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Mobile Convergence: Windows 8 Convertibles Samsung ATIV 500T, MS Surface Pro

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Windows 8 is making possible a new class of mobile convertibles that flip between tablet and notebook. The Samsung ATIC Smart PC 500T is one example, based around a new Atom core and built around a big (for tablets) 11.6″ screen, but there’s an Ivy Bridge upgrade available in the 700T. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface Pro shows us a different vision of the convertible.

We’ve all been told many times that the day will come when the desktop PC as
we know it will slide into obscurity, though try telling that to the guys buying
$500 gaming video cards (and the makers of those cards) for their mega-tower
systems. SPCR itself will be unable to sustain interest when all computing devices
are mobile and solid-state — and theoretically, noise-free. That day isn’t
quite here yet, but there’s no question that smart phones, tablets, and increasingly
slimmer powerful laptops have been dominating the mainstream tech landscape
for some time. Tablet-notebook convertibles are the latest twist.

A small mirrorless camera acquired in December to more or less replace my well-loved
& used Nikon D7000 SLR stolen last summer gave rise to the question of whether
a tablet could be used as a photo-computer when I’m traveling. I’ve been revelling
in the fact that my new Sony NEX-7 and a couple of the lenses for it weigh a
fraction and take up less than half the room of my previous Nikon DSLR gear,
despite taking photos of higher resolution, on the same DX size sensor. Would
it be possible to replace my already slim Thinkpad laptop with an even smaller
tablet in a general slim-down? This would also ease the growing itch for a tablet
like a Google/Asus Nexus 7 (Larry Lee is tethered to his whenever he’s in the
lab) or an iPad Mini (which goes against my distaste for Apple’s wannabe monopolism)
— even though I can use my Android phone for everything they can do. (The
irrational pull of gadgets on geeks cannot be underestimated.) A Samsung ATIV
Smart PC 500T tablet-notebook sample that arrived last week, and the Feb 9 weekend
launch of the Microsoft Surface Pro provided a good excuse to explore this question
in detail while still calling it work.

* * *

click to enlarge
Sony NEX-7 camera with 18~55mm lens, next to 30mm f:2.8 Sigma and
16mm f:2.8 Sony lenses, replaces a far bigger, heavier Nikon D7000 DSLR
and lenses without giving up anything in resolution or general photo capability.
My current photo-computer Lenovo X1 Carbon is already quite small (1600
x 900, 14" screen in 13" frame, 3 lb package with Intel i5-3317U
(dual core, hyperthreaded), 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, SD card slot, USB 3.0
and 2.0 ports, Windows 7 64-bit). The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T tablet
atop its keyboard is not that much smaller, has a smaller, lower res screen
(11.6", 1366 x 768), weighs 10 oz. more with its keyboard, has only
a 64GB SSD, 2GB RAM and a far less capable Atom processor. But its touch
tablet form and Windows 8 brings new functionality to the table.

The mobile market is moving towards a marriage of tablet and thin laptop.
Many variations on this idea have already appeared; the ideal is a tablet with
a screen big enough (say 10~12") with high enough resolution (at least
1,280 x 800 pixels, preferably HD or better), maximum 2 lbs weight, powered
by a mobile processor that doesn’t feel sluggish (say a >2 GHz Intel mobile
dual/quad core), with 10 hours of normal battery time — and most importantly,
a well integrated, comfortable keyboard that attaches on/off easily so that
the touch-screen tablet can switch instantly to a small, efficient laptop. The
whole point, of course, is to reduce the number of gadgets in our lives: A laptop
and a tablet in one makes sense, but only if it works well in either mode.

This is not to say that such convertible devices will wipe out demand for either
notebooks or tablets any time soon. For those sold on the iPad or Nexus 10 experience
and not involved in content creation, convertibles have no pull. And laptops (with
their huge range of sizes and intended environments) have such a solid, secure
place in both personal and enterprise environments that it would take a revolution
to dislodge them. But I’m happy to bet big dollars that when a truly canny,
balanced blend of thin laptop and tablet appears, it will sweep the marketplace.

The basic problem with either Apple or Android tablets is that they don’t
run a full-fledged operating system.
This prevents the use of familiar software
such as Photoshop, MS Office, and other powerful x86 (or x64) programs preferred
by business and power users. So all a keyboard really does for iPad and Google
Nexus users is make it more comfortable to type with two hands. Sure, apps abound
for iOS and Android, but none are quite the same as the more powerful Windows,
Mac or Linux programs. A handful of tablet-laptop convertibles running Windows 7
have been available, but that OS is simply not designed for a small touch-screen
interface, so even when they work well as a laptop, they simply canot compete
as a tablet.

