Whether you like them or hate them, the tablet phenomenon has hit the retail world hard in an explosive manner, turning the once niche tech into everyone’s next gadget purchase. Although tablet PC’s have been around for some time, it took the advent of the iPad for the technology to make it onto the list of desirable items for the regular consumer. However while your regular consumer grade tablets are great for consuming media and playing casual games, what happens when you need real computing power? You know, the kind required to use real Microsoft Office, or the fully fledged version of Photoshop. What happens if you need to use a real browser, because a tablet browser does not have the functionality behind it in order to navigate through a more complex site? And sometimes you want to work with real files between various applications, rather than working in an isolated storage space in each application (like in iOS). Well, look no further. It appears the first tablet PC to actually make you want a tablet PC is here.
The Samsung Series 7 Slate (or Slate 7 or even XE700T1A-A01AU) is a sight to behold. The first thing that strikes you is the form factor. It’s thin. Very thin. Yet it still manages to fit in a 64GB SSD, 4GB RAM, a full size USB 2.0 port (located on the top left side of the unit), a micro-HDMI port for video out, a micro-SD card slot (which supports SDXC!), a dock port, and a pair of 720p capable cameras, all powered by an Intel i5 2467M dual-core CPU – the same found in the 11″ MacBook Air (2011). This is a real computer, not a stuttery Intel Atom mess of a machine. With an 11.6″ screen, it is certainly wider length wise than your typical iPad or Android tablet, but in all seriousness, a screen any smaller would simply be too difficult to use – this is running a full OS after all, and it needs the real estate for practical use in every day applications. The screen resolution is a usable 1,366 x 768 – catering for the majority of applications out there without the need for annoying amounts of scrolling.
The screen supports 8 simultaneous touches, and is highly responsive to your jabs. While Windows 8 is the OS to look for when it comes to touch functionality, Windows 7 is in no way crippled when it comes to touch. Many forget that Windows 7 natively supports touch (unlike Windows XP which required tacked on software), and the entire OS responds to touch well, including multi touch. Screens and menus respond like sliding paper, and those mac-like multi touch gestures like 2 finger right click are here on the Slate 7 – just that they’re on the screen instead of a touch pad. While you certainly won’t have as good of a touch experience here as on an iPad – remember that these slates are not iPads, nor are they meant to compete with them. They are a PC first before anything else, and for power users, the touch functionality is more than enough to navigate and get things done without frustration. Navigation can be made easier by enabling the doubling feature to increase the size of the system’s UI elements – so the minimise, maximise and close buttons become that much easier to use, title bars become larger, and windows become far easier to move around. Windows 7’s window snapping and maximise features play well here, and make it easy to line up 2 completely different apps side-by-side with zero effort.
Typing is easy to initiate on the touch screen – tap 4 fingers onto the screen at the same time, and the keyboard slides in from the left. From here you can drag the keyboard to where you need it, punch away and hit close to send it on its merry way. With no real auto correct functionality like that found on tablets and smart phones, you certainly wouldn’t want to do any long term typing with the keyboard, but for entering URL’s, user names, passwords or IM’ing, the on-screen keyboard in Windows 7 is more than sufficient. The keys when pressed are responsive and light up when touched, and multi touch means that key presses do not become lost between jabs. You can even hold shift with one finger while pressing a letter key with another just like on an iPad (many earlier slate’s didn’t allow this as they were single touch only). Any of the issues here as far as typing is concerned are completely software based, in that the Windows 7 keyboard is not designed like a tablet or smartphone keyboard, but rather as an emulation of your traditional PC keyboard. Do not worry as Windows 8 will change this and bring a greater touch experience with it. If you prefer you can install Swype for PC, which gives you a compact keyboard that you can use to enter text, and works exactly the same as the smartphone version (for better or worse). The keyboard by default is silent, but if you prefer audible feedback for your key presses, you can enable them under the accessibility settings in control panel.
Intel HD Graphics 3000 is the GPU on board – the same as that found in the MacBook Air 2011 models. Just as with those ultra-portable PC’s, the Slate 7 is capable of instant YouTube playback, zero stutter, and great frame rates. While the GPU is in no way built for hardcore gaming, games like Torchlight, Bejewelled 3 and Shatter will play happily without any fuss. Graphics performance is no problem on the Slate 7. Torchlight in particular is very fun – playing a Diablo-esque RPG with your finger is very intuitive, and the graphics here destroy anything the iPad 2 is capable of. The frame rate I experienced here noticeably beat my wife’s MacBook Air 11” (2011) which has the exact same hardware. You can two-finger right click to use your powers, click on potions in your belt – it all just works. Going off how well Torchlight plays, Diablo 3 (which reportedly works fine on an Air) should be great fun on this.
