I'm on my 7th day using an Intel Tablet, and with that I feel I have a pretty good idea of what it's good for and not, and I would like to put it in context to all the computing devices I use. If you have followed me you know I'm not new to Windows* 8, nor am I new to tablets. To set the record straight: I own 2 iPads, have purchased 4 iPhones, own a Samsung Galaxy SIII, and Acer Iconia Tab, as well as 3 Atom-powered netbooks, 1 MeeGo tablet and 2 Utrabooks, one Sandy Bridge and 1 Ivy Bridge, as well as this new Intel powered Samsung ATIV Tablet.
Know this: I get easily frustrated with poor experiences, and devices that are anything but easy to use and responsive. Responsiveness and a good UI do not require performance in my mind. I always look at the device for what it is designed to do. But I am a fairly demanding user. I also like options and choice. While on one hand a great user experience may be awesome, if I can't accomplish what I want to do, then it's frustrating tech.
Atom, but not the Atom I remember:
Now,each user's experience with a device is subjective to the user. So will be this review of the Samsung ATIV 500 SmartPC tablet. Per other Atom products, I know people who had issues with netbooks. Personally I had an OK time with them. My issue was battery and heat. If they got hot, performance suffered, apps could hang or pause for a bit and you had a poor experience. iOS and Android devices rarely had this kind of issue. Yet my experience in consuming content, connecting on the go and access to legacy apps was good with Netbooks especially for the price.
Now per this Samsung ATIV, Atom powered Tablet, I don't recognize Atom here, or at least the Atom processors found in Netbooks. Not once have I thought that the experience is suffering from the processor, whether watching a movie full screen, using a graphics app or accessing social media. The device has been responsive from the time I turned it on to the time I'm done. I don't get an odd pause or hangup as I had with Netbooks. To be completely honest, from a pure "experience" point of view, this tablet is a more "responsive experience" than my Corei5 Asus Ultrabook running Windows 7. I'm sure if I ran a benchmark test the Ultrabook wins hands down. But much of the experience is getting in and out of apps, switching between apps, having the system respond when you expect it to. The Atom powered ATIV Tablet works more like iOS and Android device in that respect.
In terms of app performance I am AMAZED. Graphic apps I thought only good for Core level processors not only run, they ROCK! I have run into some apps that are dogs both on the Windows 8 store side and the Desktop side, but that is because they are not coded well to take advantage of the hardware. Many Windows 8 store apps need to also run on Windows RT devices, so some of those apps will not take advantage of the Intel hardware. However, well developed apps found at SourceForge, AppUp, and other desktop app repositories may amaze you. MyPaint from MyPaint.org is one example. The responsiveness of the brushes and the levels of pressure from the S-Pen are best in class. You can't get this on any mobile device at a reasonable price, until now. Occassionally I noticed some odd behavior in some apps when running too many at once. This is where you have to respect what the device is designed to do. This is not a workstation. Running 20 apps at once is NOT how I should treat this device. I now properly close apps I'm not using and the experience is SUPERB. This is where we get a subjective view. Some may feel the OS or hardware should accommodate you to run 20+ apps. But I'm so used to managing my own experience this way I don't mind. Perhaps in the future this will bother me.
Power is not part of experience equation
I find my smartphones, other tablerts and my SandyBridge Utrabook continually low on battery. This is not the case with my Intel Tablet. I doubt the power metrics would agree but my experience is my experience. I can sit all afternoon drawing and doing social media on my tablet. I can't do that on my other devices. On all other devices I find power issues interrupt my work on my other devices, where I need to quickly look for power so not to lose what I'm in the middle of. I have to remind myself to plug in the tablet.
Reboot and wake as you imagine
Like my iPad and my smartphones the Tablet wakes from sleep in an instant. When I click the button the screen turns on and I'm in what I was doing before. It's the same experience. Access to Windows apps this way is HUGE! With a typical Windows device I reboot at least every other day. Not the Intel Tablet. If I'm doing an update then there have been reboots or I've rebooted to be sure new drivers work as expected. But when you do that it's fast, around 15 seconds from cold boot to at the start screen. This Tablet is on par with all iOS and Android devices in terms of boot and wake
Intel & Windows 8 Goodness
You've probably heard about the various flavors of WIndows 8. One variant is called Windows RT, which gives you the sexy touch enabled Windows 8 Modern UI experience plus the Windows 8 store. However, the RT version does not allow you to run X86 applications. in other words all the legacy Windows apps, hardware peripherals, etc. that you may know and love for Windows 7 won't run on RT. However, this tablet is an Intel powered tablet. You get what is called the full Desktop mode. That means you can install apps and hardware that run on Windows 7. That's not the end of it. Many of these apps run better or have enhanced capabilities now on Windows 8 tablet. MyPaint for example is enhanced with the S-Pen that comes with Tablet. I use MyPaint on Windows 7 with a Wacom tablet attached. The app is vastly improved with direct pen to screen experience. Other apps like Chrome are also recognized if they are installed on Windows 8. And I believe more Desktop mode apps will make use of Windows 8 goodness. I find I spend at least half of my time in Desktop mode running an alternative browser or open source app, or favorite peripheral. My only complaint is with the soft keyboard. It does not automatically pop up when in a text field. Perhaps I haven't found that configuration, but if no keyboard is attached I think the soft keyboard should pop-up as needed.