This is not an issue if you are mostly consuming content — reading news,
watching videos and photos, browsing the web, and exchanging emails and messages
can often be done with greater ease and comfort on a touch screen tablet than
a notebook. But when creating content is your greater interest — whether
it’s video or still imagery, web content, spreadsheet reports, or CAD drawings
— then the limitations of touch tablet OSes start to impinge. Some activities
the content creators do on Windows or Mac notebooks are simply impossible to
do on an Android or iOS tablet.

Windows 8 is currently the only real option for tablet users who want to
be able to use "real" programs
. It has a native touch-screen interface,
a somewhat traditional Windows desktop for notebook mode, and it can run the
entire gamut Windows software that’s already out there (given adequate hardware,
of course). There are three variants of the OS: Windows RT is for ARM processors
that do not run x86 sofware — call it a Microsoft version of Android or
iOS that some
journalists are already pronouncing dead
. Windows 8 is the standard version,
and the Pro comes in both 32 and 64 bit versions, with more enterprise/networking
features. Since the release of Windows 8 in October last year, a handful of
tablet-laptop convertibles running the new OS have been introduced by Dell, Samsung,
Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard, and many more are on the way, not least of
which is Microsoft’s own Surface
Pro
, being released February 9, just as this article is being written; more
on that later.

Discounting versions running Windows RT, some of these Windows 8 convertibles are
not quite small or light enough to be used like the Nexus 10 (600g) or iPad
(700g). Some remain permanently tethered to the keyboard, which swivels and
flips for different use configurations, but you still have a 3-3.5 lb gadget,
which isn’t anything like a 20 oz tablet. (Lenovo
ThinkPad Twist
and Dell
XPS 12 Convertible
fall into the too-big category.) The majority of the
smaller convertibles are based on the same internal hardware, mostly the Intel Atom
Z2760 processor, a hyperthreaded dual core running at 1.8 GHz maximum, 2G of
RAM, and either 32GB or 64GB of SSD storage.

The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T falls right in with its competition: Clover
Trail Atom Z2760, 2GB RAM, 64GB SSD. The new Atom is apparently considerably
zippier than the previous gen, and certainly faster than the processors that
run Windows RT, Google Nexus or iPad tablets, but is it enough muscle for Windows
8 and full-fledged programs? My experience over the years with Atom-based machines
suggests not, at least not for demanding imaging programs like Photoshop, Lightroom
or DxO Optics Pro on which I rely rountinely… but I’ll keep an open mind,
and we’ll find out.

The pricing is somewhat complicated because some models come without a keyboard
but with a stylus, others with both keyboard and stylus, and others with stylus
but no keyboard. In Canada, the suggested retail is CA$750 for tablet with keyboard
and no stylus. AFAIK, no other models seem to be offered. In the US, the 500T
models appear to come with stylus, but with or without keyboard — typical
selling price in the US being $650~$700 with keyboard, and up to $100 less without.

Samsung
ATIV Smart PC 500T

Samsung
ATIV XE700T1C-A01US Smart PC Pro 700T


Typical, modest size retail box.


The tablet and keyboard came packed separately on their own foam trays.

The ATIV 500T is the entry model of two Windows 8 tablet-notebooks Samsung
is offering, the 700T being a higher performance machine in a very similar chassis:
1920 x 1080 HD screen, an Ivy Bridge i5-3317U Processor, 4G RAM, 128 SSD, S
Pen, USB 3.0 port and wired gigabit LAN are the main upgrades, which are very
significant. The battery is higher capacity to keep up with the higher power
demand of the hardware.

SAMSUNG ATIV 500T DETAILS

The ATIV 500T’s LED-lit LCD screen is on the large side at 11.6" but its
1366 x 768 pixel resolution is not exceptional in view of the ultra-high resolution
of the Nexus 10 (2560 x 1600) and iPad Retina (2048 x 1536). Still, the screen
looks detailed, vivid and sharp, and its PLS technology (a Samsung variation
of IPS) gives it good viewing angles. The weight is a moderate 1.65 lbs (25oz
or 761g), not light for single handed viewing at length, but OK for shorter
periods. The keyboard doubles the weight, despite not being equipped with an
extra battery (as far as I can tell); I suspect this is to help improve balance
when the tablet is docked in notebook mode, where it still feels a bit top heavy.
The entire machine is made mostly of plastic, though the back of the tablet
has a brushed aluminum look beneath a clear shiny veneer. Some might diss the
all-plastic construction, but the tablet actually feels fine to handle. The
keyboard is much less attractive, in both feel as well as look.


