The jury is still out on Windows 7 tablets — and, at this point, it looks like it may never come in — but with the Series 7 Slate, Samsung at least gives this difficult niche the old college try.
Our last encounter with a Windows tablet dates back to March’s Viewsonic ViewPad 10, which disastrously attempted to combine Windows and Android in one device, dramatically failing at both. Here, Samsung is at least wise enough to pick one, and give that OS its all.
On paper, it gets off to a good enough start: The 11.6-inch LCD is gloriously bright (if you can keep the blasted auto-dimmer from engaging) and offers a 1366×768-pixel resolution. Under the hood, the 1.6GHz Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD hard disk would be capable specs for just about any standard laptop. And yet, at 1.9 pounds, the Samsung manages to weigh in at not much heavier than most 10-inch Android tablets.
Sure enough, performance is on par with similarly equipped laptops. If you connect a mouse and keyboard, you can even use the device for (very) rudimentary gaming — a testament not so much to the Series 7’s capabilities but rather its stability under load. It didn’t crash during a single benchmark test.
But the Series 7 is a tablet, not a laptop (Samsung confusingly makes both a Series 7 laptop and also this device with the almost-same name). As such, it’s designed with a different use pattern in mind. Like traditional tablets, the Series 7’s display auto-rotates based on how you’re holding it, but the vagaries of Windows means this happens more slowly than you might be used to with iOS or Android tablets. You’ll probably also want to use the included stylus instead of your finger. Clicking through Windows menus and toolbars is just too fine-grained for the average user’s ham-fisted touch. It’s up to you, though, to figure out what to do with the little plastic stick: There’s no place to store the stylus anywhere on the tablet, so consider wearing shirts with pockets from now on.
Samsung also includes a novel feature called the Touch Launcher, accessed via a button front and center at the base of the device. Press this and up pops a familiar icon wall very similar to the typical tablet interface. It’s pre-populated with links to YouTube, Twitter, a web browser, and so on. It all looks so easy, but these aren’t mobile apps — they’re either web shortcuts or Windows apps, many of which Samsung seems to have written itself. As such, they’re inextricably tied to Windows 7’s backend, and the spit-and-twine approach to building this system shows through often. Windows dialogue boxes often require your attention, and the overall lack of polish is distinct. Set the weather app to use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, for example, and the weather widget on the Tablet Launcher home screen doesn’t make the change, only the app itself. The user can add and delete apps to this subsystem, but they have to be already installed on the device, or created as web links.
Aside from the Touch Launcher button, all the remaining buttons and ports are relegated to the sides. They are unfortunately difficult to get at by touch alone: All shaped like slim rectangles, it’s tough to tell the power button apart from the rotation lock button on the right, and the volume control on the left is actually tough to distinguish from the lone USB port (above) and mini-HDMI port (below) without a good amount of fumbling. A microSD slot and headphone/mic jack are also available. A charging dock accessory ($100) replicates the HDMI, USB and headphone ports, adds an Ethernet port, and props up the tablet for use with a wireless keyboard (Samsung’s is $80).
But the real issues with the Series 7 aren’t Samsung’s, they’re Microsoft’s. To date, most Windows tablets are targeted for “vertical markets” like healthcare and manufacturing management, where users are constantly on their feet and need full-on Windows at the ready. But the Series 7 lacks the ruggedness most of these devices boast. More casual users will likely wonder why none of this works “as well as my iPad,” and that’s a fair criticism.
The response to that issue is essentially why Windows 8 is being developed, at which point the Series 7 may be batting clean-up in a whole new ballgame.
WIRED PC-class features in a tablet body. Possibly the most powerful tablet on the market today.
TIRED Windows remains a struggle with a pen-and-finger interface. Samsung’s Tablet-esque add-on is only three-quarters baked. Dock and wireless keyboard cost extra. Tepid battery life of about 4.5 hours.
Photos by Michael Calore/Wired