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

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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

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Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T

Samsung ATIV XE700T1C-A01US Smart PC Pro 700T

Microsoft Surface Pro Windows 8 Pro 128 Gb Tablet


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Other SPCR articles that might interest you:
Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY
Samsung Series 9 Ultra Portable Notebook

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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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