|Introduction and Specifications|
|Not long ago, we tested one of Samsung’s new Windows 8 tablets to take a close-up look at Intel’s Clover Trail Atom Z2760 SoC. Now that we’ve covered the chip driving the tablet, it’s time to take a look at the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T as a whole. The tablet runs about $650 by itself, which puts the price on par with a similarly-configured iPad. (Well, as similarly as it can be configured.) Throw in the optional keyboard and dock for another $100, and you’re still looking at a device that should be able to stand in for your laptop or PC in some situations, at an attainable price. Here's what we found when we took the ATIV for a spin.
Thanks to the Atom Z2760, the ATIV Smart PC 500T is capable of running the full x86 version of Windows 8. You’re likely familiar with the distinction between Windows 8 and Windows RT by now, but if not, know this: you’ll want a tablet running Windows 8 if you plan to run Window 8 desktop apps on it. Windows RT doesn’t support X86 apps that are designed to run on your desktop, just apps from the Microsoft Store. That means that the 500T can run any app that your Windows 8 laptop can run.
At the hardware level, of note are 2GB of DDR2L (low-power) memory and a 64GB SSD. This is where price and power consumption restrictions make a dent. As we noted in our earlier review, Clover Trail means no DDR3 memory. By comparison, the more expensive ($1,199.99) ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T carries an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of SSD storage.
On the connectivity side, the ATIV is equipped as you’d expect: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0. The tablet also has a Micro HDMI slot and a Micro SD slot, both of which are well-concealed by tiny (but sturdy) covers. Headphones and a mic are also supported.
We haven’t forgotten the tablet’s screen, but it’s the nature of a tablet that the screen and audio is crucial to the user experience, so we’ll discuss those features in depth, next.
|Design, Software, and User Experience|
|The first thing we noticed about the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is that the tablet is surprisingly sturdy for such a light, thin device. The tablet is 11.6 inches wide and 7.2 inches tall, but only 0.38 inches deep, leaving barely enough space for the ports on its sides. The metal back curves elegantly near the edges to make the tablet feel even thinner than it really is when you hold it. Despite its slim physique, the 500T doesn’t feel cheap and it doesn’t flex when held with one hand. When you’re holding one of these and see how thin it is, you’ll see why it’s worth noting. The ATIV Smart PC 500T is a sharp-looking, solid tablet.
The 500T’s screen is bright and glossy and Window 8 positively shines when you turn up the brightness. In fact, there's a bit of glare in certain settings. The screen has a 1366 x 768 resolution and 400 nits brightness. At the top brightness setting, the screen is sharp and colors are vibrant, but I found that I wanted the screen at that top setting all the time – lower brightness settings just weren’t satisfying to me. The display responds well to taps and swipes, and I found myself using the lone Windows button (a physical button near the edge of the screen) more than I expected. The button toggles between the Modern UI Start Screen and Desktop mode.
The speakers are on the front of the display, but even with the good speaker location, I sometimes wished the tablet were louder while watching a movie. When actors spoke in low voices, I had to lean in – this isn’t a tablet I could see myself watching video with while moving about in the kitchen, for example. That said, the sound was fine when I held the tablet steady while sitting, and it’s plenty loud enough when headphones are plugged in of course as well.
I like that the back camera has a flash, which is critical for getting decent shots indoors, where the lighting is often too dim. The pictures we took were clear and crisp, for a tablet at least, and the video quality in Skype chat was also good. Interestingly, the volume was fine (via the tablet’s speakers) during Skype chats.
Swipe past the Start screen’s default set of tiles, and you’ll see two pages marked “Samsung Apps.” Not all of the apps here are from Samsung (Evernote, Kindle, Netflix, and Merriam-Webster, to name some), but they’re largely useful. The worst days of bloatware are probably behind us, but I still like to note when computer makers send me systems (like this one) that are generally free of unnecessary junk. I doubt you’ll uninstall any of the free apps already on this tablet.
