TCL notices lockdown has made tablet market a thing again, tosses out pair of cheapish 'droid fondleslabs

TABMAX wants to be for productivity AND family, TABMID is smaller

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China's TCL, in the process of reinventing itself from white-goods producer to consumer tech contender, has emitted its first two tablet computers – the TCL 10 TABMAX and TABMID.

TCL has placed the TABMAX as a cheaper alternative to Apple's iPad or premium Android tablets from the likes of Samsung. Speaking to El Reg, TCL also hinted at releasing a keyboard that lets the tablet be used as an ad-hoc laptop.

The screen is 10.36 inches with 8.33mm bezels and a screen-to-body ratio of 84 per cent. There's also an optional stylus for on-device notetaking and sketching, and two microphones that support far-field listening, allowing punters to dock the tablet and use it as a standalone Google Assistant device.

But while the TABMAX has pretensions of productivity, TCL said it also envisions it as a family device. As a result, it comes with a locked-down "Kids Mode" with a simpler UI and support for stricter parental controls. On the optics front, the TABMAX has a 13MP rear-facing camera and an 8MP selfie camera. The device is fed by an 8,000mAh battery. TCL said it plans to release the tablet in both 4G and Wi-Fi-only models, which will retail at €299 and €249 respectively.

Then there's the TABMID, which prioritises portability with a smaller 8-inch display. This retains the same Kids Mode software as its bigger sibling, but comes with a smaller 5,500 mAh battery. Meanwhile, the front and rear-facing cameras are downgraded to 5MP and 8MP respectively. When this eventually hits shelves in Q4, it'll come in 4G and Wi-Fi-only flavors, and retail from €229.

Unlike the iPad, Android tablets were once regarded as a niche category – but they have seen unexpected growth due to the pandemic, so it's an opportune time for makers to get a lower priced tablet out there. While Apple's tablets shipped more units in the last quarter, growth in Android was much more vigorous as locked-down workers and consumers look for an extra screen or an added conferencing tool but seem loath to fork out for iPads.

According to analyst Canalys, Apple's share has now dipped to 38 per cent from 40 per cent and although it dominates the segment, its growth – at 19.8 per cent – lags competitors in the Android sphere.

In Q2 2020, the analyst tracked shipments from Samsung as being up 39.2 per cent (from around 5 million to just over 7 million), Huawei (up 44.5 per cent from around 3.3 million to 4.7 million), Amazon (up 37.1 per cent to 3.1 million) and Lenovo (up 52.9 per cent to around 2.8 million). Lesser-known brands, nestled under "Others", rose just 2.7 per cent to a collective 5.5 million.

The point is that tablets, which just a year ago were "a burning platform" (to channel one-time Nokia CEO Stephen Elop), are now a contender.

TCL has a few things it can lean upon like its experience in displays – the company is the second largest global manufacturer of TVs. Meanwhile, TCL is selling the TABMAX as a productivity device, rather than a glorified Netflix screen. Then there's the price: €299 for a tablet with a stylus and 4G is aggressive, and might help the company shift some units.

But whether TCL can fight off recognised brands in the Android tablet market while its own-brand smartphones are still trying to find their footing is anyone's guess. ®

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