When it comes to Windows 8 tablets, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC is arguably one of the better ones. The device features a large screen, multiple input methods (including a stylus), and supports traditional desktop applications, making it extremely versatile. After a month of putting the device through its paces, it’s time to give the final word on Samsung’s tablet.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T sports an 11.6-inch LED HD display with SuperBright Plus technology. Inside, it includes 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, and a 30WH battery rated a 9-14 hours of usage. Also included are dual front- and rear-facing cameras, rated at 2MP and 8MP, respectively.
Of course, one of the best reasons for picking up the ATIV is the 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 “Clover Trail” processor, which supports full-on Windows 8 (rather than Windows RT). This isn’t the most powerful processor in the world – it is an Atom, after all – but it’s usually more than enough for running your favorite desktop applications at a reasonable speed while still providing excellent battery life. This gives the ATIV a big advantage over devices like the Microsoft Surface RT and ASUS VivoTab RT, which are limited to Office and Windows Store applications. This isn’t a big deal in most cases, but full compatibility has been very useful at times.
The device also comes with the usual array of ports and connectivity options, including 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, optional 4G/LTE or 3G, Bluetooth 4.0, microSD, USB 2.0, and even Ethernet with a dongle. An S Pen stylus comes included as well. The whole package weighs 1.65lbs and measures 11.6 x 7.2 x 0.38 inches.
Like the Acer Iconia W510, the ATIV supports an optional QWERTY keyboard dock, which adds two additional dongle-free USB ports.
The ATIV Smart PC 500T comes in a mostly plain white box with a slight gray gradient on the front and back, situated behind the image of the tablet. The only place the Samsung logo and device branding cannot be seen is on the top of the box, and the right side is reserved for system specs and the terms “Windows 8” and “Compact Design” in nine languages. Why Samsung thought these two facts were important enough to be translated into multiple languages is beyond me, especially since “Windows 8” is the same regardless of language. But I digress.
Opening up the box, you’ll find the tablet on top of a foam separator. Below that is another white box which contains the power cable, Quick Start and User Guides, and other accessories and documentation.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is fashioned out of a smooth Mystic Blue plastic which almost looks like brushed metal. On the front, the screen is surrounded by a wide dark-slate border into which the Start button, speakers, front-facing camera, sensors, and the Samsung logo are set. All of this gives the ATIV a very slick, professional feel while still feeling like your traditional Samsung product. Some people will probably like the plastic feel, while others may not. My one complaint with the design is that fingerprints on the screen seemed to be slightly more noticeable on the ATIV than other devices.
The Start button can be hit or miss on tablets, depending on which one you pick up. Thankfully, the one on the ATIV Smart PC 500T is quite good. Samsung has chosen to go the physical route, so the button is slightly raised and it feels great when you press down on it. The responsiveness is excellent, and taking screenshots (VolDown + Start) actually works, as opposed to on the Iconia.
Sound quality on the ATIV is pretty good, thanks to the thin dual speakers located on each side of the device. But while they are technically located on the front of the tablet, you aren’t likely to notice them in everyday use. Some tablets are a little too soft when playing audio, so I was pleased to discover that the ATIV can go up to a decent volume. It’s not overly loud, but it should be just fine for everyday use. Strangely, Samsung has chosen to display a warning every single time you exceed 60%, which gets annoying after a while.
For the most part, Samsung has kept the back of the ATIV clean and simple. The camera and flash are located at the top-center of the back face, with the Samsung logo below it and the FCC information near the bottom. This isn’t quite as nice as the Surface, which only sports the Windows logo, but the FCC info font color is such that it isn’t always immediately noticeable.
The ATIV also comes with a stylus, which is “hidden” in the lower-left corner and partially set into the side. It takes most people a good minute or two to find the stylus the first time they use the device, but the position makes it easy to retrieve the pen while the tablet is in use.
With the exception of the power cable – which plugs in at the bottom of the device and can be angled in any direction – most of the buttons and ports are located on the left and top sides of the tablet. On the left you’ll find the volume rocker and the micro HDMI port near the top. Unfortunately, while the volume rocker feels nice, I found it awfully easy to accidentally turn up the volume while the tablet is in your bag or backpack.
The actual top of the device (just around the curved corner from the volume rocker) has the headphone/microphone jack, power button, rotation lock button, USB port, and dual microphones. Only the microSD card slot is located on the other side. The position of the buttons and ports works well for the most part, although I did find myself mixing up the power and rotation lock buttons on occasion. That being said, the physical option for enabling rotation lock is extremely useful.
In traditional Samsung fashion, all of the ports are covered with little plastic plugs. This also applies to the two holes at the bottom, which must be removed before attaching the keyboard dock for the first time.
Overall, the design of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is pretty good, if very… Samsung. Take that as you will.
The 11.6-inch screen on the ATIV is relatively large for a tablet, besting the Surface when it comes to screen size. It does, however, run at the same 1366 x 768 resolution as most Windows 8/RT tablets. But while I found it to be very responsive, the contrast was often a bit on the high end. I noted this issue in my review of the Acer Iconia as well, so I have to wonder whether this is due to the SuperBight Plus screen technology or some common hardware or software issue on Intel-based Windows 8 tablets.