The screen is bright and sharp, its touch functionality quick and responsive.
The tablet’s 16:9 proportions and size are at the limit for comfortable
hand holding, at least for me. Speakers are positioned in long slots on
either side of the screen, firing forward.


The back of the tablet is a glossy plastic with a pseudo brushed aluminum
look beneath. That is a back facing camera, along with a tiny LED flash.
There’s one in the front, too. The edges and corners are rounded, and
its thickness is contoured, making it quite comfortable to hold. Its maximum
thickness is just 0.38" or barely 1 cm.

On the top edge: Headset/mic jack, power button & LED, screen rotate
off switch, two mics in pin holes, a USB 2.0 port, and microSD card slot.
I found the slot covers an annoyance.


Removing these docking port covers so that the tablet can clip to the
keyboard is a total pain; I ended up having to use a sharp utility knife.


Once docked to the keyboard, it looks much like a typical netbook. The
docking is positive and simple, and separating the two parts requires
just one button press. The keyboard looks plasticky.



This is the maximum tilt angle, probably because any further, and the
weight of the tablet would make it topple over on its back. The back end
of the keyboard gets raised by the hinge structure. A DC power port is
on the bottom edge of the tablet; it is duplicated on the side of the
keyboard, which gives rise to the question of whether the keyboard has
a secondary battery. The 1.65 lb weight suggests this might be the case,
but no one at Samsung was available to answer the question.



This tag on the keyboard suggests it has a battery, but it’s a duplicate
of the power information on the tablet itself. When the AC adapter is
plugged into the keyboard, an LED light on the keyboard lights up. This
light goes off when the tablet is removed even if the power is left plugged
in the keyboard, so I’ve deduced that there is no battery in the keyboard.


On the left edge of the tablet is the MicroHDMI port and audio volume
control; the left side of the keyboard has another USB 2.0 port.


Yet another USB 2.0 port on the right edge of the keyboard.

Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T
(XE500T1C-A02CA)
Operating System Windows 8 (32-bit)
CPU Intel® Atom™ Z2760
Clock Speed (Max.) 1.50 GHz
CPU Cache 2 x 512KB
Screen Size / Type 11.6" / LED HD (PLS)
Resolution 1366 x 768
Brightness 400 nits – SuperBright™ Plus
System Memory 2GB DDR2L at 800 MHz
Hard Drive 64GB e.MMC iNAND SSD
Memory Card Reader MicroSD, up to 64GB
Integrated WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n
Integrated Bluetooth 4.0
Cameras 2.1 MP – front
8.0 MP – back
Ports Micro HDMI, 1 USB 2.0
Ports on keyboard 2 USB 2.0
Dimensions & weight 11.6" x 7.2" x 0.38"
1.65 lbs (tablet only)

Overall, the I/O complement is generous; three USB 2.0 ports in total is pretty
good. A small, high speed, 16, 32 or 64 GB USB flash drive could be used as
secondary semi-permanent storage if you feel cramped by the 64GB SSD in the
500T. They’re usually not super fast, but should work OK for either moving data
around or saving it temporarily when you run out of space on the SSD. The MicroSD
slot can also be used this way. Gigabit ethernet LAN is mentioned in some spec
listings, but no such port is on either the tablet or the keyboard.

Rant Warning: No SD Card Slot

I bemoan the absence of an SD card slot. SD is the common standard for cameras.
Yes, you can get a USB add-on SD card reader, but that’s another gadget to carry,
lose, break or fiddle with. There are adapters to turn MicroSD into into SD
cards, but they’re fiddly, never as robust, and MicroSD cards are pricier. SD
cards with wifi built in (to transfer your images wirelessly to your computing
device) have appeared, but they’re expensive and probably fiddly. The argument
that SD cards can’t be fitted into a tablet doesn’t hold water either, because
every Ultrabook has one, and some of them are barely half an inch thck, as thin
as many tablets.

The upshot, it seems to me, is that Apple didn’t put them on the iPad because
they wanted users to buy expensive built-in SSD storage, and not have the option
of using an SD card for additional storage — since then, virtually all
tablet makers have followed Apple’s lead and excluded SD card slots, and mostly
MicroSD slots as well. In the meanwhile, any photo enthusiasts considering tablets
for their on-road gear have to factor in this SD card issue. It seems a silly
state of affairs. A Windows 8 tablet should break this cartel-ish complicity.

