Samsung ATIV SmartPC 500T: Intel Strikes Back

by Patrick Moorhead   |   November 20th, 2012

Over the course of the Windows 8/RT industry discussions, ARM-based tablets have received the lion’s share of the discussion.  This has been particularly true with Microsoft’s announcement of Surface RT.  Does this mean Intel cannot deliver a competitive tablet solution?  Hardly.   Intel’s CloverTrail platform is shockingly competitive and I wanted to share some early experiences with the Samsung’s ATIV SmartPC 500T.  In particular, I wanted to share one of the differences between it and Surface RT.

First, just in case you were living under a rock for the past two years, two Windows operating systems exist, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Both run the newer Metro tile-based apps. Windows 8 devices will run those apps and all previous Windows 7 desktop applications and Windows RT devices come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office.

Offline Syncing

One of the major weaknesses of Windows RT devices is that they currently have no way to sync files so they are accessible offline.  With the Samsung 500T, I can install Sugarsync, Box, Dropbox or SkyDrive and have a folder of files that is accessible and synced, online and off.  This isn’t some corner case usage model for me as I have working like this for years and for me is a requirement for a “PC”.  I can even sync files with my iPad, so it’s not like this is foreign to tablets or even phones.  I do expect Microsoft to eventually add this capability but it’s just not here now which was very dissapointing.  They will need to write an ARM-based, desktop compatible connector to achieve this.

Outlook

Windows RT devices come standard with key Office apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, but it doesn’t come with Outlook.  With my Surface, I bounce back and forth between Metro-based Mail and Desktop Office, which is a bit of a shocker when in work-mode.  On the Samsung 500T, I can take advantage of Office’s features I us a lot like rich email salutations, filters, social media connectors, Word-like formatting, mail-merge, and reply with meeting.  I have to admit, I was surprised how responsive Outlook was with CloverTrail.  Intel really did their homework on the Atom Z2760 and Outlook.  I must point out that Outlook is an adder, a $199 adder, so this isn’t free, but a requirement for me when doing heavy duty work.  The Metro email app is good, but not good enough to run my business from.

Games

The Windows App Store does not currently have many games, but I am optimistic given the amount of Windows game developers out there.  One of the advantages of the Samsung 500T is that it can run legacy apps and games.  It’s not like you would want to run the latest Call of Duty game, but certainly you can run some of the lighter weight desktop games.  For instance, my son, as I have written many times before, plays a game called Wizard101 from KingsIsle Entertainment.  He literally plays this every day, and because Intel’s CloverTrail will run Windows desktop apps, he can play his favorite game.

Printer-Scanner-Fax

It’s hard to buy a printer without an integrated scanner, fax and copy machine built in.  I had no problem network printing from Surface, but I couldn’t install any of the advanced features that made the scanner work.  The Samsung 500T loaded the entire driver and app set and I could use all of the features.  The one I appreciate most is where I scan a document and it automatically shows up in the “My Documents” folder of the 500T.

Evernote

Because the 500T can run Windows 7 desktop apps, it runs full Evernote.  My entire life is on Evernote and I have been paperless for years because of it.  Quite frankly, Evernote for Metro is unusable.  It doesn’t sync in the background, crashes a lot, doesn’t handle viewing or adding attachments properly, cannot format, does not support audio notes, and does not support “Places”.  Other than that it’s great. The Evernote folks have been busy working on their iOS and OSX upgrades but I sure hope they get to Windows 8.

Chrome Browser

Chrome is my favorite browser.  I have all my favorites, folders, and even some passwords already setup.  I can use the full-strength browser.  Internet Explorer is nice, but unfortunately in Metro-mode it does not support favorites in folders.  Internet Explorer just lists a 1,000 of bookmarks without folders which is just untenable.

Camera

I will never understand why some tablets have such crummy cameras.  This includes the iPad and Surface, too.  It literally costs a few dollars to improve it.  I get the segmentation reasons and that every penny counts, but we are talking $500-700 devices.  I was quite pleased with the 500T’s camera as it captured stills at 8MP and vide at 1080P.  This is comparison to Surface’s 1MP still and 800P video capabilities.  Why would anyone want to take pictures or videos with a tablet given it looks so geeky?  In meetings I take pictures of white boards and even slides being presented.  Also, because cameras drain so much smartphone battery life, many times I will use a tablet because it will last so much longer.  So yes, I am the geek taking photos and videos of their kid’s volleyball game with the tablet.

