Samsung ATIV Tab 7 Review
Tablet/laptop hybrids are here, and the ATIV Tab leads Samsung's charge.
Meet the Samsung ATIV Tab 7, a hybrid Windows 8 Pro laptop/tablet from Samsung. The future is a dark and scary place with computers that can be ripped in half and still function, much like some Lovecraftian horror. Thankfully for us, this product was intentionally designed that way, and even though these new laptop/tablet hybrids may eventually sing the song that ends the world of desktop computing, they've got a long ways to go before that happens.
Have your cake and eat it too
The concept of a hybrid is an interesting one, and something that has failed before. However, this round is different in that not only do these tablets have a more clear function, but they are also more affordable. Th ATIV Tab 7 in particular is loaded with very impressive guts for a tablet, and doesn't have many of the worst shortcomings of the Surface Pro—it gives you ample hard drive space despite the large size of Windows 8, and the keyboard attachment comes with the unit, and not as a separate $100+ purchase.
I don't have to tell you that by loading a tablet up with ultrabook specs and giving it a keyboard greatly enhances the range of what it can do, but I'm going to anyway: The ability to effortlessly switch between laptop and tablet is a huge plus for those of you who have trouble with the on-screen virtual keyboard. However, the keyboard attachment isn't as flexible as it should be, since it can't support the tablet at more obtuse angles due to the weight balance. While the pebble keys are a massive upgrade over other versions of tablet keyboard docks I've seen, the size of the tablet itself lends itself poorly to touch controls if you elect to go without the keyboard: It's not going to make you feel like you're sitting at one of the computers in Minority Report.
The included stylus (S-pen) may be small, but it makes many applications more rewarding, and it stows easily into the frame of the unit in an unobtrusive manner. Additionally, the two full USB ports and the microHDMI out are great if you often find yourself using physical media or presenting material on supplemental screens. Just take care not to tax the hardware too much, as this thing gets hot after a while.
This particular unit has some rough edges, but that's the fault of software in part. Some of the things that have come up as issues (like blue screens when opening the Kindle app) happened with the Surface Pro as well, leading me to believe that these issues may be solved with future updates, or that Windows 8 Pro is still in its infancy and has some kinks to work out before it can be considered on-par with its main competitors. It is designed for a very different workload, so it shouldn't surprise you that tablets sporting Windows 8 Pro are a bit more complicated than iPads.
Really, the internal hardware of the Samsung ATIV Tab 7 seems to be a little overpowered for its likely use—the processor and GPU of the unit handle most gaming and video tasks well, but the unit can get very hot despite large vents (for a tablet anyway) if you tax the hardware, and that's a problem.
I will point out that the battery leaves a little bit to be desired, as it does not last as long as some of the other tablets out there when you give it a heavy workload. Considering the hardware that's inside, it's not really all that surprising, but it's something to be aware of—more power-hungry parts mean more power lost if the battery isn't large enough to handle the added load. It's a tradeoff that you make when you get a device that can handle every function of a normal computer.
Not so great as a standalone tablet
So how do these things all tie together in a normal-use scenario? Well, it all begins and ends with the operating system (OS). While it's tempting to focus on the features of any physical product, the fact of the matter is that most of your experience with any tablet is going to be through the OS and touch interface.
The learning curve isn't that steep for the new controls, but only if you've used a Windows computer in the past. File structure is handled in the same way that it is on a desktop PC, and you can run just about any program that would normally work on Windows 8, allowing you to install your favorite PC games, productivity, and content generation software.
Windows 8 gives the tablet some interesting controls, but it straddles the line between desktop and tablet OS so it has some rougher edges as a result. For example, there are two versions of many system apps—there are two versions of Internet Explorer, one for the legacy desktop, and one for the tablet desktop. This can be a bit jarring, but honestly, it gets a lot easier if you use the keyboard attachment with the touchpad.
It's comforting to know that the tablet can handle a huge workload, but when it heats up as much as it does it puts the worry in the back of your head that maybe you shouldn't play that game, or maybe you shouldn't watch that movie. After a taxing the tablet, we recorded the screen's temperature at anywhere between 117 and 124.5°F (51.39°C). While it's not going to burn you, the heat will absolutely make you re-think using the unit as a tablet until it cools down. It's a stressor that dampens the overall experience, and that's definitely not something you want to be thinking about when you're using your tablet—you want it to work without fuss, right?
If you find yourself wishing that your tablet could handle all the stuff you'd normally be doing on a laptop, or want a tablet with a large screen for use around the house, the Samsung ATIVsmart PC Pro is a great start. The Windows 8 Pro tablet/laptop hybrids are going through some growing pains, but Samsung made this unit with enough tools (like the S-pen) to handle some of those issues fairly well.
For Windows users who haven't jumped to iOS or Android, this may be a good unit to consider when looking for a tablet—you'll be used to many of the Windows operations while dipping your toes in the water of the new touch controls. You can install just about any program you'd normally run on your computer, and you can tote this product around as either a tablet or laptop depending on your desired use. Additionally, the ATIV does not share the same hard drive storage problems as the Microsoft Surface Pro, but you will definitely have to lighten your wallet a bit more to get it.
This unit isn't for everyone: Some people don't find Windows 8 Pro to be their choice in operating system, and others may not need to have a hyper-powered tablet for web browsing and media consumption. Additionally, some people might want better battery life, or the access to a range of different apps, or even a more affordable price that an iOS or Android tablet offers, and that's fine too. However, if you need something more and don't mind spending a bit of money, the Samsung ATIVsmart PC Pro is worth a look.
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