When Windows 8 was released last year it was clear that it had a touch orientated user interface, so the idea of having a tablet that could also dock into being a laptop made perfect sense. The first whiff of this we saw was Microsoft’s own Surface Pro which impressed everyone, but didn’t get an international release until it was too late. Another is this guy, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro.
The first thing I want to point out with this device, and pretty much most devices in its category is that you need to think of it more as an ultrabook than a tablet, and when you start thinking of the device like that it actually becomes something great to use.
The build of the device doesn’t exactly have the most premium feel to it, with a sturdy black plastic housing the device and its 11.6-inch 1080p screen. The screen is actually one of the best parts of the device – it’s extremely sharp and displays colours in a rich and vibrant manner, especially at the colourful Windows 8 start-screen. Once in desktop mode, though, it becomes one of your worst enemies, as with such a high resolution on a smaller screen everything is really quite small. More on this later. The touchscreen is also very prone to fingerprints, and I mean very prone, so it’ll require cleaning a fair bit – which is why a microfiber cloth is also included.
The device is really heavy, it’s probably the first thing you notice, and the keyboard only adds to the weight… but it doesn’t have an extended battery in it. I don’t know why, but instead of putting in an extra battery in the keyboard, Samsung has simply just weighted it to try and counter the weight of the tablet half. Using the keyboard is actually quite a pleasure, the keys are well weighted and they give just the right amount of feel. The trackpad is also quite good to use, it’s a good size and is very responsive which makes it easy to use Windows 8 gestures.
It’s running your standard ultrabook specs, including a 1.7GHz 3rd gen Core i5, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and 3 USB ports (one on the tablet, two on the keyboard). It also features both a front-facing camera for video calls and a rear-facing camera if you plan on joining the “lets use our horrible quality camera on our tablets to take pictures with” club. Aside from looking like a complete muppet trying to take a picture with an 11.6-inch device, the 5-megapixel rear facing camera really isn’t that great of a camera, you would be better off taking pictures with even your low-end smartphone every time.
Included with the device is also a Wacom Digitiser which came in handy a few times.
Using the device
Windows 8 and a touchscreen are a match made in heaven, more so in Windows 8 mode than on the desktop, but using either you can see that Microsoft has put a lot of effort and focus into touch operations of the OS. Swiping through the start menu, through apps, through everything just works effortlessly and does so in such an intuitive and easy to use way. It works really well as a tablet thanks to Windows 8, and the ability to install programs like VLC player makes it perfect as a media consumption tablet, plus with programs like Bluestacks that allow you to run Android apps, you never feel like you’re missing out on any tablet like features that Android tablets or iPads have.
Thanks to its i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, the device just flies – you rarely ever notice any lag or feel like you’re waiting for the computer to get things done. It takes less than 7-seconds to turn on the device and only 3 to get it back on from sleep. Gaming is also not too shabby for a mobile device thanks to the Intel HD4000 graphics which allowed me to play Formula One 2012 on medium with a consistent frame rate.
As I mentioned above, the high resolution is sometimes a bit of problem in desktop mode as it makes things quite small and hard to touch accurately with your finger – things like closing a tab in your browser sometimes take 3 or 4 attempts to hit the right spot. This isn’t that big of a deal, but can sometimes get annoying – Microsoft has implemented a scaling feature in its upcoming Windows 8.1 update which will hopefully fix this problem.
Using it as a touchscreen laptop is where I think the device shines – with a comfortable keyboard and the ability to mix between track-pad or touchscreen. If you’re using it on your lap it can sometimes get annoying as the lopsided weight from the tablet can cause it to fall backwards if it’s just slightly leaning that way.
Battery life, like all tablet/hybrids running an Ivy Bridge Core processor is not that impressive. With normal use (web browsing, emailing, occasional video and music) I managed to get close to 6-hours out of the device which is about average for an ultrabook, but far below the standards for tablets.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, if you can get past the name is a solid device that is so close to being something brilliant. If it had a better battery life with a battery in the keyboard, was a bit lighter and scaled better in desktop mode it would almost be the perfect portable device. Priced at nearly $1300 I really want to recommend this, but with a slew of Haswell based hybrids just around the corner that promise better battery life it’s hard not to say to hold off for them.