S PEN?

One confusion that came up with the Samsung ATIV 500T in my on-line research
is that there is a version with an electronic pen device which docks neatly
into the tablet. My sample does not have one. Neither does, apparently, any
model being sold in Canada going back to when it first appeared three months
ago, according
to some online discussions
among early adopters. For a while, the Canadian
Samsung site showed the pen-equipped model as being standard, just like the
US site. This must have been an error that Samsung Canada is trying to correct,
because oddly, there is no general product page for the 500T as I write this
article, only a support page with the PDF manual.

What’s the big deal with a pen type stylus? For a tablet responsive to multi-gesture
touch, perhaps not much. But to operate in desktop mode on a smallish screen
without a keypad? It’s a much bigger deal, because of the higher precision that
is needed. Then there’s the range of inputs you can use script-recognition for,
assuming you still remember how to write with a pen. Windows 8 provides a handwriting
option with its onscreen keyboard. OneNote, packaged with Microsoft Office,
is an obvious choice for capturing natural script. If you are artistic, you
can also draw directly into appropriate programs. Samsung introduced the S Pen
with its Galaxy Note Android phone, then expanded it to many of its tablets,
starting with the Galaxy Note 10.1. Apparently Samsung believes the stylus is
important enough to
acquire a 5% stake in Wacom
, whose technology they’re using.

Samsung supplies virtually no technical details about the S Pen for the 500T.
Samsung Canada reps could not get me one to try, then later, I was told that
the version which come without an S Pen does not work with one, as the screen
lacks the additional layers required. Obviously, clarity on this issue is lacking.

USER EXPERIENCE

Gaining access to the Internet and home networking via 802.11 N or G was painless.
The fastest speed achieved consistently was 65 Mbps, which is decent if not
great. The 500T does not have a mobile phone radio to access cellular networks,
so this is important. The wireless LAN was street tested at several cafes, malls
and offices, with a high degree of success, the resulting speed limited mostly
by the quality and traffic of the access points.

The battery easily lasted a whole day of errand-running around town. In normal
use, it should go at least 8 hours (of alternating active/sleep modes). A couple
of long movies without charging should also be no problem. I once went over
two days on battery before the charge dropped too low to turn on. Full recharge
took less than two hours. Overall, the battery life is good, about on par with
good netbooks.

For the record, the 500T made no noise of any kind in the 10 days that I used
it before I posted this article. It is silent.

In Tablet Mode – The Windows 8 tablet experience was a pleasant shock
because I was prepared to write it off. The screen responded instantly to gestures,
swipes and touches, allowing Apps (differentiated from x86
Programs
accessed from the desktop) to be used and switched with ease.
Some apps were quite useful, but unfortunately, the MS Store offers nothing
like the huge range of apps in the Google or iPad stores. We have to hope the
apps library will grow, and fast.

Even with multiple apps open, there was very little slowdown or hesitation
watching images or HD videos (news, movie trailers) off the web, or reading
emails and web pages. I was especially impressed with how well the Bing News
consolidator worked, allowing fluid access to news and imagery from multiple
sources — for example, cross-checking the details of a story via different
news services was a cinch. It’s a far more engaging experience than the annoying
MSN/Bing web page, which I always avoid. With its sprinking of big high res
pics, generous size text on the 11.6" screen, and gesture-responsive random
access, it reminded me of reading an old fashioned, big, glossy news magazine
— like Life, for those
old enough to know it. The email app is also very good.


The screen is difficult to capture accurately due to moire and high reflectivity,
but this might give a hint of what makes Bing Daily (news consolidator)
a pleasure to read and view on the Samsung 500T.

The quality of the screen left little to be desired, and the good off-axis
imagery made it easy to share with a friend or two. In bright sunlight, it became
difficult to view, especially with its glossy reflective glass, but this is
true for virtually every screen I’ve tried, whether smart phones or laptops.
The sound, while totally lacking in bass, was clear and mostly loud enough.
Surprisingly, the relative lack of processing power in the Atom hardware (compared
to the multi-core Sandy / Ivy Bridge hardware running my laptop and desktop
computers) did not show up in any significant way in tablet mode.

