Samsung Series 7 Slate PC: First Look


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In October, Samsung will be releasing their latest offering in the tablet/slate space, unaffected by legal wrangling. Samsung provided an evaluation unit of the upcoming Series 7 Slate PC for a few fun hours, and I walked away quite impressed with what they have been able to do with a Windows-based tablet.

Not just another tablet... The Series 7 Slate PC

With Ultrabooks being all the rage, Apple continuing to dominate the tablet market and Android-based tablets showing real innovation, this product definitely needs to have some stand-out features to cut through the noise from all the other computing offerings.

I think this slate device from Samsung not only competes nicely against the incumbents, but keeping in mind what Windows 8 has in store next year, sets the benchmark for a solid out-of-the-box Windows solution.

Series 7 Slate on dock.

The specifications actually sound very Ultrabook-ish. A low voltage Intel i5 processor, the same as the one used in some Ultrabooks, with 64GB or 128GB SSD capacity, 4GB of RAM and a choice between Premium and Professional operating systems. The local Australian versions haven’t been confirmed yet. Just like the Ultrabooks, there is no dedicated graphics, relying on the Intel HD Graphics to handle all the video processing requirements.

The screen is a bright (400 nit) 11.6” LCD with a 1366 x768 widescreen resolution. Wireless is naturally built-in, as is Bluetooth for connection to keyboards and other devices. There’s a front and back camera with 2MP and 3MP sizes respectively.

All in the box... Dock, keyboard and stylus come with the Series 7 Slate.

However, the specs are only one part of the story. This is easily the best looking, easy to carry Windows tablet I’ve played with so far. The metal finish across the entire body is striking and would stand out from existing tablets. Those who purchase with design and style in their criteria would be turning their heads in this slate’s direction. The capacitive screen is very responsive, presumably carrying on from Samsung’s experience in previous tablets and smartphones.

Light and thin come to mind as well, with the unit weighing only 860 grams and a tad under 13mm thick.

 

There’s enough connectivity to satisfy most users on the actual tablet, with Micro-SD card, micro-HDMI, full-size USB and headphone input all present along with the dock connector. Other buttons include power, volume and orientation-lock.

Series 7 profile showing USB flap, headphone input, volume, HDMI and power.

Windows 7 has never been a serious contender in the touch-based environment. Smartly, there is an active electromagnetic pen included, which makes much more sense for standard windows operation. The pen can be floated slightly above the screen and still be detected by the display.

 

If you want a more touch-friendly interface, Samsung does include a Touch Launcher program, which is essentially a skin for selected programs to be grouped within a one-touch, slide based environment. It’s a small but cool program that gives a degree of familiarity to those already using tablets.

Touch-based program launcher on t he Series 7 Slate.

On that topic, Samsung have deliberately called this a “slate”, with no mention of tablets, and it seems that its target market is not the app-based content consuming market – this is definitely a product you would create documents on first, and use as a casual touch screen device second.

Full PC performance when you need it.

The dock and Bluetooth keyboard are included in the box as well. The dock provides charging, Ethernet, USB 2.0, headphone and HDMI outputs, while the slim, metallic keyboard provides a very real notebook feel while the tablet is docked.

 

And this is the attraction – while docked, the Series 7 Slate offers a high performance PC, perhaps hooked up to a larger HD monitor. Out of the dock and on the road, it’s still capable of running all of the Windows applications you need but in a truly portable form factor. This is no netbook-level Windows tablet. The slate has a claimed 7 hours battery life but I didn’t have it long enough to confirm that.

Rear of the Series 7 Slate showing 3MP camera and dock connectivity.

From the short experience I had, it’s easily one of the best Windows 7 executions of a tablet form factor yet. The stylus may be anachronistic to some but makes total sense in a Windows environment, until Windows 8 arrives sometime next year.

An example of Series 7 Touch Launch programs - the Recipe app.

The Series 7 Slate will be priced at similar levels to some of its Ultrabook cousins, but if local sales of the Asus EP121 Windows Slate are any indication, there is a market for those who need to hold on to their Windows-based applications and this complete package may be just the ticket.

Would you consider the Slate as your next PC purchase? How would you be using it?

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook: First Look

If you’re an 80’s kid like me, then you must have seen the original Ghostbusters movie. Aside from the actual creation of the Ghostbuster team, one of the other great sub plots was Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana Barett being taken over by a demon. In an especially memorable scene, Bill Murray visits Dana, who has turned a tad sexier and uninhibited and tells the Ghostbuster in no uncertain terms, that “There is no Dana, there is only Zuul.”

