Windows 8 convertible Ultrabooks are supposed to be all-in-one portable devices that promise the best of both worlds - tablet and notebook, together at last. However, in reality, many of the models released so far have been exercises in compromise, from both a specification and design standpoint. Thankfully with Intel’s new Haswell processors, OEM’s now have a chance to rewrite the Ultrabook convertible story, since the low TDP of the U and Y series mobile chips will allow for thinner, lighter machines, with much better battery-life. The first Haswell powered convertible to catch our attention is the Samsung ATIV Q, which was announced at a London event in late June. Last week we got a chance to go hands-on with a pre-production unit at a Samsung Canada media event, which you can see in the video below.
The ATIV Q is made mostly from magnesium, is admirably thin at 13.9 mm, and seems pretty solidly built. Its screen slides and tilts up to reveal the keyboard, but it then can also be flipped over to face the other way, kind of like a cross between the convertible designs of the Sony Duo 13 and Acer Aspire R7. The one compromise this form-factor brings to the table is that there is no space for a wrist-rest and track-pad below the keyboard, which makes for a less than optimal typing experience.
The real star of the show, though, is the ATIV Q's QHD+ 13.3" multi-touch screen. It is an unreal 3200 x 1800, which translates to an incredibly crisp 275 PPI, which is quite a bit better than the 227 PPI of the much lauded Retina display in the 13" MacBook Pro. The screen is a Samsung PLS panel (their version of IPS) with excellent viewing angles, and it is very bright, though its nits rating was not provided to us. Unfortunately, the ATIV Q will be shipping before the release of Windows 8.1, which will improve Windows DPI scaling to make super high-resolution screens like the Q's more usable in desktop mode.
Because there is no track-pad, the ATIV Q has an optical pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard for mouse control. However, in practice we found it quite finicky to use, but, thankfully, Samsung has seen fit to also include another input option with the ATIV Q, their S Pen stylus, which uses a Wacom digitizer. Along with being able to use this stylus for note taking in apps like Samsung's own S Note, and Microsoft One Note, the S Pen also turns the ATIV Q into a powerful tool for digital artists. The super high-resolution screen is perfect for working on larger images, such as RAW photos, and, when laid flat on the table in tablet mode, it becomes the perfect digital drawing surface.
The ATIV Q has a fairly limited selection of ports, not surprising for an Ultrabook convertible, but it is frustrating to see that out of the two USB ports, only one of them is USB 3.0. This port is located, along with a mini HDMI-out and microSD card slot, on the hinge mechanism of the Q (which, interestingly, also houses the CPU), so it is only accessible when the Q is in notebook or presentation mode. The other one is a flap-covered USB 2.0 port on the right side. There is also a port for the included Ethernet dongle on the left.
In our video you’ll see a demonstration of Samsung's new SideSync software, which comes with the ATIV Q and other Samsung Windows 8 PC's. SideSync allows you to sync, wired or wirelessly, select Galaxy series Android phones with your PC. It allows you to share your phone’s screen to your PC by having it appear in a window on your desktop. So, for example, you can send and receive SMS messages without having to look at your phone.
One of the ATIV Q's other unique features is its dual-OS capability. Using virtualization technology, the Q can run both Windows 8 and Android 4.2.2, and there is a key on the keyboard to switch between OS’s on the fly. Unfortunately, Samsung wasn't able to show the dual-OS in action to us on camera, since we were told that the details for this feature haven't been finalized. What we have learned about the dual-OS feature is that the Android OS shares resources and media folders with Windows, could be stock Android (not TouchWiz), and that you'll be able to pin Android apps to the Windows 8 start menu. Hopefully Samsung will be able to share more details about Android on the ATIV Q with us soon.
The pre-production model we were shown was powered by a dual-core 1.6 GHz i5-4200U processor. However, it's a pity that Samsung chose to power the ATIV Q with the base model ULV i5 Haswell chip. The i5-4200U only has HD 4400 graphics, whereas the next chip up, the i5-4250U, has the faster new HD 5000 integrated GPU. The ATIV Q we saw also had only 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. While you would assume that there would be a selection of ATIV Q models available with a variety of specifications, it seems that Samsung has decided to streamline their model range globally, so North American users may only get this one configuration, which does seem a little under-powered. Hopefully Samsung will see fit to release a higher-spec'd ATIV Q at a later date. While we weren't told an exact number for battery life, we were told that the Q should be able to run for approximately 9 hours, which, thanks to Haswell, is pretty damn good considering its specs.
The Samsung ATIV Q will retail for $1500, which does seem a little pricey for the specifications on offer, but you do have to take into account that the super-high resolution screen does factor a lot into the price. The ATIV Q will be available soon, and is expected to be in stores late July or early August.