The “Perfect Tablet” – Samsung Series 7 Slate

Over a year ago I published an article about the Gateway C140XL Tablet PC, and how it was almost the perfect laptop / tablet for me. It was also the last Microsoft Windows-based PC that I used personally, having since switched to using an Apple MacBook Pro and an iPad to go along with my iPhone. I made a complete switch to OS X and iOS and only used Windows for work and work-related documents. Nevertheless, I kept looking for the perfect tablet, be it Windows, OS X, Linux, or Android.

What I want in a tablet PC is both a touch and pen/stylus interface without giving up processing power. Windows has supported handwriting via digitizing tablets or on-screen styluses since Windows XP, Tablet Version, and did a masterful integration of those capabilities in Windows Vista and Windows 7, after hovering around the Best Tablets and computers in the market. I tested a Hewlett Packard “convertible” several years ago that supported both touch and stylus input, but the screen had a “resistive” interface – a thin, clear membrane that covers the screen. It’s a pressure-sensitive interface, but not sensitive enough to work very well with my needs. The Gateway got me real close, but it was a little bulky to carry “everywhere”, and I didn’t want to have to carry a low-powered tablet to use in meetings and take notes, and a regular laptop for “real work”.

One morning at Starbucks, our morning watering hole, my wife and I saw someone with a tablet that was a bit larger than my iPad and looked very geeky (the tablet, not the person), so I asked him about it. It was an ASUS tablet that appeared to match my “wants” for a tablet, so I started looking at Windows tablets again. When I was actually close to making a purchase decision, I dropped by the Microsoft store to see if they had the ASUS tablet and when they didn’t, I looked at the Samsun Series 7 Slate. The display models were only WiFi, but the sales person told me that they had one with a cellular data connection that was normally sold to corporate customers. I have become pretty dependent on having “internet anywhere” with my iPad, so that feature is pretty important.

I went online to compare all of the tablets I could find and selected the Samsung Series 7 Slate.

When I got the Slate home, I loaded Windows 8 Customer Preview and hated it. Where’s my Start Menu? How to I get to my apps? I didn’t like the handwriting “window” that takes up half the screen and an iPad-like keyboard setup that makes me press an on-screen button to get to the numbers that should be on the top row – like any decent keyboard. I reloaded the Slate to factory setup by booting up and holding the Volume Up button on the side. This loaded the Restore partition instead of Windows, and let me wipe my Slate clean (pardon the pun).

With Windows 7 back up, I started reloading my applications and using the Slate at work to take notes in meetings, track my consulting hours, and back up my work. It came with a really nice dock / port replicator that I leave on my desk at work, so all I have to do in the morning is pop the Slate into the dock and it’s ready to go. I use Synergy (Free and Open Source) to share my mouse and keyboard with the desktop at work, so I don’t have to mess with multiple input devices.

The more I used the State and reflected on a few of the handy things I remembered about my short stint with Windows 8, the more I wanted to give it another try. I loaded it up again and really started digging into the interface this time and have determined that I really like it. I don’t know that I would want the Metro interface on my desktop, but for the Slate this interface completely rocks. I love the “live” app tiles, and the ready access to system features (Control Panel, etc.). I can switch between the Metro and Desktop interfaces easily, either by pressing the single hardware button on the face of the Slate or sliding my finger from the right of the screen toward the center. I’ve gotten used to the handwriting input window and found out that I could set the on-screen keyboard to display the “standard” keyboard layout as well, so I’m good there, too.

Having real handwriting recognition sets the Slate over the iPad for me alone, but Microsoft’s built-in voice recognition and transcription service (no internet required, Siri) is the finishing blow. I keep the iPad for the things it does better, but for work, the Samsung Series 7 Slate is my new best buddy.

What’s really funny to me: a week after I purchased the Slate, Microsoft formally announced Surface. I’ve read the specs that were released and other than the screen resolution, I don’t see that it has enough over the Slate to have made me wait for it. I’ll write more about that later.

The Specs:

Model Samsung XE700T1A-H01US
CPU Intel© Core™ i5-2467M (Up to 1.6GHz)
Memory 4GB (not expandable)
Security TPM installed
Display 11.6”, 1366 x 768 (16:9), 400nits SuperBright ™ Plus technology
Input Capacitive touch, Wacom-style tablet/stylus onscreen
Video Intel© HD graphics 3000
Onboard Storage 128GB SSD
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Broadband GlobeTrotter M067 (HSPA) – defaults to AT&T
Bluetooth 3.0
Ethernet Available on the Docking Station
Video out HDMI mini, full HDMI on dock
USB USB 2.0 port on board, 1 port on Dock
Memory Card Micro-SD
Audio Out / Audio In 1 shared port on board, 1 on Dock
Speakers 2 1.5W speakers (Stereo with output on bottom of screen)
Camera 3.0 MP HD (rear-facing), 2.0 MP HD (front facing)