Beyond Desktop mode is the Windows 8 Modern UI and the Windows 8 store, where you'll find great apps like you experience on iPad and Android. They look great, run well but are generally small,snackable apps. Lots of good entertainment, social and casual game apps here that make use of the sharing system, simple one click install,etc. It is a tight experience but limited on the app side, which is why Desktop mode is so much part of the full Windows 8 experience.
Samsung makes great products. I don't think many can question that. They've had years building the Galaxy line of products with an S-Pen device. That pen technology is now in this tablet and well integrated with Windows 7 and Windows 8. Photoshop, Gimp and MyPaint that work with Wacom pens work just as well with the S-Pen detecting minute pen pressure. If you like a stylus or think you need something more precise than a finger for Windows 7 apps, then you will love the S-Pen. I can tell you from experience the excellent boot and wake times have a lot to do with Samsung. Screen brightness and clarity are great in various light conditions compared to other products I've used. Screen is a bit more reflective than I like and smudges more easily than others I've used. I have a sticky cloth attached to the back of it, so I clean it more than other touch devices. Build quality surprises me. I thought initially not so good. But I've smacked this around pretty good. It feels weaker in your hand than it actually is.
Things I've done
Now the best way to explain how this is possibly the best Tablet, PC or computing experience ever is to explain what I've done in one week with this Tablet:
- Desktop Radio: Touch enabled radio using iHeart Radio; I have easy access to while doing work using my workstation.
- Social 3rd Screen: Social aggregation apps on a touch screen adjacent to my workstation. Having this outside my regular desktop put socials in an easily accessible appliance
- Video editing, & publishing to YouTube: My unboxing video was shot with a Flip camera I plugged into my tablet, then edited using MovieMaker from Microsoft. I installed and configured nothing and post production was just a few minutes. The movie was processed and uploaded to my YouTube account from MovieMaker while I did other work.
- Digital Art Tablet: 4 high quality pieces rendered at professional quality, using professional apps. Most impressed with this and personally I enjoy this the most about this tablet. A comparably Wacom digital tablet would be thousands of dollars. The quality is superb. This feature alone is worth the price of the tablet.
- Lightening Speaker 5 minute timer - Convenient timer placed at speaker table during meetup, that both speaker and audience could see
- Google Hangout - Hosted and recorded a Hangout using the webcam and Chrome plug-in
- Casual Games - Angry Birds Star Wars, Ancient Frog, Pinball. Quality and experience as good or surpasses other tablets
- Digital Camera - Not my first choice, but why pull out my phone or camera when I had the tablet already in hand. Did what I needed at the time
- Professional quality photo editing - Some done locally, but I did heavy lifting by using Remote PC to my Corei7 PC running Photoship. Tablet made for easier interface, where Corei7 provided the extra horse power. Basically too lazy to load Photoshop on the tablet, so I did a Remote Session. Turned out to be a great experience
- Christmas Card ordering - After editing photos easily uploaded them to card pubishing site
- UI App Testing: Tested apps needing keyboard and without keyboard, determine useability of projects I'm working on
- eChistmas Shopping - When a device is this convenient to turn on and surf the web, it made it too easy to get my shopping done. Finished faster than previous years
I cannot do these combination of things on any other device with the same ease, convenience, and intuitive experience. I might be able to get other devices to do these,but it woud be at some cost of experience for me. Note I say "for me". Where I can or cannot give up on experience (like drawing and painting) may differ from you. You may not be able find the video editing good enough, where it worked for what I needed to get done.
The Best IMHO
So, after 1 week use, compared to all the devices laid out at the top of this post, this is the best overall device experience. Make no mistake it doesn't replace my smartphone or my PC. It can't fit in my pocket and it doesn't have a 300Gig drive. But if I HAD to live with one device, this would be it. I may find something that doesn't meet my expectation and it may move down in position, but so far it tops my list of best overall computing device.
Finally for my developer audience I think you need to take note. My collegue Wendy Boswell has been talking about the PC getting interesting again. I think there is a lot to this notion that we are emerging into a new "interesting" era for PC. Mobile technology and the experience is no longer fixed to mobile devices. The world of great PC software is about to meet the world of mobile use cases in a way not yet done before. While consumer apps, games, social apps have been all the rage on smartphones and tabets the rest of the word in health care, retail, finance, education, digital production have been waiting for something that works with the old and take them somewhere new. Intel Ultrabooks and Intel tablets have the power to bridge those systems, and deliver access to content and applications for those verticals in a way we've not seen before. There's monetization in them thar hills. Developers be ready!