Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro Review

The Samsung ATIV Series 7 Smart PC Pro is a Windows 8 hybrid: a touchscreen tablet that that slots into a keyboard, converting the tablet into a laptop. Sounds like a great idea but how well does it work in practice? Let’s get it out the box first – apologies for some of these photos, there was a bit too much reflection in the office.

ATIV Smart PC Pro Box

ATIV Pro PC tablet

The ATIV Smart PC is a big tablet. This is not unsurprising as it comes with an 11.6″ screen but here’s what it looks like next to a Motorola Xoom 2 which has a 10.1″ screen. And the extra size translates into weight. The Smart PC is 888g without the keyboard and it nearly doubles when the keyboard is added. For comparison, the Xoom 2 is 599g and Series 3 Chromebook is 1.1 kg.

Smart PC Pro v Xoom 2

The Smart PC has a good selection of ports and controls around the outside of the tablet. Most of the ports have small covers, which while maintaining the tablet’s sleek lines, become a bit of pain when it comes to plugging stuff in and out. On the left, there’s the volume rocker and and a mini HDMI socket. Along the top, there’s a headphone jack, on/off button, rotation lock button, USB 3 port and microSD slot. The right-hand side is bare except for the stylus silo at the bottom. Yes, the tablet supports Samsung’s S Pen and it’s pretty nifty. Finally, the bottom edge has the keyboard dock connector and the DC-in socket. To round the peripherals out, the Smart PC has cameras on both the front and back of the tablet, stereo speakers and last, the Windows button.

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Dropping the tablet into the keyboard dock is easy – it just slots in – and there’s a central eject button on the hinge for when you want to detach the two. The keyboard comes with the two further USB ports, but I don’t think they’re USB 3 as they’re not coloured blue.

ATIV Smart PC Pro Hinge

Together, the tablet and the keyboard ought to be a smooth, cool looking unit but the presentation is let down by various conformity declarations for the FCC, CE and others. Of course, Intel and Microsoft have to get their stickers on too and while those can be peeled off, the declarations are etched onto the case itself. The overall presentation of the device when closed up is unattractive and a disappointment. Honestly, it looks like the back of a desktop monitor.

Smart PC Pro Back

On the plus side, the hinge mechanism is positive and sturdy. When open, the keyboard is tilted at a very slight angle which makes it more comfortable to use. Keyboard is good and the touchpad is one of the newer button-less kind, which I found easy to use.

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Running Windows 8, the ATIV Smart PC is smooth as it should be, being powered by a 1.7 GHz Core i5 processor paired with an SSD. Animations are slick, the Live Tiles look great and apps are generally snappy. Regrettably Windows 8 is still the confused merger of a desktop and tablet OS but that’s hardly the Samsung’s fault so we’ll not hold that against it. What is surprisingly good is the S Pen, Samsung’s active stylus.

The S Pen stylus is a stubby affair reminiscent of a short ballpoint pen but the unflattering looks belie its usefulness. Simply, it makes “desktop” Windows 8 useful on a tablet as it provides the accurate pointing and clicking that would otherwise be delivered by a mouse. Without the S Pen, legacy Windows apps are at best, hit-or-miss, and at worst, a exercise in total frustration. The S Pen changes that completely. Further, Samsung have bundled their S Note app which takes full advantage of the S Pen, letting the user write notes and sketch on different pad designs. It’s a bit like a really colourful (skeumorphic?) version of Evernote. Handwriting recognition converts scrawls into text and the accuracy is pretty good. I was impressed.

Pricewise, the version with a 128 GB SSD and 3G connectivity costs nearly £1200. Dropping the 3G and the SSD to 64 GB will knock £200 off, as will losing the keyboard, setting the entry level model at about £800 (prices from Amazon.co.uk). Ultimately, the ATIV Smart PC Pro is an expensive and heavy tablet that will only appeal to those who absolutely need full Windows 8-compatibility. Anyone else will buy an iPad or Android tablet for about half the price. The S Pen is cool, but it’s not enough.

[Disclosure: The ATIV Smart PC Pro was not supplied by Samsung for review.]