The sheer size of the tablet was a bit awkward at times. In horizontal mode,
the 7.3" height is about the same as an iPad, but at nearly 12", it
is 2.5" wider. One-handed holding quickly becomes uncomfortable, and I
found myself switching hands or using both hands often. I rarely used it in
vertical mode; it was just a bit too tall to hold that way; so the left-right
speaker location is well chosen. A button on the top edge locks the auto-swivel
function down to whatever mode you’re in. Two thumbs typing on the onscreen
keyboard is difficult unless you have huge hands; the screen is too wide. Switching
to split-keyboard mode makes this possible, even though the keys are much smaller.

I experienced a few freezes from time to time, but their incidence declined
rapidly over the course of a week. I attribute this to my initial unfamiliarity
with Windows 8, and improvements over time via updates to the Samsung and Windows
8 environment.

Overall, the 500T with Windows 8 in tablet mode gets a "B" for Info/Media
Consumption and Utility. I would score it higher if there were more, better
apps available to load or buy from the MS Store.

In Desktop Mode – One problem that crops when the 500T is used as a
laptop is the limited tilt angle of the screen. If you are at a normal desk
or table, it’s fine, but when it has to be in your lap, the screen become harder
to view. You could undock it, of course, but content creation with an onscreen
keyboard is much harder. The keyboard feels a bit mushy but it’s not bad, I’ve
dealt with much worse, and the touchpad is reasonable, except the left/right
button presses are not great. The good thing is that you can just reach up to
the screen for a gesture or touch command if the touchpad isn’t responding well.


Samsung 500T in notebook mode vs Lenovo X1 Carbon: 11.6" vs 14"
screen. The latter has a matte finish for low reflectivity, which is better
for long use, higher 1600 x 900 resolution, and tilts at any angle, all
the way to 180 degrees. Its keyboard is one of the best in the business.

There are virtually no real programs preinstalled on the 500T, so a few had
to be installed. One of the first was Media Player Classic, which can play media
files of any format, unlike anything native in Windows, which still cannot handle
mkv files, ubiquitous on the web. Photoshop CS3, Adobe Lightroom 4.3, DxO Optics
Pro 8, Open Office, Virtual Clone Drive, and WinRAR were some of the programs
I installed — the big ones via USB flash drive or optical drive, the smaller
ones via direct download or via the network. The Chrome browser was downloaded
and tried; Internet Explorer 10 proved to be better integrated, especially in
tablet mode, and was easier to use. The $99/yr MS Office 365 software is going
to be a routine purchase for many, so I downloaded and installed the preview
version.

The specified size of the SSD is 64GB, but Windows recovery and OEM partitions
leave just 51GB. Windows 8 takes up near 17GB in total, and Samsung preinstalls
another >2GB of software, including Norton and Power DVD… on a device without
an optical drive? I uninstalled both Norton & PowerDVD. The upshot: After
Windows and essential Samsung updates, Windows reported that there was 33GB
of free space. ExtremeTech has a
detailed technical rant
about this lack of drive space on the Samsung, btw.
After installing the various programs described above, there was 27GB of space
left on the SSD. This is not much room for any more software you might want
to install, or for saving data (photos, videos, docs) locally but it might be
enough for a lot of folks, especially as this machine is not likely to be your
only computer or digital storage device, and it does have USB and MicroSD ports
for external storage. Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud storage also gives you 7GB
free, and Office 365 increases this to 20GB, which is useful. There’s also a
plethora of other cloud storage most users are playing with these days, anyway.

So what can I say about the Windows 8 desktop experience on the 500T? My #1
frustration was the absence in Windows 8 of a start button with a list of available
programs. It took me a couple of minutes to discover open source fixes for this
on the web. I installed Classic
Shell
, which nicely restores many Windows 7 features. As a Consumer of media
and information, I was satisfied. Playing even 1080p movies in mkv format (after
the codecs of Media Player Classic were installed) from the home server via
the wireless network was generally smooth and trouble-free. When there were
any glitches, it was clearly related to data flow demand through too narrow
a conduit (the wireless), not a core hardware bottleneck. Web browsers all generally
worked fine; ditto other web enabled gadgets and programs.

