Windows tablets aren't new. In fact, we reviewed a Samsung Series 7 Slate last fall which, despite strong performance and a solid design, didn't seem to be a perfect product. They're coming back in a major way thanks to Windows 8's imminent fall debut, and Samsung's taken the opportunity to revamp its Slate in two different 11.6-inch forms: a Series 5 Slate with a next-gen Atom processor for $749, and a Series 7 Slate with a Core i5 processor for $1,199. Both have detachable keyboard docks and run Windows 8. The biggest new addition to these Slates might be their stylii: both come with the S-Pen, the pressure-sensitive Samsung stylus introduced in Galaxy Note phones and tablets over the past year.
The S-Pen slots into the side of the Slate and offers 1,024 levels of sensitivity. Depending on the software designed to work with the S-Pen, it could be a killer differentiating feature compared to other Windows tablets. Samsung's also installing MediaHub software to help out with entertainment and app access to Samsung's content.
The new Samsung Series 5 Slate runs off an Intel Atom Z2760, a next-gen SoC (system on a chip) that seems similar to the processor in the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. In fact, so is the docking mechanism: the Slate pops into its keyboard-and-touchpad base and becomes a conventional ultraportable. Several other manufacturers seem to be working on very similar products. The Series 5 Slate has an 11.6-inch screen (at 1,366x768) and weighs 1.65 pounds, and measures 11.6" x 7.2" x 0.38". It comes with 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, Gigabit Ethernet with an adapter, and Bluetooth 4.0. The Series 5 Slate also sells without the keyboard dock at $649.
The Series 7 Slate weighs a little more, at 1.89 pounds, and it's thicker: 0.5 inch. Its 11.6-inch screen has a higher 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. The Series 7 Slate (XE700T1C-A01US) comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD, as well as Gigagbit Ethernet with an adapter and Bluetooth 4.0, matching the standards of many ultrabooks.
The dream of a truly functional tablet/laptop hybrid goes all the way back to the Lenovo U1 Hybrid, and continues up through recent products like the Asus Transformer. The Samsung's Slate/keyboard solution has a touch screen as well as a full multi-touch trackpad, both of which can be used to navigate Windows 8's interface. The Series 7 Slate has both front- and rear-facing cameras.
Closed up, the Series 7 Slate with its keyboard base is lightweight -- around 3 pounds -- but feels thicker than an ultrabook, more like a Netbook or 11-inch laptop. It feels easy to slide into a bag.
The Series 5 and 7 Slates look attractive, but not particularly different from previous Samsung Windows Slates, and have a bit of a different aesthetic than the generally sleeker, thinner Galaxy Tab Android tablets. The success of Samsung's Slates will go as far as Windows 8 tablet functionality will take them. If these slates can demonstrate excellent battery life and easy-to-use Windows apps, then they could be compelling hybrids. The $749 Series 5 Slate feels like the more interestingly priced device; the Series 7 Slate, at $1,199, is pretty expensive for an 11-inch device, even with its specs. Both will be available at Windows 8 launch on October 26.
(Note: these Series 5 and 7 Slates aren't the exact same thing as the ATIV line of PC tablets announced by Samsung at IFA in Berlin, but they seem to be pretty close to a U.S. equivalent.)