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Move over, smartphones: IFA 2020 this year was all about cheap Android tablets

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A7
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 (Image credit: Samsung)

Annual tech event IFA 2020 has finished, and one strange trend has emerged – only one single smartphone was unveiled, and it's a cheap Samsung Galaxy A phone. IFA doesn't always have loads of phones, but a measly single device is still a shocking turnout – or it would be, if another gadget hadn't taken phones' place.

It seems 2020 is the year of the cheap Android tablet, as five different slates were announced - that's not a huge number, but given it's a narrow market segment dominated by Amazon with its Fire devices, normally few companies bring out cheap Android tablets.

The new tablets launched at IFA are the TCL 10 Tab Max and TCL 10 Tab Mid, the Honor Tab 6 and Honor Tab X6, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7. That's a high tablet-to-smartphone ratio compared to most years when tablets are rare.

So what are these tablets like, why are there so many of them, and what could this change mean for the smartphone and tablet market? Lets take a look.

Laying the cards on the table-t

TCL's new tablets, the 10 Tab Max and 10 Tab Mid, are 10.1-inch and 8-inch slates both running Android. They have screens from TCL with lots of eye health features, like an alert if you're holding the slate too close to your face, and cool color modes. 

There are kids-modes options in them, so you can hand the slate to your kid without worrying about them accidentally opening the wrong app, and the Max comes with a stylus too – with TCL positioning it largely for educational purposes.

TCL 10 Tab Mid

TCL 10 Tab Mid (Image credit: TCL)

Honor has the Tab 6 and Tab X6, 9.7 and 10.1-inch slates, which use Huawei's AppGallery instead of the Google Play Store for apps. They have an e-Book Mode to make reading large swathes of text easier, and productivity extras like App Multiplier mode so you can split-screen the same app as in iPadOS. The smaller device comes with a stylus as well.

Finally, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 has a 10.4-inch screen and runs on OneUI, Samsung's Android fork. It has a big battery and high-res screen, though most of the top features from the Galaxy Tab S7 are missing.

It's worth pointing out we don't know prices for most of these tablets, but their specs suggest they'll be very affordable – more like rivals to the super-affordable Amazon Fire tab line than the entry-level iPads (which cost a bit more, prices below).

So few smartphones, so many tablets

There's probably a very easy answer to why there are so many new Android tablets at IFA: Covid-19.

Since most people have been stuck at home, tablets have seen a surge in popularity – they're useful for home-educating kids, for watching shows on a second screen while you work, for conducting video calls while you're doing other things, and more. 

It's likely TCL, Honor and Samsung recognized this demand and made their tablets to fill it – in fact, it's almost surprising more companies didn't leap to get in on the action.

So what about the lack of smartphones? Well, since Covid-19 started causing conferences and live events to be canceled, smartphone manufacturers have learned they don't need these big gatherings to launch smartphones. Since then we've seen loads of live-stream launches and digital launch events.

The Sony Xperia 5 launched at IFA 2019

The Sony Xperia 5 launched at IFA 2019 (Image credit: Future)

Now, companies likely get more attention if they host their own events, rather than run them under the IFA banner, so there's an incentive to skip the conference. In fact, Motorola launched its Moto G9 just a few weeks ago, and Xiaomi is rumored to have a few launch events through September – clearly, smartphone companies are going their own way now.

Flipping the table(t)

Sadly, this renaissance in cheap Android tablets probably won't last – in many countries around the world, lockdown is starting to become a distant memory (for better or worse), and the demand for the gadgets won't last long. 

At IFA 2021, then, we might not see as many slates as we saw this year, but smartphones might not take their place either. Instead, it's likely audio-visual products will dominate – that's usually the focus of IFA, after all.

The bigger impact may be on MWC 2021, which is set to happen in February. Perhaps some of the companies who couldn't get affordable tablets ready for IFA will have some to show off there, as well as plenty of smartphones (given it's a smartphone-focused show).

IFA 2020 is Europe's biggest tech show (although much smaller this year due to global restrictions), and TechRadar will bring you all the breaking news and first impressions of new TVs, wearables and other devices as they're announced.