With all the hype surrounding the new Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and favorites such as the iPad 2 and Asus Transformer, it's easy to forget that there are still new Windows tablets hitting stores. In fact, Windows tablets have been around for years, both as low-key industrial tools and as disappointingly underpowered consumer products.
Samsung has expanded its Series 7 line of products into tablet territory, calling its versions the Series 7 Slate 700T. Like the Asus EP121, it includes an Intel Core i5 processor, making it a much more useful device than the underpowered Intel Atom tablets that failed to impress us over the past few years. The downside is that both this and the Asus version are much more expensive than the current best-selling tablet, Apple's $500 iPad.
That said, when combined with its optional Bluetooth keyboard and docking stand, the Series 7 Slate is a tidy, powerful package, but those extras will run you $180 on top of the system's premium $1,349 price. At least that includes a 128GB SSD drive. For $1,099, you can get the same machine with a smaller 64GB drive.
The real competition here in one sense isn't the iPad, but the new generation of ultrabooks, which are thin, light, and just as powerful. Some, such as the Toshiba Portege Z835, also pack in a 128GB SSD, but for a lot less: $799.
But those systems lack the Slate's touch screen, as well as Samsung's optional custom tile-based UI, which looks like a cross between Android and the upcoming Windows 8. Unfortunately, like nearly all Windows tablets, onscreen typing is a pain, exacerbated by a finicky Swype-branded onscreen keyboard app. No one has yet made a Windows tablet that works as seamlessly and simply as advertised, and aside from the nice custom UI, nothing here greatly changes our perception of the field.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$1,349 / $999|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.7 x 7.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.9/2.5 pounds|
The general design for a modern tablet seems set in stone, or at least glass and plastic (or glass and metal, in the case of the iPad and a few others). With edge-to-edge glass over the front surface, covering the display and a thick black bezel, and a slightly rounded back plastic panel, the Series 7 Slate looks and feels a lot like tablets such as the BlackBerry PlayBook (and it's distant cousin, the Kindle Fire) or even the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
It's a clean look that emphasizes the most important component: the big 11.6-inch display. The Series 7 feels dense; like the iPad, it's hard to hold in a single hand for too long. The biggest letdown designwise is the plastic back panel. With just a little force, the entire unit flexes, making it feel like a product that may not stand up to the rigors of road use.
Ports, connections, and controls are spread out along the four edges, with mic inputs on the top edge, along with a microSD card slot, power and rotation lock buttons along the right edge, headphone, AC power, and Micro-HDMI on the left edge, as well as a rocker switch for speaker volume, and a docking connector on the bottom edge.
That docking connection attaches to a sold-separately docking stand, which for $99 gives you full-size HDMI and USB ports, Ethernet, and headphone jacks, and another AC adapter connection. The weighted dock has a brushed-metal top surface and flip-up door, and feels more upscale than the tablet itself. Also available is an $80 Bluetooth keyboard that's exactly the same width as the tablet, and has large, easy-to-hit flat-topped keys. Together, that's a decent amount of connectivity, and equal to what you'd find on some thin ultraboook laptops.
Without that, you're stuck using the onscreen keyboard. The default one is a Swype keyboard, allowing you to drag you finger between letters to spell, but its autocorrect makes inputting nonstandard words, such as usernames and passwords, difficult. You can, of course, choose to type in a traditional letter-by-letter fashion as well. The keyboard has virtual grips on either side to allow for easy movement across the screen (in case it's covering a text field you need to access), but the typical lag of a Windows onscreen keyboard made it difficult to use, and we frequently ran into problems getting the keyboard to pop up when trying to fill in certain online text fields. There's also a standard Windows onscreen keyboard if you prefer, but it's hidden in the system menus, and we had to search via the Start menu to find it.
The response of the touch screen was generally good, and better than even the most recent Core i5-powered Windows tablets (of which there are very few). Constant recalibration was not required, but most finger inputs in Windows result in a tiny target reticule, meaning you may have to hunt around to hit the close or maximize controls of a folder properly.
Finger input works much better on the custom Samsung tablet UI, which is activated by tapping on a task bar icon. Called simply Samsung touch interface, it pulls most of the desktop icons, and a handful of other tablet-friendly apps (weather, an RSS reader, etc.) onto a series of screens that look and feel a lot like the oversized app icon screens in iOS, Android, and Windows 8. Flicking between pages of apps was smooth, and after a little guesswork, new icons, such as the Chrome Web browser, were added easily. A task bar on the far left side keeps a to-do list, weather report, and a clock always in view, but they can be minimized by swiping a virtual tab over.
When first demoed a few months ago on prototype hardware, the Samsung touch interface looked impressive, and it continues to be the standout feature of this tablet, and one that nearly all laptops, touch screen or not, could benefit from.
The 11.6-inch display is similar to what you'd find in an ultraportable laptop such as the HP Pavilion dm1z. The screen resolution is also the same at 1,366x768 pixels. That compares favorably with most of the other tablets out there, no matter the operating system. The screen itself is glossy and easily catches light from nearby sources. Off-axis viewing is excellent, which makes it better for shared video viewing, especially when sitting on the docking stand.
Shocking no one, the sound from the internal speakers was thin, even for such a small device. Tablets are not known for their great audio, but the iPad, for example, manages to be a better personal music player.
|Samsung Series 7 Slate||Average for category [ultraportable/tablet]|
|Video||Mini-HDMI (plus HDMI via dock)||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack, mic port||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0 (plus 1 USB 2.0 via dock), micro-SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 UDB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (via dock)||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
The two available configurations of the Samsung Series 7 Slate both have a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor--a very popular part for midrange laptops. For $1,349, it's combined with a 128GB SSD, as in our review unit, or for $1,099, you can drop the storage down to 64GB. In fact, it's likely significantly less space than that, as Apple's 64GB 11-inch MacBook Air leaves only 49GB of free space after accounting for operating system files.