As a Content Creator, the 500T did not really do it for me. Even the installation
of some of those big programs (Lightroom is 430MB) was long and tedious. Photoshop
runs, but slowly. Mass importing and automated lens/camera corrections of RAW
photo files in DxO Optics Pro or Lightroom simply crawls, it’s almost unusable.
Ditto video file conversions To be specific, converting one 25 meg RAW file
to a high quality JPG with a range of preset corrections in DxO Optics Pro took
3 min 30 sec. In the same amount of time, my Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop (with Ivy
Bridge Core i5-3317U, 128GB SSD & 4GB RAM running Windows 7-64) processed
10 RAW files of the same size. My Sandy Bridge i5-2500K desktop system (8GB
RAM, 240GB SSD, Win 7-64) processed these files in under 14 seconds each, or
about 18 of them in 3.5 minutes. Converting a 90 sec, 290MB, 1080p/60 video
file in AVHCP from my NEX-7 to an MP4 with Handbrake took 20 minutes. The Lenovo
X1C did it in 3:10, the i5-2500K desktop in 1:40.

If you’re shooting photos and videos in medium or lower resolution and processing
them for web posting, the 500T is not impossible to work with, but you still
need some patience, and it is best to put mutitasking aside. Most Office documents,
whether MS Office or Open Office, could be worked on well enough, although some
of the large spreadsheets were slow, and of course, the screen is a bit narrow
for many columns of data. Working on content for SPCR via the web interface
was no problem, but this is not an CPU-intensive task, except for the photo-editing
(if you start with high quality RAW photos, which I prefer to do), and coding
HTML in Dreamweaver was fine, though as usual, I have trouble with smaller screens,
as I’m used to at least 24" HD monitors with my desktop PCs. I didn’t spend
a lot of time with Office 365, but the overall experience was pretty good, the
touch-screen enhancements and web collaboration functions worked. The hardware
seemed to take most things I tried with Office 365 in stride; it didn’t get
in my way.

Overall, the 500T in Windows 8 Desktop mode gets a "C" or "D"
for Content Creation, depending how much you value image or video processing.

SAMSUNG ATIV 500T: SUMMARY

While I quite enjoyed using the Samsung 500T as a tablet, its performance as
a Windows notebook left much to be desired. It certainly isn’t going to replace
my Lenovo X1 Carbon as a mobile photo-computer. Despite my initial misgivings
about its size, in a few days, I was comfortable using it as a tablet. The relatively
big, lower 1366 x 768 resolution screen was fine to view; higher resolution
10" tablets can often make both images and text too small for comfort,
requiring frequent sizing manipulations (which admittedly is not a big deal).
The slim pickings at the MS app store is a bit troubling, as I could not find
good equivalents for some of the apps I like on my Android phone, but hopefully,
this will improve with time.

For a user less interested in photo or video processing, the 500T could be
a perfectly useful convertible. If a netbook is good enough for you, the 500T
will certainly be a good enough notebook, and its tablet functions are a big
bonus. Of course, it costs more than a netbook, but probably less than a netbook
and a 10" or bigger tablet, and you’d have one less gadget
to feed (power, batteries, accessories), lose, break and carry around.

If a tablet-notebook convertible is going to come into my life, it has to be more
capable than the 500T in desktop mode. The Ivy Bridge powered 700T is a much
more likely candidate for me. Pricier at $1,200, but with a higher resolution,
full HD screen, S Pen, much greater CPU prowess and a bigger battery to keep
up with the higher power demands — those all seem good. Samsung Canada
says they have a sample tagged for me, but they won’t have one till March. Of
course, neither you nor I have to wait for that review sample, as the ATIV 700T
is already availble to buy on the market.

Samsung
ATIV Smart PC 500T

Samsung
ATIV XE700T1C-A01US Smart PC Pro 700T

QUICK COMPARISON VS MS SURFACE PRO

At the start of this article, I mentioned that the Microsoft Surface Pro was
released for sale (only in the US and Canada, initially) a few days after my
sample of the Samsung 500T landed in my hands. In November last year, Microsoft
had opened a Surface-only kiosk at nearby Oakridge Centre Mall in Vancouver,
so it was a no-brainer to pop over and have a look.

On the release day of the Surface Pro, the Oakridge MS kiosk sold out of the
128GB version of the Pro by noon. The staff would not tell me how many units
this was; my guess is 20 to 30. They still had some 64GB SSD versions, but those
were not selling as briskly. Without the cover/keyboard, the 64GB version was
CA$899, and the 128GB version was $999. Cover/keyboards were going for $119
for the "touch" version, and $129 for the "Type" version.
The basic hardware is directly comparable to the Samsung 700T: It’s essentially
what goes into most Ultrabooks.

