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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Samsung ATIV Tab Review (Our Rating-7/10)


Samsung ATIV Tab Review


Introduction:

As far as tablets go, we didn't really have that much of a variety until recently. One could either get an iPad from Apple, or go with an Android tablet that fits their budget and preferences. But now that Windows RT is here, things are seemingly bound to change. All of a sudden, we have a third platform entering the tablet race, and it is backed up by a pretty major player – Microsoft.

Today, we are reviewing one such tablet. The Samsung ATIV Tab is a 10.1-inch tablet that runs Windows RT and is meant to be an alternative to Microsoft's Surface RT. As such, it has been outfitted with some decent hardware, including a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor paired with 2GB of RAM, a couple of cameras, the main one being of 5 megapixels, and a full-sized USB port.

But what is Windows RT exactly, you ask? Well, it looks like Windows 8 and it feels like Windows 8, but at the same time, it is quite different. RT is made for ARM-based devices, and the software available for Windows 8 or previous versions won't run on it. The only place one can get software from is Microsoft's own Marketplace, and in there, it still feels a bit lonely, with only about 10,000 apps across the entire catalog.

With that out of the way, it is time to fire up the Samsung ATIV Tab and see what it has to impress us with. First, let's take a close look at...


Design:

If it wasn't for the Windows logo underneath its screen, we could have easily mistaken the ATIV Tab for a Galaxy tablet as it has adopted more than a few design features from the maker's Android lineup. For starters, there's a pair of speakers positioned on the front side of the unit, just like on the Galaxy Note 10.1 or the 10.1-inch Tab 2, and we are actually quite satisfied with having them there as the audio is radiated directly towards the user.

Samsung ATIV Tab Review


There is a pretty pattern on the tablet's back resembling brushed aluminum, and the finish covering it reminds us of the Galaxy S III's fancy Hyperglaze coating. We have to note that the combination of both these characteristics makes the Samsung ATIV Tab a tablet very pleasant to look at. The lack of premium materials can be noticed the very instant you get a hold of the device as it is made entirely out of plastic, save for the slightly raised, metal-made Windows button below the screen, yet that shouldn't be too big of a deal as it helps with keeping the tablet lightweight. What's a bit more of an issue, though, is that the build quality of the ATIV Tab leaves something more to be desired.

At 570 grams, the Samsung ATIV Tab doesn't put much of a strain on the wrist - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
At 570 grams, the Samsung ATIV Tab doesn't put much of a strain on the wrist - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
At 570 grams, the Samsung ATIV Tab doesn't put much of a strain on the wrist - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
At 570 grams, the Samsung ATIV Tab doesn't put much of a strain on the wrist

At 570 grams, the Samsung ATIV Tab is lighter than most 10-inch tablets on the market and doesn't put much of a strain on the wrist. The tablet isn't among the slimmest Samsung has ever made as it measures 8.9 millimeters in its thickest point, but it is still within the acceptable norms for a contemporary tablet of this size.

Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Windows button on the front - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Front camera - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
 
Windows button on the front
Front camera
Speaker - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Back - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Rear camera - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Speaker
Back
Rear camera
There is no shortage of ports on the Samsung ATIV Tab. On the bottom side of the device is located a dock connector, which is where a Samsung-made hardware keyboard snaps in place. At the bottom right-hand side resides a generic-looking port used for charging.

All remaining buttons, ports, and slots are on the tablet's top side, including the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, microphone, HDMI output, and microSD card slot. Having a full-sized USB port can be quite convenient as it allows a whole range of peripherals to be connected to the slate, such as USB dongles or thumb drives. We even hooked up a mouse and a keyboard to it with the help of a USB hub and ended up with a portable workstation. Neato! Our only annoyance is with the lock button, which is way too soft and provides insufficient tactile response when pressed.

Bottom side - The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Top - The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Bottom side
Top
 
The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The sides of the Samsung ATIV Tab

Display:

Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The 10.1-inch screen on the Samsung ATIV Tab has a resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels, which translates into a pixel density of about 155ppi. Although that's miles away from the Retina display category, the panel looks detailed enough for every-day use and for the most part, the pixelation is not very noticeable.

Resolution aside, the display on the Samsung ATIV Tab is capable of delivering pretty, accurate colors that don't get washed out when viewed at an angle. That isn't much of a surprise, actually, as the panel is made using PLS LCD technology. Moreover, the tablet remains pretty usable even with the sun shining at its screen.

Interface:

With Windows RT running on the Samsung ATIV Tab, users may choose between the traditional desktop environment – think folders, taskbar, icons, and all the stuff one can find on a PC, or the new Start screen, populated with live ties in a true Modern UI fashion. Can you guess which one of the two we are more excited about?

The latter, of course! Since we have a tablet on our hands, the live tile interface is a lot more convenient to use as it has been optimized for touch-based input, unlike the desktop interface. Besides, the minimalist, Modern UI is so elegant and simple to use that even newbies will get the hang of it in no time. We just love it how nine out of ten features a casual owner would ever need access to are within a tap's reach, while a number of tiles constantly provide up-to-date information, such as weather data, news headlines, stock prices, and such. In other words, live tiles for the win!

