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Samsung's ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T convertible tablet reviewed

Ultrabook on the inside, convertible tablet on the outside

I'm not really impressed with Windows RT tablets. There, I've said it. Oh, don't get me wrong; it's great that Microsoft is pursuing a two-pronged strategy, with ARM on one side and Intel on the other. Spurring some competition is always good. The thing is, Windows RT tablets just don't seem to measure up to their Apple and Android rivals.

They're slower to load applications, for starters. They also tend to have lower-resolution screens (1366x768 ahoy), and they have a comparatively limited library of native applications. Then there's the matter of the desktop interface, which looks and feels like the real thing but won't run any of your old apps (since x86 software isn't compiled to execute on ARM hardware). That leads to a lot of frustration and confusion, and the semi-useless portion of the operating system has a hefty storage footprint.

Yuck. I'll take a Nexus 10 or an iPad over a Surface RT any day.

Windows RT isn't the only way to go if you want a Windows tablet, though. If you're prepared to pay a little extra—okay, a lot extra—you can spring for a Windows 8 convertible. Some of those are effectively shrunken ultrabooks, with 17W Ivy Bridge processors, high-PPI displays, speedy SSDs, USB 3.0, and all that good stuff. They look a bit like jumbo iPads from the outside, and they run all the same Modern UI apps as their WinRT peers, but they're full-featured x86 PCs under the hood. Strap on a keyboard dock, and you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart from an ultrabook.

It's certainly a lovely concept on paper. Yes, these machines are a little spendy, with prices floating around the $1,000 mark right now. But keep in mind that actual laptops with the same kind of hardware don't sell for much less, and they lack the flexibility of convertibles. There's no popping off the keyboard to surf the web on the couch more comfortably.

As luck would have it, we have a member of this Windows 8 convertible breed in our labs: Samsung's ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, which is also known as the 700T1C. It has a Core i5-3317U processor, an 11.6" 1080p display...

...and the all-important keyboard dock accessory.

The 700T1C model we're looking at today sells for $1,189.99 shipped at Newegg with the keyboard dock in the box. Expensive? Absolutely. Better than a Windows RT tablet? Well, just take a look at all the hardware Samsung packs inside this thing.

Processor Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7-2.6GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 (single channel)
Chipset Intel HM76 Express
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
Display 11.6" panel with 1920x1080 resolution
Storage 128GB Lite-On M3M solid-state drive
Audio HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 1 USB 3.0
2 USB 2.0 (on keyboard dock)
1 Micro HDMI
1 analog headphone/analog microphone
Expansion slots 1 Micro SD card reader
1 dock connector
Communications 802.11n Wi-Fi via Intel Advanced-N 6235
Bluetooth 4.0
Intel WiDi
Input devices Capacitive touch screen
Dual-array microphone
Ambient light sensor
Proximity sensor
Camera 2.0-megapixel front
5.0-megapixel rear (w/ flash)
Dimensions 11.6" x 7.2" x 0.5" (295 x 183 x 12.7 mm)
Weight Tablet: 1.97 lbs (895 g)
Keyboard dock: 1.57 lbs (714 g)
AC adapter: 0.56 lbs (256 g)
Battery 49 Wh lithium-polymer battery

Samsung has thought of everything. There's the requisite ultrabook entrails, a high-PPI touch screen, a decent-sized SSD, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, micro HDMI, a couple of cameras, a stylus, and a host of sensors. Even Intel WiDi is included, so you can drive displays or TVs wirelessly (so long as they're connected to their own WiDi adapter).

The only obvious thing missing is a game-worthy GPU, but hey, this is a two-pound, half-inch-thick system. There's hardly any room for that sort of thing. Besides, adding another power-hungry chip would compromise battery life.

What is the 700T1C's battery life, you ask? We'll test that ourselves in just a little bit, but Samsung touts an eight-hour run time, or five hours for video playback. That's a little on the low side compared to ARM-based tablets, but it's decent by ultrabook standards—and, of course, this is essentially an ultrabook from a hardware standpoint. Samsung might have pulled off a longer run time had it crammed extra battery cells inside the keyboard dock, like Asus does with its VivoTab RT. Sadly, the 700T1C's only battery resides in its tablet portion.

There is one other omission we should point out: the fact that the 700T1C leaves one of the Core i5 processor's dual memory channels vacant. As a result, the processor only gets about half of its theoretical peak bandwidth. That might seem like an odd corner to cut on a $1,200 system, but Samsung is likely making concessions to power draw and space constraints. Tapping into the extra channel would have meant more memory chips, more circuit board traces, higher power use, and somewhat shorter battery life. If Samsung can avoid all that by cutting performance slightly, then perhaps it's found a worthwhile compromise. We'll measure the extent of the performance degradation in our benchmarks a few pages ahead.

Even without dual-channel memory or discrete graphics, the 700T1C is relatively bulky for a tablet. At 0.5", it's about 35% thicker than the current-generation iPad. And at 1.97 lbs, it's roughly 37% heavier than the Apple slate. This definitely feels like a different class of device.

That feeling is reinforced by the 700T1C's use of active cooling. Run anything remotely processor-intensive, and you'll hear the little fan inside spin up. You'll also feel hot air blowing through the vents at the back and along the top. That can be a little disconcerting if you're holding the 700T1C in portrait mode with the Windows button under your left thumb. You'll feel a stream of warm air gently licking your left palm. It's not entirely unpleasant in cold weather, though.

Of course, those tradeoffs come with the territory. You can't cram a 17W ultrabook CPU into a tablet and expect something with the portability and battery life of an iPad. If the 700T1C proves itself a worthy productivity and recreation machine, that point may be moot.

We'll just have to see.

That is, we'll just have to take a painstakingly close look at this machine, examining everything from the display's color reproduction to the feel of the keyboard dock to the quality of the bundled software—and everything else in between. Sound good?

All right, let's begin.