It's the latest trend. Convertible notebook/tablets are popping up everywhere, in every possible form. Some are laptops where the screen folds and flips back behind the keyboard (à la Dell XPS 12), others are tablets with a keyboard that detaches (à la Asus Transformer Pad Infinity). The Ativ Smart PC XE500T1C is one of the latter. But did Samsung give this do-it-all device everything it needs to become a 2013 top seller? Here's what we think...
The Ativ Smart PC XE500T1C is a two-piece device consisting of a tablet and a keyboard. The tablet has an 11.6" display held in a sleek design. The back is a glossy grey plastic, but smudges and fingerprints are surprisingly rare. Just a tiny bit of upkeep will keep it looking fresh and new.
The keyboard clips onto the tablet, and the hinges allow the tablet part to fold face-down over the keyboard like any laptop screen. To unhook the two parts, you just press a grey button at the top of the keyboard. You just have to remember not to unhook them when a USB key is plugged into the keyboard and you have files open or copying, as you might lose them.
The keyboard doesn't look quite as cool as the tablet; it's made of plastic and harks more of the netbook than the ultrabook. But on the practical side, it's quiet and instinctive to type on.
The touchpad is a little small for our taste. It's a fine size for moving the mouse cursor around, but it's a bit too small to get the computer to recognise your Windows 8 touch-and-swipe commands. You have to take your time and perform each gesture precisely to make sure the commands go through. Same goes for zooming and scrolling gestures. Samsung might want to work on this for the next generation.
The touchscreen is much more effective than the touchpad. Whether the display's attached to the keyboard or standing alone as a tablet, gestures and movements are recognised with ease. It may not be the most responsive touchscreen compared to some other tablets, but the overall experience is just about right.
The problem is that 11.6 inches is huge for a tablet, making it difficult to handle with one hand. Once you pick it up, that's when you notice how big 11.6 inches really is.
The stylus is housed in the back of the tablet. It's a stylus that looks suspiciously similar to the one from the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. However, there's a slight lag between what you draw with the stylus and when the lines appear onscreen, which is not the case with the Android-run Galaxy Note 10.1. In fact, the whole writing/drawing experience and the tablet's ability to recognise stylus' movements is clearly a step down from the Droid experience.
For connectivity the tablet section has one USB 2.0 port, a microSD card reader, a mini-HDMI out and a headphone/microphone combo jack. There are two more USB ports on the keyboard dock.
That's more connectivity than your average tablet, which usually don't have USB at all, but for a laptop it's unimpressive.
The mini-HDMI port means you'll need to use a mini-HDMI-to-HDMI adapter which, naturally, you'll have to carry around with you. And since there's no Ethernet port, you'll also have to get a USB-to-RJ45 adapter. Otherwise, Wi-Fi is your only option.
Connectivity isn't one of the Ativ Smart PC XE500T1C's strong suits, but heat and noise are. The Intel Atom Z2760 processor and 64 GB flash memory drive run fan-less, making the device entirely silent.
Heat readings with the components under stress.
Images captured with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.
And there's no real downside to the no-fan scenario, as the Ativ Smart PC never rises above 29° C (84° F).
The display quality is satisfactory. The colours aren't particularly accurate (Delta E = 7.9), but the 11.6-inch PSL panel has wide viewing angles and 1000:1 contrast. The 1366 x 768-pixel resolution is acceptable for this size screen, but it doesn't match the 1080p Full HD found on so many 10-inch tablets.
Frequency response: speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered
The XE500T1C does not have very impressive sound and the built-in speakers saturate even at the low volume level this device provides.
The headphone out makes up for the speakers a bit, with pretty good volume and no distortion. The audio signal reproduction is excellent, making for a more-than-satisfactory listening experience through headphones.
Please note: the model we were sent to review contains an Atom Z2760 CPU clocked at 1.8 GHz, whereas the model on sale on Samsung's UK website has the same processor clocked at 1.5 GHz. This should give a slightly lower performance than the model we tested.
The Atom Z2760 processor is worlds away from the capabilities of an Intel Core i3 or i5. For us, testing this tablet/computer was a rediscovery—without the slightest hint of nostalgia—of the Atom family's utter lack of ability. Our measurements left no room for doubt: the Samsung Ativ Smart PC XE500T1C is good for little more than productivity and web browsing.
You can sense this in the machine's overall responsiveness, or lack thereof. You often have to wait a couple seconds after clicking on an app before it will open. The shutdown (11 seconds) and startup (28 seconds) times are also affected, taking twice as long as other Windows 8 devices.
We put the XE500T1C through the same test we subject tablets and smartphones to (SunSpider) in order to see where it stands compared to other devices on the market. And we were in for quite a surprise: the iPad 4 (with its A6X processor) has more processing power than this convertible laptop. In fact, the Ativ Smart PC XE500T1C barely has as much computing power as the Nokia 920, Nokia 820 and HTC 8X smartphones, each of which has a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
And the graphics chipset is just as disappointing as the CPU. It can't even handle lightweight games, such as FIFA—even when you put the quality level on minimum!
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The processing power may not be exceptional, but the battery is. According to our measurements it lasts for nearly 9 hours of continuous video playback, with Wi-Fi turned off, headphones in and the screen brightness at 100 cd/m².
The Ativ Smart PC weighs 747 grammes as a tablet and 1.45 kg with the keyboard dock connected. So the dock practically doubles the weight, but it doesn't do anything to boost the battery life. All you gain other than the keyboard itself is two USB ports. The whole device is small enough to fit easily into any backpack, but given the weight you might want to leave the keyboard at home.