Sony Corp took the wraps off a new tablet that functions as a universal remote, and another one that folds like a clamshell, hoping to distinguish its devices from scores of others already on the market.
The Japanese company is coming late to the game with its first tablet due to hit store shelves in September. Its release is more than a year and a half since Apple Inc released the iPad and almost a year since Samsung came out with its first GalaxyTab.
Sony had vowed in January that it would become the world's No. 2 tablet maker -- behind Apple -- by 2012, and is expected to stick by that bold claim on Wednesday at an event in Berlin to unveil the tablets, attended by Chief Executive Howard Stringer.
But at least one gadget reviewer who has played with the new Sony Tablet: S is not so sure. The basic model is priced at $499, same as the iPad.
I don't think it has the premium feel, design and build quality that either the iPad 2 or GalaxyTab has right now, said Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of the Engadget tech blog.
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, he added.
Sony's tablets run on Google's Android software, like the GalaxyTab and many other tablets from Acer Inc, Asustek and Motorola.
There has been little buzz generated ahead of the release, unlike the anticipation for the iPad or even the GalaxyTab.
Sony hopes the tablet will restore its leading position in consumer electronics. Once a symbol of Japan's high-tech might, the Japanese electronics conglomerate is struggling under the weight of its money-losing TV division and badly needs the boost of a new hit product.
Sony really must be in the tablet market and must succeed, said Mito Securities electronics analyst Keita Wakabayashi.
Worldwide tablet shipments are forecast to more than triple this year to 60 million units, and then rise to 275.3 million units by 2015, according to an report this month from research firm IHS iSuppli.
SONY TOUTS ERGONOMIC DESIGN
Sony said the S tablet is unique because of a universal remote inside the computer that can be used to control stereos, cable television boxes and TV sets of many brands.
The company also touted the curvy design of the S tablet, which resembles a folded- back magazine, to make it to easier hold with one hand.
The single-screen, wifi-only device has a 9.4 inch screen, weighs 1.33 lbs and has front and rear cameras.
A 16 gigabytes version of the tablet will cost $499 in the U.S., while the 32 GB version will retail for $599 -- the same prices as the iPad. It can be pre-ordered on Wednesday and will be in U.S. stores in September.
Sony's second tablet, the P, comes with 4 GB of memory and looks like a clutch purse. It has two 5.5-inch screens that can be folded together and weighs less than a pound.
The tablet also offers 4G cellular service. Sony said it would be in stores later this year but did not provide a date. No price-tag has been set on it either since that is up to the tablet's exclusive carrier AT&T Inc, Sony said.
Sony joins a slew of tech companies hoping to win share in the tablet market dominated by the iPad, but few have succeeded. Hewlett Packard's decision to drop its Touchpad tablet weeks after launch demonstrates how easy it is to fail, though sales did soar after HP slashed prices to $99 from $399 and $499, prompting the company to announce a further final run of the tablets to meet demand.
The Sony tablets tap into Sony's Entertainment library and come with free movie and video downloads, as well as a trial membership to a music service. The tablets come branded with a logo of PlayStation, Sony's video game console, because users can play a few old PlayStation games on it.
Shares of Sony fell 1.77 percent in Tokyo trading before the tablets were unveiled.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo)
(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)