Today we have a 3 way smackdown between the three big name Windows 8 Core i5 slate tablets: the Microsoft Surface Pro, Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T and the Acer Iconia W700. All three tablets have full HD touch displays, a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 128 gig SSD. They're also available with 64 gig SSDs, but we strongly recommend the 128 gig for a modest upcharge. Inside these tablets are Ultrabooks and are powerful enough to run most Windows 7 apps well and they can even handle light gaming with their Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Acer has been updating their CPUs with the minor Intel refresh from 1.7 to 1.8GHz in the Ultrabooks, and we may eventually see this on the W700.
The Samsung ATIV 700T sells for $1,199. Surface Pro is $999 ($1,120 to $1,130 with keyboard cover) and the Acer Iconia W700 is $999 with dock and portable Bluetooth keyboard. All prices are for the 128 gig models. Here in the US, Samsung doesn't offer a 64 gig model.
Since horsepower and performance are close enough that we won't be focusing on that. Instead, let's look at what sets them apart in this comparison. Design wise, though they can all be used as tablets or slates, they diverge in convertible options. The Samsung ATIV 700T is the transformer of the lot, with a keyboard dock that makes it feel the most like a small laptop when docked. It's goes for the best of both worlds approach, Like the HP Envy x2 and the Asus VivoTab TF810C (those two run on Intel Atom CPUs). Sadly, Samsung missed out on a design win and didn't include a secondary battery in the keyboard dock. The Samsung is made of black plastic as is it's bundled keyboard dock. It can't compare to the all-metal casings on the Surface Pro and Acer W700, and honestly it looks dull and more like a netbook than an expensive and cutting edge Windows 8 tablet.
The MS Surface Pro uses snap-op Touch and Type Covers. They latch on with a vengeance via magnets and are surprisingly more secure than Samsung's iffy dock latch mechanism. The Touch Cover is a fabric-like membrane keyboard with near zero tactile feel while the Type Cover has moving keys and feels like a traditional small keyboard. Both act as screen covers and are thin and light at 7.5 ounces. But they flap and bend by design which is handy for transport but provides no rigidity for multi-positional viewing like the Samsung ATIV 700T and regular notebook PCs. It has a fixed angle rear kickstand that's desk friendly but not lap friendly.
The Acer Iconia W700 is indeed a pure slate with no clever keyboard transformations. It ships with a kludgy yet highly effective plastic dock-stand that adds three USB 3.0 ports which Samsung's keyboard dock adds USB 2.0 ports: boo! The W700 comes with a portable Bluetooth keyboard. It's not trying to transform into anything. Acer has started showing a new Bluetooth keyboard that has a built-in stand, much like those sold for the iPad and the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. We've yet to see this one in the US.
Display and Digital Pen
If you're an artist or avid notetaker and need a digital pen, cross the Acer Iconia W700 off your list. Like the other two tablets, it has 10 points of capacitive multi-touch but it lacks an active digitizer and will not work with digital pens. You can use capacitive styli just as you do with Android and iOS tablets, but that's a poor substitute.
Both the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T and the Microsoft Surface Pro have Wacom digitizers and come with digital pens that are in fact interchangeable. They're great for handwriting, digital art and filling in forms by hand. Samsung gets extra points for shipping the tablet with WinTab drivers, giving you pressure sensitivity in Photoshop, SAI Paint Tool, ZBrush and Corel Painter. Microsoft said WinTab drivers are coming soon for Surface Pro, but they haven't provided a date. If you need pressure sensitivity in those apps right now, only the ATIV 700T will do it for you. The Samsung comes with a small pen, but happily it fits in a silo in the tablet's body. The Surface Pro comes with a larger, nicer pen with an eraser on the end and it latches magnetically onto the charging port (and will get lost when you charge the tablet).
The Surface Pro has a 10.6" display, while the other two tablets have 11.6" displays. Which is better? It's a matter of personal preference: a compact design vs. more screen real estate. All three have wide viewing angles, with Acer's IPS display having the widest followed by the Surface Pro and finally the Samsung Smart PC Pro (viewing angles are extremely close on Surface Pro and the W700). All are full HD 1920 x 1080. None have an exceptionally wide color gamut with the Acer being the best by a small margin.
Here's our Microsoft Surface Pro, Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T vs. Acer Iconia W700 Comparison Smackdown Video: