Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

Key Features

    • 11.6in HD Display
    • Intel Atom Processor (1.8GHz); 2GB RAM; 64GB SSD
    • Windows 8
    • Detachable keyboard dock + battery
    • S Pen Stylus
    • Price as Reviewed: £725

Introduction

As a bit of an experiment, I took two laptops  with me on my recent trip to Las Vegas for CES 2013. One was the Acer Aspire S7, and the other was the Samsung Ativ Smart PC - a Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrid which is powered by an Intel Atom Chip and features a large 11.6in screen.

What I wanted to see was whether or not a hybrid like this was capable of replacing a powerful and portable machine like the S7 when on the move. Could the combination of tablet and laptop in one make the Smart PC the perfect travelling companion?

Design

This Samsung hybrid is one of numerous such devices to hit the market in the last few months, with the touch-enabled Windows 8 freeing up Windows PC manufacturers to create much more flexible designs - such as the Lenovo Yoga, Asus Tachai and Dell XPS 12.

Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

The Smart PC is, at first glance, a lot like the Transformer range of Android devices from Asus, if on a larger scale. The tablet, clad in brushed blue aluminium, is a big, hulking device. It weighs 744g on it own, 1.45g with the dock attached and you can feel it when carrying it around. The Aspire S7 I brought with me weighed just 1.3kg and was noticeably more portable.

At over 20mm thick when in clamshell mode, the Smart PC is pretty bulky, and over 8mm thicker than the S7. I am talking about the Smart PC in docked mode as for the most part that is how I was using it, and I was testing it as a replacement laptop, rather than a tablet which happened to have a keyboard dock.

The tablet itself is however, well built and all the ports along the top edge have covers to protect them. There is little else to make the tablet stand out from any other generic Windows 8 tablet, though Samsung does retain the forward-facing speakers to the sides of the screen, which we first saw on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

The Dock is lightweight and doesn't feel as premium as the tablet, though to call it cheap would be a little harsh. The hinge mechanism uses two flaps either side of the data/power connector to secure the tablet in place and feels firms and rigid, without being overly stiff.

Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

The big problem is though that the dock is too lightweight. The tablet seema all the heavier and makes the Ativ Smart PC top-heavy when docked, making it virtually impossible to use comfortably while in your lap. 

The Smart PC looks and acts like a regular laptop, but considering this is an 11in device, the bulk and weight make it rather cumbersome, although it's still eminently portable.

Keyboard dock

As well as holding your tablet in place, the dock provides a full QWERTY keyboard and extra connectivity - but no extra battery life

As I said above the mechanism which connects the tablet and dock is nice and secure, though the release button in the middle of the of the hinge is a bit feeble and a lot of the time I was unsure whether or not I had pushed it properly.

The typing experience is a world away from the Transformer range too. It is on a par with many 'proper' laptop keyboards with the Chiclet key nice and big, responsive and with a decent amount of travel.

Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

The touchpad on the other hand is poor. It is integrated into the plastic surround of the dock and features a single cover, with no delineated buttons. It often became unresponsive and there are several dead zone where clicking the touchpad simply had no result.

The dock as I said also provides two extra USB 2.0 ports - again covered with flaps - one on either side of the dock. However the dock lacks the additional battery which most of the similar products on the market possess.

It is an odd decision from Samsung, considering this is not the sliver-thin cover like the Surface's Type Cover.

Screen

The 11.6in screen on the Samsung Ativ Smart PC is bigger, and significantly so, than most other tablets on the market. As well as being unwieldy and difficult to hold in one hand, the tablet itself is very heavy at 744g and prolonged one-handed holding is simply not possible.

The screen is rather unremarkable, with a typical laptop resolution of 1366 x 768 making it OK for browsing the web and word processing but when it comes to watching video, you do notice some problems.

Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

The images are simple not as crisp and clear as we have come to expect from tablets such as the iPad, or indeed the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.

