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Hands On: Samsung challenges the Surface Pro with Ativ Tab 3, ‘world’s thinnest tablet’

Highs

  • S Pen
  • Thin and light
  • Nice depth to keyboard keys
  • Keyboard case is bundled
  • Full Windows 8 with Office 2013

Lows

  • Laggy performance
  • Expensive
  • Smart Cover-like kickstand design isn't very useful
  • Limited to one viewing angle
At 8.2mm thin and weighing just 1.2 pounds, the Samsung Tab 3 is perfect for S Pen users looking for a Windows 8 laptop-like tablet that'll last a full workday.

The ultimate tablet needs to be thin and light so you won’t mind carrying it everywhere, last for well over a work day on battery, and be powerful enough to run full Windows 8 and all your existing software. Samsung’s latest attempt to meet our demanding mobile computing needs is the newly announced Ativ Tab 3 tablet. We got to spend a bit of time playing with a pre-production version of the device in New York City this afternoon. So how close does it come to meeting its ambitious ethos?

Software is king

Thanks to its Intel Atom Z2760 processor, the Samsung tablet is able to run full Windows 8 and full-featured programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Office 2013. In fact, it comes preloaded with Office 2013 Home & Student edition and a trial version of Adobe Elements, though we only spotted Photoshop on the sample device. 

As a member of the Samsung tablet family, it’s practically expected that the Ativ Tab 3 come with the S Pen, and it doesn’t disappoint on this front. The plastic digitizer slides right into the bottom right-hand corner of the slate (in landscape mode), just like on the Android-based Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet. Unlike other S Pen-equipped mobile devices, when you slide out the Ativ Tab 3’s S Pen, it didn’t launch the app launcher with relevant S Pen-friendly apps. It’s possible that this omission is because we were using a pre-production unit, so we won’t knock it just yet.

Samsung Ativ Tab 3_SNoteApp

That said, the device does come with the familiar S Pen-optimized apps like the latest version of S Note (as pictured above). The S Note on the Ativ Tab 3 loaded uncharacteristically slow. We could literally count to five before we even saw the screen with all the thumbnail-sized templates. We’ve never encountered this issue on any of the other Samsung device with the S Pen. Could the delay be attributed to the pre-release unit, or could it be that the device is powered by an Atom chip launched in late 2013? We’ll wait until Samsung releases a more consumer-ready unit before we can come to any definitive conclusion.

Inspired by Surface Pro and iPad

Samsung Ativ Tab 3_keyboard case

At just about 1.2 pounds, and 8.2mm thin, the Ativ Tab is light and easy to hold in one hand. Judging by the on-stage presentation of the Ativ Tab 3, the slate looks just like a bigger version of the Galaxy Note 8.0 with a 10.1-inch screen. But when we got the chance to see it in person with the bundled keyboard case, the device looks like a mashup of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet with the Apple Smart Cover for the iPad.

The keyboard case is made of plastic but features a textured design that feels good to hold in hand, plus it hides the fingerprint-prone glossy back cover of the slate. As you can see in the above photo, the Bluetooth keyboard is attached to the cover, which has plastic corners that grab onto the tablet. Although we didn’t get much time to type with the keyboard, the keys are suprisingly springy and offer quite a bit of depth. It feels like this keyboard would be comfortable to type with for long periods of time.

Samsung Ativ Tab 3_back with kickstand

Like the Surface Pro, the Ativ Tab 3 can be propped up with its own kickstand, but it is not built into the back cover of the slate like with the Microsoft device. Instead, this kickstand is more like a mini Smart Cover that is a part of the keyboard case. It snaps to the back of the keyboard case via built-in magnets. Although you can technically position the kickstand anywhere along the back cover, the flexible design isn’t strong enough to prop up the device in different angles, meaning there’s one viewing angle when in laptop mode.

We also found that when the slate is propped up on its flexible kickstand, we couldn’t slide out the S Pen because it is located in the bottom right corner of the device when in landscape mode. So if you want to use the digitizer, you need to slide it out from its slot before standing it up on a flat surface.

If you want to transition the slate from a mini-laptop into a tablet without removing its keyboard cover, you just have to fold back the keyboard. However, we found the keys did not automatically deactivate, so accidental key presses made it hard to use the device in keyboard mode. We hope Samsung will fix this bug before the Ativ Tab 3 hits stores this August.

Wi-Fi only and battery

When we took a tour around the device, we noticed it has a microSIM card slot next to the microSD card slot. We asked the Samsung representative about the potential for cellular connection on the Ativ Tab 3, and were told that only the global edition will have 4G LTE service. The U.S. version will be Wi-Fi only, at least for now. Samsung claims the Tab 3 boasts 8.5 hours of battery life, but we’ll have to test it ourselves to see if that’s really true. 

Conclusion

Although the Ativ Tab 3 we played with today still has some rough edges and is not quite ready for prime time, we fully expect Samsung to squish these relatively minor bugs before the device lands in stores some time this August. We’re not yet convinced that this device is worth $700, but for S Pen fans looking for a laptop-like tablet that can run full Windows 8, this might be worth the splurge.