UPDATE 03/22/2013: I have my replacement Samsung #ATIV keyboard dock and all is good. No more wobbly power connection so far!
After a couple of weeks with my Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro I have returned it. I hope to get it, or another, back but am currently waiting for ‘the verdict’. After a couple of weeks home use this is how I found life with a Windows 8 hybrid tablet/ultra-book.
What’s right – The ATIV as a Tablet
The ATIV, and the Windows 8 Modern User Interface (formerly Metro ), worked beautifully as a tablet. Start-up from sleep took only a few seconds (thanks to SSD + i5 I suspect). Windows 8 picture password means you can logon without encountering even an onscreen keyboard (although that option was there too). User accounts allow a tablet to be more than ‘your tablet’.
The powerful hardware (i5) made touch gestures, typing, inking and sketching input very responsive. For “consumption” (aka the iPad role) I found Modern UI/Windows Store applications to do nearly all I wanted. In fact Tweetro+ is the most elegant Twitter application I’ve used on any platform.
In this mode the only thing I didn’t find was a good RSS feed reader which could handle the 1200+ feeds I currently have. At this stage the flexibility of an x86 based system came to the fore as I installed my faithful old RSS Bandit desktop application. I also installed Windows Essentials (mainly for Live Writer), CorelDraw and Office desktop applications for blogging and other work.
The 1980 x 1080 HD widescreen was great for media and allows two Modern apps to be used in split mode. Windows Modern UI handles screen scaling seamlessly but I had to bump up the Windows Desktop font scaling to 150% to see the small text.
It also prompted me to actually get to an optometrist appointment I put off last year. I didn’t factor new glasses into the computer purchase budget but do need them. Strangely it is because my eyes have improved a little. If this trend continues if I live to about 150 I won’t need corrective glasses at all!
The legacy desktop is useable, if not pleasant, in tablet mode but shows why Microsoft HAD to reinvent a touch based UI. The Windows 8 gestures, swiping to flip between apps and bring up the ‘Charms’ menu, soon seem so natural. The context nature of charms in Modern apps — like search/share applying to the app you search from and new ‘send to device’ for print — does take some getting used to but soon become second nature.
Pen input was lovely. The supplied dock-able pen is a little short but inking and sketching was fine. Windows 8 text recognition works really well, either as you input or just for hand writing background search.
I did not miss the Start Button/Menu at all. The Start Screen is far more powerful, in my opinion more useable, with tiles bringing the applications to life. In fact Samsung bundle a “launcher” which seems to be there for Start button devotes, but I turned it off.
What’s right – The ATIV as an ultra-book
Slap the ATIV Tablet into its keyboard dock and you have an acceptable mid range ultra-book. Mechanical (island style) keys are far better than any onscreen keyboard for serious typing. The touchpad does take some getting used to as has the left/right click as part of its surface rather than separate buttons. I had a few miss clicks before turning down the sensitivity a bit.
I questioned the usefulness of a touchpad when you have a touch screen but preferred it for precision tasks in laptop mode. I found myself flipping pages, pinch zooming and changing applications on the touch screen but found precise cursor positioning or drag n drop editing was easier with the touchpad. It was nice to have the choice.
The dock also adds a couple more USB ports although they are 2.0 vs the single 3.0 USB on the tablet. It is pretty solid, but only just balances the 880 gram screen which contains all the hardware and battery. It is a pity they didn’t put extra battery in the keyboard rather than just dead weight. One advantage of having all the hardware (therefore heat) in the screen is you can actually use this unit on your lap without cooking, even warming, it…
Image from Samsung ATIV
What’s wrong – It’s a matter of power, or not
I found the battery life pretty good. I didn’t do any timed runs but found the ATIV would easily last a evening of tweeting, blog reading, writing and web browsing. Running heavy apps would drain the battery more rapidly but 5-7 hours mixed use was realistic.
However ‘range anxiety’, to steal an electric car term, isn’t helped by both the Windows 8 Modern UI and ATIV hardware hindering easy monitoring of battery charge/state. When running swiping the charms displays a basic battery charge indicator but it lacks an accurate %’age or estimated time remaining. Bizarrely hovering over the charge indicator on the desktop taskbar reveals this info so the OS knows what the Modern UI doesn’t reveal.
The tablet component of the ATIV has a dedicated micro-plug to connect to the the power supply. As it runs an i5 chip and has pretty hefty battery to charge this requires mains power from a small plug-pack, similar to netbooks, rather than the USB chargers less power hungry tablets use.
The ATIV has a blue LED to indicate it is running but when sleeping gives no indication it is charging or charged. That seems odd especially when my old $400 Samsung Netbook, less than 1/4 the ATIV cost, has a bi-colour red/green charge indicator. You can press the Windows Logo key, the only button on the tablet face, to see a brief indication of the battery state & charge on the display but that’s all.
Returned due to lack of power
What makes this charge monitoring worse is the keyboard dock had a problem. When docked the Tablet power input is covered by the hinge/dock. There is another power input on the keyboard which feeds to the tablet via a small multi-pin connector. As there is no battery in the keyboard (a missed opportunity) this connection is vital to run/charge the unit when docked. On the ATIV this docking is locked by two cam-latches and requires a push button to release.
Even when properly docked, and latched, my ATIV proved to be very sensitive and the power randomly disconnected. This was seen as the power plug appears/disappears and when the charge got low you got constant ‘plug in soon’ warnings. Even the vibration from typing, when used on my lap, was enough to cause this.
It appears to be a manufacturing tolerance or design fault as the actual performance of the keyboard and touchpad was fine even as the power disconnected. You can, just, see the mains plug disappearing in this clip I shot before returning the unit. The lack of charge indication (when not running) meant you could not be sure if the docked unit was charging. Touching the screen to display the charge info was likely to disconnect it!
ATIV Keyboard Dock Power problems, common or not?
I have found a few references to “keyboard disconnect” on the web, even on the Samsung (US)Website reviews and this Tablet PC forum. It appears most related to early production models and seemed to be a total keyboard disconnect rather than just the wobbly power I experienced.
What happens next?
One thing I must praise is the retailer service. Although I work for a retailer that sells some Samsung product they don’t stock the Smart PC Pro. In fact the stock at those who did was limited, it seems they sell as soon as arrive. I purchased from a specialist computer store, with no mention of the blog or working for a partial competitor, so this is a typical customer experience.
PB Tech were great. They acknowledged the problem, advised that the ‘fix’ might be replacement and I should back up any vital data before returning the unit (also offering to do that for me) and then dealt with Samsung service. They also provided a very clear indication of the assessment process and likely timescale.
I happen to work next door to Samsung New Zealand and did go over to see them before returning the unit. They have only recently moved in and I wondered if the service facility was there. Although it is only a sales/admin office I was a little disappointed nobody, beyond the receptionist who did attempt to find someone for me, was prepared to talk about a product quality question. I can understand not dealing with technical problems but thought someone taking the time to politely ask about a potential fault might get more response.
Anyway, as I write (back on my Samsung Netbook!) I await the verdict. I really liked the ATIV so am hoping it was a problem unit rather than fundamental design fault. I want it back!