Samsung Slate PC Series-7 at IFA 2011, Berlin – first look review

Windows 7 touchscreen tablet debuts at consumer electronics show
Photo of Samsung Slate PC Series-7 at IFA 2011, Berlin – first look

UPDATE: To watch the Samsung Slate in action at IFA, click here.

Rather overshadowed on Samsung’s humungous booth at IFA, Berlin was a device that could well be a glimpse at the future of tablet computers – or perhaps not. In a move that takes the debate back to square one, Samsung has created a uniquely versatile tablet PC based not around Android and its many amusingly-named updates, but on Microsoft’s Windows 7.

This isn’t the only example of a manufacturer sticking to Microsoft’s desktop and laptop OS for a tablet, of course – but it’s by far the slickest attempt.

Slick, but not perfect. In fact, after trying out the 860g Slate PC Series-7 we’re pretty sure Google hasn’t got much to worry about; this is a laptop-beater for professionals.

Physical issues
The main problem is actually the physical side of things. The Slate was presented to us at IFA standing upright on a dock that wasn’t quite as stable as we’d have liked, despite this being a remarkably slim effort, measuring a mere 12.9mm thick. That dock comes as standard, and packs a USB 2.0 slot, Ethernet LAN, a headphones slot and even a full-sized HDMI output for attaching the Slate to a separate PC monitor in an office, or a perhaps a HDTV at home.

The Slate was also shown off with a Bluetooth keyboard in tow, though this would appear to be an optional (and probably rather expensive) add-on that will be easy to undercut. The only advantage we can see of Samsung’s add-on is its brushed metallic aesthetics; even when using the keyboard successfully, we were constantly tempted to touch the screen. A ‘digital pen’ is also available, which could be useful in meetings, though we weren’t able to trial it at IFA.

Not so touchy-feely
Actually engaging the 1366×768 pixel resolution touchscreen is not as straightforward as it could be, with Windows 7 just not made for getting touchy-feely with – not merely because on-screen buttons are generally too small, but because the interface isn’t as in-yer-face. There’s nothing wrong with the LCD screen – it’s lightning-quick to respond to touch, but we imagine it’s the pen that will be of most use day-to-day.

Samsung Slate at IFA

Fitted with a sinle USB 2.0 port – crucially a full-sized one, not a mini version – a mini-HDMI, micro SD, SIM card slot (for 3G) and audio connections, the (slightly) bigger physical dimensions compared to an iPad or Galaxy Tab enable this machine to pack a lot more punch; there’s an Intel Huron River Core i5 2467M processor, 4GB RAM and a significantly larger 11.6in screen.

Now we’re talking. Likely to ship as separate WiFi and 3G versions for around a grand, the Slate is specified as having a seven-hour battery life; whether it reaches that could be a key test for pros on the go, but this is a serious – and seriously expensive – option for business users.

Likely to remain a niche product for business folk wanting to swerve a mobile operating system, Samsung is nevertheless on to something with the Slate. In getting a Windows-based tablet down to more sensible proportions it might curry favour with those wanting to move on from a laptop, but who aren’t ready to break away from Microsoft Office – and this a one quick and powerful option. For some, it could prove a terrific investment. For others it’s overkill – and slightly odd.