pricing gives us some clue as to where competing Windows 8 tablets might fall along the price spectrum.

Samsung’s new tablets

On Thursday, Samsung revealed that it would have two new Windows 8 tablets, the Series 5 Slate and the Series 7 Slate, both available October 26. The two tablets both have 11.6-inch displays and custom-fit, clamshell-style docking keyboards that convert either one into an ultraportable, laptop-like productivity tool.

The Series 5 Slate is the first confirmed Windows tablet with the Intel Atom Z2760 processor, a CPU that’s part of Intel’s still-unannounced Clover Trail system-on-chip family. The Series 5’s $649 price sounds steep in a universe of Apple and Google Android-based tablets, but it becomes less so when you take into account its massive 64GB of storage. By contrast, the 16GB iPad 2 sells for $399, the 32GB Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 costs $500, and the 64GB Toshiba Excite 10 costs $550. But consider that a 64GB third-generation iPad will set you back $699. Factor in Samsung’s inclusion of full-blown Windows 8, and suddenly the Series 5 Slate doesn’t seem quite as expensive as it did at first glance.

The second of Samsung’s latest tablets—the Series 7 Slate—is a significant update of the current Windows 7-based Series 7 slate With a price of $1199, including its keyboard dock, and with a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor inside, the new Series 7 is clearly aimed at those who would consider an Ultrabook laptop but want the flexibility a tablet offers.

The 128GB Series 7 has solid upgrades—the display bumps up from 1366 by 768 pixels to 1920 by 1080 pixels, the weight drops by 5 percent to 1.89 pounds, and the tablet gains a Wacom digitizer for use with the Samsung S Pen. (That’s the same technology found on the Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet.) All these upgrades indicate that Samsung has its sights set on the same audience as Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface for Windows Pro.

Pricing takes shape

Microsoft has remained mum on the pricing for either of its Surface models; none of the other tablet makers who’ve announced Windows 8 tablets have mentioned pricing either. With Samsung coming clean on its prices, we now have a baseline for comparison, particularly for the Series 7 and similar tablets like Surface for Windows Pro.

There’s always the chance that Microsoft will be able to bring its Surface Pro in at a lower price than Samsung has announced for the Series 7. For one, Surface Pro is expected to ship at least three months after Samsung’s Series 7 Slate: That time difference alone may be enough to help Microsoft drive down its tablets price, perhaps even below the $1000 mark. But Microsoft may also choose to hit a lower price simply by not bundling any of the optional keyboard cases the company showed off at the Surface launch this summer. Samsung includes the keyboard; and other manufacturers, such as Acer, have already announced plans to bundle a keyboard with a Windows 8 tablet.

The Samsung Series 5 Slate is something of a tweener: It’s not as powerful as the Series 7, and yet, given that it has Windows 8 onboard, its $649 price tag could be more than you would expect to pay for ARM-based Windows RT-based tablets. Given that assumption, Windows RT tablets like Surface for Windows RT (with Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip) and Samsung’s ATIV Tab (with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 processor) might cost less than the Series 5 Slate—say, around $500 or less. Still, that’s an educated guess until we hear actual prices from manufacturers. Microsoft hasn’t said anything solid about its Windows RT version of Surface, and Samsung’s ATIV Tab was just introduced at IFA in Berlin for the European market only; there’s no U.S. launch scheduled, Samsung says.

The clock is fast ticking down to October, so hopefully we won’t have to wait for long before hearing more about the various tiers of Windows tablet prices. However, when it comes to Windows 8 tablets, it’s becoming increasingly clear that consumers will have a slew of options to choose from—and a slew of choices to make before settling on which tablet will best serve their needs.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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