I think the folks at Samsung might finally agree with me. I’ve been writing that PC activities are filtering down into tablets and large smartphones for the past few years and now the company has new slates that ease the transition. Samsung introduced four new tablets in the NotePro and TabPro series as it looks to beef up the productivity aspects of its device lineup.
I had a chance to spend some time with the devices, but before my first impressions, here’s a run-down of the new tablets Samsung is debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show. All of them share the same 2560 x 1600 screen resolution, are bundled with up to $700 in premium content from publishing partners and run Android 4.4 with Samsung’s Magazine UX seen on previous Note products.
A 12.2-inch NotePro. By traditional standards, this is a large slate with a 16:10 aspect ratio. A Wi-Fi model is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa chip while an LTE version uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800. It is the only new model that comes with Samsung’s SPen and it includes 3 GB of RAM, either 32 or 64 GB of storage and runs for around 10 hours on a charge. The slate weighs 750 grams and is 7.95 millimeters thick.
A trio of TabPros in 8.4, 10.1 and 12.2 inches. None of these include a digital SPen and they all generally share the same internals; again they use chips from either Samsung or Qualcomm. The largest model has 3GB RAM while the 8.4 and 10.1-inch version drop to 2 GB of memory. All have 8 megapixel rear cameras and 2 megapixel front facing cameras. Weight and thickness for each, from smallest to largest is 331 grams / 7.2 millimeters; 469 grams / 7.63 millimeters; 732 grams / 7.95 millimeters.
Essentially, with the TabPro, Samsung is offering very comparable tablets in three different sizes while the NotePro adds the SPen functionality. Productivity software is pre-installed: Cisco WebEx, Dropbox, and Samsung e-Meeting, for example. The larger slates benefit from the bigger screen with support for up to four apps running simultaneously on the display instead of just two.
So how do these work? Overall, they’re pretty impressive. The displays are among the best, if not the best, I’ve seen on tablets: vivid color and razor-sharp clarity. For reference, all of the tablets have the same resolution as Apple’s MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display laptop and higher resolution than any other tablet I can think of with one exception: This is the same resolution as the Nexus 10 tablet.
The added real estate of the 12.2 inch tablets work well for two, three or four apps at once. It’s relatively easy to resize those apps as well; just tap and hold the four corners where they meet for example and drag your finger to resize them all. You can adjust individual app sizes as well. Data can be shared via cut and paste across all four apps. I have to commend Samsung on the multi-app approach that started with the Galaxy Note 2; using it on a bigger screen makes it more “PC-like” which is a good thing.
Samsung reworked its software keyboard to improve the experience and it’s pretty good; at least in my limited testing. The haptic feedback is accurate and word prediction appears solid. I noticed one issue though and it’s not specific to Samsung: Software keyboards typically cover half of the screen in landscape mode. Samsung said it understood my concern and noted that it will have a keyboard accessory. This will be a plain universal Bluetooth keyboard at launch — it doesn’t dock with the tablets — but the company says it is working with third-party keyboard makers.
Another interesting accessory that points back to a heritage of PCs is a small USB dock cable. It adds a few USB ports as well as a wired Internet jack if needed. Samsung also has a series of covers that work with the slates to protect the displays and stand the devices up.
Samsung also mentioned but wasn’t able to demonstrate an interesting connectivity feature: Combining signals from the Wi-Fi and LTE radios to speed up mobile broadband. It sounds like wireless channel bonding or a similar approach and I’d like to see in action.
I can see where Samsung is going with the new tablets. And in many ways it taps the right notes for a traditional computing experience on a tablet: multiple apps running at once, enterprise level security with Samsung Knox, remote PC access and video-conferencing capabilities. And all of this is available on a high-resolution tablet that can run Android apps or be used for content consumption as a lean-back device.
At 12.2 inches, it’s a bit of a compromise though.
It’s the “right” size to get things done but is it too big for casual tablet use? That’s hard to say although the tablet is as light as it likely can be. Regardless, the company continues to evolve its Magazine UX for tablets, still works with hundreds of thousands of Android apps and can be used for light duties typically reserved for a traditional computer. If nothing else, Samsung is maturing the concept of what a post PC device can do, even as it remembers the legacy of PC computing.