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Samsung goes all in with Windows 8 in new line of devices

Samsung unveiled a new line of Smart PCs and other devices today under the ATIV brand name, all ready to ship worldwide when Windows 8 launches in October. One thing that won't be included is a rumored Start menu replacement utility.

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 right here at ZDNet ) 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.

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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.