The panel uses Samsung's own PLS technology and not the IPS technology used by almost all high-end (and some not-so-high-end) tablets these days. While viewing  angles are decent, they're not as good as I've seen from IPS displays, and contrast shift is an issue. The screen is also very reflective, even more than usual making outdoor use impossible even with the brightness all the way up.

S Pen

One of the Smart PC's unique features is the inclusion of a stylus called the S Pen. Samsung's stylus has been upgraded of late, with the new version first shipping with the Galaxy Note II last year. It features a Wacom digitiser built in, meaning it's much more capable than a regular, dumb stylus.

It means the Smart PC can detect over 1,000 levels of pressure from the S Pen, as well as being able to pin point the stylus' position even when some distance from the screen.

Samsung has included some apps to take advantage of the S Pen including S-Note, which is the flagship app for the stylus. As well as simply creating notes, it will allow you create little works of art too, when the huge number of pressure levels comes into play.

The system works really well and the S Pen is really responsive, and with the addition of some decent art applications, we could see a lot of artists making the most of the large 11.6in screen.

Hardware, Connectivity, Performance

The Samsung Ativ Smart PC is not powered by the latest Intel Core processors, coming instead by one of the power-efficient Atom processor, meaning we get better battery life by for those looking to use this on the move.

Samsung Ativ Smart PC Review

The dual-core Intel Atom processor is clocked at 1.8GHz and is paired with 2GB of RAM, and for the most part does its job pretty well. HD video playback was no problem, as were most other everyday PC uses such as web browsing, word processing etc.

The system did slow down somewhat when switching between tabs and some of the Windows 8 apps were pretty slow to open, though I've found this on more powerful systems too, so it would be an issue with the software rather than the hardware.

However the Samsung tablet was very buggy, more so than any other Windows 8 device I've used, and several apps crashed without notice and the whole system rebooted for no reason on several occasions. For such an expensive machine, this is really unacceptable. It could have been my review unit, but reading a couple of other reviews, it seems like its a more widespread problem.

Booting from cold took on average 12 seconds which is perfectly acceptable and the system woke up from sleep in a matter of seconds, again perfectly acceptable.

In terms of battery life, I managed to get just over seven hours of video playback from a single charge (with Wi-Fi off) and a good ten hours of general use, which is very good, considering the lack of additional battery in the dock.

Connectivity is decent if not amazing. The tablet itself has all its ports along the top edge of the tablet, all covered with flaps. Here you'll find a USB port, Micro HDMI port and microSD card slot. Adding the dock gives you an extra two USB ports, which should be enough for most people.

In terms of wireless connectivity, you get the usual combo of Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi N.

Verdict

The Samsung Ativ Smart PC simply doesn't know what it wants to be and as a result doesn't deliver on any level.

As a laptop it doesn't work, as the light dock and heavy tablet will see you constantly trying to keep things in balance and unless you are using it on a flat, solid surface, it just doesn't work.

As a tablet things aren't much better. It's heavy, unwieldy and simply too big to use on a commute or held in one hand for much longer than a minute. The screen is also not the best, and with a lot of 7in tablets out there with much better screens, this looks weak in comparison.

I said in the introduction that I brought the Samsung Ativ Smart PC to CES in Las Vegas to complement with Acer Aspire S7 I was using. The fact I put the Smart PC back in my bag after an hour's use and only took it out again if the S7 was dead, tells you everything you need to know about his tablet/laptop/convertible/hybrid/whatever.

At £725, it's a lot of money to pay for something which won't replace your laptop or your tablet.

Scores

    • Overall: 7/10
    • Screen: 7/10
    • Design: 8/10
    • Keyboard: 8/10
    • Value: 6/10
    • Connectivity: 8/10

The Good

    • Well built
    • Good typing experience
    • Decent battery life
    • S Pen

The Bad

    • Doesn't work as a laptop or tablet
    • Tablet is very heavy
    • Weak performance
    • Expensive