Reviewed by Osiris
Today I talk about my time with Samsungs answer to the Surface Pro; The Smart PC Pro also known as the 700T.
With the release of Windows 8, its an exciting time to be looking at – or getting back into – windows based Tablet PC’s. Recently I had purchased and reviewed the Samsung Smart PC 500T (the atom clover trail based little brother of the 700T) and whilst ultimately pleasantly surprised and happy with this device, I was curious to see what the iCore version could bring to the table.
This device shares many similarities to the 500T so you may find this review mirrors that in parts – I have tried to avoid making this a comparison between the two where possible.
Unboxing and what’s in the Box
Unfortunately when it comes to packaging or even exceeding expectations within the packaging contents, this is an area where Samsung simply does not excel. It’s disappointing seeing unboxing videos of the beautiful Surface packaging or the extra goodies included in the Asus tablet offering and then unboxing a Samsung tablet:
1x Samsung Smart PC Pro
1x Black Matte Keyboard Dock (only selected units)
1x power adapter
1x Stylus nub kit
1x miscellaneous documents and stickers
1x Microfiber wiping cloth
I can understand why Samsung doesn’t place much value on the packaging or accessory contents; ultimately they will get tossed aside, stored away and not seen again until you are ready to move on to your next device. However, it would be nice to see them just go that bit further to provide the feel of a premium device from unboxing right through to use.
I will say the free cloth was a welcome addition, clearly setting the 700T apart from its clothless 500T brother…just stirring, ultimately it’s the device in the packaging that’s the exciting part and this rings true for the 700T and taking that seductive Full HD, icore based beauty out of the box.
Once you’ve brushed aside the plastic and tossed the box out the way and are holding the device in your excited hands you instantly start forming your impressions of the build and quality of the unit. My first thoughts upon picking up the actual tablet were:
- Black Matte’ finish makes the device aesthetically gorgeous
- One windows button provides a sleek minimalist look seemingly a part of all windows 8 tablets
- Simply solid
Whilst ultimately still plastic, I suspect the black matte finish, fans/venting combined with the extra thickness of the 700T is what gives it a superior feeling of solidness and construction over some of the other Samsung tablets on the market. Often the Android based Galaxy and even the 500T have been accused of having poorly built casing that ultimately lets down the device and at times even flexes from the plastic design. There is zero of that with the 700T.
The black matte finish of the device was a nice change over the glossy plastic usually associated with Samsung tablets. This is of course subjective but in terms of build I found the fingerprint marks on this to be a lot less noticeable than on other tablets even those of lighter colours.
The 700T continues Samsungs love affairs with the plastic port cover design. Although handy for protecting the ports and keeping rogue dust out of your device, when trying to access the port you just can’t help but think to yourself ‘is this going to be the time when this flimsy cheap thing breaks off?’ and from an aesthetic point of view having little plastic coverings hanging off your device while in use just looks cheap.
Beyond the port covers though I can’t really fault the build of the device, yes some high tech vapour magnesium or carbon fibre back casing would be a lovely addition to this premium product, but at the end of the day the 700T feels solid and the quality of the back casing does not detract from the functionality and features of the device.
One of the great things we are seeing from Samsung in terms of Windows 8 tablets is the inclusion of lots of ports on the actual tablet of the device itself – not just relegated to the dock. The Samsung 700T boasts:
1x USB 3.0
1 x Micro SD
1 x Micro HDMI Out
1x Microphone in and headphone/mic out
It really is a pleasure having a full USB 3 port on the device and ready to go at your fingertips. Yes there are many ways you can easily get your files on to your Windows 8 device but I think in our personal and sometimes professional lives we often fail to realise how often we use USB drives and how easy they can be at transferring data between devices or storing data we may want to access later. I was surprised how handy I found the USB port on the 500T and the 700T has continued that experience with the added bonus of the much faster USB 3 port.
Not all the Windows 8 line up has the usb slot on the actual tablet device so just keep an eye out if you are looking into these Windows 8 tablets.
