Is it a Laptop? Is it a Tablet? No … it’s a Samsung ATIV Smart PC

What is a Samsung ATIV Smart PC ?

Samsung ATIV Smart PC
Samsung ATIV Smart PC

Officially it’s called a notebook, but I have heard people refer to it as a Convertible Laptop as well. In fact … it is a laptop … but you can detach the screen from the rest of the laptop and use that as a tablet. The screen is actually a fully Touch enabled display. So think about the ATIV Smart PC as a powerful laptop which you can convert to a tablet with tablet.

A few weeks ago the people from Samsung sent me the Samsung ATIV Smart PC to take it for a spin. I tested the device for little more than a week and this is my personal opinion on the device.

The Hardware

The Specs

I don’t know about the readers here, but I don’t really care about numbers anymore. A device has to do what it should … and if it does the job with less RAM or less CPU cycles then great … but it has to do the job at hand.

I remember different times though … 20 years ago I still went out to buy my own parts so I could build my own PC with the best gear and specs available at that time. And probably a few readers still love numbers so here we go. The Samsung ATIV Smart PC comes with an Intel ATOM 1.5 Ghz processor, 2 Gigs of RAM, a 64 Gig SSD, WIFI, Bluetooth 4, stereo speakers, a microphone … and lots more. In short … it has everything you would expect from a decent laptop.

The screen is an 11,6 inch Touch HD LED Display, which gives you a 1366 x 768 resolution. The Samsung ATIV Smart PC also has a ‘Pro’ big brother which comes with a full HD Touch display (1920 x 1080)

If you are interested in more detailed specs, then by all means go have a look at the full specs on the Samsung Website.

The Quality

Visiting a website on the Samsung ATIV Smart PC
Visiting a website on the Samsung ATIV Smart PC

This is only the second time I have used a non Apple tablet, and the previous one felt like a toy to me. My first impression of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC was a little different. This time I had the impression that some thought was put into the device, the materials which were used and the way if felt when holding it in your hands.

When I detached the screen from the keyboard and used it as a tablet, I noticed it had a plastic back. When I opened the cover on one of the ports I couldn’t immediately close it completely. It somehow sticked out a bit. I blame it on my clumsy hands and not knowing how it should be done … but still those are the things I don’t want the first time I hold a device in my hands.

The Tablet

Actually I was quite impressed by the fact that all connections were in fact in the Tablet part of the device as well. So, even if you use the screen as a Tablet (outside the keybaord clamshell) you still had access to a Micro SD slot, and U HDMI port, USB Ports, … It was even possible to recharge the device without hooking it up to it’s keyboard clamshell. In my ‘business test case’ this proved to be quite interesting.

The Software

Windows 8

Samsung ATIV Smart PC runs Windows 8
Samsung ATIV Smart PC runs Windows 8

This was actually the first time I thought ‘hey … the combination of the Desktop UI and the Modern UI might be interesting after all’. But a few moments later I also discoverd that both interfaces on one device were causing problems in our ‘business test case’ which I will explain in a short while.

The Modern UI (used to be called Metro UI) is the Touch interface, complete with tiles and other funky things. This should be the prefered interface when using the Samsung ATIV Smart PC as a tablet. The Desktop UI is the well known Windows UI which you would use at the office, or when you use the device as a Laptop.

This would be perfect if Windows would detect these use cases and act accordingly. Sadly you are able to switch to the Desktop UI when using the device as a tablet and the Modern UI when using it as a laptop. Having a virtual keyboard pop up when the tablet is docked in it’s keyboard clamshell is one thing, but being stuck in de Desktop UI when using the device as a tablet and not having a Virtual Keyboard pop up on the screen (automatically) is a completely different story. The combination proved to be quite promising at start, but it ended up causing frustration with most of our ‘test users’.

The Business Test Case

The Setup

Our WMS Client on the Samsung ATIV Smart PC
Our WMS Client on the Samsung ATIV Smart PC

In case you don’t know … I’m a software developer by trade. My company (Devia) writes windows applications for a broad range of customers but mostly using Delphi and for the Windows Platform. Currently for one of our clients we’re developing a Warehouse Management System (WMS) which is used to track inventory in the different warehouses, receiving of goods, picking and shipping of goods, location management, barcode scanning, … the whole thing.