The Modern UI on the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The Modern UI on the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The Modern UI on the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The Modern UI on the Samsung ATIV Tab

Yet even though the Start screen is pretty straightforward to use, there are a few things that new users will definitely have to get accustomed to before they feel comfortable with the new UI. Actions such as switching between applications or accessing the application drawer, are performed using various gestures. (We described them thoroughly in our Microsoft Surface review.) Getting used to these gestures will take some time, but once you get the hold of them you should have no troubles operating your tablet like a boss. Besides, when you log in for the first time, a step-by-step tutorial is displayed teaching you what they are and what they do.

Using gestures - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Using gestures

Switching to the familiar, yet boring desktop interface is required at times, however. That is where productivity software such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint are accessed from. Speaking of which, using Office on a tablet feels quite awkward, regardless of Microsoft's efforts to make the software touchscreen friendly. With their multitude of tiny buttons and menus, the applications in the pack just feel too cluttered, especially considering that the on-screen keyboard takes up the bottom half of the screen. But in case you have a hardware keyboard and a pointing device, then that's a whole different story.

The desktop interface - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Samsung ATIV Tab Review
MS Office - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The desktop interface
 
MS Office
 

Functionality:

The streamlined design principles of the Modern UI have been implemented with the software that comes loaded on Windows RT, which adds consistency to the whole user experience. Each app we open greets us with its minimalist looks, which aids us in getting familiar with the new experience relatively quickly.

One of the apps that you'll probably use quite often is the People hub, where all your contact information is accessed from. In addition to your account for Microsoft services, Facebook, Twitter, Google and the likes are supported as well, and contacts are merged together, arranged in alphabetical order. This is also where you'll be doing all your social networking as the hub has an integrated news feed, allowing you to keep an eye on what your friends are up to. The solution isn't perfect, however, as it has its limitations. For example, you can't attach photos to your posts and there is no way of posting to multiple accounts in one go, but until alternative apps make it to the Marketplace, this will have to do.

The stock weather application is a joy to have. Not only that it looks pretty, but it also provides a rich array of information, including an hourly forecast and radar maps of the surrounding area. Of course, up-to-date information is displayed on its live tile. Another handy application is Bing Maps (powered by Nokia), which features several layers of mapping data and can also recommend driving directions from point A to B.

The People hub - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The weather application - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Bing Maps - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Bing Daily - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
The People hub
The weather application
Bing Maps
Bing Daily
Bing Daily and Bing Sports are meant to keep users informed on current events by providing headlines from a number of major news sources. Unfortunately, we were unable to add our own news feed or import our Google Reader subscriptions, which is quite disappointing. Bing Travel is like a catalog for popular tourist destinations from around the globe, but it can also help you with finding cheap accommodation or airfare tickets, should you decide to pack the bags and explore the world.


Processor and memory:

The Samsung ATIV Tab comes with a dual-core Snapdragon S4 SoC – the APQ8060A, with a CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, Adreno 225 GPU, and 2 gigabytes of RAM. For the most part, that hardware combination definitely gets the job done so the interface is buttery smooth, just like the case is with Windows Phone. We did experience a couple slowdowns during our testing, but as a whole, the tablet is very responsive.

Except when launching apps for the first time after logging on. Each time we open an application, it needs a while to load – up to 4 or 5 seconds on some occasions. That includes the Marketplace, the email client, the media players, and most of the other pre-loaded software. Thankfully, switching back to an app running in the background happens in an instant once it is loaded into memory.

There are 32 gigabytes of storage space on the Samsung ATIV Tab, but only about 23 gigs are available to the user. The rest is occupied by the operating system and all the pre-loaded applications. Still, that's pretty generous, and in case you need additional storage, you can always pop in a microSD card or just use a USB thumb drive. Furthermore, file compression à la NTFS is a feature included in Windows RT and is accessible from the “Properties” menu after right-clicking on a file or folder.


Software:

Software availability is by far Windows RT's biggest weakness, at least for now. Although the operating system looks and feels exactly like Windows 8, it only runs apps made specifically for Windows RT. In other words, none of the software you currently have running on your home PC will work on the Samsung ATIV Tab, unless it is ported and published in the Marketplace.

There are about 10,000 apps currently available for Windows RT, and although some popular names and brands have already made their products available – Skype, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and such, there is still a serious shortage of quality apps. Official Twitter, Facebook and YouTube clients are currently absent. Alternative media players are also difficult to find, so you'll be stuck with the native ones for a while.

When it comes to gaming, Windows RT comes loaded with Xbox features, so once you log in, you will be greeted by your avatar. Your friends list and achievements are accessible too. But as the case is with the applications available in the Marketplace, there are only a few quality games available right now. There's Radiant Defense for all you tower defense fans out there. Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are also in stock, although you will have to drop a whopping $5 in order to download them.

