PCs learn new tricks, but can tablet/notebook hybrids rescue Windows 8?

Summary:What does a PC maker do when the PC market is shrinking and demand for tablets is exploding? One option is to design hybrid PCs, which can switch from conventional PC to tablet and back again. In this post, I look at clever hybrid devices from Samsung, Dell, and HP.

Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T

Samsung has a great track record with tablets. The company has sold tens of millions of Android-powered Galaxy Note tablets, making it the iPad’s number one competitor. It also makes the highly regarded, Android-powered Nexus 10 tablet for Google.

But Samsung also has plenty of experience with Windows 8. The very first device designed for Windows 8, after all, was the Samsung-built slate handed out to 5000 developers at the September 2011 Build Conference where Microsoft unveiled Windows 8. That same device evolved into the 700T slate and now into the ATIV Smart PC Pro.

samsung-ative-smart-pc-pro-clamshell

This $1200 device (with the optional keyboard base adding another $150) has the guts of a high-end PC, with a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128 GB solid-state drive. The 11.6-inch display runs at a full HD resolution of 1920X1080.

Opened, this looks like just another Samsung clamshell laptop in the company’s signature black. But push a button in the center of the hinge, just above the keyboard, and the screen detaches completely, turning this into a slate that runs Windows 8 Pro.

 

samsung-ative-smart-pc-pro-detached

With the keyboard removed, my 700T review unit was surprisingly thin, about a half-inch and comparable to an iPad with its Smart Cover attached. The tablet portion weighed about 906 g, an ounce or so less than the 2-pound Surface Pro (930 g) but significantly more than a third-generation iPad (672 g, 1.5 pounds). That weight includes a 49-WHr battery. Attaching the keyboard base adds another 720 g, making the Smart PC Pro essentially a 3.5-pound Ultrabook.

Using this PC as a notebook betrays a fundamental problem with the concept of a detachable device. In an Ultrabook, most of the componentry is in the base, and the screen can be ultra-thin. Because a hybrid device has to be able to work with the base removed, the battery and motherboard and storage have to fit behind the display. That makes the device relatively thick, as expected, but it also makes the combo decidedly top-heavy when used as a PC.

You don’t notice that imbalance when you’re using the Smart PC Pro 700T on a desk, but it’s unavoidable if you’re trying to use it on your lap. On several occasions during my testing, I nearly sent the combo crashing to the floor just by adjusting my posture slightly. It’s not a comfortable feeling, and for some it’s likely to be a dealbreaker. (As I note later, the HP Envy X2 has similar issues.)

The Smart PC Pro 700T is not only touch-friendly (with a full 10 Touch Points), it also includes an active digitizer that makes it capable of working with drawing apps and pen-friendly programs like OneNote. That feature makes this device probably the closest competitor to the Surface Pro.

In my test of continuous video playback, the Smart PC Pro 700T lasted 5:09, roughly 20% longer than the Surface Pro. Given its larger battery size (49 WHr versus 42 WHr for the Surface Pro), that sounds about right. In practice, I got 7+ hours of on-and-off usage of business apps like Office 2013 from the device.

The mini-HDMI connector and volume rocker are high up on the left side of the tablet portion, with the power button, headphone jack, a single USB 3.0 port, and a Micro SD Card slot on the top. That’s an odd and awkward location for the USB 3.0 port, especially given the device’s tendency to tip. The base has a pair of USB 2.0 connectors, one on either side. There’s a 2MP camera on the front and a 5MP camera on the rear.

Like so many OEMs, Samsung has loaded this machine up with its own software as well as a few offerings from partners, none of them in the crapware category. That default installation included CyberLink PowerDVD, which meant that the video files I used for battery-life testing were able to play back properly in Windows Media Player. Samsung also included 18 Windows 8 apps, including its own S Camera, S Note, and S Player apps as well as Kindle, Netflix, Skype, Evernote, and other mostly big name apps.

samsung-windows8-apps

Overall, this system performed every bit as well as the Surface Pro, which shouldn’t be surprising given their similar specs. It doesn’t have the extreme portability of the Surface Pro, and it feels a bit bulky and looks clunky when the base is attached and the whole thing’s folded up.

But if you want a larger screen and a solid keyboard base instead of the Surface Pro’s Touch and Type Covers, this could fit the bill nicely.

Page 3: Dell's XPS 12

Topics: Hardware, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Mobility, PCs, Samsung, Windows 8

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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