To me it seemed like a good idea to use this as a business test case. Since the Samsung ATIV Smart PC is a windows based device, we could simply install our WMS on the device and try it out. Since everyone said this is supposed to be a quite powerful laptop, I went ahead and installed an SQL Server on the Smart PC. Quickly restore our development database on that machine was the next task. After that I installed our WMS client. For us delphi developers this is actually quite easy … simple copy the EXE file over, make sure it points to the lokal SQL Server and start using it.

The Good

I was indeed impressed by the performance of the device and the battery life was quite nice as well. While installing everything I had the device hooked up to a power outlet, but once everything was installed we used it without power. We used the device for a complete working day without any need to recharge.

From what I read … the battery should last for 10 hours. In my test case I only had 6 hours to experiment and indeed I still had plenty of juice left. Big thumbs up !!!

The Bad

I have to admit … this wasn’t caused by the device itself. Our WMS Client was developed for our customers and they specifically stated that it had to be optimized for a full HD display and they would only use it on such displays so there was no need to support smaller screens. In fact … everything worked, but in some cases our screens looked somewhat ugly on the Samsung ATIV Smart PC due to the smaller resolution.

Nothing we can’t fix though, but we would have to rework some of the screens …. Visual tweaks I would say.

The Ugly

Of course our WMS application was built as a Desktop application, and it has no ‘Modern UI’ like interface. In order to use our application you have to switch to the Desktop UI. This caused some problems when using our app when the device was used as a tablet (not docked in the keyboard clamshell).

For example … users could look up an article, and normally they would click in (or tab to) the Description field and start typing to change the description. This still works perfectly when you use the device as a laptop. But if you undock the screen from the keyboard and start using it as a tablet you would expect a virtual keyboard to pop up automatically when you enter a certain edit box / edit field. Well … that wasn’t the case. The users had to manually click on a little keyboard icon in the Windows 8 Task Bar to make the Virtual Keyboard appear on screen so the could start typing. The result was noticed quickly … frustrated users who said “it doesn’t work”. Actually it did work, but they didn’t know they had to tell the system to display the virtual keyboard. And in my opinion the should know that … the OS should be smart enough to detect that you have no keyboard attached and entered an edit box … so hey … maybe you might want to type something so it could display the keyboard automatically.

But wait a second … it got worse … When you had a edit box which was located near the bottom of the screen, making the Virtual Keyboard appear would cause it to show the Virtual Keybaord above the edit box. In other words … you couldn’t even see what you were typing. This was driving our test user (and me for that matter) insane. You would think the OS would be smart enough to shift the display up … well it didn’t.

When it happened to one of our test users, he told us … maybe it will fix itself when you jump to the next edit box / entry field. So he pressed the ‘>’ and ‘ New … popup the Virtual Keyboard … same result. The Virtual Keyboard covered my Notepad window … Result … me slapping my head on my forehead and shaking a big NO at Microsoft.

My Verdict

I can see some use in the Convertible Laptops. The fact that you have a laptop and a tablet in the same device sounds quite appealing. In the office you can use the full power of a laptop, while on the road you have a powerful tablet at your disposal. In our case taking the tablet with us inside the warehouse to check a few things was quite appealing to our customer.

The fact that it’s Windows was interesting too. In our case we could show that our application could run in Tablet mode without having to rewrite the whole thing in Objective-C caused quite a few ‘ohs’.

The biggest problem we had was Windows 8. The Modern UI on a Tablet will work nicely while the Desktop UI on a laptop still feels OK, but problems arise when you use a Tablet with a Desktop UI and a Desktop with a Tablet UI. I really hope the folks at Microsoft get their act together and are reading reports like this one. Maybe they can learn some things from the problems we encountered and I sincerely hope some things will get fixed very soon.

Oh … and next time I’ll try to make a shorter post … and tabe pictures from the test device as well … I promise 🙂

About the Author

Stefaan is a Software Developer by trade, but also active as a Tech Reporter and Podcaster mostly in Dutch / Flemish. You can find out more about him on his blog at iTutor Podcast or check out the Tech45 Podcast.

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