I’m back with a review of the Samsung Ativ 700T Smart PC, after a rather frustrating time waiting for, and then returning the sparkly new first Tablet PC by Microsoft, the Wacom-driverless, Surface Pro.
When the Surface Pro came out, I was right there in line, waiting. The tablet had a Wacom digitzer, but no ability to install a Wacom driver to enable pressure sensitivity in all applications. Microsoft’s official response via Twitter? Lack of pressure sensitivity in Adobe products, was.. Adobe’s fault for not using Microsoft’s new pressure API in Windows 8. For the first time, as a Windows user, I was being told, essentially.. abandon your old software. Backward compatibility? Forget it. Buy new software, or ask Adobe and other vendors to get their collective acts together and wait for software updates to this new problem Microsoft has created. The abandonment of the wintab standard that almost every graphics program out there has used for years and years!
I blogged about this, drew mean cartoons.. ranted and raved, like many artists and designers who purchased the Surface Pro. I wasn’t the only one dissatisfied with Microsoft’s reasoning on putting out hardware containing a Wacom digitizer, yet not allowing a Wacom driver to support it. After much Twitter / internet rage.. (Two days of it) – Microsoft backpedaled, saying “we’re working with Wacom on a solution“.
Weeks have passed, and still no word on this from Microsoft.
I do not reccomend any artist purchase the Surface Pro, until a working Wacom / wintab driver is made available, despite other positive reviews saying: “but Sketchbook Pro and Artrage work..!” – Like this Penny Arcade puff piece put out a few days ago. Yes, Mr CartoonMonkey will give it to you straight, lads. I can just see someone in the Microsoft Surface marketing division watching the Twitter fallout… “Hey! Let’s get a Surface Pro into the hands of Tycho at Penny Arcade. (interesting that comments are not enabled for that post.) That will fix things.. get them to review the thing. Put a positive spin on this..” Nice try Microsoft.. nice try.
Ahem, Microsoft: ARTISTS DO NOT WANT THE WINTAB / WACOM STANDARD ABANDONED or LOCKED OUT of the operating system! Many artists out there are switching to Linux, and guys.. you’re pushing us out of the Windows ecosystem with stupid moves like this. I mean, the only reason I stick with Windows at this point is backward compatibility with all my old apps.. and the ability to easily flip over to Steam to.. blow off some steam and do some gaming when work is done. And now.. Steam SUPPORT Wintab! Enough said.
Seeing Microsoft’s stance on this initially was enough to send me sending the Surface Pro straight back. I returned it, got my money back, and went with a hardware manufacturer that actually supports and ships a Wacom driver with their tablet. Samsung! I wasn’t going to wait for the inevitable corporate foot dragging, -waiting for a solution that should have already existed when the Surface Pro was released. I ended up much MUCH happier with the quality of Samsung’s premiere Windows 8 slate over the Surface Pro. A much better experience overall. My short, hopefully insightful and concise interview follows:
(Excuse my photos..)
The Ativ 700T by Samsung has almost the exact same specifications as the Microsoft Surface Pro… ( Core I5 Ivy Bridge, 4 GB of ram.. 1080p display..) But with a few differences. Maybe these matter to you. They don’t to me. Plastic. The Surface Pro sports a nifty cool magnesium casing material they invented which is light, sturdy.. and they included a little kickstand in the thing. That’s keen. But the Samsung 700T has a plastic back to it, with a 5 megapixel rear facing camera. (A two megapixel camera on the front) I’ve read reports that it scratches easily. It probably does. And if you use a machine seriously, it’s going to look like it’s been in a war zone after some time, and again.. this isn’t an issue to me. I expect it to happen at some point. The camera is angled to work with the laptop open at a normal angle, on either side, with some software tracking / correction being done in the built in Samsung camera app. I don’t video conference or take pictures with my tablet much, so I won’t be covering that. There are many other sites that cover that aspect in a review. I’ll be focusing on the machine for it’s primary purpose in my life. Drawing..
The 1080p screen is crisp and brighter than any Tablet PC I’ve used. Really a treat to look at, and the color reproduction is excellent, even seen from quite a sharp angle..
When undocked from the included keyboard stand, the tablet weighs just over two pounds. Not exactly Ipad – light, but not terrible either. It’s a bit of a trade-off. The weight is incredible considering the cpu power, and the fact that you can run a full desktop os in such a small and portable package.
The tablet is easly held with one hand, and I really enjoy the rounded feel of the edges, compared to the squared off Surface Pro. I own a Samsung Galaxy Note 1 phone, and the build quality is similar. Rounded edges on a rectangular device. As a bonus, the pen fro the 700T works on my Galaxy Note phone, and vice versa. (I’ll get into the pen a bit later..)
Undocking the tablet from the included keyboard..
By pressing the little center button, the tablet comes sliding easily off the keyboard. When docked, one can easily and firmly lift the tablet by it’s keyboard, or by the tablet itself, without fear of it unlocking. Very solid.
