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Samsung notebooks enter the Canadian channel

Looking to leverage its brand, Samsung has launched six SMB-focused notebook models into the Canadian channel, as well as a 3G-enabled netbook

Samsung Electronics Canada Inc. is making its first netbook and notebook foray into the Canadian channel, offering six models aimed at the SMB market and is also adding 3G connectivity to its N310 netbook.

Samsung has been selling netbooks and notebooks through retailer Best Buy Canada Ltd. since last August. Moving into the channel allows resellers to target multiple-unit sales to small and mid-sized business, and makes it easier for VARs to make small bid-based deals said Michael Dodgson, Samsung’s marketing manager for notebooks and netbooks.

While retail sales work on a three to four-month forecast window, business-to-business sales often work on more of a bid basis, allowing Samsung to better control inventory.

“If we don’t have product sold, we don’t want to bring in excess inventory,” Dodgson said.

It’s a crowded market and margins are slim, but Dodgson said don’t expect Samsung to differentiate based on price.

“Frankly, people don’t buy Samsung because of price,” he said. Instead, Samsung will be trading on brand power based on its reputation for quality and style in consumer devices, such as televisions.

Most of the new netbooks and notebooks are available in Samsung’s “touch of colour” finish (think sunburst finish on an electric guitar) and have a bilingual, low-profile, island-style keyboard. Samsung has paid particular attention to build quality and a seamless fit, Dodgson said. And since the company makes 70 per cent of the components that go into the machines, it has a “better holistic view of the whole system,” he said.

Samsung’s own battery technology is also a differentiator, Dodgson said. Better-quality six-cell batteries offer about 4,000 milliamps per hour, and Samsung’s own retail machines about 4,400. Samsung’s channel-only offering for netbooks provides 5,900 mAh, or about 10.5 to 11 hours of battery life.

With margins slim, Samsung is encouraging the channel to boost them with value-adds such as imaging and ghost software. For example, Samsung’s deal with Ottawa-based Iotum Inc. allows resellers to include Calliflower call-conferencing and Web collaboration software for a 365-day free trial, rather then the usual 14-day window. If the customer activates after the trial at $50 /month, the reseller gets margin on that.

There’s margin to be had from Bell Mobility, too, on sales of the 3G-enabled version of the N310. A limited quantity will be shipping through Ingram Micro Inc. starting Feb. 22.

Relying on brand recognition is “an interesting approach” in a channel market that competes mainly on price, said Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting.

“They have a very strong recognition point when it comes to retail.”

Aside from its quality history in consumer electronics, Samsung has been manufacturing laptops under other badges for several years in Europe, she said, and the company doesn’t enter a market without intending to be a contender

“Samsung is very strategic when they enter a market,” said Warren.

Paul Edwards, director of SMB and channels research for IDC Canada Ltd., agrees that Samsung’s brand recognition is strong. But there are others already in the market, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Acer Inc., that also have strong brands.

And most VARs are competing on price, unless they’re selling into accounts or verticals with particular specifications, he added.

“Sometimes, it comes down to pricing to get the deal,” Edwards said.

Product highlights and Canadian MSRP:

*The three announced netbooks (N210, $429.99; N220, $429.99; and NB30, $449.99) share a 10.1-inch WSVGA screen; Intel Atom N450 CPU, GMA3150 graphic chip and NM10 chipset, 1GB DDR2 RAM; 250GB hard drive; 802.11b/g/n, 10/100 LAN and three USB connections; and Windows 7 Starter operating system.

*The N210 is available in white only. The N220 is available in green and red “touch of colour” finishes. The NB30 is available in blue and black, with S-pattern ridges on the case to prevent fingerprints.

*The N220 adds Phoenix Hyperspace instant-on software; the NB30 is lightly ruggedized, with a freefall sensor.

*The R430L ($849.99) and R530L ($899.99) notebooks are built on an Intel Core Duo T6600 processor, nVidia GeForce 310M graphics card with 512MB of RAM, 4GB of DDR RAM, a 500GB hard drive and Windows 7 Home Premium. The R430L has a 14-inch LED screen, the R530L a 15.6-inch screen.

*The R480-i5 ($999.99), R580-i5 ($999.99) and R780-i5 ($1,099.99) notebooks are built on Intel Core i5 processors and nVidia GeForce GT 330M, I GB graphic cards. They have 14-, 15.6- and 17.3-inch LED screens respectively. The 14-inch model is also available with an Intel i3 processor (R480-i3, $899.99)