On Paper, A Compelling Windows 8 Tablet
There are tablets, and then there are tablet PCs. Thus far, tablets have limited us to mobile-oriented operating systems. They've employed touch almost exclusively for input. And they've typically employed SoCs centering on ARM's processor architecture. The latter category leverages hardware more commonly found in the notebook world. Tablet PCs are most often controlled by digital pens, Samsung's Series 7 11.6" Slate a shining example.
Both serve distinct purposes. Tablets are lighter-weight devices that typically handle content consumption well enough, but fall short when it comes to getting stuff done. On the road, they don't replace your notebook. In fact, in many cases they actually become a second device to carry around, creating heft rather than alleviating it.
Before now, Microsoft's Surface came the closest to bridging those two worlds. But, with constant use, we've discovered situations where we needed an app not already on the Windows Store, and not likely to ever appear there. Microsoft's approach is hampering a potentially stellar product, and that's disappointing.
And so we continue the search for a product able to live between the tablet and notebook worlds, endowing us with exceptional battery life, easy navigation, and diminutive dimensions, along with enough performance to run the apps we need, a keyboard, and an open software ecosystem. With its ATIV Smart PC 500T, Samsung has the right idea.
We might be willing to forgive the little system's so-so performance in common desktop apps and outmoded graphics performance, recommending against installing apps that simply demand more than the hardware can comfortably serve up. We're less happy about the glossy, cheaper-feeling tablet and very much plastic docking station, which, together are both thicker and heavier than the Surface. Moreover, while the 500T is sold with 64 GB of storage space, a baseline Windows 8 install immediately takes you down under 40 GB. Samsung is asking more than $750 for this thing with its keyboard, and we'd have a hard time living with the compromises it makes as a product.
Conversely, the ATIV Smart PC 500T emerges as a conceptual victory, giving us most of the attributes of a tablet, and a notebook's biggest productivity-oriented advantage: a keyboard. It simply falls short of perfection. Samsung manages to overcome much of what, after weeks of use, bothers us about the Surface, but in a form factor that's two times heavier, almost twice as thick, and not a whole heck of a lot faster. Yes, the docking station is easy to pop off when you don't need it. However, as far as we're concerned, once you leave the house with tablet and dock connected, that's the device you're lugging around all day.
Too bad tablets can't get drunk and hook up; we'd love to see what the kids of Samsung's ATIV Smart PC 500T and Microsoft's Surface would look like.