Connectivity is handled via a number of methods – Bluetooth 3.0 is on board, and the full size USB port allows for any computer peripheral to be inserted into the tablet. If you’re coming from an iPad, this can screw with your mind quite heavily, because you are not restricted by anything – plug anything you want into it that you can a normal PC. Printers, sound interfaces, USB speakers, game controllers – whatever floats your boat. In addition to the above, the Slate also packs a propriety dock port in the base of the device, allowing it to dock with its cradle (included). This dock provides another USB 2.0 port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, and a full-size HDMI port. Pull out the (also included) Bluetooth keyboard, and you’ve got a laptop without the bulk. The slate also packs the complete Intel Centrino suite of wireless, including Wireless N, and the new-ish WiDi standard, used to wirelessly beam your video output to your TV via a WiDi receiver like the Netgear Push2TV HD.
For artists looking for precision, the tablet incorporates a full Wacom digitiser embedded in the screen, allowing for the full range of Wacom and Wacom compatible pens to be used on the tablet. This results in some truly excellent drawing capabilities, and is far more intuitive than using a mouse in drawing applications. Photo editing in Photoshop Elements 10 was a great experience, and allowed for fine adjustments to be made more easily and in a far more intuitive way than clicking around with a mouse. Handwriting is also great on the device, and the pen can be used for text input like any other Windows 7 tablet PC. A point worth noting is that when the pen is brought over to the screen, capacitive touch becomes disabled, so you can happily rest your palms on the screen to your hearts content and not worry about triggering touch. This makes the slate perfect for drawing, because you can draw just like you would on real paper and not feel restricted to penning uncomfortably from a distance to avoid your hands drawing on the screen. If you prefer to have all touch bar the pen disabled at all times, you can do this too. And for pressure sensitivity, the word on the street is that it’s supported by the hardware, you just have to install the ASUS Wacom drivers for the feature to come alive. It’s all here folks.
As a bedroom composer and producer I like me a bit of music production, and I can report that this thing handles Reason 6 well. Projects that I have running on my (somewhat aging) Intel Q6600 quad-core desktop PC run fine on this machine, bar the occasional “your computer is too slow to play this song” message (due to too many things happening at once, usually because of poor song optimisation). Being able to plug my Akai LPK25 keyboard straight into the device itself, with some ASIO4ALL drivers to cut latency I can jam away in my favourite music application, record the performance, and bring it all back to my desktop to continue work on it, without having to use cut-down or alternative software – I can use the same software my desktop PC is using, which is invaluable for maintaining workflow. You can’t do that on an iPad.
Thanks to the i5 2467M CPU, you’ll get a good 5-6 hours out of the unit before it gets low on battery. This is highly impressive for a full Windows PC, and it means you’re only down a few hours compared to an iPad which you can’t do half the stuff on here.
My only complaint isn’t even to do with the hardware or performance, but build quality. The majority of units in circulation have varying degrees of inner bezel lifting from the outer shell/casing. This is a varying problem and it’s hit and miss how badly your slate may be affected. If you do have highly raised glass when opening the box, simply get it replaced for another unit. Apart from this, the unit feels rock solid with a smooth brushed aluminium back, tight ports (except for the AC adapter which is a little wiggly) and a solid flat gorilla glass face. The only other thing I dislike is the complete lack of a charging light. The blue LED which lights up while the power is on could have doubled as a charging light too. Because of this, you can’t see if your slate is at full power while charging without turning the unit on.
The Slate 7 truly is the first Windows based tablet worth owning. It’s quick, the screen is responsive, it boasts absolutely impressive viewing angles and it boots fast. It boots so fast, that it actually gets up quicker from a cold boot than my M14X with an aftermarket OCZ Vertex 3 SSD installed by a few seconds! This is THE machine to purchase if you are after a lightweight, highly portable computer to perform real, CPU intensive tasks. The Australian RRP is a little steep ($1599), but if you can score it on sale, pick one up. While Windows 8 tablets next year will again boast more impressive specs and battery life using Intel’s new chipset, there comes a point in technology when additional specs don’t equate to much. The improvements this brings over the previous range of tablets with poor battery (the ASUS Eee Slates average 2.5 hours) coupled with the latest to date tech gives you enough reason to jump in now, and not be worried about the future. You won’t be disappointed with this one.