Much has been said about the keyboard dock itself. First, the build quality. Versus the chicklet type keyboard of the Surface Pro, the keyboard here is better by far. The keyboard dock is of course double as heavy as the type keyboard on the Surface, but the typing experience is much better. On the Surface Pro, if the thin keyboard wasn’t on a totally level surface, I could feel flexing on the keyboard itself, and the keys just felt cheap. If you’re a heavy typist, the Samsung has the chicklet keyboard, and aluminum (?) keys that you would be used to seeing on a Mac Pro laptop or other device. The action is excellent, and the trackpad supports multitouch gestures in Windows 8. ( Illuminated keys would have been nice, but hey..) When docked, the keyboard provides two extra USB 3.0 ports on the left and right of the machine, bringing the total to three. (The third being on the top of the tablet itself in regular landscape mode.
Keyboard problems: Many users have noted that the Ativ 700T keyboard has it’s share of problems. Primarily in the way the keyboard connects to the tablet itself when docked. This is purely a manufacturing issue / bad design on Samsung’s part. When using the keyboard on an unstable surface, i.e. your lap, the wiggling of regular typing can result in the USB device disconnecting for a moment and then reconnecting, making that familiar “ba-bong!” noise that Windows makes when this happens. This not only interrupts typing when working on an unstable surface, but also when using your finger to touch the screen, if you don’t do that lightly enough. Irritating to say the least. Users have reported having to RMA the whole tablet to get a replacement keyboard, (something I’m not willing to do) or jump through a thousand hoops with Samsung before they issue that return merchandise agreement. ( “Have you tried updating the drivers, sir?” Yes I have, and it’s not solving the problem, thanks.) Other reports say that the problem lessens over time, which I’ve found to be true. Replacing the tablet over and over again into it’s holster in the keyboard dock seems to loosen up the tablet into a better resting position over time, and the problem kind of goes away. Is it perfect? Not really. Is it a deal breaker? Not in my opinion. I regularly use a little bluetooth keyboard and place the keyboard dock in my bag while I’m working, anyway.. so I’m not really bothered by what I see is a small problem with an otherwise fantastic device.
The tablet in it’s keyboard dock open part way. The hinge is very strong, and supports the weight of the tablet easily.
The open tablet. Side view.
Using the Tablet PC driver for Windows 8 out of the box, pressure in Paint Tool Sai.
1024 levels of pressure, just like on my old Le1700, on a much brighter, and much faster machine. Ahh.
The S-Pen. The Wacom S-Pen that ships with this tablet, is an embarrassing and horrible peice of plastic garbage that you will only want to use in an emergency. A shame. It does dock nicely into the body of the tablet, and works as a pen, although the pressure it registers seems to be very bad in terms of the line quality it produces.. and it’s more of a booby prize, honestly. (It only has a single button on it’s side as well.) Samsung! Wacom! What were you thinking?? Agghh! You will want to buy a separate penabled pen to carry around, with an eraser and extra button. Oh sadness.
Tablet, top view – flat.
Tablet bottom view – multi pin keyboard connector visible.
Thickness vs Motion Le1700
I kind of miss the 4/3 aspect ratio of my old Motion tablet.. but widescreen is the future, folks. Get used to it.
At this time, Flash does not work with Windows 8 and the Tablet PC Wacom driver on this tablet. The cursor is trapped in Flash, but pressure works in almost every other app I’ve tried. It’s almost enough to make me run back to Windows 7, where everything worked properly.. but there’s hope!
This from Wacom:
We are working on a driver that should have some better behavior for this. We have code in our driver to automatically set the window handles of Wintab Apps to disable press-and-hold to right-click. Since Adobe apps don’t handle this correctly some of them (flash in particular) will always be broken. The new driver will take this behavior out until Adobe fixes their apps and if having to have PHRC on still messes up your workflow, there will be a simple registry key to re-enable the behavior that outputs data as mouse, though you will have to be careful about touching the screen with your hand while working with the pen. We should have this driver up and running in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know when I can send you an early release to try out.
So, all in all, The Ativ 700T is a worthy tablet. The battery life seems to be about 4 & 1/2 hours on power saver or balanced mode, about 3 & 1/2 high performance mode. Not bad. Would I recommend this tablet over a Surface Pro. Absolutely. No question, hands down a better machine overall. I’m a little sad to see the Le1700 go honestly.. but the Ativ 700T came along with a brighter screen, lighter form factor, front facing stereo speakers on the right and left of the screen, (as compared to the Surface Pro’s single mono speaker!) a fan that isn’t nearly as loud at all as the Surface Pro, (for the rare times when it does come on) and a working Wacom driver.
Did I miss anything? Leave a comment!
Excelsior, dear readers. Exclesior!
A little send-up of the Microsoft Surface Team, and the Surface Pro / wintab debacle:
I hope that Microsoft has learned a lesson from the design community at large here. Mostly the fact, that unless Microsoft embraces wintab, and doesn’t force the use of their pressure API, thereby forcing everyone to A) Buy new software or B) Wait for updates from software makers whose software already works perfectly well with wintab.. No one will buy your future Surface Pro.
