The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T proves two things: you can never have enough words in your product name and that there is a place for tweener Windows 8 tablets. At the lower end of price and functionality we have Windows 8 RT tablets like MS Surface RT and the Asus VivoTab RT with an entry price of $500-$600, and at the upper end we have Intel Core i5 tablets like the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, Acer Iconia Tab W700 and the MS Surface Pro, priced around $1,000 and up. And then there are Windows 8 convertible tablets like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, Toshiba Satellite U925t and Sony Vaio Duo 11 selling for more than $1,000 on average, though some are less expensive.
The Samsung $649 ATIV 500T ($769 with keyboard dock), like other Intel Atom based tablets, can run all Windows apps: that means x86/Windows 7 apps just like any other full Windows computer. You're not limited to Live Tiles apps from the MS app store as you are with Windows RT tablets. That makes the ATIV 500T a much more versatile product than can run MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Windows Media Player and much more, and it accepts drivers for USB peripherals just like existing Windows laptops and desktops. The caveat? Though Intel Atom CPUs have improved since the old netbook days, they're still not nearly as fast as Intel Core i machines.
Specs at a Glance
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T has dual band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, an 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a front 2MP camera. The tablet has 1 USB 2.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot that's compatible with SDXC cards. It looks much like an elongated Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Android tablet, complete with very shiny gray plastics and front stereo speakers that flank the display. The tablet runs Windows 8 and there's an optional $129 keyboard dock with two USB 2.0 ports (unlike Asus and Lenovo Android keyboard docks it lacks an internal secondary battery).
Design and Ergonomics
Unlike the less expensive MS Surface RT tablet, the ATIV 500T is a glossy, plasticky tablet that doesn't scream classy gear. It's not a bad looking tablet, but it bears a striking resemblance to the company's more budget oriented Galaxy Tab 2 tablet than the $650 product it is. For those who don't care much about that, the super-slippery back is still a detractor in our book: it's just hard to keep a good grip on the tablet, much like Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphones.
On the other hand, we appreciate the two 0.8 watt stereo speakers that flank the display so you can hear them loud and clear. Audio is indeed ample by tablet standards and the ATIV 500T has a combo mic-headphone jack for wired audio output, and like all Windows machines with Bluetooth, it supports Bluetooth headsets, headphones and speakers.
The tablet has just a few ports: 3.5mm audio, one USB 2.0 port, a charging port, keyboard dock port, SDXC microSD card slot and a micro HDMI port. There's a front 2MP video chat camera centered above the display and a rear 8MP camera. The optional keyboard dock adds two USB 2.0 ports. The island style keyboard is reasonably good for typing, though the size is equivalent to an 11.6" netbook's, so guys with big hands may find it cramped. The keyboard dock has a trackpad as well, and it worked fine for single-touch gestures but multi-touch gestures were lacking (these may appear in a future driver update). The keyboard and tablet sometimes lost their connection, even when we didn't move them, so we're not sure if this is a driver or hardware issue.
Display and S-Pen
Though not remarkably high resolution, the tablet has a 400 nit, 1366 x 768 PLS display that's sharp and colorful with good viewing angles. The tablet has both capacitive multi-touch and a Wacom active digitizer with S-Pen for drawing, painting and taking notes. The S-Pen shines more here than on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 because Windows has a wider selection of art and note-taking apps than Android. The included S-Pen (note the AT&T version of this tablet lacks the pen and active digitizer) has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and a much more precise and smooth inking and drawing experience than a capacitive stylus. That's a wonderful addition for note takers, though digital artists may find the tablet not fast enough for smooth operation in advanced art apps like Photoshop and Painter.
Like its Android counterpart, Samsung's S-Note app is here for digital inking (both drawing and writing), handwriting recognition and formula recognition, though we've found the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet's version of S-Note more spritely and responsive. The dual core Atom is more than capable of running S-Note well, so we hope that future software updates will improve speed.
Deals and Shopping:
Samsung ATIV 500T Video Review
Atom Advantage: Better Battery Life, Better Portability and Silence
The ATIV 500T sells for $649 for the 64 gig model with a 1.8GHz dual core 32 bit Intel Atom Z2760 Clover Trail CPU and 2 gigs of DDR2 RAM. Memory isn't upgradeable since that CPU can only address a maximum of 2 gigs. The tablet has integrated Intel SGX545 graphics. Obviously it's not a performance powerhouse, but the Atom CPU is x86 compatible, and that means it can run Windows 7 apps, unlike Surface RT. Windows RT tablets have a distinct advantage over Core i5 machines because they double the battery life and offer silent operation, and this Atom tablet shares those advantages. In our tests we've gone 8 to 9 hours on a charge, and this is a fan-less and thus silent machine (no, it doesn't get hot). It's also a bit slimmer and lighter than Core i5 machines, weighing in at 1.7 lbs. vs. 2 lbs. for the ATIV 700 Surface Pro and Acer Iconia Tab W700. It's still a bit heavier than the 1.5 lb. Microsoft Surface RT, and 1.46 lb. or less Acer Iconia W510 and iPad with Retina Display. So there's a place for the ATIV 500T and Atom given the current constraints of technology where full Core i machines lack the battery life and fanless designs of ARM and Atom. Yet they have more versatility since they can run Windows 7 apps.
