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

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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
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.


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.

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