Samsung ATIV Smart PC: The Swiss Army Knife of Computing

Samsung ATIV Smart PC: 11.6" 64GB with keyboard dock - $749

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So I was walking through my local Wal-Mart Saturday and I saw a lonely Samsung ATIV SmartPC box in the cage underneath their laptop display. I of course buy it on the spot because I have been waiting for this device for a few months now. I have a Samsung Series 7 Slate from work and my own Fujitsu Q550; so my hope for this device was that it would get a little bit of the S7S's performance while keeping the Q550's battery life. This post isn't a review, just some initial impressions of the device.

Battery Life:

The battery life is awesome. I worked on a Math Econ problem set for 2 hours this AM and then took notes in back to back 1.5 hour lectures. My battery meter when my second lecture concluded was at 49% charge. 5 hours of inking and only half the battery was gone! This is in fact better than the Q550.

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Performance:

This device is much faster than the Atom in last year's Q550. 720P MKV playback is flawless. Office 2013 launches and performs adequately. Inking in OneNote works fine. It is not as silky smooth as the S7S but an Atom can't compete with a Sandy Bridge i5 ULV. Matlab 2012a takes about 15 seconds to launch. Visual Studio 2012 Express about 10. Nook Study works much better than it did on the Q550 and flips pages smoothly. I'd say it is only slightly slower than my 2010 11.6 Air.

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Size/Weight

The form factor of this device is great. The tablet weighs about the same as my iPad 3 and is lighter and thinner than the iPad 1 pictured above. It is very wide relative to most tablets (Excite 13 excluded). I don't think I will ever hold this tablet for extended periods though. The extra size does make watching video content incredibly immersive. The only tablet I like to hold is the Galaxy Tab 8.9; so I am really picky. The Smart PC is pretty weird in portrait. I read text books in Nook Study this way, but you get a lot of wasted space at the top and bottom. 2 pages up in landscape isn't comfortable at only 1366x766 resolution. 1920x1080 might solve that problem with the Smart PC Pro.

With the keyboard dock, the device is basically an 11.6 Macbook Air. The weight distribution is very different and the lack of rigidity in the keyboard dock forces you to handle the device differently. I pick the Air up with one hand by the bottom right corner while open all the time. I learned not to do this with the Smart PC because the keyboard dock is hollow plastic and it will bend under the weight of the tablet itself when held only by a corner. However, one never feels this when one handles it with two hands. The combined weight and thickness of the dock and tablet is about the same as the Air (at its thickest point).

Overall Impressions

After a few days with this device, I am very pleased. I think of it like a Swiss Army Knife. A Swiss Army Knife isn't useful because it is the best knife, screw driver, scissors, or cork screw. It is useful because you can do all those things with one device. If you know which of those things you need ahead of time, then you don't derive as much benefit as someone who encounters a variety of activities unexpectedly. That's how I see the SmartPC. Would I use it to compile a substantial project ? Absolutely not. However, the fact that I can hop into Visual Studio or Matlab and change code (synced with Dropbox) on a 1.5 lb tablet with about 8-10 hours of real world battery life is pretty amazing in my book. Screen clipping text book passages from Nook Study or the Kindle PC App and pasting them into the flow of your hand written notes will spoil any student. As Intel continues to improve the Atom line, this class of device will only become more and more compelling for students in the math and sciences and/or graphic arts. An 11.6" canvas with an active digitizer is much better than an iPad with a capacitive stylus for drawing. I'm sure the Youtube videos highlighting this fact will be coming as this device makes it to more store shelves. From my personal experience though, if you are a student/professional in a quantitative field, this should be your next travel or class room companion device.