The Surface Pro is unique and different enough from the Samsung Windows 8 tablet-notebook
convertibles to deserve its own review, and this article is not meant to be
a full-blown comparison. But I think you’ll be interested in my first impressions
and comparisons, and the summary of a couple of chats I had with tech-savvy
potential buyers of the Surface Pro.


Microsoft’s retail kiosk for the Surface at Oakridge Centre Mall in Vancouver
had brisk traffic on the morning of the launch of the Pro. It’s where
the rest of the photos below were taken.

click for larger image
Samsung ATIV 500T and Microsoft Surface Pro side-by-side. The Pro has
been fitted with a Type Cover, a keyboard with some mechanical travel,
which I preferred over the Touch Cover, whose keys have no travel at all.


Surface with a different color keyboard. Note the prop-up flap integral
to the Surface design. The tilt angle of the Samsung 500T and Surface
is about the same; neither can tilt back any further (though the Surface
can lie completely flat). But the Samsung with keyboard is self supporting,
which makes it easier to handle in your lap.


The 11.6" Samsung 500T screen had looked bright and vivid, but
next to the 10.6" MS Surface Pro, it looked a bit veiled and clouded,
and this extended even to the black bezel around the lit screen. I checked
the display setting to make sure it was at maximum brightness. MS reps
said that there is no gap between the LCD and the glass on the Surface
Pro screen, which explains its vividness and "pop". Aside from
being 1920 x 1080, the Clear Type HD screen can apparently turn each pixel
completely red, green or blue, for even higher perceived resolution.


The effect was even more pronounced off axis. I have to admit the
Surface Pro LCD is about as vivid as I’ve seen on any mobile device.


Despite its smaller size, the Surface Pro is heavier and thicker, and
its edges are much sharper than the smoothly contoured Samsung: 0.38"
vs 0.53", 1.65 lbs vs 2 lbs. You can see a bit of the gap that runs
around the edge of Surface Pro. This is a clever cooling vent that directs
exhaust out the top edge regardless of how the unit is held. The Surface
Pro seems to need it — even during my brief time comparing the two,
the Sufrace Pro felt hotter than the Samsung.

The MS Surface Pro has a more solid all-metal (magnesium?) chassis, unlike
the plastic of the Samsung. Whether that makes it nicer to handle is hard to
say; the size, weight and feel of edges all come into play, so a more extended
trial is needed to make that judgment. The extra weight cannot be ignored; it
feels heavier, and the smaller size might actually accentuate the added weight.
It is not directly competitive with the Samsung 500T, whose hardware is in the
economy class for running Windows. The Surface Pro hardware is very close to
the Samsung 700T, which uses components typically found in Ultrabooks. MS has
not specified the exact CPU in the Surface Pro, only that it is an Ivy Bridge
3rd gen Core. My guess is that it’s the same i5-3317U used in the 700T.

The Surface Pro does have a fan, but of course, in the mall, there was no way
for me to check its acoustics. Suffice it to say that in casual use in a public
mall, it doesn’t make any clearly audible noise. I’ll have to get a sample to
the SPCR anechoic chamber for some real acoustic analysis.

Samsung and Surface Pro Windows 8 convertibles
Model Samsung 500T Samsung 700T MS Surface Pro
CPU Intel® Atom™ Z2760 Intel® Core™ i5-3317U (Ivy Bridge), HD4000
graphics
3rd gen Core i5 dual-core (Ivy Bridge), HD4000 graphics
Clock Speed (Max.) 1.50 GHz 1.70 GHz 1.70 GHz
CPU Cache 2 x 512KB 3MB L3 n.a.
Screen Size / Type 11.6" / LED HD (PLS) 11.6" / LED HD (PLS) 10.6" / LED HD (PLS)
Resolution 1366 x 768 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Brightness 400 nits – SuperBright™ Plus 400 nits – SuperBright™ Plus n.a.
System Memory 2GB DDR2L at 800 MHz 4GB DDR32L 4GB, Dual Channel
Hard Drive 64GB e.MMC iNAND SSD 128GB SATA2 SSD 64GB or 128GB SSD
Memory Card Reader MicroSD, up to 64GB MicroSD, up to 64GB microSDXC
Integrated WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n
Integrated Bluetooth 4.0 4.0 4.0
Cameras, mics 2.1 MP – front
8.0 MP – back
stereo mics
2.1 MP – front
5 MP – back
stereo mics
Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing with True
Color
Microphone
Ports Micro HDMI, 1 USB 2.0, Headset Micro HDMI, 1 USB 2.0, Headset Mini DisplayPort , Full USB 3.0, Headset
Ports on keyboard 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 none
Battery 30 Wh 49 Wh 42 Wh
Dimensions & weight 11.6" x 7.2" x 0.38"
1.65 lbs (tablet only)
11.6" x 7.2" x 0.38"
1.65 lbs (tablet only)
10.81" x 6.81" x 0.53"
2.0 lbs (tablet only)
Notes about the specs:
1. I’m not sure the 1.65 lb claimed weight of the 700T can be right;
it has a 49Wh battery, compared to the 500T’s 30Wh, and this usually means
heavier.
2. The 700T back camera is specified as 5 MP, while no spec is given for
the 500T back camera, which I found to be 8 MP. My guess is the 700T camera
is the same, and the 5 MP spec is another of Samsung’s many errors in its
specs. Not that the camera specs matter much; it is hard to imagine anyone
taking the camera in any tablet seriously.
3. The Surface Pro definitely has a fan, which reportedly makes some audible
noise under high system load. The Samsung T500 definitely doesn’t have a
fan and makes no noise. No word on the 700T; we’ll have to await the sample.