Some Samsung-specific apps include S Note, S Gallery, S Player, and Samsung QR Code. Pick up an S-Pen, and you can write notes by hand in S Note. It’s a robust note-taking app, and I like the tools for making your sketches clean and professional. You can get by with your finger if you don’t have an S-Pen. The QR Code reader is basic, but easy to use. The tablet also includes Norton Security Studio, which is handy for remotely managing your Norton products on your other devices, assuming you have Symantec software on them to begin with.
|As we noted earlier, we have already put the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T
through our benchmark lineup. By and large, the 500T stayed in the top
half of systems we compared it to, and it took top honors in SunSpider.
The SunSpider scores speak well for the 500T’s Atom Z2760, but lest you mistake this tablet for a system that can go toe-to-toe with a full-fledged laptop, consider the tablet’s score of 1275 in PCMark 7. PCMark puts the system through tasks similar to those it will run in a typical workday at a typical office, from video playback and Web browsing to operating office applications.
Our comparison data will improve as we test more tablets, but for now, our take is that the score is strong among tablets but obviously a little weak in comparison to laptops and ultrabooks. That makes sense, given that even low-end laptops are generally running Core i3 processors and above. Of course, they’re much thicker and heavier, too.
To test Clover Trail's video decode performance we chose two rather strenuous 1080p HD video file formats to play back on the Windows 8 desktop. Our first video file of choice was a 1080p AVCHD video file shot from a Canon Vixia HD camcorder.
1080p AVCHD Video Playback CPU Utilization - Intel Atom Z2760
Here we can see that Clover Trail and the ATIV are barely breaking a sweat, playing back HD video with only about 25% CPU utilization.
You can use a tablet while it's charging, but it's inconvenient, to say the least. Put your notebook on a desk and you can forget that the power adapter is plugged in, but when you're holding a tablet, a power cord really is a leash. So, battery life is a big deal and it can be a make-or-break factor in the buying decision. BatteryEater Pro, on the other hand, gives the tablet a heavier workload, putting more strain on the battery, exercising graphics, memory, storage and its processor. Because everything you do with your tablet affects its battery life, your experience will be different from our benchmarks, but they provide good, consistent data points for comparison with other tablets and ultrabooks on the market.
We set out to test the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T with two battery benchmarks. The first is our own light-duty web browsing test, which refreshes a webpage regularly. It's meant to give you a feel for battery performance under light use.
Before running these tests, we set the display brightness to 50% and disabled screensaver, hibernate, and similar power-conserving settings so we could see how the tablet performs under constant use. Wi-Fi is on so the tablet can connect to the Internet.
The ATIV lasted surprisingly long in our battery benchmark, providing more than 11 hours of web surfing time. Beyond that, the ATIV lasted over 5.5 hours in Battery Eater Pro, which is a very respectable result from a tablet for this worst-case test. In fact, it's comparable Ultrabook performance in this area. Regardless, how long the battery lasts for you depends on how you use the ATIV, but this is likely a tablet that will get you through the day pretty easily.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|When you buy a tablet that has the full version of Windows 8, you’re expecting more than a tablet: you’re expecting a tablet that can stand in for a notebook computer when necessary. It must be powerful enough to handle Windows as adeptly as a laptop, and it must be capable of running the same apps. And, of course, it should handle typical tablet tasks and multimedia (Web surfing, video streaming, etc.) flawlessly.
Atom Z2760 make for a good team in the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T. At this price range, you’re looking for more power and more screen real estate than you’re going to find in a tablet that’s just designed for reading books or watching a movie on the plane. In other words, the ATIV 500T is more than just a "media consumption" device. The 500T is ready for work and play, with a large, bright, and very responsive screen and enough power to handle common desktop applications effortlessly.
We also like the 500T as an entertainment tablet. Sure, the 11.6-inch screen adds enough real estate to the tablet to make it less wieldy than your average 7-inch tablet, but because the 500T is so thin and light, it’s still manageable. That said, unless you’re always on the go, we would invest in that optional dock (sorry, Samsung didn't have one for our evaluation). When you’re watching video on the 500T, you’ll probably want to prop it up on something, rather than hold it the whole time. And of course typing on a full keyboard beats banging on glass for most folks, any day of the week.
Our quibble with the speaker volume aside, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T really does justice to Windows 8 and offers a competitive solution to Microsoft's Surface Pro. Its screen is vibrant and a joy to watch video on, and we could also see it as an asset in an office setting or for light duty road work, when you really need to get more traditional computing done.