Gaming - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Gaming - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Gaming - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Gaming


Web browser and connectivity:

Internet Explorer 10 is what you get with the Samsung ATIV Tab and Windows RT and we can confirm that it is fast, responsive, and as a whole, a perfectly usable browser. It has been altered for use with touch-based gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and the likes. Moreover, it is competent in HTML5, so despite the lack of Adobe Flash support, embedded YouTube videos will work and act exactly the way they do on a desktop browser. Complementing the web surfing experience is the ability to open multiple tabs and to roam without the browser saving your history.

Internet Explorer 10 is what you get with the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Internet Explorer 10 is what you get with the Samsung ATIV Tab - Samsung ATIV Tab Review
Internet Explorer 10 is what you get with the Samsung ATIV Tab

There are no words as to whether a 3G/4G version of the Samsung ATIV Tab will ever be offered, so for now, the only way of hooking up the tablet to the internet is via Wi-Fi. The device also supports Bluetooth and NFC for short-range wireless communication. Finding your way around is possible with the use of its GPS radio, which is also compatible with Glonass for improved precision.

Camera:

The Samsung ATIV Tab is equipped with a pair of cameras – a 5-megapixel one on the back, with auto-focus and an LED flash, and a 2MP front-facing cam for video chats and the occasional self portrait. As our samples demonstrate, the quality of the photos taken with the main snapper is quite okay – outdoor shots exhibit proper color balance and a decent amount of detail, which makes them good enough to display on the tablet's screen or share with the world on Facebook, although you probably should not be putting any of them in a frame. Indoor photos, however, are of mediocre quality even though the flash fills the frame well. Macros? Forget about it – all our close-ups turned out not in focus. Videos can be taken in up to 720p, but despite the HD resolution, they are somewhat low on detail.

The interface itself is extremely limited and leaves a lot of room for improvement. Basically, the most advanced feature that you get is a timer, and the only setting available is adjusting the photo's resolution. Tapping anywhere on the screen takes a photo, and that is pretty much it. No tap to focus, no filters or effects, no panorama mode, no shooting scenes, literally nothing more. 

Multimedia:

Transferring files onto an Android tablet using a data cable is done by hooking the device up to a computer and putting it in “mass storage” mode. With the Samsung ATIV Tab, this process is a bit different as that mode is not available. Loading your digital music collection onto it requires a little technical know-how, although it is still a pretty straightforward process. We copied a few albums on a USB drive and then moved them to the tablet's Music folder, but alternatively, music and video can also be accessed over Wi-Fi in case you happen to have a media server running.

The default music player gets the job done, but using it just doesn't feel right. You see, it doubles as a store, allowing you to explore new content and purchase additional music for your library. That's cool and all, but we really wish there was a way to simply interact with locally stored audio only, instead of having to deal with an app that screams “Buy more music!” in your face.

There is no separate volume slider for media files and system notifications, just a single one that adjusts the volume across the system. When the music is playing in the background, playback controls are available at a push of the volume rocker. A feature that we are thankful for is the player's ability to retrieve music data, including album art, for music that isn't organized too well.

In a similar fashion, the video player allows users to rent or buy movies and TV shows. Due to the screen's size and aspect ratio, watching movies on the ATIV Tab is actually a very pleasant experience. Moreover, most of the video file formats that we tried loading were playable, with the exception of MKV files. For some reason, however, the audio in our 1080p samples was lagging behind the video, so we recommend sticking to 720p videos.

Battery:

Samsung ATIV Tab Review
There is a 8,200mAh battery inside the Samsung ATIV Tab, but we don't have any official numbers as to how long it should last on a single charge. Still, we were able to get about 10 hours of continuous usage during our testing.


Conclusion:

We have to admit that we quite enjoyed spending some time with the Samsung ATIV Tab. Using a tablet that is neither an iPad nor an Android device feels refreshing in its own way, reminding us that there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Sure, getting comfortable with the device requires time and patience, especially since it runs an operating system that users aren't truly familiar with yet, but based on our experience, we can reassure you that the learning curve evens out relatively fast.

However, the lack of applications available for Windows RT is a disadvantage that will likely be a deal breaker for some early adopters. In fact, that is a problem that all tablets running Windows RT will be facing for quite some time, including Microsoft's very own Surface tablet. Of course, that will be rectified over time as more and more developers port their software to the new platform but how fast of a process that is going to be remains unclear.

Another important factor you have to consider is pricing. In our opinion, the ATIV Tab is close, but not as good as the Surface – it offers identical performance and features, but in a cheaper plastic shell. That is why unless Samsung's Windows RT tablet is more affordable than Microsoft's offering, we don't really see it as a worthy pick.

But as a whole, we welcome the arrival of the Samsung ATIV Tab and Windows RT as the tablet market is in need of alternatives to Android and the iPad. The device is not likely to disappoint, as long as you are willing to give it a chance. Of course, it will be a pretty wise idea checking out the Microsoft Surface as well before dropping any cash on the table.

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