In the last few years, we've witnessed this great divide between mobile devices like Android tablets and "real" computers like Windows-powered notebooks. More recently, though, we've seen the rise of devices that aim to span this great divide by using Windows 8 and one of the more notable examples of this is the Samsung 700T ATIV Smart PC Pro. The idea is that you don't have to sacrifice functionality for portability (or vice versa), but does Samsung really achieve this goal? Let's dig in and find out.
Quick Feature Overview
There are at least a couple of variants on this series of ATIV devices from Samsung, but for the purposes of this review, we are taking a look specifically at the Samsung XE700T1C-A01CA. Moving forward, I'm just going to refer to it as the 700T for brevity's sake.
This model is equipped with a 11.6-inch 1080p LCD touchscreen display, an Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz quad core processor, 4GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 128GB SSD, 4-cell 49Wh battery, micro HDMI, 5MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, USB 3.0, microSD and, of course, full blown Windows 8. This is not a Windows RT device, so you get to enjoy full Windows compatibility.
A few things struck me right away about this device. First, the design and build is much closer in scope to what you'd expect from a notebook than you would expect from a conventional tablet. There are more input/output ports, for example, and then there is the keyboard dock for a full laptop-like experience. It's also a little heavier that most similarly sized tablets at about 880 grams. By comparison, the iPad 3 tips the scales at around 652 grams.
This extra heft almost gives you the impression of better build quality, except the backing definitely has some flex to it. You can also tell that this is very much designed to be used in landscape mode, though it does orient to portrait if you hold it that way. Because it is running a real Core i5 processor, the 700T also runs a little on the warmer side, especially when compared to lower-powered tablets. The venting is prominent and, even under moderate load, you will feel some heat. I do appreciate the added versatility of true Windows 8, but the price tag of around $1,200 may make it a tougher pill to swallow.
Daily Use and Abuse
In using the Samsung 700T ATIV Smart PC Pro as my "daily driver" for a couple of standard work days, I found that it was perfectly adequate for most everyday tasks. This was my first long-haul experience with Windows 8, so it did take me some time to get used to the gestures. I still prefer Windows 7 myself, but I can definitely see the appeal of the Live Tiles interface.
Going beyond vanille Windows 8, Samsung has also implemented some of its own subtleties to this device. For example, there is an S Pen included in the package and the tablet comes pre-installed with a version of the S Note app we saw on the Galaxy Note II. It works in exactly the same way as it does on the phablet.
As mentioned, the 700T did feel like it was running on the warmer side of things under moderate load, but it was able to handle regular web surfing, video watching, and daily tasks like a champ. The quick startup time is a bonus too.
Attaching the Keyboard Dock
In theory, this is a great idea, because your tablet effectively turns into a Windows 8 touchscreen Ultrabook. Unfortunately, I found the keyboard dock to be on the finicky side. At times, it couldn't keep up with my typing the way that a built-in or USB keyboard would. I'd get a "ping pong" sound as it lagged behind. It wasn't easily replicated and was quite intermittent. I ran the system through the available updates and it would still come up from time to time.
My suspicion is that it has to do with the connector in some way, but I can't say for certain. It couldn't possibly be a performance issue. If you don't have a 100% reliable keyboard, though, a device like this can be terribly frustrating. I'm hoping a simple firmware update might ameliorate the situation.
Running the Benchmarks
Even though it is technically a different class of product from more conventional Ultrabooks, the Samsung 700T was run through the same battery of benchmarks that we usually run on Windows notebooks.
While a final PCMark05 score could not be computed, the CPU (5947), memory (7111) and graphics (2118) scores are definitely toward the lower end of the spectrum compared to most entry to mid-level thin and light notebooks on the market.
The 3DMark06 score of 2192 similarly puts it toward the lower end of the scale, so you shouldn't expect to use the 700T for any sort of heavy graphical lifting. I could edit photos on it without too much trouble, but video editing and real gaming proved to be a challenge.
Indeed, the default settings on the Street Fighter IV benchmark gave this device an overall rank of E with an average frame rate of 23.24fps. Considering that fighting games like Street Fighter are played at 60fps, that is completely unacceptable for that purpose. It was only after I dialed all the settings down, including reducing the resolution to 640x480, that I was able to achieve a more usable frame rate of 59.70fps.
We're generally more inclined to give up performance in the interest of portability and battery life, but I'm not sure the 700T really stands up there either. In day to day use, I was able to average in the four-hour range without any kind of real heavy lifting. This puts it toward the lower range for thin notebooks and definitely toward the low end for "true" tablets.
MEGATechie Tabtastically Smart or MEGATechie Tabumental Dunce?
This category of product is in its relative infancy and Microsoft is still going through some struggles getting people to upgrade to Windows 8. This was supposed to the be platform that found that sweet spot between the mobility of an Android or iOS with the full blown functionality and power of real Windows.
To be fair, this isn't really a knock on the Samsung 700T ATIV Smart PC Pro as much as it is on a knock on this product category. As it stands, it's difficult to justify something like this, especially at a price of around $1,200. For that, you can easily get a decent tablet and an Ultrabook and possibly still have some extra spending money to spare. There is definitely some promise here, though, so the hope is that as this product category matures, the Samsung ATIV series will find its place in the popular marketplace the same way that the Galaxy series has won over so many hearts and minds.