Windows 8 review
The 11.6-inch screen puts the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro firmly in the Ultrabook space; this isn't a pocketable mini tablet, but the curved corners and edges and good balance make it comfortable to hold, especially if you're using the pen to write in OneNote or to draw in Fresh Paint or Samsung's own S Note software.
The screen quality is excellent, with crisp details and rich, vivid colours. Put it side by side with the Microsoft Surface Pro and you'll see that the details aren't as crisp and the blacks aren't as deep and saturated, but that's a high bar to meet.
The 1920 by 1080 resolution - the same as Surface Pro but a significant step up from the 1366 by 768 resolution we've seen on many older Windows systems of this size - is great for watching videos and browsing photos. As with the Surface Pro, the resolution is almost too high for some web pages, so Windows 8 automatically increases the DPI settings so that they're easier to read.
Touch control is smooth and accurate; we were able to select even small controls in the notification area of the taskbar on the Windows desktop.
Despite the small size - at only 4 inches long - the pen is comfortable to use, with rounded edges to the square barrel. The right mouse button on the side has a crisp, positive action and you know when you've clicked it. There's no eraser so you can't turn the pen over to rub out your 'ink', but the pen snaps very firmly into its slot so you won't lose it.
The combination of pen and touch works very well in OneNote, where you can write with the pen and scroll down the page with your finger, or in painting apps such as Fresh Paint where you get pressure sensitivity.
What makes the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro stand out from the competition is how well it works as both a tablet and as a notebook, and how easy it is to switch between the two.
The keyboard is substantial, with isolated chiclet-style keys that feel like most other Samsung keyboards and include the full complement of keys, including a right-mouse key and function lock, a Caps Lock light and a power indicator that's easier to see than the one next to the power button.
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The keyboard is much thicker and heavier than the Type and Touch Covers for the Surface tablets, but it also feels like typing on a real notebook keyboard. Instead of a magnet, the keyboard has a full-length hinge with locking lugs that hold the tablet in place and let you tilt the screen back at your preferred angle.
Unlike keyboards from Acer and Lenovo that only hold the screen, the Samsung keyboard enables you to close the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro up like a real notebook - albeit one that's slightly thicker than most Ultrabooks. The keyboard doesn't have its own battery, though, which would make it heavier. We found we tended to leave the keyboard on when we put the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro in a bag and take it off when we wanted to use it as a tablet, so the extra weight from a battery would probably be unwelcome.
You can also pick the system up by the screen without worrying about the keyboard dropping off or flipping back. Press the obvious button in the centre and the tablet pulls out easily.
The keyboard needs all its weight to balance the screen; with the guts of the PC inside, it's heavier and thicker than most Ultrabook screens and it does have a slight tendency to tip back. Even so, it's far less fiddly than balancing a Surface Pro on your lap when you're sitting up in a chair.
It also has a large trackpad that supports the Windows 8 gestures, so you can swipe to open the Charms bar or switch between Windows Store apps.
This ought to be a great feature, giving you the precision of a mouse for the times when you don't want to reach up and touch the screen. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the most irritating feature of the entire system.
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The Elanpad hardware is absurdly sensitive, and trying to drag a selection frequently triggered the Windows gestures or just produced random clicks. Even when we reduced the sensitivity, we still had problems clicking; there are no separate keys and nine times out of 10 we found ourselves right-clicking when we didn't mean to.
For a tablet, the selection of ports is either standard - if you're used to Windows tablets - or generous if you're used to Android tablets and iPads. Compared to an Ultrabook it's on the minimal side.
What you get is a USB 3.0 port on the top of the screen, when you're holding it in landscape orientation. It's hidden behind a neat cover that won't fall off and get lost or snap off in your hands, with a microSD port further along, a SIM slot that wasn't in use on our test system, and a micro HDMI connector on the side, all behind the same neat covers. That leaves plenty of uninterrupted smooth edges to hold comfortably.
The tiny power port is on the bottom, with the dock connector, and the power button is on the top, next to a button that locks the (very sensitive) autorotation. There's also a 3.5mm audio jack and two microphones (slightly too close together to do real beam forming). On the side are the rocker volume buttons.
Snap the keyboard on and you get another two USB ports and another power port. The keyboard also covers most of the physical Windows button, so you can press it with a fingernail or just use the Windows button on the keyboard - or swipe on the screen to get the Charms bar.
You always have multiple options with the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro - including a desktop dock with USB and Ethernet ports.