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|
|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.
Samsung includes some pre-installed software, including a few useful apps. S-Note is a nice note-taking app and a good demo platform for the S-Pen. SW Update is a one-stop driver-updating tool. S Player handles photos, music, and videos, S Camera is a basic camera app, and there's also S Gallery (a photo-album app) and AllShare connectivity for media sharing between Samsung phones/tablets/TVs.
|Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||Micro HDMI||HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0 (in keyboard), Micro SD||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Ports and features
Matched up against the Microsoft Surface Pro, the ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T has very similar features, from Bluetooth 4.0 to a single USB 3.0 port in the tablet itself to a Micro SD card slot. The keyboard base adds a few USB 2.0 ports. This tablet/laptop still lacks dedicated Ethernet or an SD card slot, even though there was clearly room for both in the keyboard base.
The internal specs of the Smart Pro PC 700T I reviewed are exactly the same as the Surface Pro: a 1.7 GHz Core i5-3317U, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD.
The specs are familiar, and match the basic components of your average ultrabook, so it isn't surprising that it performed equivalently in our benchmarking tests. Test for test, the ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T was a couple of seconds slower on average than the Microsoft Surface Pro, but not enough that anyone would notice. Boot-up time is especially fast, at less than 10 seconds. Look at the charts and you can see that the best part of the Smart PC Pro is its speed; it's about as fast as the Lenovo Yoga 13. It's a real laptop under the hood, without a doubt.
The included Intel HD 4000 graphics are good enough to handle some general games, but I wouldn't recommend diving deep into that; the rear vents and fans kicked in even under basic Web browsing use.
The Smart PC Pro 700T's battery lasted 5 hours and 19 minutes. Roughly 50 minutes more than the Surface Pro is nothing to sneeze at, especially when both aren't terribly stellar. Getting over the 5-hour hump matters to a day's work. It's also notable because both the Surface Pro and Smart PC Pro weigh about the same, and Samsung's tablet has a larger screen size. Again, that keyboard base doesn't add any extra battery oomph.
Worth the upsell?
When you do the hard math, the cost of full Core i5 ultrabook-like Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrids don't make a whole lot of sense. The $1,100 cost of the ATIV Smart PC Pro isn't outrageous, but you can get a budget touch ultrabook now for as low as $700. Samsung makes some good ones, too. You're paying $400 more for that added detachable screen functionality. Would you be better off simply buying a small, cheap tablet plus a laptop?
The clever magic trick that the Surface Pro performs with that Type Cover is, in a sense, that it never stops being a tablet. The cover folds up and becomes part of the tablet experience, and adds to the overall portability. By comparison, the Smart PC Pro 700T feels and looks like...well, like a Chromebook. Its closest look-and-feel cousin is probably the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook I reviewed last year. It's a far different beast under the hood, of course, but this four-pound machine isn't all that thin or different in appearance -- or size -- from a 12-inch laptop. The keyboard, while comfortable, doesn't add a lot to the equation other than a couple of USB ports. Yes, the Smart PC Pro feels like a laptop, but it doesn't transcend being a laptop most of the time.
I didn't feel all that compelled to detach the Smart PC Pro all that much. Maybe that's because it works well enough in laptop mode. Maybe I simply feel like an 11.6-inch tablet is just a bit too large to be practical. That 1.98-pound tablet feels best when docked in the keyboard base...in which case, why not skip getting a tablet hybrid altogether?
If the Smart PC Pro 700T faces that level of identity crisis in my eyes, odds are you'll find even less use for it yourself. It can't bend into clever shapes like the Lenovo Yoga. It can't even bend back all that far compared to a regular laptop.
At $800, I'd have warm feelings towards the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T. At $1,199, it's a little less easy to embrace.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.7GHz IntelCore i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB LITEON IT SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.7GHz IntelCore i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Micron SSD
Acer Iconia W510P-1406
Windows 8 Pro (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SEM64G SSD
Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB LITEONIT SSD
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Intel SSD
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD
HP Envy x2
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SSD