Tech Stuff

Samsung Slate

Right off the bat, this has become my go-to machine for a lot of different activities.

It’s lightweight, fast, boots up and shuts down in seconds. Seriously, seconds. I just tested it, and I had a desktop up in 17 seconds, and shutting down took just two seconds. You can compare that the horrible results for Windows Vista on my Toshiba laptop. I’ll chalk this up to the solid-state hard drive, as well as a far leaner and better-written operating system. And once it’s booted up, it’s ready to go. Unlike other Microsoft OSs, they don’t show you a Potemkin Village desktop where nothing is ready to respond to your clicks.

It comes with a vinyl carrying case:

That doubles as a work stand when you fold it back on itself. You can also see above the stylus.

Also included is a dock that you can attach the power cord to, and an HDMI, Ethernet, headphones and USB slot. The tablet itself has a mini-HDMI, headphones, single USB and micro SD slot. Unfortunately when you put it in the dock, the tablet’s USB slot is disabled, so unless you get a hub you’re stuck with the one.

The Bluetooth keyboard is very nice, though the pairing is not documented correctly for the opeting system. It’s easy to stand it up with the attached cover, and plop the keyboard down in front of it, anywhere.

Windows 8

Windows 8 is the default boot system, which is fine for a touch-screen device. Using taps and “swipes” from the edges of the screen, you can move around pretty nicely. On its own, without the keyboard, it performs pretty well as a content-consumption kind of device.

Content creation, not so much; the on-screen keyboard is pretty cumbersome:

It covers a lot of real estate, doesn’t it? Microsoft’s own tablets are supposed to have the keyboard built in to the flip-open cover, which makes a lot of sense. If you’re going to write more than a two-sentence e-mail this is a real pain. There are other UI issues with it as well. Not every app scrolls cleanly, so sometimes you are typing into fields you can’t see. That’s especially true on the Windows 7 side, which I’ll cover below. And the text-selection feature is klunky unless you’re using the stylus. On the other hand, the spelling suggestion feature works well: questionable words are underlined in red, and touching the word brings up a list of suggestions. Touch the one you want and it is replaced.

Most of the apps are still in “preview” mode, because I’m running a pre-release version. So hopefully they’ll get the kinks straightened out.

The chrome-less browser is beautiful to use, edge-to-edge on the screen. It does crash or freeze far too often. One chronic problem I have is that the vertical scroll will become disabled; I have to restart the app.

I had the most trouble with the mail and calendar apps. Mail is crippled from the beginning because you can only add Exchange, Gmail and Hotmail accounts. It looks beautiful:

The Win8 aesthetic is to eliminate as much “chrome” as humanly possible. Here, you touch the message and it comes up. Feature-wise, anything else you want to do you get to by swiping up from the bottom, top, left or right depending on the app and the function you need.

However, there’s less than meets the eye. I had tremendous problems getting mail to send and receive. It wouldn’t do either — sent messages would sit in the outbox — until I actually rebooted the machine. And then several months later, the problem disappeared.

The calendar wouldn’t synch at all. Until all of a sudden it did — several weeks later! No one else had that problem, but I don’t think anyone else was actually trying to use it.

It wasn’t a question of an update; it happened again after we re-imaged it.

The news app is very attractive and readable:

You swipe from side-to-side to read the stories. There’s also a nice pull-down of news sources as well as a customizable “my news” page where you can set up sections for different keyworded topics of interest.

Another bug here, though; the news sources will show the news from the last time you looked at them. Pick “CNN,” and if you had looked at it last week, those were the most recent stories. You have to close it, then re-open it, to see the real news. Repeat for each of your favorite news sources.

Maps is nice, and especially benefits from the no-chrome theory:

And if all else fails, Windows 7 is an option. And that’s good since a lot of apps aren’t available in anything like a “Metro” interface. So you have the traditional start menu, taskbar etc. I’ve gotten especially fond of OneNote (part of MS Office, a separate purchase), which uses the stylus to good advantage and synchs automatically to my MS Skydrive account.

The on-screen keyboard here is especially bad. It should come up automatically when you touch a web form field, or a URL input box, but it doesn’t. You have to very carefully bring the task bar up and click the keyboard icon. Then click on the entry field again. Spelling suggestions don’t work here, either, and more often than not you can’t see where you’re typing.

Internet connectivity is through easy-to-configure wireless or ethernet. Unlike the Galaxy Tab line, there is no G3, G4 or any other kind of cellular service option. So you’re not taking this out into the field or using it to get directions on your road trip.

It was a snap to connect it to my printer. I just needed the model number and it went out and found the right driver.

Cameras are front-and-back for teleconferencing and shooting. I had a problem with the rear-facing camera that needed a reboot.

Pros:

  • Lightweight, with a slim form-factor
  • Good battery life — 6 hours of heavy use
  • Incredible start-up time for a full-featured PC OS
  • Lightweight accessories
  • Chrome-less look is great for most reading and browsing purposes
  • Easy set-up with a minimum of technical jargon to go through

Cons:

  • Touch interface is hard for my medium-large fingers
  • On-screen keyboard is torture
  • Win7 is not touch-friendly
  • Buggy applications
  • Wireless or ethernet only; no G3 or G4 options
  • Styluses are easy-to-lose and expensive to replace
  • “Store” is very limited, heavy on games and light on productivity

Despite it’s flaws I find myself taking it everywhere.

Tom
Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he's also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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