The micro HDMI out works with no hassles and as easily as you would expect. Yes, a full HDMI port would have been more useful but mini hdmi cables are starting to become common place and reasonably cheap. Connecting it to my monitor was a breeze and it simply worked. With 1920*1080 resolution I did not observe any lag with common tasks or multitasking. The same was true when video was playing out to it. I did not however test the audio return. Apparently a proper adapter does have audio return so you could output the video and sound to the monitor/tv device as well.
At 1.96lbs / 888g the Smart PC Pro still feels mobile and easy to carry around with you when you consider all the features this device is packing. For existing Samsung series 7 slate owners or those who have handled the 700T1A, it’s directly on par with that and the extra 20g is a great trade-off for the additional features the smart pc pro packs.
With small differences in weight I tend to think we unconsciously just adapt and it’s mostly not until we do comparisons with other devices that weight enters back into our minds. Using this device almost exclusively for a week straight there were very few occasions when I found the weight to be an issue. It carried fine in my satchel bag for work, was fine taking into meetings for inking and I didn’t feel weighed down carrying it around the office or at home.
It was really only with extended use in tablet mode on rare occasions that the weight of the device entered my mind. A long inking session with the device had me feeling unwieldy by the end whereas a similar sessions on the 500T had not produced that effect. Given the 100 odd grams difference between them I am inclined to think this may have also been a dual effect of the added thickness and potentially a little heat in the back.
Evidently people feel inclined to compare these portable desktops with the popular consumption based ipad tablet and yes holding the ipad in one hand (with or without case) and the 700T in another, there is clearly a difference in weight and size. Very unsurprisingly and obviously the iPad feels distinctly lighter and smaller than the 700T.
Overall, yes compared to a consumption based tablet the extra weight would be a consideration however if you find yourself tossing up between a 700T and say an ipad I would have to suspect you do not realise the vast differences in functionality and purpose between these two - albeit very good devices but – very different tools. You would be better served comparing the 700T to an ultrabook in terms of functionality.
Fan Noise and Heat
Fan noise and subsequently heat from CPU and system can be the bane of tablet and notebook users. The 700T is not immune from this and the device sports passive vents on the back of the unit with the main active vents being at the top of the device.
With the CPU running at above-average to max capacity that fan can be heard toiling away doing its best to push that heat out. In an office environment it is noticeable – but distracting? No – but noticeable. The same is true with using it in a quieter area in your home.
Despite some audibility of the fan system, overall I didn’t see this as a major negative; by the end of my time with the Smart PC Pro I had found I was not even noticing it anymore. Samsungs own software for the device also provides a silent mode which can automatically (or permanently, till set otherwise) throttle the cpu to a point where the fan is essentially silent. [more on the performance of silent mode later]
So with the right configuration of the device you would only notice this when you are doing intensive tasks like using Photoshop, cad, visual studio, gaming etc.
In terms of heat, my initial thoughts when first putting the 700T through its paces and the fans smoothly kicked in was that the active vents could double as a poor mans hair dryer. That ‘not recommended use’ for your expensive tablet device aside, when the cpu and system is being taxed for performance the device does get warm but not what I would consider uncomfortable. Much like the fan noise though, at times you obviously observe that the device is warm. The great news for the heat conscious is that when the fans are set to silent mode the heat simply isn’t an issue.
Boot and Resume
The icore and SSD doesn’t mess about with these two things: the boot up time is less than 5 seconds and the resume times from hibernation slightly shorter.
Coming out of sleep is virtually an instant on.
When considering a mobility solution like this, whether it’s for my own personal usage or I am canvassing solutions for organisations and others; battery life has to be one of the main things you consider. In the case of the ‘Pro’ or iCore based tablets I believe the Smart PC Pro has made good progress in this area although it still may disappoint some and delight others.
