What happens when you mix tablets and cell phone carriers? Apparently the answer is a mixed bag. With the iPad you get the fairly reasonable option to add data on a prepaid basis, so that you don’t need to commit for two years. The rates aren’t that great so it’s not a universal positive, but it’s certainly better than signing a two-year contract that goes on top of whatever you pay for a smartphone. With the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy Tab, though, we might see something different. Recent rumor suggest that T-Mobile will introduce the Tab for $399 with a two-year contract, or $599 to $649 without a contract. Neither of those seems to work out for the consumer. Contract issues Smartphone owners are, for the most part, slaves to the two-year contract. It’s what we sign in order to get a better deal on an otherwise expensive phone. By committing to two years of service, we guarantee the carrier that they’ll recoup the subsidy. It’s a tough trade-off, but it’s ultimately one that people will make in order to avoid paying $500 for a device. A tablet, though, presents a different situation. It’s both like a smartphone and not like a smartphone. The Tab is like a smartphone, because it runs the same operating system as Android handsets. It’s not, because you won’t tote it in your pocket and use it to make phone calls and send text messages. That means you’ll need another handset, which means plenty of monthly costs. If you already own an Android, adding the Tab to your contract will become a pricey endeavor. Let’s just say that you’re going through T-Mobile. I’m on the Everything 500 plan, which costs $80 per month — around $90 with taxes and fees. Then, if I want a Galaxy Tab, I’d have to add another $49.99 per month for the Smartphone Unlimited Web & Email plan. That would mean cutting a $140 check to T-Mobile every month. (Of course, T-Mobile could announce price breaks for current Android users, but I won’t count on that. What’s more likely is that they go with the webConnect plan, which costs $39.99 per month, if anything.) At $399 up front and $50 per month, I’d be spending $1,600 during the two-year term of the deal. And that’s on top of the device cost plus $90 monthly plan for my current Android. Some people can afford that, but I’m not one of them. Off-contract issues The way to avoid that $1,600 two-year fee is to simply purchase the device sans contract. That appears to be an option, at least with T-Mobile, though most carriers will probably offer the Tab without any commitment. But that presents a new set of problems. The data plan itself does appear attractive. T-Mobile offers the same Smartphone Unlimited Web & Email plan for $39.99 per month off-contract — mainly because you’re not reimbursing them for the device subsidy. It means you can pay for the plan in months you plan to use it, and save the money when you don’t plan to travel heavily — or when you can’t justify the expense. That’s the upside. The downside is that the device will cost around $600. While that means you won’t sign a contract, it still does mean a certain commitment to the device. For most of us, $600 is a significant investment. You can get a decent PC laptop for that much. How quick will you be to turn in your Tab for the next awesome model, knowing that not only will you be paying for the second device, but that you won’t be getting $600 worth of use out of the Tab? The bottom line In the above-linked Android and Me post, Taylor Wimberly makes the best point against getting the Tab:
I got my hands-on the Galaxy Tab last month and it was the most impressive Android tablet I’ve seen yet, but I’m not completely sold on signing up for another 2-year contract when I already own an Android phone that can do nearly all the same tasks. With Google set to release theirHoneycomb tablets sometime in 2011 (my guess is Q2), it is hard for me to commit to a device like the Tab that is going to be obsolete pretty soon.
The only way I think I’d commit to the Tab is if my cell contract was expiring. I could then get the Tab for $399 for all of my data needs, and get a cheap prepaid phone for phone calls and text messages. It’s not ideal, but it will save a bit of money. It will also cut out the redundancy that Taylor notes above. The Tab might be a marvelous device, but it’s also an early and expensive one. We know that there will be many more Android tabs in the future, and we know from experience that they’ll continue to get better and better. This isn’t a situation akin to Apple’s, where it’s one company creating one device. This is many companies using the same platform, so we’ll continually see them trying to create a better device. Great as the Tab might be, there will be a better one soon enough.