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Sony tablet effort receives lukewarm reception under iPad's shadow

Sony's launch of its first two Android-based tablets on Wednesday fell flat as analysts and bloggers questioned the high price and quality of the devices as compared to Apple's market-leading iPad.

The Japanese electronics giant held a media event in Berlin to unveil the Sony Tablet S and Sony Tablet P devices. The Tablet S sports a unique wedge shape, with the 16GB and 32GB models selling for $499 and $599, respectively, when they go on sale next month.

The dual-screen Tablet P will arrive later this year with two 5.5-inch displays and AT&T 4G connectivity. Sony has yet to announce pricing for the tablet.

"These devices truly represent the best of everything Sony has to offer," Sony Senior Vice President Mike Lucas said. "From hardware to software and services, Sony Tablet devices embody all our innovations rolled into one."

The company acknowledged that it was late to the tablet game, while standing behind its new tablet offerings. "We want to prove it's not who makes it first that counts but who makes it better," Sony CEO Howard Stringer said.

But, analysts and the media weren't so quick to forgive. "Consumers want tablets, but they are not prepared to pay the same amount they'd pay for an iPad for something that's not an iPad," Reuters noted Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi as saying. "Despite the brand and different design, with its pricing so close to the iPad, it will be challenging for Sony."

Meanwhile, research firm Forrester said Sony's pricing "raises a red flag" for the firm. "We’ve been down this road before: Motorola and HP both priced their devices on par with the iPad, and both were unable to sell their devices in volume until they lowered the price significantly," analyst Sarah roman Epps wrote in a blog post

Tech blogs also had issues with the Tablet S. Gizmodo criticized the tablet as having poor build quality: an easily scratched screen, wiggling parts and thinner, cheaper glass. The publication called it the "first Android tablet to feel like it was designed," while noting that it was unable to live up to the designers' dreams.

Engadget found Sony's flagship tablet to be underwhelming. "I honestly don't think this is going to be the tablet that really catapults Sony into the lead on the Android front, which is where it needs to be if it wants to be No. 2 in the tablet market," said Editor-in-Chief Tim Stevens.

The company first unveiled the tablets in April. In January, the company voiced its belief that it will take the No. 2 spot in tablets behind Apple within a year, an assertion that raised eyebrows because Sony will launch its first tablet nine months after making the claim.

Sony tablets

Sony hinted on Wednesday that it was open to budging on price. "We'll see and study how the market will react and we'll take any necessary action," said Deputy President Hideyuki Furumi. "But then again, we don't want to do competition simply on prices, because we have a lot of differentiation points."

However, the company will need to be careful to avoid the debacle that rival Hewlett-Packard went through with its TouchPad. After pricing its webOS tablet to match the iPad, HP saw disappointing sales of the device. A month later, HP attempted to compensate by first dropping the price by $100, but then, surprisingly, canceled the device.

HP took a $100 million loss on the tablet, selling the remaining inventory off at the low price of $99. The fire sale earned the tablet the distinction of being the first non-Apple tablet to spark overwhelming demand. The PC maker responded by producing a final batch of the now defunct device.