Samsung's Galaxy Tab

Teardown: What can we tell from Samsung's Galaxy Tab?

Samsung put time-to-market first in getting its iPad competitor to market, according to market research firm iSuppli’s under-the-hood analysis.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one of the first rivals to Apple's much-trumpeted iPad. The Korean company's tablet computer started to appear late last Autumn, with sales and carrier deals proliferating in the run-up to Christmas. The UK price tag ranges from £100 to £600 depending on whether the device is purchased locked or unlocked and on a contract or pay-as-you-go tariff.

The Android-based Galaxy Tab has a seven-inch TFT screen capable of playing HD video and a trio of features that seem calculated to capitalise on the iPad's perceived weaknesses. First, there is support for Adobe Flash video, controversially absent from both Apple's tablet and its iPhone. Second, the Galaxy Tab has cameras on both the front (1.3MP) and back (3MP) of the device, specifically delivering a video calls/conferencing option. Third, the Samsung device can be used to make standard voice calls over 3G networks in three frequency bands.

According to iSuppli's teardown analysis, the cost of direct materials and manufacturing for the Galaxy Tab is $261.99 (£168.22). Note that this figure does not include the cost of software, software loading, intellectual property, royalties and licensing fees that are not bundled with the cost of the hardware components within the device, nor any outlay incurred for shipping and logistics, marketing and other downstream channel costs.

Tab lite

In terms of its design, the iSuppli team describes the Galaxy Tab as 'more a scaled-up smartphone than a full-size tablet device'. Indeed, the new product has much in common with Samsung's Galaxy S higher-end handset, released last June.

It is also fitted with the Korean company's 1GHz ARM Cortex A8-based Hummingbird applications processor, as well as a complex multi-chip memory package (MCP) incorporating 8Gb MLC Flex-OneNAND, 4Gb Mobile DDR and 1Gb OneDRAM in what appears to be a package-on-package configuration (more below). The Tab also shares its Infineon 3G baseband with the S smartphone.

This evolutionary design strategy can be reckoned to have had several benefits. Most obviously, it has allowed the company to get its iPad rival on sale quickly with, given the large areas of overlap between smartphones and tablets, 'tried and tested' technology underpinning many of its functions.

Another benefit comes in terms of design-for-manufacturing. Component count for the Tab is 910 (with 778 on the main printed circuit board) compared with 856 for the S phone and more than 1,600 for the iPad. Smaller part counts reduce risk, increase yield and cut manufacturing times.

Innovations

Both the Galaxy Tab and the S smartphones feature a very interesting use of integrated memory, in the Flex-One/MobileDDR/OneDRAM MCP.

Wayne Lam of iSuppli explains: 'This was the first time we'd come across this complex MCP configuration. The primary reason for this tight level of memory integration, from what we've gathered, has been to eliminate the memory typically associated with a baseband processor, typical of a discrete 'Apps plus Baseband' design. This way, Samsung can easily swap out the modem section from the Galaxy S to customize its device for different markets and carrier partners while maintaining the same apps processor and MCP package-on-package.'

The main additional Tab-specific design choices are then the integration of a three-axis gyro and its custom build of Google's Android operating system.

The gyro, supplied by STMicroelectronics, seems very similar to that found on the iPhone4, showing Samsung making a strong play for the gaming market.

The Galaxy Tab runs Android 2.2. This comes with out-of-the-box graphics support for 720p HD video on four-inch screens, whereas the Tab has a resolution of 1024x600, 'unheard of' for the OS to date. As a result, a custom build has been required as well as a custom display driver IC, developed by Samsung itself, to raise the resolution to a level comparable to that on the iPad (which uses a modified iPhone OS).

Android added more support for bigger displays, including the 720p-related WXGA (768p) format, in the 'Gingerbread' 2.4 release of the OS, the developer kit for which appeared in early December. Further tablet support is expected in the forthcoming 'Honeycomb' release, some time in 2011. Samsung, however, again followed its own path for the Galaxy Tab because of time-to-market pressures.

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