Packing a 49 Watt Hour battery, my usage and testing netted the following results for constant use:
- Maximum Performance – Battery drained in 3 hours 11 minutes
- 40% Screen Brightness, auto fan mode, average cpu usage (some high and low intensive tasks) drained in around 5.5 hours
- 40% Screen brightness, low fan (silent) mode, mix of internet browsing, BT, video watching and music playing, provided 6.6 hours.
So depending on your usage conceivably this device is going to make a good dent at getting you through a day, I feel comfortable in saying short of playing games or producing CAD renderings or large brush strokes in photoshop for hours with high screen brightness, you can comfortably expect to get good performance for around 5 hours and lighter office or general desktop usage for 6.5.
Invariably it comes down to individual settings and what you are actually using the device for, but with the right tweaks I have heard some users of the 700T suggest they can get over 7 hours of battery life. With the screen off and an average usage operation simulated the device seemed to drain at around 11% per hour so conceivably with power saving mode and a low screen brightness (maybe adaptive brightness used) I can see this happening.
The Surface commentary
With the suspicion floating around that Microsofts flagship Surface Pro will only get ‘half the battery life of the surface RT’ many users have taken this to mean just 4 hours for iCore based tablets. Clearly that is not the case with the Samsung 700T and despite the fact that the surface may still surprise people in terms of battery life, we must keep in mind the Samsung and other oem devices pack the 49Whr battery versus the surfaces 42Whr battery.
Without a doubt one of the big attractions of the 700T is going to be that Full High Definition display at 1920*1080 - yes it really is quite gorgeous and very cool to have that much room in an 11.6” space, armed with the power of a windows desktop.
With the FHD resolution and the 11.6” landscape display you can do some really great side by side multitasking on the Windows desktop. Whilst you can achieve a similar effect on the lesser resolution of the clover trail based tablets the FHD really lets you take full advantage of having that landscape based display.
Some comparisons of the Full HD (700T on the left / on top) resolution versus just standard HD:
I found generally 40% screen brightness was plenty for my day to day uses. I did not have a glaringly bright day occur in which I could test the tablet outside but in the short amount of outdoor testing I did perform; with the brightness turned up the screen was still usable and the glare acceptable.
The screen of the 700T also has 10 point multi-touch capabilities so in the rare event you ever feel inclined to play a multiperson touch based game with your expensive device or maybe do some digital finger painting with both hands; you are set with this device.
The screen is definitely a big plus for this device and once you go FHD on a tablet it’s very hard to go back to the HD res of other tablets or notebooks. The only gripe I have whilst discussing the screen and resolution – and this gripe is directed at some applications and Windows 8, not the hardware itself - is that:
- Some applications, such as the photoshop UI do not scale well and initially it can be a challenge to get use to the tiny UI
- Windows 8 itself whilst making improvements and the Operating system as a whole more accessible to touch in many areas; at 1920x1080 the OS is just not conducive to touch and in tablet mode when not in the metro UI, you are going to be pulling out the stylus all the time to drive the device.
Chances are the above gripe won’t even be much of an issue for many and without having used a clover trail tablet where you can navigate the windows desktop easily with just your finger most people will be none the wiser. (On a positive note using the stylus to drive it all leaves your screen looking a lot nicer without the fingerprint marks)
WiDi is Intels Wireless Display technology, essentially allowing you to link up the Smart PC Pros screen to say a television, all wirelessly without the need for physical cables between the two.
I can see the this being a very hand feature for business users or presentations in the boardroom – potentially even just your own home – I was however unable to test this function not having the required setup for the TV but its still great to see support for this technology built right in.
With the Intel 4000 HD integrated graphics chips onboard the 700T is ‘gaming capable’. I personally don’t think these devices were designed with gaming in mind but certainly many popular games on medium to low settings are playable on the device. My testing was limited to WoW and it was able to run smoothly on a mix of medium settings, Guild Wars 2 eventually ran acceptably on a lower res and low settings. Apart from that with the 1:1 mapping on the chip, legacy games are actually playable (in fullscreen) and enjoyable for that quick trip down nostalgia road.
