If you’re dying to have a Windows 8 tablet that’s also a full-powered ultrabook-level PC, and you also want to have said tablet come with its own full-featured keyboard, there are other pastures beckoning beyond the Microsoft Surface Pro.
And while the Surface Pro might be the most recognizable of the PC-tablets in this early Windows 8 era, Samsung’s ATIV XE700T (or, Smart PC Pro 700T) is a Core i5 tablet, too -- and it also has its own keyboard dock that turns it into a laptop-style machine, much like the HP Envy x2.
But is it better?
Make no mistake: you're paying up for the full-fledged ultrabook-level specs on the ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, especially compared to Atom-powered Windows 8 alternatives. The HP Envy x2 can give you a tablet-plus-keyboard experience for $850, albeit with a far less powerful Atom processor; the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T sells for $1,199. Sure, the Surface Pro makes you pay up for design, too, but I liked the Surface Pro's design better.
Price that out next to the Surface Pro, and it's pretty similar. The Pro's $999 128GB configuration plus a $129 Type Cover (not included) comes to $1,128. The Surface Pro is a little less expensive, but the ATIV has a larger 11.6-inch screen. This Smart PC Pro also comes with a pressure-sensitive S-pen, although Microsoft packs its own Surface Pen in with the Surface Pro, too.
The top-heavy ATIV Smart PC Pro is a clever little device, but it feels too low-rent for its high-end aspirations. Samsung makes better-designed ultrabooks, and better tablets. The Smart PC Pro feels best as a laptop...in which case, why not simply buy a laptop?
|Price as reviewed||$1,199|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.6x7.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.98 pounds (tablet) / 3.5 pounds (with keyboard) / 4.1 pounds (keyboard and AC adapter)|
|Category||Ultraportable / Hybrid|
Design: Not the prettiest hybrid in town
Samsung has a wide, ever-growing galaxy (so to speak) of tablets and PCs, and the naming conventions can be confusing. ATIV is a relatively new sub-brand that can apply to Android-powered tablets, or in this case, a full-fledged Windows 8 computer. It's supposed to have lifestyle connotations, but the name "Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T" hardly rolls off the tongue naturally.
The ATIV is a study in black plastic, with a slightly boxy overall look that makes it resemble a somewhat thicker ultrabook. The tablet itself has a glossy, dark graphite exterior, with an amply bezeled, edge-to-edge glass-covered front display. The Smart PC Pro weighs about the same as a Surface Pro (1.98 pounds), but it's less dense, spread across a larger 11.6-inch display. It's longer and wider, too, feeling less like a true tablet and more like the decapitated front part of a laptop.
The rear of the ATV Smart PC Pro is studded with vents, and there's also a vent grille on the top edge, along with a microSD card slot, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone/mic combo jack, the power button, and the orientation lock button. A lot of these thin silver button-bars look similar and are a bit hard to tell apart. The USB port is tucked behind a pull-open plastic door that feels cluttered and cheap; I'd prefer an open port instead.
A dedicated volume rocker and Micro-HDMI port (also covered by a little door) are on the left edge. The S-Pen tucks into a little hole on the bottom right and is so subtly integrated that you could easily forget it's there. It's not as large a stylus than the Surface Pro pen, but has a clickable button and pressure-sensitive tip.
The bottom of the tablet has a docking connector for snapping into the keyboard base and a jack for AC charging. A little square Windows home button on the tablet brings you back to "tile mode" at a simple tap.
The tablet feels comfy enough to hold, but the widescreen nature of the 11-inch screen makes it feel overly long in portrait orientation for reading. Stereo speakers tucked into grilles on the the left- and right-front edges pump out ample sound, better than that of an iPad, but not better than premium speakers available on some laptops. You could hold the ATIV in one hand, but I wouldn't ever want to for more than a short while. It's more of a lap-tablet. I noticed a few other quirks, too: the ATIV's touch keyboard didn't pop up automatically as the one on the Surface Pro did, and the tablet didn't always snap into portrait/landscape orientation immediately via the accelerometer.
Laptop mode: The keyboard
The included keyboard base is all black plastic and includes two more USB ports (once again, behind little doors), and redundant AC charging and headphone jacks, but that's it: no extra battery, no full SD card slot, no Ethernet jack.
Like other laptop-tablets in this space, the Smart PC Pro is top-heavy in laptop mode. The bottom edge of the tablet/screen ends up being a riser in the back of the keyboard base, elevating it a little. It makes for a sturdy tabletop experience, and doesn't tip over as easily as did the HP Envy x2. But that back part is much heavier and thicker than a normal laptop. It feels weird when opening and closing the Smart PC Pro.
The keyboard base is very good, when it works. The ATIV tablet docks into the base with a little mechanical snap, and the chiclet-style keys are widely spaced and have excellent travel -- generously so, and more than most ultrabooks or keyboard covers. There’s no backlighting, however.
On our review unit, I found the mechanical connector was prone to little connect-disconnect hiccups...I wasn't sure if it was a loose connector, but it bears noting. The keyboard is the critical part that makes this tablet into a semi-laptop, and any failure -- even if isolated to this unit -- affects my opinion of it as a killer tool. A software update seemed to fix the problem, but it's something to keep an eye on. I found the Surface Pro Type Cover, on the whole, to be a little more cozy and comfy, even though the ATIV's keyboard feels a lot more like an actual laptop.
The little multi-touch clickpad worked well enough, no more or less so than that of your average mid-level Netbook. It didn't feel stellar, but off-edge gestures worked, like the right-to-left swipe to bring up the Charms bar. Windows 8 has several of those gestures -- or, you could simply reach up and touch the screen.
The 11.6-inch 1920x1080 display has excellent off-axis viewing and bright, clear colors, but it wasn't as overall impressive to my eyes as the Surface Pro's display, which transcended the average laptop display and entered iPad Retina territory. This Samsung is far better than most laptops, however, and I appreciated the extra pixel density for both reading and desktop real estate.
Front and rear cameras offer better resolution than the Surface Pro's 720p offerings, at 2MP for the front-facing shooter and 5MP for the rear one, but neither was especially speedy, and both exhibited a lot of noise. Your average smartphone camera would fare a lot better.