Battery Life

Most people expected some monumental difference in battery life between Intel and ARM-based tablets.  I did a year ago, too.  I have not experienced any discernible difference between the 500T and Surface but some reviewers have noticed differences.  Given no one even thought Intel could even show up to this tablet battery life battle, Intel has proven a lot.

Startup Time

From cold start, the Samsung 500T started up extremely quick in around 13 seconds.  This is in sharp contrast to Surface which took around 29 seconds to start.  I think the last major update slowed the cold boot start for Surface, which is odd.  Users won’t need to do this often unless they run out of battery life because both devices support connected standby. The Samsung 500T and Surface, once on started immediately came to life and had updated content.

PC Oddities

The Samsung 500T is a full PC, meaning you get the advantages and disadvantages of a PC.  It is very easy to load an app that can bring it to its knees, like a video encoding app or game like Call of Duty.  If you want to run a program like that, you’d be better off getting an Ultrabook or ultrathin, but be prepared to pay a lot more.  So I did need to be aware of what was running in desktop if I noticed something was slow in Metro.

It’s also real easy to run out of storage.  I loved the synced files, but it does require that you have enough to store the data.  This may sound trite, but for many basic users, this is difficult.  Finally, I did notice that when I did restart or turn the 500T off, some app or process would keep it from shutting down.  Just like a full Windows PC.

Where to From Here?

This blog is about sharing my initial experiences with the Samsung 500T and not meant to be a sweeping analyst opinion piece on Intel versus ARM.  I will follow up with that as soon as I have used more Windows RT and Windows 8 systems.  That’s only fair. What I can say is that Intel has delivered every bit as good of a tablet experience as anything ARM-based companies have delivered so far, if you know how to navigate a Windows PC.  The Samsung 500T is responsive, thin, light and has good battery life.  In addition, it runs Windows 7 desktop apps, too, unlike Windows RT devices like Surface.  That cuts both ways in that an unsophisticated user could easily make a mistake and flood it with too much processing and/or storage from a Windows 7 desktop app.  But if you know what you are doing, you won’t do that.

What I can definitively say right now is that it is “game-on” between Intel, NVIDIA and Qualcomm in the Windows mobile space.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • Defendor

    From the very first announcement, I never thought WinRT made much sense as anything but a hedge and a motivational tool to keep Intel on their toes.

    As a product it is just a weaker subset of Win8 on x86, without any material advantage to make up for the loss of backward compatibility.

    • justd80010

      There are tens of millions of users that don’t care about backward compatibility, that have no need to run legacy software, who have been buying Apple and Android products for 3-4 years and who are cost conscience. This is the market WinRT speaks to and it’s got little to do with Intel. I agree however that over time the market will reward full fledged functionality in tablet form factors over these stunted solutions. It will be interesting to see whether Intel can produce a low power, low cost solution before ARM produces a solution that matches X86 performance.

      • iPhart

        There is no one coming only from Android or iOS. They for sure have also Windows or OS X devices. Majority is on Windows, even if have iOS mobile devices.
        And those ppl always dreamed , their mobile devices to run same things.
        So yes- Windows RT is waste. It;s in iToy category.

        • justd80010

          Windows RT supports desktop components, unlike Android or iOS – so one can run Office software and can connect to printers and networks directly from the OS. that means it’s not a toy in the sense you use the term. You can actually accomplish many workplace task.
          But if I didn’t already I agree that eventually there will be an affordable solution that does both what Android and Apple do AND what Windows does. But Intel solutions for tablets right now are significantly more expensive than ARM solutions for tablets so for as long as that’s the case there will be a place for RT, Android and iOS because it means you can deliver ultra-portables to market for less than X86 ultra-portables.

      • Defendor

        RT tablets aren’t significantly less expensive than x86 tablets, so
        they don’t compete with Intel tablets, which do more for about the same cost, and they don’t compete even remotely with low priced Androids.

        Android devices sales are overwhelmingly low cost models priced around $199. RT devices start at double that minimum. So they aren’t competing in low cost tablets at all.

        What you have is an expensive tablet for the anti-Apple Microsoft set, that is incompatible with Windows software, the main reason many keep buying real Windows products.

        Unfortunately I think the majority of RT buyers won’t understand the differences between RT and Windows 8.