After spending a little one-on-one time with Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook, I can almost hear this challenging piece of tech growling “there is no local storage, there is only a browser.” And I understand how Bill Murray’s character must have felt – strangely attracted yet not really sure what to make of it and if it would fit in my life on a full time basis.

Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook has not yet made it to the Australian market (we’re looking at an early ’12 launch) and I was eager to take this cloud-based notebook for a spin. After a couple of days of use, I can see where cloud-centric platforms are headed, and how this could be a possible future of mobile computing. Although the Chromebook may not be a mainstream device just yet, it certainly makes a bold statement about PC functionality in the near future.

Samsung’s Chromebook is totally browser-based. The Chrome OS is an evolution of Google’s own Chrome browser; each tab is not just a website, but a web-powered application. To this day, programs are installed on your local computer, and if you don’t back up your computer from time to time, you could potentially lose all your work. With the Chromebook, the cloud is your storage space, and there are no programs to install, just apps and extensions to add to your browser.

The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is, for all intents, a high end-netbook repurposed. It has a 12.1” matte display with 1280 x 800 resolution, which looks great in daylight (more notebooks should have matte displays), powered by an Intel dual core Atom processor, with 2GB of RAM and a quite tiny 16GB SSD drive for the operating system and some limited file storage.

The gloss white lid with the raised Chrome logo and rounded edges gives the Chromebook both a friendly and serious aspect. The contrasting black interior with the island keyboard, generous keypad and black frame around the screen keeps things simple inside. Samsung quote a battery life of over 8 hours, which I wasn’t able to test.

Just as the Asus Slider and Transformer took a standard keyboard and customised buttons for functions specific to the Android OS, the Series 5 has done the same thing, replacing function keys with common Chrome Browser functions such as back/forwards, refresh, group tab switching and brightness/volume controls.

Speaking of volume, you will probably want to keep the sound level low on this Chromebook as the sound is extremely flat. Playing any music clips from YouTube would not be advised because they’ll sound completely different to the quality you remember.

There are two words that the Chromebook says up front: “Trust me.” There is very little in terms of settings or control-panel type fiddling that can be done, just a few basic features to manage the user profile and notebook behaviour. (Handy hint: The one adjustment I made right away was the “touch-to-click” option for the touchpad – an option that most notebooks have as a default and is hard to break as a habit.)

The Chromebook is quick to boot up and shutdown, one of the first positive impressions of this notebook. Open the lid and it’s waiting for your login in a matter of seconds. Close the lid and it’s in standby mode in the same timeframe. It’s very quiet too, with no sign of fan noise, mostly due to the limited SSD flash storage it uses for the Chrome operating system and small amounts of file downloads that it permits.

Navigating the browser is the key to realising the potential of this Chromebook. Each tab is some kind of web address, even the settings page. Opening a new tab displays all the apps you have chosen to attach to your Chrome OS. Clicking one of those takes you to either the webpage or the app within the browser.

You can group tabs according to type of use as well. For example, you may have a bunch of social media pages that you want to keep track of, along with some business documents that you’re editing, as well as a few feeds from your favourite news sites. These groups can be switched between each other so you’re always dealing with groups of like sites.

So what is the beauty of the Chromebook? Because everything you are doing is on the cloud, there is no chance of losing your data even if something catastrophic happens to your notebook. You can just log onto another Chromebook and you’ll be back into your customised environment, with your particular apps and extensions beefing up your browser.

The other significant benefit is never having to update anything. Apps that you “install” will be updated automatically as code is written and launched via the app’s website. Antivirus is redundant because there’s nothing local to be at risk. Chrome OS itself is the only thing that will require updates, and that will be pushed through as a download to the device when required.

In many ways, most of what we do now is internet-based or internet-sourced. Facebook and other social media platforms, email, webchat, news feeds, and even games – most of this information is derived from data on the internet. The natural progression is for the PC makers to focus on the part of computing that most people do these days, which is live in the browser or use apps that filter content from the greater internet.

Who is the Chromebook for? Right now, I’d say corporations that want a low-maintenance, cost effective browser-based platform that utilises their own secure servers would definitely be interested. Indeed, Google have made moves in the enterprise space, recently updating Chrome OS to include VPN, secure Wi-Fi support and a new Citrix app that enables virtualisation, meaning access to a Windows environment through the Chrome browser.

Will the Chrome OS succeed? I think it will take time, but there is definitely room for this type of product for mainstream users in the future. That future is one where high-speed, ultra-reliable internet access sits alongside water and electricity as a utility, not a privilege. The NBN, a topic that deserves its own commentary in a future post, will assist in bringing us closer to a communications and entertainment backbone that anyone in Australia can draw on at affordable prices.

