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Samsung’s take on the hybrid market has produced the ATIV Smart PC, a US$590 device that uses its idea of novelty to compensate for simple design flaws. Something that has the potential of being an interesting hybrid laptab, is let down by its unique selling point. As a laptop, the ATIV Smart PC is a decent mid-range device. As a tablet, it’s heavy but sturdy and packs a decent set of specs. Together though — as a hybrid PC — I’m not sold. Although I quickly grew attached to the idea behind the hybrid concept, it soon worn off as basic design faults became a nuisance and simply ended up spoiling the whole experience. The connection between the tablet and the keyboard dock was almost as bad as the connection between myself and the device.
The chromy-bluish Smart PC comes with a keyboard dock as well as a stylus. While the tablet and the keyboard dock share the same colours, the tablet’s plastic and most parts of the dock are metal.
This 11.6-inch LED HD display which is 1366 x 768 is crisp and very comfortable for the eyes. It has 2GB RAM and an average Intel SGX545 GPU. The onboard storage is a 64GB and has an optional storage option via the microSD card slot. All of which is running Windows 8 32-bit.
Holding the tablet in landscape mode, you’ll see a host of ports and buttons at the top. These include a microSIM and a microSD card slot on the righthand-side and a headphone jack, power button, auto rotation button and a single USB 2.0 port at the left. And yes, it has a wireless 3G option. All of these ports include little latches to protect against dust.
On its left, there’s a volume rocker and a microHDMI slot while on the right side you’ll find the stylus hidden in the lonely corner. Of course there’s also a front and rear camera. The latter is an above average 8-megapixel while the webcam’s 2-megapixel.
The keyboard dock is quite sturdy thanks to the strong metal casing and has two more USB 2.0 ports on either side. That’s a welcoming total of three USB ports.
The tablet side of the coin
After having played around with this beast for a couple of weeks, I feel that the ATIV is still more a tablet than anything. The tablet’s weight is an above-average 0.7kg while the metallic keyboard obviously adds on a few extra grams. Surprisingly annoying is the fact that the Samsung-approved plastic at the back of the screen doesn’t have any grip. Although a small factor, it’s still pretty damn slippery at times. When closed or picked up, you’ll immediately notice the weight of this thing dragging you down.
According to Samsung, the battery will last you for more than 14 hours with light usage. I can say with experience that I don’t doubt that number. Though, after having browsed through the web and listening to music and all that jazz, I got at least more than 10-hours out of this guy.
The 1366 X 768 display on an 11-inch screen is crisp and clear but yet nothing to really rave about. As mentioned, the display quality is decent and pairs well with the 1.6W stereo speakers. Although being classed as full-on PC, you’ll never be able to play games such as Crysis 3 (we tried) on it. But less demanding titles such as the 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown worked a treat on medium graphic settings.
I did find the stylus very useful and fun to use. Easy to miss, it’s tucked away at the bottom righthand side of the tablet. I enjoy drawing and painting quite a lot, and when it comes to finding the right tablet, this one pulls it off. The fact that you can use both Adobe Photoshop and an app like Sketchbook Pro is extremely convenient. As you’d expect, it features Samsung’s multitouch display, so you’d be able to use all ten fingers to create abstract patterns, for example.
Outside in: practicality and usability
Twice the fun, twice the weight. When in keyboard mode, the ATIV feels extremely clumsy and overpowering in terms of its LMI (Laptop Mass Index). It’s an awkward weight considering it’s a notebook with a small screen and keyboard that screams in Stewie Griffen’s voice, “drag me around town, from hither to thither.”
The connection between the tablet and the keyboard dock is also pretty bad. Scratch that, it’s awful. When moving the ATIV in laptop mode (picking it up, turning it around) the damn thing will start making these annoying Windows beeps and boops — the same sound you’d hear when your PC’s “found new hardware.” Tilting the screen to adjust your viewing angle will often end up rudely interrupting your work and you’ll have to press, tuck and struggle to find the connection again. There is no satisfying click to reassure you.
Sometimes I didn’t even touch the thing; it was, to all my knowledge, comfortably sleeping on my desk when, all of a sudden those sounds start up again. Even more concerning is picking it up, and then noticing that the tablet is slowly slipping out from the dock. I mean, come on Samsung, really? That’s not cool. The little Windows home button at the bottom of the tablet has these painted silver lines around the edges which slowly come off every time you connect or disconnect the tablet to or from the dock. Although having a dedicated release button, disconnecting the tablet from the keyboard dock is also often a struggle where you’re forced to use two hands.
Jack of all trades, master of none? The novelty of this device is the fact that it’s a tablet and a laptop. The matchmaker, the glue that’s supposed to hold the two together — namely the connection port — doesn’t pull it off. It’s terrible. This is extremely disappointing as I did find myself enjoying most of my time using it as a standalone tablet.
The laptop side of the coin
Greener pastures? Almost, but not quite. While in laptop mode, the spacious design of the keyboard is comfortable as well as aesthetically pleasing. The trackpad is above average. It does at times seems to be a bit sluggish but in general, it’s all good.
The fact that you can basically run all essential PC programs with ease and that it has so many ports makes it really friendly for a mid-range laptop.
When docked, the headphone jack is located at the top part of the screen. This means that when you have earphones plugged in the cable will most likely run over your keyboard and you’ll have to tuck it away. This is not a big problem per se but I’m generally irked by cables constantly in the way while working.
Better hope you’re not taller than average or aren’t planning on typing away in coffee lounges with this one because the viewing angles of the laptop are extremely limited. Having the screen back “all the way” means that you’ll get as much as about a 100-degree angle. So no typing on your lap or low tables for you.
Verdict: Is the Samsung ATIV Smart PC a decent tablet? Yes. Is it worthy of being called a Smart PC? maybe. Is it a decent hybrid? No. If you’re looking for a decent hybrid tablet rather look at Microsoft’s Surface Pro which goes for almost US$100 cheaper. The only upsides were the battery life, the port friendly design, the stylus and the display quality. For US$600, your money is better spent somewhere else.