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ALAN ZISMAN ON TECHNOLOGY

Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC Pro goes head to head with Microsoft’s Surface Pro           
2013-02-11

 
By Alan Zisman 2013

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Microsoft’s Surface RT – a device on the border between tablet and notebook, but leaning towards the tablet side. My conclusion – as a tablet, it wasn’t bad, though lacking the huge app library available for Apple’s iPad or various Android models. But – despite the inclusion of Microsoft Office – users imagining it would replace a full Windows notebook would be disappointed by its lack of compatibility with existing Windows software.

Last weekend, Microsoft released its Surface Pro model – unlike the original Surface, it’s built using a standard Intel processor, the Core i5, and running standard Windows 8. As a result, it is compatible with the huge back catalogue of legacy Windows software as well as being able to run new-style apps designed for the Windows 8 tablet experience.

I haven’t had a chance to review the Surface Pro, but the fine folk at Samsung loaned me that company’s ATIV Smart PC Pro – one of a product line of Windows-running tablets-plus-keyboards that’s been available since the fall.

Microsoft’s Surface models include the lower-priced model (Surface RT) with better battery life and now the higher-end Surface Pro with more power but less time on charge. Samsung also offers two morels: the $700+ ATIV Smart PC Pro 500T and $1300 700T, both 11.6” tablets (somewhat larger than Microsoft’s Surfaces’ 10.6” screens). While Microsoft lower-end Surface uses an ARM processor (like Apple’s iPad and various Android tablets) the ATIV 500T uses an Intel Atom processor – like low-priced netbooks.

That gives the 500T netbook-like performance (not especially great), netbook-like battery life (pretty good), and netbook-like compatibility with Windows (able to run a full version of Windows and standard Windows games and applications if they’re not too demanding).

Samsung ATIVThe 700T – which is the model I had on loan – uses Intel’s Core i5 processor, giving it much better performance along with full Windows and application compatibility.

While both ATIV Smart PC models begin life as somewhat large Windows 8 touch screen tablets, each also supports a keyboard and track pad, which you really want in order to work with standard Windows applications. Samsung seems to include a keyboard/track pad – and an S-Pen stylus – with the higher-priced 700T model. The keyboard/track pad is an added accessory for the 500T, and the S-Pen isn’t available at all for that model.

Apparently Samsung has also produced an ATIV tablet using an ARM processor and running Windows RT – like Microsoft’s Surface RT – but chosen to not release it in North America, citing low demand for Windows RT hardware over here.

One more thing of note – the ATIV 500T is also available in a model that includes LTE mobile networking available from various US (like AT&T) and Canadian mobile providers. Canada’s Rogers, for instance, offers it for CDN$399 on a three-year plan. (Again, the keyboard/track pad is a $150 add-on).

The ATIV lacks the high-design of Microsoft’s Surface models – instead, it has a gently curved dark grey look and feel. Ports include a single USB 2.0 port (plugging in the keyboard adds two more), a micro-HDMI port for connection to a hi-def TV or projector, and a micro-SD memory card slot. The 700T includes a 128GB solid state drive (SSD) for quick boot and application start up. (I had 91GB free on mine).


Like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the ATIV 700T offers 1920x1080 screen resolution – the same as a 1080p high definition TV – both Microsoft and Samsung’s lower-end models offer lower 1366x768 resolution. Samsung’s add-on keyboard is not as thin as either of Microsoft’s models, and lacks the magnetic connection of Microsoft’s Touch Cover or Type Cover – but it provides a solider, stabler connection that is easier to type on along with a more functional track pad.

With the keyboard connected it becomes pretty much the equivalent of a light-weight ultrabook laptop – with the bonus of a touch screen, useful for some basic Windows 8 operations, along with the possibility of unplugging the keyboard and settling in for tablet-mode couch surfing.

This puts it – in my opinion – ahead of models from Dell, Lenovo, and the like which are advertised as ‘convertibles’ – laptops with elaborate mechanisms allowing the screen to fold and twist back, moving the keyboards out of the way, so they can be used as (heavy and awkward) tablets. Its design gives the user the option of using it as a lighter pure tablet that still has the opportunity to lead a second life as a reasonably light, portable laptop.

In the end, I’m torn – as I was with the Microsoft Surface RT and with Windows 8 itself. There are lot of things to like about this model – but it’s expensive – if all you want is a Windows 8 touch-screen notebook Samsung’s Series 5 Ultratouch is an attractive-looking 13” model worth a look. But all bring with them Windows 8’s split personality – the ‘desktop mode’ for legacy software plus the new tile screen mode for Microsoft’s App Store software.

Like Windows 8, Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC Pro offers two distinct modes of working – tablet and keyboard/touch pad. Is it the best of two worlds or a set of compromises? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to alan@zisman.ca are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Twitter for notice of new blog postings.
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