Samsung ATIV Smart PC: Design

The ATIV Smart PC is unmistakably a Samsung design, for better or for worse. The front face is dominated by the display, along with details like the chrome-ringed Windows button, speakers placed on the right and left edges in similar fashion to the Galaxy Tab and Nexus 10, and the webcam and Samsung logo centered above the display. The bezel is uniformly three-quarters of an inch thick all the way around the screen, which allows for comfortable handling of the device without adding too much bulk to the footprint. The body is entirely glossy plastic, with contours similar to the rest of Samsung’s recent mobile industrial design language. The brushed plastic aesthetic in particular will be very familiar to anyone who has handled a pebble blue Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note II in recent times. This isn’t as dark a blue, but they’re clearly related products.

The ATIV Smart PC is kind of chunky though, with a width of 12” and a weight of 1.65lbs. It’s not that thin, either, though it does feel thicker than 9.9mm. It’s too big for ideal one handed use, and the dimensions of 10.1” slates (10.5” wide, roughly 1.25lbs) tend to be much better suited for that ergonomically. The problem though, with this slate in particular, is that it feels both bulky and not that well built. The plastic body offers pretty poor in hand feel, with a disconcerting amount of flex exhibited in normal day-to-day handling.

Samsung’s build quality on their plastic products has never thrilled me, particularly the original Galaxy S and Galaxy S III. They clearly know how to design a good looking computer, with their Series 7 and Series 9 notebooks and all-in-ones featuring attractive and well built aluminum bodies. The ATIV doesn’t even cut it from a plastic standpoint, with noticeable seams between the various injection molded plastic pieces that comprise the chassis. Next to the VivoTab, the Samsung feels bloated—the aluminum body of the ASUS is far higher quality and the thinner chassis is much better ergonomically. And compared to tablet design benchmarks like Surface and the iPad, it’s not even on the same planet.

Button and port placement is a bit haphazard, with microHDMI and volume controls on the right side, a USB port, 3.5mm combo jack, microSD card, and microSIM slot located on the top of the device, along with two chrome buttons (power and rotation lock) that are easy to confuse. One, the idea of a SIM slot on a device that doesn’t have a cellular radio is downright baffling. Two, all the ports have flaps. Three ports, a dummy SIM slot, and four flaps. It’s unclean, fiddly, and an industrial design faux pas in this day and age. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the top-mounted USB port, but at least it’s better than the ASUS VivoTab’s easy-to-lose and hard-to-replace dongle. Other miscellaneous design details: the raised chrome detailing around the webcam is very Galaxy S III-esque, the Wacom stylus on the side can be difficult to remove from the silo at times, and the Windows and Intel logo stickers on the back are the height of uncool.

The keyboard dock is a definite bright spot. When you add it to the slate, the total size goes up to 3.1 pounds and 0.85” thick. It’s made of a matte plastic that feels better and more solid than the tablet, with a spacious and comfortable chiclet-style keyboard along with a buttonless ELAN multitouch trackpad. The dock also has two USB ports, one on either side, and both are covered by flaps (tragic).

The tablet connects to the dock with two clips and a 13 pin trapezoidal connector, and disengages with a button located at the center of the hinge. It’s a bit buggy at times—something about the electrical connection between dock and tablet occasionally goes on the fritz, resulting in a series of disconnections and reconnections usually fixed by adjusting the hinge angle or removing and reinserting the tablet. Unlike ASUS keyboard docks, the Samsung docks don’t include a battery. This results in a thinner, lighter dock, but having a second battery in the dock would probably be worth the extra bulk, for reasons I’ll discuss in the battery life section.

The ATIV Smart PC design and hardware is adequate, but honestly, based on the Windows tablets I’ve been dealing with in the last six months, I’d put Samsung behind Microsoft, ASUS, Vizio, and even Acer when it comes to Windows 8 tablet hardware design. Compared to the level of industrial design and quality we’ve come to expect from the current crop of tablets and ultrabooks, Samsung has really missed an opportunity to even be competitive here.

Samsung ATIV Smart PC: Introduction Samsung ATIV Smart PC: Display
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  • paulbram - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    You REALLY need to check out the HP Envy X2. I just picked up this thing from Staples for $525. It includes the keyboard dock with a second battery in it. In my opinion, it is the best of the convertibles AND it is the cheapest!!!

    The build quality in particular is really quite amazing. It feels like a MacBook air with a detachable screen.
    Reply
  • hughtwg - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I agree. While I much prefer using a stylus than getting greasy fingerprints all over my screen the poor stylus support in Windows 8 make using a stylus less than ideal. Other than my touchpad not registering multi-touch gestures when waking from sleep the X2 has been great. Hopefully HP will fix the touch pad soon. Reply
  • nerd1 - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - link

    Actually HP initially claimed their tablet supports active digitizer (maybe atmel) but so far no one confirmed than. That's was a major dealbreaker for me. Reply
  • new-paradigm - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    The Asus Vivotab also has a wacom digitiser built in. Not sure why anyone would choose the plasticky build of the Samsung to be honest. Reply
  • new-paradigm - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    http://www.asus.com/vivo/en/vivoTab.htm Reply
  • new-paradigm - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    Also, I think you may be getting your vivotabs confused. The vivotab has a wacom digitiser and the second battery in the keyboard dock, the vivotab smart has neither.

    Would also have liked a comment on the usability of the tablet whilst docked, as I found from looking at them in the shops that the heavy weight of the tablet causes them to fall over backwards when prodding at the screen whilst it is being used docked on a desk or table.
    Reply
  • paulbram - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    Not sure about the others, but I can say that I use my HP Envy X2 on my lap all the time and it doesn't seem to be too top heavy. They actually prevent the screen from going back too far, likely to prevent this problem. Reply
  • nordicpc - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I love my Ativ. I got one as soon as I could, Staples had them without the keyboard dock back when Win 8 launched. It's been a very solid tablet with way more functionality and performance than I could have ever hoped for. I used a Transformer 2 before, and this is no question better. The only thing that this review missed was the occasional lockups that the OS experiences while in sleep. You have to do a hard shutdown sometimes when the system has been offline for a while. I don't know if he didn't experience it, or if he was asked by Samsung to not note it because they have a fix coming soon, but it seems to be an issue with both my Ativ and my employee's Asus Smart. Seriously though, the Ativ Smart has totally replaced my AMD-based Asus Eee-PC, and I'm incredibly happy with it. Faster than an AMD Athlon X2 with all-day battery life and a very good (although low-res) screen. Reply
  • rburnham - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    This is the tablet I went with. I had a similar Acer tablet initially, but that unit had a problem where it would go into sleep mode and not come out of it without a reset. I returned it and got the Samsung unit and I have been pleased with it. It's a little too big for one-handed use, but other than that it does what I want. The Atom processor really makes a case for Windows RT not being needed at all. Space be a little tight, but with a micro SD card, I can hold all the data I need on the go. Definitely an option worth considering. Reply

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