Note that the Slate PC is pretty much guaranteed an upgrade to Windows 8 when it's released in 2012, as Samsung's hybrid tablet PC was, in fact, the test product sent to developers by Microsoft last autumn. The Slate PC XE700 is on sale now for around £1,000.
Hardware: Lacking a USB Hub and MouseAlthough it's an imposing and fairly heavy product, the Slate tablet's weight (just over 800 grammes) is evenly distributed. It also has a very high-end finish. The brushed aluminium on the back of the tablet helps keep heat under control and gives the Slate a stylish overall look.
Temperature readings for the Samsung Slate PC XE with the components working hard.
Readings taken with a Fluke Ti25 heat-sensitive camera.
From the front, one of the first things we noticed about the tablet was that Samsung has applied a special finish to the glossy screen the help tone down reflections and glare. However, we found that this gave the strange impression that the screen was covered with a kind of cloudy film, most noticeable when light is shining directly on the screen. That saidr, in regular office-type lighting or in lower-light environments, onscreen images are perfectly pleasant and easy on the eye.
USB 2.0 port, headphones and mic. combo port, mini-HDMI port
Connector for the docking station
The tablet itself has a USB 2.0 port, a mini jack combo for headphones or a microphone (or a handsfree kit), a microSD card slot and a mini-HDMI port.
The charging base has a few more connections, with an extra USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet (RJ45) socket, an HDMI output and a headphones socket. If you're going to be using this PC at home, we'd recommend you pick up a USB hub, which you'll soon find pretty essential if you want to hook up a mouse, a USB headet, and external hard drive, a flash drive etc.
The Slate PC is supplied with a Bluetooth keyboard, which, together with the charging dock/stand, effectively turns the tablet into a mini desktop workstation. Generally, we found the keyboard pleasant to type with and the well-sized keys weren't too noisy. It does, however, have the annoying habit of switching onto standby far too quickly, which means you have to keep waiting for it to wake up before you can carry on typing.
If Samsung is going to supply a keyboard, we think it would also have been logical—not to mention handy—to throw in a mouse. In fact, even a pretty low-quality mouse would make the product much easier to use in laptop mode (when in its dock). Without a mouse, you have to use the stylus to navigate around Windows, which isn't particularly practical when the tablet is resting vertically in its dock.
The Slate PC has two built-in webcams. The front-facing 2-Megapixel camera floods dark areas of the picture into black masses, although overall quality is still fine for video conferencing or face-to-face chat. The 3-Megapixel webcam on the back of the tablet is considerably better, with smooth movements and a detailed image. Its main drawback is the second or so it takes for the camera to refocus each time you move the tablet.
As we mentioned above, the Samsung Slate PC can be lifted off its base and turned into a stand-alone touchscreen tablet. The product's physical handling therefore changes radically but—fear not—the Windows 7 interface can also be changed to adapt to the Slate's new life as a tablet. The interface can be switched to tablet mode by pressing the Windows button on the bottom of the screen bezel. This switches the classic Windows 7 desktop you've been using in laptop mode to a tablet-style homescreen with a selection of large icons in several different panes.
The icons provide handy shortcuts to the features you're most likely to be using in tablet mode, such as the RSS reader and media player, the photo and video camera, Twitter, a digital recipe book, YouTube and Internet Explorer. You can also create folders. This is very convincing, and makes the Slate handle just like a touch screen tablet, with menus and browsers that have been visually and ergonomically reworked to suit use on a touchscreen tablet.
As a tablet, the Slate XE700 has got to be the fastest, most responsive Windows 7 tablet we've seen yet. With almost instant reactions, very few of those near-death moments when you open three Windows at once, and the sleek 'icons' layout, the Slate is a reasonably seamless product. Note, however, that it's still a fair bit slower than Android/iOS systems.
The stylus isn't sensitive to different pressure levels, so you can forget any kind of shading or gradation, but thankfully it's quite precise and it transcribes writing perfectly well in the different note-taking applications available. Another good thing about the stylus is that it's recognised by the touchscreen as soon as it's less than 1 cm from the screen surface, which means you can use the stylus without having to force your gestures and over-accentuate movements too much. Unfortunately, though, Samsung hasn't thought to include anywhere to store the stylus on the tablet.
Performance: Capped!Since the Samsung Slate PC uses the same low-power-consumption Intel Core i5 CPU as the Apple MacBook Air and the Asus UX21, we were very surprised to see it get much less impressive results in our performance tests. For example, it only took the UX21E 435 seconds to export 100 JPEG photos in Adobe Lightroom, whereas the same task took the Samsung Slate PC 960 seconds. We found that, generally speaking, it took around 60% longer to carry out any of the tasks in our test procedure with the Slate PC compared with the other two models. This is obviously very disappointing.
Graphics Performance: Full HD Video and Basic GamesRegular PC gaming isn't really an option on the Samsung Slate PC, as the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset is soon out of its depth. In other words, you're better off sticking to basic games like Angry Birds. HD video decoding poses no problem at all, though, and the Slate PC plays 1080p videos smoothly and glitch-free.
Audio: Disappointing DockIf the Slate was a stand-alone touchscreen tablet it would put the competition to shame with the quality of its audio output. Sound from the tablet is clean, powerful, clear and really quite good. However, compared with laptop computers, its performances are obviously rather less impressive. Note too that the weak and inaccurate speaker should only be used if you really, really have to.
The dock turned out to be a bit more disappointing, as the audio output is much less impressive than the touchscreen tablet. In fact, it's barely even powerful enough to deliver decent volume to a pair of headphones. This audio output port is therefore best used with mini speaker kits only.
Battery Life: 4 hrs 20 mins of Video PlaybackSamsung's Slate PC is ideal for use as a portable workstation. With a dock at home and a dock at the office, the Slate has enough battery life to keep you connected on your train (or plane!) ride home. Plus, the tablet remains remarkably comfortable and user-friendly to work with, and will only add just under 900 grammes to the weight of your bag.
For a tablet, the Slate PC's battery life of 4 hours 20 minutes (for mixed use or video playback) is no match for the best tablets on the market, some of which can last over 8 hours. However, the Slate PC still manages to outlast its rival Windows 7 tablets.