In my extensive coverage of Windows 8, I’ve discussed the pros and cons of Windows 8 versus Windows RT. Personally, I don’t mind Windows RT devices – as a companion device. I wouldn’t recommend using Windows RT as your one and only computing device at this point, since desktop applications aren’t gone yet. And yet, the vast majority of what I do is already supported by Windows Store apps, and it’s getting better all the time. Intel’s Clover Trail processor, however, is more than capable of giving ARM a run for its money when it comes to performance and battery life. As a result, choosing the Clover Trail-powered ATIV is a no-brainer for someone who wants the absolute best of both worlds.
Since the merits of Windows 8 have been discussed and reviewed at length, this section will focus on the features specific to the ATIV.
Samsung deserves a lot of credit for not cluttering up the ATIV Smart PC with a bunch of crapware. At least, not visible crapware. While the device still comes with a host of preinstalled apps and applications, many of them are Windows Store apps. Traditional applications are still present as well, but only Office and the Help Center come pinned to the taskbar, and the desktop itself is completely clean. While I have no interest in free trails for Office or Norton Internet Security (the latter of which tried very hard to keep me from uninstalling it), they were presented in a way that was less annoying than the vast majority of PCs on the market.
The list of preinstalled apps includes a number of first-party ones from Samsung, including S Note, Mini S Note, S Camera, S Gallery, Easy File Share, E-POP, Samsung QR Code, Samsung Signature Store, Help Desk, Settings, and Support Center. Intel’s AppUp Center is also included.
One of my favorite things about the ATIV, however, has to be the included S Pen. This isn’t the only Windows 8 tablet with a stylus – the Microsoft Surface Pro comes with one too – but it works extremely well, especially for taking notes and drawing diagrams in meetings. I’m not a big fan of handwriting emails, documents, and other things on a computer, but it has been nice to be able to draw flow charts, trees, and other diagrams during a class or meeting. I would, however, have liked to have had a digital eraser on the other end of the stylus.
If you are into writing out everything by hand, you’re sure to be pleased by Windows 8’s handwriting recognition technology, which is eerily good and pretty difficult to trip-up. It should be noted, however, that the pen is designed to be used for input, not navigation. Scrolling, for example, isn’t supported by the pen, but this makes perfect sense when you think about it.
For the most part, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T performs very well, especially given its modest specs. It is, however, important to remember than the device has an Atom processor at its core, so it’s designed for battery life over performance. Web browsing, apps, and more all work well, but more resource-intensive applications like Photoshop could produce some noticeable hiccups and slowdowns. Thankfully, it never became too annoying, and performance was on par with other Atom-based Windows 8 tablets like the Iconia.
Of course, the ATIV isn’t perfect. The device will often refuse to resume from sleep after a few hours of not being used, forcing me to manually shut down and then restart the tablet in order to use it again. While this wasn’t a big issue at first, it has now gotten to the point where I have to forcibly restart the device almost every day. For a tablet that should be always on, this is extremely annoying.
Most tablets have poor or barely passable cameras, but the 8MP back-facing camera on the ATIV is surprisingly good for a tablet. Photos taken in decent lighting – particularly those shot outside during the day – are of a high enough quality that I could see myself using the camera in a pinch. Although I generally don’t like being that guy who holds up a tablet to take a picture. Inside, however, the pictures weren’t quite as nice. The 2MP front-facing camera works well enough for video chats and quick profile photos too.
Over the last month-or-so, I’ve been able to consistently get at least nine hours of use – and sometimes as many as 14 – on a single charge. On one day, in particular, I was able to work on documents from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and still have some power left over. This is fantastic for a tablet, especially one running full Windows 8. And this is with desktop applications like SkyDrive and Office running in the background. The only downside is that, unlike other Windows 8/RT tablets, the optional keyboard dock doesn’t extend the battery life in any way.
From a pure tablet perspective, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC is an excellent device. It’s not the most high-powered tablet on the market – for that, you’ll likely want to go with the Microsoft Surface Pro – but it carefully balances the best aspects of tablets and laptops. While I prefer the build of the Surface, the ATIV still looks and feels great. But as I’ve said in the past, I wouldn’t recommend a tablet – any tablet – without a keyboard of some sort, and the optional keyboard dock is the one major flaw in the ATIV’s package (more on this in the upcoming review of the accessory).
Still, the less-than-ideal keyboard dock and the occasional issue with resuming from sleep aren’t enough to discourage me from recommending the ATIV. In fact, I’ve found myself using it just as much, if not more, than my Surface RT, thanks to the Intel processor, stylus, and large screen. If you’re in the market for a laptop/tablet hybrid with full backwards compatibility, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is the way to go.
You can purchase a 64GB Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T for $749.99, with the optional Keyboard Dock retailing for an additional $129.99. This review unit was provided to me by Intel as part of the company’s #IntelTablets #TabletCrew program.