Samsung Series 7 Slate Review: Laptop Power in a Slim Package
At a Glance
Series 7 Slate
Samsung has packed an entire Intel Core i5 laptop into a slim, light slate tablet. Too bad it had to pack a fan in there, too.
The Samsung Series 7 Slate takes a different path from that of other recent Windows 7 tablets, packing more-powerful components that include an Intel Core i5 processor and a 128GB solid-state drive. But the fancy ingredients aren't cheap: The Series 7 starts at $1100, and the configuration we tested costs $1350 (prices as of June 1, 2012).
Samsung is no stranger to the tablet world, but this model is its first attempt at a Windows-based slate. The Series 7 Slate benefits from Samsung's overall design experience; at 0.51 inch thick, the Series 7 Slate is the thinnest of the six Windows 7 tablets we've tested to date. Nevertheless, a number of recent Android tablets are thinner, as is the third-generation Apple iPad (at 0.37 inch).
Thanks to its dual-core 1.6GHz Core i5 CPU and 1GB of graphics memory, Samsung's Series 7 Slate is virtually an ultraportable with the keyboard chopped off. The machine comes with a generous 4GB of RAM, four times what you'd find in a typical Android tablet, and twice what the other Windows models we've seen offer. It also has either a 64GB or a 128GB solid-state drive (we tested the 64GB version).
The 11.6-inch IPS display supports 1366-by-768-pixel resolution. Viewing angles are expansive, and our panel of judges gave high marks to the color and contrast in our display testing. The 16:9 aspect ratio on a screen of this size display does seem oddly wide, and (conversely) unusually tall and thin in portrait mode.
The touchscreen's responsiveness is great. In my hands-on testing, I experienced no missed taps; and with the larger screen, I could expand the onscreen Windows keyboard to near-touch-typable size. The tablet instantly recognized my swipes and flicks.
The Slate comes in at just under 1.98 pounds, but the Slate feels reasonably well-balanced for two-handed holding.
Samsung equips the Series 7 Slate with two cameras: a 3-megapixel camera on the back, and a 2-megapixel forward-facing camera on the front.
On the right side of the case, you'll find the power button (with a blue LED to indicate charging) and a rotation lock switch. The bottom houses the dock connector and two speakers. On the left side are the AC adapter jack, a micro HDMI port, a volume rocker, a combination headphone/microphone jack, and a full-size USB port. The top hosts a MicroSD card slot and dual built-in microphones.
The curved back and edges make the tablet quite comfortable to hold, given its weight. The matching, extra-cost ($100) dock enhances desktop use, and I found that couch surfing with the tablet propped up on my knees worked well.
Pen and Digitizer
One of the Series 7 Slate's distinguishing features is its dual-input pen and touch digitizer. Samsung uses Wacom's technology, which in my experience provides the most fluid and accurate inking experience available. The Series 7 Slate's handling of pen-based input didn't disappoint; my writing experience was excellent. In addition, the touch layer can sense ten touch points, making it useful for any multitouch applications or scenarios you may encounter.
The only drawback to the system is that the glossy screen feels quite slippery under the pen. Unlike the matte screen of the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550, which behaves more like paper, the Samsung's screen conveyed the strong impression that I was writing on glass. Still, my handwriting looked noticeably better on the Samsung than on the Fujitsu.
Using Wacom for the digitizer opens up a world of optional replacement pens of different sizes and feature sets to accommodate a wide range of tastes. The stock pen that Samsung provides has a right-click button on the side, and a button on the top that acts as an eraser. To me, the pen seemed to be on the thin side of comfortable, but it was lightweight; and unlike N-trig pens, Wacom pens don't require a battery.
This tablet smoked the other Windows 7 tablets we've looked at. It took one-quarter the time to complete the Heaven Photoshop test, was more than twice as fast as its closest competitor at WebVizBench Web browsing, and earned a score of 1346 on PCMark 7's productivity suite--more than doubling the mark of its nearest competitor. Videos looked especially pleasing on the 11.6-inch screen, and the speakers are strong enough to fill a room.
Impressively, the Series 7 Slate's 5520mAh battery kept the tablet's i5 processor running for 5 hours, 35 minutes in the PCWorld Labs' battery tests. That's less than an hour worse than the battery life of the much weaker Intel Atom-based Fujitsu Stylistic Q550.
The biggest drawback of the Series 7 Slate's raw power is the fan required to keep it cool. In my use, the fan kicked on at the slightest hint of activity and was loud enough to be distracting in a quiet room. At times, it was so loud that it sounded like a tiny airplane trying to take off.
The Easy Settings app provides some fan control, including an option called 'silent mode' to run the fan continuously at low speed. I highly recommend turning this setting on, since when the fan was running at full speed people in my office could hear it from several desks away.
The active fan pushes some pretty warm air out the exhaust vent at the top. That's fine when you hold the tablet in landscape mode, but if you're a lefty looking to hold it in portrait mode in your right hand while you write, or if you want to tuck it into the crook of your left arm and wrap your hand around to hold it, you'll find that it gets pretty toasty.
Recognizing that the Windows 7 interface is not the touch-friendliest one around, Samsung did something about it. The company provides a Touch Launcher overlay to make finger navigation easier. This welcome addition comes up when you tap the home button on the bottom bezel.
In the left third of the screen, a collapsible information panel keeps track of battery charge, Wi-Fi status, to-do items, time, and weather. The rest of the screen contains large app icons similar to those present in Android and iOS.
The collection of apps includes some written for the touchscreen, some (such as the YouTube app) that are really just links to Web pages, and some (like the link to Windows Journal) that are built-in Windows programs.
Oddly, the specially written notes app doesn't take advantage of the pen; it's text only. Fortunately Samsung includes a link to Windows Journal, which is normally buried in the Start menu, for people who want to launch handwritten notes from Samsung's touch overlay.
The RSS app uses Google credentials to log in, which makes it a touch-friendly version of Google Reader. Social Dashboard handles Facebook and Twitter. A separate Twitter app repeatedly timed out when I tried to use it to sign in.
The Easy Settings app provides finger-based access to most of the system settings you'll need regularly, including display, power management, and Wi-Fi connections.
All of the custom touch apps run at full screen, but the overlay itself leaves the Windows taskbar exposed so you still have access to the clock, system tray, and Start menu, as well as to any pinned or already running programs.
I'm accustomed to using Windows 7 on touch tablets; and though the experience isn't ideal, I rarely feel the need to use special touch apps or launcher overlays. Nevertheless, Samsung has done a solid job with its launcher; it's one of the few additions I've found that genuinely enhances the Windows tablet experience, rather than just slowing it down. Of course, the Samsung Slate benefits immensely from having the processing power to drive an overlay without getting bogged down.
The Samsung Series 7 Slate is a sleek and powerful piece of hardware that will serve you well if you can bear its relatively high cost, and you can't wait for the wave of Windows 8 tablets due to arrive later this year. If you need to run Windows programs without compromise, this is the tablet for you. If you need a Wacom digitizer, this is the thinnest and lightest package you can get it in. Just keep in mind that to get that power, you must put up with some fan noise and heat--and a high sticker price.
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