Samsung Tab Challenges the Apple iPad

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Forget the Microsoft ( MSFT) vs. Apple ( AAPL) thing. Cupertino's real headache -- at least for the business tablet computer market -- might just be Samsung.

Last week, the South Korean conglom rolled out its new 8-plus-inch diagonal touchscreen tablet computer (with a 7-inch screen) called the Tab to several major carriers: Verizon ( VZ), T-Mobile, Sprint ( S), AT&T ( T) and US Cellular. Be warned that prices vary widely, as does availability: $600 from Verizon, $400 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile and Sprint. And as of now many of these outlets are out of stock.

Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Samsung Tab is nowhere near a legit work computer. But if you can eat the cost of owning one, it offers great flexibility and can help a small business make money.

Initially, I and many of my geekish cousins dismissed the smaller, lower-functioning Google ( GOOG) Android-powered tablet as a knockoff of the all powerful Apple iPad. But in a few weeks of tinkering with a demo device provided by Sprint, I have to say that the Tab -- while certainly no iPad killer -- does show promise as a legitimate alternative to Apple's uber-hip tablet in a small-business work context.

The Galaxy Tab is as close as you can get to palm-sized business Web portal.

Samsung has been crafty to make the Tab everything the iPad isn't. Yes, the roughly 8-inch diagonal Tab is disappointingly small compared with the roughly 12-inch diagonal iPad. But you can hold it -- no problem -- with one hand, which frees your other mitt to email, enter data and otherwise work, and that immediately slays the iPad's major issue of needing to rustle up a lap, table or car top to use it on. Second, the Tab's screen is remarkably bright but not as reflective as the iPad's, so it really does work outside. And rather than relying on other devices for Wi-Fi access as the iPad does, assuming you buy a data plan, the Tab has its own built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that connects all the rest of your business devices to the Web. Nice.

Most importantly, the Tab fully supports Adobe ( ADBE) Flash ... which removes the goofy iPad barriers for Web-based business apps. Many cutting-edge Web tools, such as LiquidPlanner, which require dedicated apps to run on the Apple OS devices, run fabulously on the Tab.

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