TECH SAVVY USERS & THE SURFACE PRO STYLUS

I spoke to several consumers at the MS kiosk about their interest in the Surface
Pro. Interestingly two of the most computer-savvy users I spoke with both identified
the pen of the Surface Pro as the main reason for their interest.

Jim, an instructor at the University of BC, already has a Surface RT, which
he’s been using for three months. Jim has been a devotee of stylus tablets for
many years, using them for writing, drawing and illustrating, often for and
during class presentations. Jim said the Surface RT uses capacitive technology,
and it works OK with appropriate pens, but not better than other devices he
already has. The small size, light weight and long battery life of the Surface
RT were enticements, and the modest price easy to justify. He’s had three months
to adapt and modify his use patterns with the Surface RT, and to think about
the advanced stylus of the Pro. The stylus of the Surface Pro, Jim said, is
better than any other pen for computing input that he’s used, and no reviewer
has understood its importance, thus far. Its huge range of pressure sensitivity
and its precision is what drew him. Jim bought a 128GB Surface Pro, with a slew
of accessories.

Ahjit, head of a mechanical engineering firm active in mining, also mentioned
the superior Surface Pen as the primary reason for his interest in the Pro.
Ahjit uses digital drawing pens extensively in his work (presumaby with CAD
programs at the like), and really liked his short experience with the Surface
Pro pen that morning. He said he would have bought one that morning, but the
kiosk had already sold out of the 128GB model.

My own brief trial of the Surface Pro Pen reminded me how far my handwriting
has fallen in the digital/keyboard age, but without anything for comparison,
I learned very little about how good the Surface Pen is. That comparison will
have to wait for a sample of the Samsung 700T to arrive.

CONCLUSIONS

The emergence of Windows 8 tablet-notebook convertibles is a significant marker
in mobile technology, the most vibrant sector of the tech market. The idea or
combining a tablet and a notebook into one device is sound, given the clutter
of mobile tech devices that surround so many of us: Do you really want to tavel
with a phone, a tablet and a notebook — and all the accessories each of
these devices demands? The Samsung 500T is not an ideal convertible for everyone,
but it is a viable option if tablet functions are more important and the notebook
functions less so. The more capable 700T is sure to be preferred by those who
want a convertible to be as capable as an Ultrabook. You’ll see a review of
the 700T here in a few weeks.

The MS Surface Pro is a different take on the convertible concept, the size
being closer to an iPad. The Surface keyboard is more like an iPad cover, and
less like a keyboard on a normal notebook. Its extra thickness and weight, and
shorter battery life might prove troublesome, although its smaller, HD, extremely
vivid screen may be preferred by many users. The included high resolution Surface
Pen may give the Pro special status among those who like or need to use a digital
pen. An examination of the Samsung ATIV 700T’s S Pen will help determine whether
the Surface Pen is as unique as its fans believe.

My thanks to Arun at Samsung
Canada
and to the MS Surface Retail Kiosk Staff at Oakridge Mall

* * *

Samsung
ATIV Smart PC 500T

Samsung
ATIV XE700T1C-A01US Smart PC Pro 700T

Microsoft
Surface Pro Windows 8 Pro 128 Gb Tablet

* * *

Other SPCR articles that might interest you:
Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit
DC3217BY

Samsung Series 9 Ultra Portable Notebook

* * *

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