There is an outside chance that gaming performance on this device may actually pick up in the future. Based on Windows Experience index scores over on tabletpcreview.com, devices with the same or very similar hardware and using the Intel 4000 gpu, such as the Sony Duo Slider, are showing a reasonably higher graphics score over the 700T. Just speculation at this point but there is the potential a driver update in the future may allow the 700T to match that.
Core i5 Goodness
As you can imagine, with the heart of this beauty being powered by a core i5 chip (sporting dual cores and four threads), there is not much that gets in her path that she doesn’t transgress with ease and a fluidly smooth experience for the user.
In most general desktop tasks such as Internet browsing, emails, word documents and inking, CPUz reported the cpu sitting at just 800Mhz with occasional jumps in IE, perhaps due to video/flash, raising it to 1.2Ghz. Beyond intermit spikes (eg opening task-manager) it was only things like larger brush strokes on photoshop that got the device constantly using its rated 1.7Ghz clockspeeds.
Turbo mode allows the chip to really suck down the lithium ion juices and power itself up to 2.6Ghz for when you really need the extra grunt. It’s a strange mode though in all my testing I never actually saw it hit the 2.6Ghz mark. In max performance mode it would peak at 2.3Ghz and in some aspects of gaming it would jump to 2.3Ghz again, but it was not constant nor did it appear to jump above that to its maximum rated speed.
This is obviously a nice addition for those who want to do more high ended tasks on the device but as my max performance burn down results showed, ideally you would want to be near a power source to be using that setting often – keep in mind the additional heat and fan noise in this mode as well.
Silent Mode (Low fan mode)
No turbo mode would be complete without an opposite silent or low fan mode. As mentioned earlier, in many desktop based tasks the device actually provides the user with a fluid experience at just 800mhz – 1.2ghz. The silent mode or low fan mode settings (selected within the Samsung settings application) takes advantage of this point to throttle the device to a max of 1.2Ghz. In doing so it greatly reduces the audibility of the fans (seems to almost manage via passive venting) and the heat also becomes virtually unnoticeable in this state. Without being subject to increased cpu usage its this mode which allows for those higher battery life occasions.
Inking on the 700T was much the same as inking on the 500T, the only difference being that the core i5 Processor does a much better job of handling those large photoshop brushstrokes that the 500T struggles and lags with. Inking in one-note was as smooth and fluid as that of the 500T.
The only other difference was that the stylus silo on the 700T is not as tight (good ratio of firmness / ease) and the Metro based inking apps which seemed to lag on the 500T were able to run smoothly now due to the extra cpu power of the Smart PC Pro.
For those who may have an interest in inking, I feel my comments and discussion of it from the 500T review would still be helpful and have therefore included those sections below:
Microsoft have a long history of innovation and implementation around Inking. I genuinely think it’s safe to say that Inking is Microsoft’s domain and after all these years it will be nice to see the technology they have tried to promote since the first tablets, finally reach the masses. Powered by the Industry leading Wacom digitiser technology the Samsung delivers a smooth and lag free inking experience right out of the box.
Its great to be back to a windows tablet with a proper digitiser and when you combine that with some of the powerful features of One Note it certainly makes for an attractive premise and thus far it is working well for me.
Some readers may be thinking that they have seen styluses and note taking possible on the ipad for example. This is true, there certainly are styluses available for the ipad however these are not active digitisers and so the difference in the inking experience itself is like night and day.
Even though some of the ipad capable styluses now feature pressure sensitivity and a more refined point (although still large due to the nature of capacitive displays) they then lack the palm rejection technology inherent in active digitiser technology and without which just goes back to that night and day experience between the two. Even if this does eventually make it into a software and hardware solution for these devices, Windows and OneNotes handwriting recognition and inking capabilities are simply years ahead of anything to be found on the platform. So again, if you are serious about wanting to move to digital ink and ditch the paper, I genuinely believe this range offers you the strongest option for achieving that task and or goal.
