My Samsung 7 Slate

I might as well ‘fess up: after much pondering, I broke my multi-year allegiance to all things Apple, and bought myself a Samsung 7 Slate. Yep. A Windows 7-based tablet PC. You can read more about it in this in-depth review at Tom’s Hardware, or this more consumer-oriented, and overall quite negative assessment at Engadget.

Let me say, first of all, that I’m definitely not leaving the Mac platform! First of all, my office machine is a trusty 2008-vintage iMac that I have no intention of replacing, except with a newer iMac. Second, I still use my 2008 Macbook Pro, though rarely. Third, my wife uses a first-generation iPad and a 2010 Macbook Pro, and is very happy with both.

So why this, er, countercyclical (OK, contrarian) decision? Quite simply, I wanted a tablet that could double as a real, no-compromise, LaTeX-capable computer. Apple, sadly, does not make one. Yes, I know about the Modbook, basically a standard Macbook (Pro) retrofitted with a digitizer and tablet frame; it’s about twice as expensive, once you factor in the price of the Mac laptop, and weighs about three times as much as the Samsung 7 Slate — S7S henceforth.

I plan to post extensively on my experience with this machine. I certainly had to figure out ways to deal with the basic fact that Windows 7 and, more importantly, Windows apps (like Mac apps) are simply not designed for touch input at all (with a few notable exceptions). Let me start with a few thoughts, in no particular order.

Windows 8

The S7S is essentially identical to the developer machine that Microsoft handed out at the Build conference, where Windows 8 was first demoed in public. Microsoft has stated that any machine running Windows 7 today will be able to run Windows 8 as well, and the S7S is a very recent machine to boot. But, in addition, the S7S is one of the tablets that Windows 8, and Windows 8 apps, are being developed on! Thus, this machine will likely run Windows 8 well. Indeed, you can run the Windows 8 Developer Preview right now. Which brings me to my second observation…

The Tablet PC Review forum

If you own the S7S, you just have to follow the Samsung forum at Tablet PC Review. It is an amazing resource. Want to find out how to install and run Windows 8 on the S7S? Looking for cases that fit the still-new 11.6″ tablet form factor? Having issues with Samsung’s Easy (ha!) Software Manager? Want to check for potential issues before installing the latest BIOS update? It’s all there. People are extremely nice and helpful. The signal-to-noise ratio is very high.

Why not buy an iPad / Android tablet?

Because I don’t want to carry around two devices, when one will do just fine — actually, great, not fine. We already own an iPad, though I can’t really say I can use it: my wife and kids totally own it. That’s OK 🙂 The point is, getting another tablet for media consumption purposes and web browsing seems like a luxury I can’t justify. Plus, it’s inconvenient: if you have and use two devices, you most likely will want to sync them (photos, music, etc.). This is no problem if you are at home and have WiFi, but we travel quite a bit. Until we have pervasive broadband access via the cellular network, at reasonable prices, worldwide, syncing will be a pain (think iTunes). If your laptop is also your tablet, there’s no syncing involved.

Why not a Macbook Air?

This is a tough one. As far as portability is concerned, the MBA is every bit as good as the S7S, or any tablet for that matter. It is a (small) laptop, which means that you can work comfortably while holding it, well, in your lap. In this respect, it is definitely superior to a tablet, even if the tablet comes with a case stand or dock, and a keyboard, like the S7S does.

But the point is that you really don’t want a keyboard when you are reading a book using the Kindle app (or similar), and arguably even when you’re casually surfing the Web, or triaging email. By the way, the S7S comes with a beta of the Swype keyboard for Windows. It is simply amazing; I use it on my Android phone, but it is even better on a tablet. Hint: make sure you read the advanced tips on the Swype Web site.

The S7S provides many of the form-factor advantages of an iPad or Android tablet, but is a full-featured, relatively powerful PC (Core i5 processor, 128GB of SSD storage, 4GB of RAM, a decent Intel graphics processor). You can get real work done on this machine, no matter what your line of business.

By the way, this thing is fast. Try surfing the Web on the S7S and on an iPad side by side. There’s no comparison. And, yes, of course Flash runs just fine on the S7S, and while I loathe it, certain sites (fancy restaurants being the offenders I discovered more recently) just insist on using it.

Not for everyone

Lastly, I should be very clear about this: the S7S is not for everyone. If you want a pure consumption device, get an iPad. It lasts much longer on a charge, and it is designed for touch from the ground up. If you don’t care about the tablet form factor at all, get a laptop. Most Windows apps require adaptability and, above all, patience if you are using your fingers instead of a mouse or touchpad.

Watch this space for tips, tricks, and adventures in the world of Windows tablets!

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