In this broadband Utopia, always being connected, and always flying at high speed for transfers and content consumption, will in many ways negate the need for reliance on local storage. Telstra is in talks now to become a secure cloud storage provider, and once large corporations like Telcos offer this service, the level of comfort will rise for a product like this.

Is Chromebook ahead of its time? A little. But by getting in the trenches now and learning from current usage patterns and having a base on which to improve hardware and software, a secure and easy-to-use cloud platform will emerge.

The Series 5 Chromebook is a great piece of technology. Those early adopters who want to embrace cloud computing and all its benefits and challenges will help create a more mainstream-accepted product offering in the not-too-distant future. I, for one, hope to spend a lot more time on this platform and report on its progress as Google rolls out updates and improvements to Chrome OS.

Are you a Chrome browser user? Can you see yourself moving to the Chrome OS in the future?

When Is a Tablet Not A Tablet?

During my latest planning meeting with my contacts at Samsung, I had a closer look at a product that has been shown at various exhibitions but not yet released for sale here in Australia. It’s an interesting product, given the upswell in interest in the Tablet category. It’s called the Samsung Slider Series 7 PC. Note that the word “tablet” isn’t in the description.

Many manufacturers are lining up to offer their own take on the tablet product space, and this model from Samsung, aside from the Galaxy Tab, is a form factor that does take some cues from the tablet concept but is still very much a netbook. Why? It’s all about the operating system.

As you can see from the picture above, this model comes with full functioning keyboard and for all intents and purposes works just like a standard netbook, although it does use an upgraded Atom processor and is loaded with Windows 7 Premium as opposed to Starter, so it has a full notebook operating system. In this form, the netbook is also touchscreen enabled, which may be useful in some situations.

However, the screen can be articulated all the way to be flush with the keyboard, and slid down to change into a tablet. This action activates a customised user interface. You can then hold and handle the Slider PC as you would a tablet, although it is a little thicker due to the keyboard adding an extra layer of componentry and hardware.

Samsung mentioned that more “apps” would be available as they’re developed, and they would appear on the screen above.

This is certainly an interesting product, and worked well for the short time I had it, but is it a tablet or netbook first and foremost? I think the answer lies in the software. Both iPad and Android have an interface that has been built from the ground up for the touch experience, and they have an app environment that Windows does not really compete with.

If this product does eventually come to market, I think it will appeal to the user looking for a small notebook or netbook with a keyboard; that wants to use Windows-based programs such as Office; and likes the idea of being able to convert the netbook into a touch screen for ebook reading or viewing video content.

This product concept illustrates the influence of the tablet usage model into other designs such as this netbook. Is this a product you’d consider purchasing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2nd Generation Intel Core Models Have Landed

It’s exciting times in the PC industry. AMD are rolling out their new Fusion products, Android Honeycomb is set to be launched on a raft of new tablets, and Intel’s latest generation of Core Processors are finally being launched, after a recall that delayed the release of new notebooks across all brands.

This week, Bing Lee took delivery of the first two iterations of the new Intel range. We’ll be doing a full unboxing of both notebooks in the near future, but in the meantime here’s some brief specs and pictures to whet your appetite.

First up is the Samsung QX412, which replaces the QX310. It features a Gen 2 i5 processor, 1GB graphics card, HDMI output, DVD burner, and Samsung’s 3 second boot-up feature.

One of the impressive aspects of this model is the increase of the screen size to 14″ while using the same overall design from last year that used a 13.3″ screen, so it makes better use of the real estate – it really is a 14″ screen in a 13.3″ notebook chassis. The top lid is a cool-looking metal black, and reveals a silver/chrome surface on the keyboard area when opened. It’s definitely a style-setting notebook, with a great combination of looks and performance.

Also launched is the Acer AS5750G, which is our first Gen 2 quad core model. This notebook is all about grunt. The 2GHz quad core processor turbo boosts to 2.9GHz, and is backed up by a massive 2GB graphics card, 4GB memory and 640GB hard drive.

Other features include a 15.6″ screen, HDMI output and numeric keypad. It’s also one of the first notebooks to feature the new high speed USB 3.0 port, which can transfer files between it and a USB 3.0 storage device by over 10 times the speed of a standard USB 2.0.

The release of these models are a pleasant surprise as most Gen 2 models aren’t due out until April or May. We’re looking forward to taking both these models through their paces and presenting more details in the near future.