Just like the Galaxy Note, the Smart PC Pro comes with an inbuilt Wacom active stylus or S-Pen - as Samsung calls it - delivering 1024 points of pressure sensitivity for all your inking needs. Whilst the s-pen does the job overall it is quite a small stylus and only featuring one button and no eraser its on the lesser side of styluses I have used. The good news is that since the Smart PC utilises a Wacom digitiser you have a range of alternative styluses you can purchase which will work on this units screen, even styluses with eraser functionality.
For me I see the s-pen as more of a handy addon as not every Windows 8 tablet that has inking capabilities has an inbuilt stylus silo. There is nothing worse than losing your stylus or heading into a meeting and not having it on you, so for me this was an important consideration and backup. It may also factor into your buying considerations as the Asus and HP offerings for example will require the stylus purchased as a separate accessory (these can be up to $50).
Speakers and sound
The Smart Pc Pro touts dual stereo speakers which have been nicely placed as thin matching black slivers on the front of the device. It’s nice to have a tablet where the speakers have been placed in such a sensible position.
For a tablet I was really happy with the speakers of the 700T. They were very audible, a simple thing that so many tablets seem to struggle with so this was a welcome change. At high volumes though the speakers lose their base and become quite tinny but for movie / video watching I didn’t feel the need to get it up to those volumes to hear it with ease so this was somewhat of a non-issue. As you would expect everything sounds good with headphones on anyway as might be a quite probable way you will use the sound on the device when you are out and about.
Its strange that the 500T includes a flash and an 8MP back camera whilst the 700T has be relegated to a 5MP. I found myself slightly annoyed by this but for day light shots generally the pictures still came out reasonably well. The front facing camera you are likely to get more use out of is the saem 2MP HD camera and still performs skyping and other web chat tasks fine and with clarity.
Keyboard Docking Station
The docking station of the Smart PC Pro is exactly the same as that of its little brother with the obvious addition that this one is black as opposed to silver.
The docking station for the Smart PC is a handy addon not only giving you a mechanism to sit and pivot your tablet but the full sized keyboard backs isolated keys with great tactile response which delivers an easy to use and full featured keyboard experience. The trackpad on the docking station allows for multi-touch gestures and these take some time to get use to and avoid. Initially I found myself performing them without intention whilst trying to drive the device. After using it for some time I am use to the trackpad now but its definitely on the lower end of the spectrum for trackpad quality.
Besides a keyboard and trackpad the docking station also provides two more USB 2.0 ports for the device.
The tablet part of the device locks into the docking station reasonably easy and once locked in has a great grip - even allowing you to life the unit by the display if needed.
There is some confusion as to if the Samsung docking stations have a battery in them and I can confirm they do not (the 500T does not either). Its worth noting the rumour mill is circulating that early next year Samsung will provide a battery dock based option.
Whilst only a rumour it would be quite a sensible move on Samsungs behalf especially with more competition set to enter the iCore based tablet arena next year. Notable the Lenovo Helix which will feature a battery powered dock offering a solid 10 hours of corei5/i7 functionality to its user.
Conclusions on the Samsung Smart PC Pro (XE700T1C-A02)
Simply put, having a fully capable mobile desktop in a reasonably lightweight and fashionable form factor like this is fantastic. The FHD display and resolution is very eye catching and as beautiful to look at as it is to use – especially in landscape mode taking advantage of windows side by side modes or metros snapview.
Again, a full usb port (USB 3.0) on the tablet itself was as handy as ever. Having the option of a dock that is very natural and easy to type on just gives your mobile solution that extra cheery on top.
If you need the power of a core i5 chip or a Full HD display then this is going to be a great solution and one I would recommend you consider or look into, but keep in mind the downsides none more so important as the battery life.
In spite of all the positives remember to ask yourself what do you really want to do with your tablet? That answer should guide your purchase not what specs a device has.
A full HD display does you no good if what you needed was all day battery life. Conversely putting down $1000+ for a tablet like this when all you wanted to do is browse the web and watch videos is not the way to go, you could have found better alternatives with less weight and longer battery life to achieves those tasks.