Does the iPad finally have a worthy competitor?
When it comes to tablets, the iPad has it nailed. Yes, its lacking in certain aspects but the overall experience that it delivers is above and beyond anything else currently out there. I’ve played with a lot of Android based tablets in the last year and granted, some of them are incredibly nice from a hardware point of view- such as the ASUS Transformer, it’s the software that, after the honeymoon period, starts to irritate the hell out of you. Suddenly things are not as smooth as they used to be and the touch interface seems to lag or just fail to respond. Hopefully the release of Android 4.0 ICS will continue improving things but I just don’t see Android as a fierce competitor to the iPad at the moment.
What I do think will shake things a bit in tablet space is the arrival of Windows 8 later this year. I was sent the Samsung Slate PC Series 7 for review just a couple of days before Microsoft launched Windows 8 Consumer preview so I got to play with it using Windows 7 and Windows 8 for a few days. And you know what? I like it. Definitely more than any Android tablet that I’ve used during the course of a year. Lets find out what makes it better.
Packaged in a box that is about the size of a netbook’s packaging, the Samsung Slate PC Series 7 comes with a power charger and a stylus. A second box holds the dock along with a bluetooth keyboard. Surprisingly, Samsung has not included a mouse in the packaging. Other than that, you get your usual assortment of warranty information as well as a quick help guide to get you started.
Your first impression of the Slate is that it’s a bit on the wide side and not necessarily as easy to handle as the iPad or some of the Android based tablets. But give it a bit of time and the 11.6” screen becomes as easy to work with as some of the smaller sized ones. Samsung has done an impressive job with the build quality of the Slate which has a premium finish to it and feels pretty solid in your hands. There are some parts on the back side that push it when you apply some force but honestly, that is not something you’ll really be doing.
Like the iPad, the front of the Slate hosts just one button and a camera. The sides are much more populated though with a a full sized USB port, a 3.5mm headset jack, volume buttons, a micro HDMI connector and the power charging port on one side. Opposite to that side you have a power button and another button for orientation lock while a SIM tray that is blocked also sits here. Finally, a microSD card slot sits on the top while the charger connects to the bottom. Dual microphones are present on the top along with a camera on the front and on the back. Interesting, a Stylus is included but there is no place for popping it inside the tablet’s chassis which is a bit of a shame.
On the specifications side, the Slate is faster than almost any tablet out there. It is powered by the Intel Core i5 2467M CPU running at 1.6GHz along with 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. That’s the kind of configuration that you see inside a laptop so hats-off to Samsung for managing to cram all that hardware into such a tiny package along with a 11.6″ gorgeous looking touch screen. The only down side is that you have a fan inside the Slate that tends to go off when pushed slightly which, if nothing else, creates a bit of an awkwardness in a tablet form factor. So exactly how fast is the Slate compared to our standard set of tablets. The following table shows you the SunSpider benchmark results- remember lower is better.
|Samsung Series 7 Slate
|Apple iPad 3
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
The Samsung Slate PC Series 7 with it’s Core i5 smokes every other tablet in the market and without doubt- it is the fastest tablet that we have tested.
Unlike most of the tablets that we have recently looked at, the Slate comes with a full version of Microsoft Windows 7. Is that a good thing or a bad things? It’s a bit of both. You see, Windows 7 wasn’t really designed to be used primarily with a touch interface and thus, there are many places where you really need that precise input that a mouse offers. Luckily the Stylus helps with that but as we mentioned, there is no slot for the stylus on the tablet so you will have to carry it separately with you everywhere. Also, using the stylus is fine for some occasions but for most of the time, you really would prefer using your finger.
Samsung does make things better by adding their custom UI on top of Windows that is a lot more finger friendly but the amount of applications for the UI are very limited and chances are that you will probably not find many new apps to take advantage of this UI. The following video shows you this added layer of UI that Samsung has built on their slate.
On the flip side, you are running a full version of Windows on the Slate so worries about getting new apps is not a concern at all. You can run everything- from a full version of Microsoft Office to World of Warcraft and everything works- although not necessarily in the most touch-friendly way. This is where the included dock comes in which you can pretty much leave in your office with a monitor and keyboard/mouse connected for a full blown PC experience and on your way out, you just grab the tablet with you.
Considering that Microsoft released the consumer preview of Windows 8, I thought that it would be a cool idea to install that on the Samsung Slate considering this is almost the exact machine that Microsoft gave to developer’s at it’s Build event late last year with the developer’s version of Windows 8 installed. Moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is a massive jump on the tablet side making the Slate a lot more functional and easy to work with.
Wrapping it up, the battery life on the Slate is not as great as the iPad or Android tablets and that is because of two reasons- first, Windows is not as optimized for battery life as iOS or Android and second, the Core i5 obviously sucks a lot more power than ARM based SoCs. I managed to get between three to four hours of battery life out of the Slate which is stricly ok. What is definitely worth mentioning is that the Standby time which is actually pretty decent. I had the tablet on standby for a week and it barely lost 10% of the battery. Windows 8 hibernates after a specific time and completely shuts the tablet off which makes booting it back not as instant as the iPad or Android on standby- it usually took about 6 seconds for the Slate to come back up from hibernation mode which is not bad at all and I’d gladly that for such a long standby time.
Priced at AED 4999, the Samsung Slate PC Series 7 is certainly not cheap and more than twice of what you could get an iPad or an Android based tablet for. But then again, the Slate is a full blown PC and not a cut-down version of an OS. However, the OS is not the most tablet-friendly OS that exists which is the real dilemma here. Samsung has done a pretty good job with the hardware but until Windows 8 comes out, you’re better off with an Ultrabook that has a keyboard and Mouse attached with it making it much more Windows friendly. Those willing to be a bit daring can certainly try out Windows 8 Consumer Preview which increased the usability of the Slate tremendously but brings itself the issues that any beta would.