        • justd80010

          The X86 tablets on the market today are generally about $1000 whereas the RT tablets are generally half that.
          I’m not counting 7 inch tablets – if there were any 7 inch RT tablets I imagine they would come in at about $200 as well, but there aren’t so a valid comparison can’t be made. Try connecting your Android tablet to a printer or running Office on it or connecting natively to a network or even connecting it to an external HD.

          • steve_wildstrom

            I would be pretty hard for an RT tablet of any size to come in around $200 if, as reported, Microsoft is charging north of $75 for the Windows license.

          • justd80010

            If MS produces a 7 inch surface tablet it will probably be priced around the same as other 7 inch tablets in the market, same with OEMs. Just like 9-10 inch RT tablets are priced around the same as the 9-10 inch tablets that were on the market before they were released.

          • steve_wildstrom

            If Microsoft did it, they at least wouldn’t have to worry about the license. But I strongly doubt it will happen, at least not until Microsoft comes up with completely new versions of Office apps. For Microsoft, the key competitive advantage of Surface is the ability to run Office, and that’s not going to happen on a 7″ display.

          • justd80010

            I agree, a 7 inch tablet would be almost purely a consumption device with Office 365 like Windows Phone. So unless it has a heavy Xbox and Nook tie-in it’s unlikely to happen. But whether RT gets us all the way there or not, you can clearly see that because it can access desktop components it provides capabilities that other solutions simply don’t, in the same form factor at about the same price.
            That said, I think a Lumia 7 inch, HTC 7 inch or Surface 7 inch WinRT tablet priced at $200-250 could gain traction in the market. Unlike the generic look and feel of Android they would have high-style like the iPad mini at a lower cost and I think that would attract the younger audience that these devices target.

          • http://twitter.com/shameermulji Shameer Mulji

            “But whether RT gets us all the way there or not,….”

            That’s assuming MS uses Windows RT as the basis for a 7″ tablet. For all we know they could use Windows Phone 8 OS as the basis for a 7″ tablet and it would work just as well for such a device.

          • steve_wildstrom

            That would give Microsoft three tablet OSes–Windows 8, RT, and Phone–and that’s two too many. I have been saying from the beginning that Microsoft made a huge strategic mistake scaling desktop Windows down to the tablet rather than scaling Windows Phone up (as Apple did.)

          • http://twitter.com/shameermulji Shameer Mulji

            “For Microsoft, the key competitive advantage of Surface is the ability to run Office, and that’s not going to happen on a 7″ display.”

            This is true but then a 7″ tablet wouldn’t be marketed as a work tablet. Think of an Xbox-branded 7″ tablet focused on gaming, video, music, reading, social media and casual apps – more of an iPad mini competitor.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sharpsone Rob Sharp

      WinRT makes sense for those who want a controlled experience like you see on I-Pad or Android. There are a lot of people that want that simplicity but at least RT gives you the Win 8 UI which is far superior than the competition.
      The Surface RT is a well built product and fun but I’m a business user too so I need productivity as well. The Ativ seems to fit that so i’m going to check it out.

  • FalKirk

    “Windows RT devices come standard with key Office apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, but it doesn’t come with Outlook.”

    I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read about or understood the reason for the omission of Outlook. Is there a technical limitation or was the program not ready or was it simply a strategic decision on Microsoft’s part? If it is either of the latter two, then Microsoft should be truly embarrassed. The Surface is limited enough, but not having Outlook is a potentially fatal ommision when it comes to using the Surface as a Windows laptop substitute.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      RT comes with the cheap, “Student & Home” edition of Office — which does not include Outlook by design because outlook is really only useful in a work environment, and MS doesn’t want the cheap edition to be bought for work use.

    • steve_wildstrom

      There are a large number of reasons why Outlook doesn’t exist for RT. Outlook 2013 is little changed from Outlook 2010, meaning it is by far the least touch-ready of the main Office applications. But the bigger reason is that Outlook’s architecture is miserably suited for RT. It is extremely resource hungry. Getting it to run even marginally acceptably on an ARM processor would be very hard. And it has very large storage demands. The .ost file–the Outlook database–can easily run to several gigabytes. very problematic on a device that only has 16 gigabytes of user storage. I have to believe that Microsoft is re-architecting a version of Outlook for RT, but I have no evidence that such a beast exists.

      • FalKirk

        Thank you, Steve. Great answer.

  • Andrew

    which one lags the most when editing/layering 12mp Photos using Photoshop on Ativ Smart Pc and G Note 10.1??