Evaluating Windows 8 Tablets – Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro (700T)

The journey continues…

The boss approved purchase of a Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro (the “700T” model).  I wassoooexcited… this was the tablet PC I had been waiting for.  Thin, light, and fully convertible from Ultrabook to slate.  Stylus included, 1080 high-definition display, full Intel i5 processor.  So much to love…

First impressions were really positive.  The build quality seemed really high… solid magnesium case, good keyboard response, fast boot, very responsive Wacom digitizer stylus.  As a tablet, this thing is awesome. And while it is expensize compared to an iPad, it is very cheap compared to the Tablet PCs of yesteryear.

However, I quickly ran into trouble.  When typing with the SmartPC on my lap, the keyboard would frequently disconnect from the display.  It would not fall off, but the tablet component would lose electrical connection to the keyboard, causing typing input to stop.  Sometimes this would happen as often as five times in a single line of text.  Awful!

There were other problems as well.  Like the HP Envy X2, the screen does not tilt back far enough to allow comfortable use of the keyboard on a countertop.  The 1080p display, which is very crisp and bright, is inconvenient to use for remote desktop connections to Server 2008 R2 and earlier hosts (the fonts do not scale for remote desktop sessions, leading to comically tiny print size and rediculiously small buttons and window controls).  The system did not include a TPM chip (that is only available on the models that ship with Win8 Pro… something that was not clear when ordering the device).  And finally, Samsung does not bundle drivers for the SmartPC in any way that is convenient for business deployment.  Re-imaging the systems would be a pain.

It also is worth noting that Microsoft decided that in-place upgrades of retail versions of Win 8 to volume license editions woudl not be supported.  If you want simply to install Win 8 Enterprise over the factory-shipped consumer edition of Win8, you are out of luck.  I also experienced this problem with the HP Envy X2.  For corporate users, volume license installs are strictly a nuke-and-repave operation.  Booooooo!  This is not Samsung’s fault, but the lack of support for business deployment (i.e. driver bundles or driver repository building tools) is a killer for the SmartPC in the enterprise.

I really wanted to love this device, but I really just have to return it.  Consumers seeking a top-performance tablet may love it, but it does not work for this sysadmin.  I am hoping that the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix will work out better.

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