Performance: The Atom CPU's Disadvantage
That said, the tablet feels slow compared to Intel Core i5 Windows 8 convertibles and tablets when running in desktop mode. Desktop mode is that alternate universe available on all Windows 8 machines that largely mimics Windows 7. When in the new modern UI with Live Tiles, Atom machines like the ATIV 500T feel much more spritely. As with Windows 7 netbooks that largely ship with Intel Atom CPUs, this isn't something I'd recommend as a main machine, unlike Core i5 and i7 ULV products. It's better used to compliment an existing computer, much as one would use the MS Surface RT or Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. That said, the 500T offers more functionality than those two since it can run Windows x86 apps, albeit more slowly than Intel Core i counterparts.
The Windows 8 Modern UI (formerly called Metro) is responsive enough because Microsoft has done a superb job of optimizing it for low end hardware. But for art students and professionals, the ATIV 500T can be frustrating: I found myself waiting for menu listings and palettes to appear after launching Corel Painter 12 (from the internal eMMC SSD, which should make for instantaneous launches) and Photoshop CS6 filters were sluggish. I've been using Painter 12 for years and have never seen this kind of launch sluggishness, and I noticed several other apps taking a long time to load. That said, most apps run decently after the slow-mo blast off. Multi-tasking is best done with restraint because the 32 bit CPU with 2 gigs of RAM can handle only so much. This is not a gaming machine by any means, though casual games and games from the Microsoft Store will play fine. Playback of 720p video is solid with full frame rates, but some 1080p videos dropped frame rates down to the lower to mid-20's from 30 fps (we didn't see this problem with the Atom-based competing Acer Iconia W510).
Stability out of the gate wasn't good. We rarely see BSOD (blue screen of death) crashes on Windows machines these days, but Atom-based Windows 8 tablets had a few out of the box. Apparently software and driver updates delayed release of these tablets so they didn't arrive for Microsoft's October 26, 2012 launch date, and when the tablets did launch, it was with bugs. Happily a slew of driver updates and a BIOS update greeted us, and stability improved phenomenally. If you do buy the ATIV 500T, be sure to let Samsung's updater app as well as Windows update work its magic. And that leads to the difference between the Samsung ATIV 500T and the iPad and Android tablets: you're looking at Windows updates here. Granted, they're less intrusive and give you two days before requiring a reboot to apply them, but they're still here, unlike Mobile OS tablets (iOS and Android). And for those who are concerned with Windows 8 viruses, Microsoft's capable Security Essentials and Defender are built-in to (hopefully) keep you safe (both also self-update automatically). Since this is a full Windows PC, you can load Norton, AVG or the third party anti-virus suite of your liking, though we actually prefer MS Security Essentials for its light weight and effectiveness.
The Samsung ATIV 500T is in a difficult position. On the one hand, it's more versatile than Windows RT, Android and iOS tablets, but it's also considerably less powerful than most notebooks and convertibles on the market running more capable AMD and Intel Core i5 CPUs. Unlike today's handful of convertibles and Core i5 Windows 8 tablets, it's not brainy enough to be your only computer since it offers a brighter than average netbook-like experience. Granted, Windows 8 runs well on slower hardware, so the speed penalty isn't as obvious unless you run Windows 7 apps, but isn't that why you're considering this tablet over RT or mobile OS tablets, so you can run x86 applications? Though Atom Windows 8 tablets had some teething pains at release, we noted that even after firmware and driver updates the ATIV 500T was still sometimes more balky than the Acer Iconia W510 10.1" Windows 8 tablet. But it's not all doom and gloom for the Samsung: it has a good Wacom digitizer and digital pen that makes it an excellent choice for note-takers and students, the display is sharp and bright and battery life leaves Intel Core i5 Windows 8 machines in the dust. It lasts as long as a 10" Android tablet and has good standby times, just like a mobile OS tablet.
Price: $649 for tablet, $769 for tablet and keyboard dock.