It looks like people are taking to twitter in droves to complain, and it made Microsoft reverse direction and work with Wacom after only a TWO DAY turnaround. Awesome!
I returned my Surface Pro, because I don’t appreciate shipped products that are incomplete, or feature locked. I won’t stand for it. It’s terribly BETA of Microsoft to have done, ( and / or plainly pigheaded and cheap, not wanting to pay a wintab licensing fee ) and it was a waste of an entire day and a half of my life checking out and returning the thing. I won’t be buying Microsoft made tablets unless they’re advertising the digitizer tech up front, and refrain from hardware feature lockout / strongarm tactics like these. Oh, and today.. Steam is available for Linux. A sign of things to come.
I now own the Samsung Ativ 700T which absolutely destroys the Surface Pro in every way. The Wacom driver for it installs right away and still works with palm blocking AND ink in journal.
I’ll be doing a full review of it shortly. Stay tuned..
For years, the Wacom digitizer has been the only choice for almost 100% guaranteed pressure sensitivity in almost any application. If you own a Wacom tablet of any kind, and load up even the most obscure application that supports the wintab specification, Wacom has it covered.
In light of Ntrig’s recent 24 Million dollar deal with Microsoft to support its technology for touch-screen computers, I sent off the following message to NTrig headquarters.
“Does N-Trig have plans to make a Photoshop compatible driver? How about a combination capacitive touch screen and magnetic pen? I really want across the board compatibility with all my applications, (Photoshop, Flash, Painter, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, etc.) before I invest in any hardware with ntrig digitizers. Can anyone there clear this up for me? Thanks! -Chad”
Thank you for your email.
DuoSense supports full pressure-sensitivity.
For example, if you open Microsoft Journal, and select Tools => Options => Pen Settings, there is a Pressure Sensitivity checkbox which can be selected, and doing so enables full pressure sensitivity in all supported applications.
Other examples of applications that support pressure sensitivity with DuoSense, are the Windows Office applications, the ArtRage graphical application to name but two.
For answers concerning any specific software that does not support DuoSense pressure sensitivity, (for example, the software you mentioned in your email) you would need to consult with the Customer Support department of that softwareâ€™s manufacturer.
Thank you for visiting our website.
Debbie Gold Hadar
Clearly, a cut and paste response, edited a little for my situation. Grr. My response:
Thanks for the reply. However, this e-mail itself is a shining example of why I would never buy a product that contained an NTrig digitizer.
I understand clearly that your product does support pressure sensitivity in the applications you mentioned,( Journal, Office, and Artrage – hey, that’s three..) however being provided with the stock answer of “you would need to consult with the Customer Support department of that software’s manufacturer.” in reference to Photoshop, Corel Painter, Adobe Flash, etc., will not win a larger customer base. Perhaps the multimedia and design portion of your market is not your largest target audience, however given your position in the Windows 7 game, Ntrig should make across the board compatibility a #1 effort. I can’t count how many tablet pc users I have read about in forums online saying “..oh.. it has an Ntrig digitizer? No sale. I need Wacom.” For the following reason:
Wacom does the following flawlessly, and thus, they are the leader of the pack. If I go to start almost any application that requires pressure sensitivity, Wacom has it covered! end of story. With NTrig, there are solid limitations. Ntrig asks me to NOT rely on them for support, rather that I rely on each individual sofware vendor.
Clearly, there is a standard for pressure sensitivity in Windows itself, ( the wintab specification ) so why can’t Ntrig address this in a broad sense, giving pressure sensitivty in all applications?
Surely the value of being a real competitor to Wacom would be invaluable. A driver that provides real pressure sensitivity in almost any existing graphics application, combined with Ntrig‘s capacitve touch technology will literally knock the ball out of the park. If the inability to do this stems from a patent application on Wacom’s part, so be it, but I can’t see a viable future for Ntrig without addressing this subject in a very public way, to the tablet pc and gadget community at large.
I hope that this e-mail reaches farther than just business development, it needs to be read out loud, to the head of the company.
Thank you very much for your detailed email.
We thank you forÂ your concerns, and would like to assure you that we are working with various ISVs to ensure there will be more supported applications in the future.
Please also be assured that your sentiments have been passed on to the appropriate parties.
Debbie Gold Hadar
I hope that Ntrig is able to take these concerns seriously. It would be fantastic to have an alternative to Wacom products that works equally as well in any application. It would open up competiton to the harware manufacturers, and choice to the consumer.
I’m personally hoping that either Wacom, or Ntrig pulls of the first digitizer that does both capacitive touch for Windows 7, combined with a true pressure sensitive magnetic stylus for inking & drawing. (Oh and can someone out there pack this all into a nice 12″ macbook air thin slate tablet pc that weighs under 1lb?
Let’s cross our fingers folks..