At the IFA 2012 show in Berlin today, Samsung announced a new brand called ATIV that includes two new Windows 8 Smart PCs, a Windows-powered phone, and a Windows RT-powered tablet. Although Samsung is including an extensive collection of Windows 8 apps with the new devices, the Start screen and desktop will consist of “a pure Microsoft experience,” a spokesperson told me.
That means that the S Launcher, a rumored Start menu replacement utility, will not be included with the new devices. Several reports (including one) had noted the existence of that utility in engineering samples of the new devices, and indeed it was running on the Windows 8 desktop on one of the devices I saw at a private briefing. But the Samsung spokesperson confirmed to me that the utility will not be in the final product.
I was able to spend a little hands-on time with the new flagship devices. Here are the highlights.
The ATIV Smart PC Series 5 and Smart PC Pro Series 7 are physically identical convertible PCs that look exactly like a conventional 11.6-inch laptop, with a full-size keyboard and trackpad. The specs (and prices) are very different, however.
The Series 5 offers 1366x768 resolution and is powered by an Intel Atom processor. The Series 7 has the latest Intel i5 processor inside and uses a full HD resolution of 1920x1080. Both displays are fully touch-capable, with 10 points of touch input, and offer up to 256GB of SSD storage. An S pen, similar to the one found in the Galaxy Note, is tucked into a recessed holder on both devices, and there are front and rear cameras.
But both devices can drop the keyboards and convert to a pure touch-powered slate. A small button above the keyboard releases the display, which attaches via a small 12-pin connector. In that mode, the device is strikingly similar in shape and size to the Samsung slate that some 7000 developers have been using with Windows 8 since Microsoft’s BUILD conference in September 2011.
The obvious comparison for the new ATIV Smart PCs is to Microsoft’s Windows 8-powered Surface PC, which also offers a detachable keyboard. The difference here is that the Surface keyboards double as device covers and can be flipped out of the way when you want to use the device as a tablet. Samsung’s solution is essentially a well-integrated external keyboard and trackpad that needs to be stowed when not in use.
A Samsung executive said the devices will range in price from $799 (presumably for the Series 5) to $1199. In Europe, the prices will be 799 to 1199 Euros, VAT included. Mobile data options will be available on some models.
The other members of the ATIV family include a Windows RT-powered tablet, which wasn’t available for me to inspect, and a new Windows Phone-powered device called the ATIV S.
The company also showed off its new touch-capable Windows 8 all-in-one devices, with screen sizes of 23 and 27 inches and resolutions ranging from 1920x1080 to a full 2560x1440. The attractive designs include space-saving wireless keyboards with Fn keys for each functions on the Windows 8 Charms menu.
Samsung is planning to differentiate the family of devices (and tie them together) with a series of Windows 8 apps and a common set of features called AllShare Play, which will allow easy media sharing between all the members of the ATIV family and also connect to Samsung-fueled Web services.
It wasn’t possible to judge the effectiveness of the new software in the brief time I had to play with the new devices, which were engineering samples rather than production units. But even without those add-ons, it’s clear that Samsung is pushing a lot of chips onto the table with Windows 8.