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Samsung XE500t Atom Powered Windows 8 Tablet review

I’ve been researching these Atom powered Windows 8 tablets for a bit now. I last posted about the new Windows tablets and discovered the Atom category of tablets I didn’t even know existed. It’s really hard to figure out whether these Atom powered devices are going to be good enough for your needs (vs a Core i3/I5) without actually buying one and trying it. So after all my research I jumped in.

So my must haves were:
– NOT Windows RT :). That way I have compatibility across the board.
– USB on the go support for use with keyboard/mouse/data stick, preferrably a full size port. Has to be possible to use it while charging.
– HDMI output preferrably using a standard connector
– microSD slot (or SD slot).
– ability to choose to add a docking station/keyboard
– a pen would be nice but not a must for me, I’m not sure how much I’d use it.

Being an atom all these devices are ALL limited to USB2, 32bit Windows 8, and 2G of storage. It’s a platform limitation.
Some info on the atom used in all these devices or if you’d rather directly from the horses … Intel. Or the complete data sheet for your reading pleasure :). Yes I’m an engineer.

What am I trying to do with this device?
Surf the web, do emails, watch 1080p movies including on a large screen, maybe some ebook reading. Basically replace my ageing Dell Lattitude D620 that overheats, is noisy and heavy on my lap.

So there were three devices I looked at. None are Windows RT
Asus ME400
I really like the feel of this device. From an ultra portable it is light (580g) and small (10.1″ display). A very pleasant experience. If I was only ever going to use this as a tablet this would be hands down my choice. An excellent travel companion. BUT it got thrown out for a number of reasons. First and foremost there are only two ports on the device. A microHDMI port (I think it’s proprietary, maybe a pigtail?) and microUSB port that doubles as the charging port. This means your either doing USB OTG or charging. Right off the bat this rules it out. It means I can’t use a USB data stick and have it plugged in at the same time. Second the microUSB means you would need a USB OTG pigtail (comes with it) to connect anything. A pain. And lastly there is no chance of a docking station. So keyboard and mouse will be by bluetooth. So using this on my lap as a laptop replacement is going to be clumsy. Something I learned with my Android tablet. Price is very good. Battery is suppose to be 6760mAH which they claim will yield up to 8.5 hours. Overall a nice device but not something I could live with, it won’t meet my needs.

Acer Iconia W510
This device also has a 10.1 display but comes with a keyboard/dock (optionally). Without the dock it is also 580g, 1260g with. The keyboard/dock have an additional battery in it to give even better battery life jumping from 2540 mAH up to 5080 mAH giving you 9 and 18 hours of battery life! It also has a full size USB port as well as a power connector making it almost complete as a dock (no HDMI, it’s on the tablet). The device appears to be well made with Gorilla glass up front and lots of aluminium to protect the device. Ports are good with micro USB (you get the USB OTG pigtail with the device), microHDMI and microSD slot. Reading reviews the device gets absolutely slammed for a keyboard that is so small it’s hard to use, a trackpoint that is completely unusable, and oddly one reviewer noted very poor performance on the built in 64G of flash. I mean REALLY bad. I only saw this on one report so no idea if it is true or not. But it was enough to scare me off. That and I am concerned that the smaller screen may not meet my needs for the main purpose of the device, a laptop replacement.

Samsung XE500t
This was the one I chose:
This device is much larger at 11.6″ display and 761g. The overall device is very plasticy. It’s not going to be anywhere near as impressive in the hand, or as durable as the other two. Battery size is 4080 mAH which they claim will yield up to 10 hours. I got 9 hours on my first day. I find it odd how such a large variation in battery size between these three seem to have little to no bearing on battery life. Maybe how they test it. Who knows. The device is VERY responsive. Actually all three were. The screens respond well to touch. I have to say the experience on the tablets finally finds a home where Metro actually makes some sense. While you need to relearn how you do things it is actually reasonably fluid! Panning, zooming, browsing are actually quite a pleasant experience. Movie playback so far is quite reasonable even 1080p movies but HD really depends on the encode. I found heavily compressed ones were a little less than perfect.

Physically the device has a microSD slot, a full size USB port (on the top of the unit making it convenient), a standard microHDMI connector, standard 3.5 mm audio plug and a proprietary round power plug. Because these are all standard there is next to nothing in the box. A power adapter and a few manuals. That’s it. From a button point of view the unit has a volume up/down, rotation lock, windows button, and a power button.

Speaking of the power adapter we come to one of my dislikes about the device. This round barrel plug is proprietary, doesn’t feel that good when you plug it in, and doesn’t put out enough juice to charge this up quickly. I wonder how long this plug is going to last. I guess we will see. I would have preferred a standard micro USB charger. But you can’t always get what you want 🙂

It was shocking even to me the number of upgrades that were needed to the device. Windows updates, Samsung updates, Driver updates. It seemed to go on for quite a while. And the unfortunate thing is that this device is extraordinarily slow when it’s installing anything. Updates etc. And to make matters worse plug a new device in for the first time and this is an absolutely painful experience that will tax even the most patient person. Think 5-10 mins to install new drivers. And amusingly if it goes into standby the install process halts. So if you have a long install like updating Windows for the first be sure and change the power settings to stay on so it actually will complete! And the updates just keep coming. Which seems to imply that Samsung is VERY active at resolving issues customers are having. A very good sign, but also a statement of just how new these devices really are. Samsung have done a nice job of including a software update tool that updates everything all in one. Drivers, BIOS, Windows etc. Very nice!

This device has the fastest of the 3 tablets 1.8GHZ Atom Vs 1.5 for the other 2. Not sure how much of a difference it makes. But heh it can’t hurt right 🙂

I’ve played around with HDMI output on countless Android phones and tablets and while they work and are usable they just aren’t perfect. Playback of MP4 videos on a dual core device is touchy, sometimes the HDMI doesn’t start, problems with screen orientation and turning off, it just isn’t there as a perfect solution. And I’ve spent a good deal of time (and money) trying to make this work.

I am positively thrilled with HDMI on this device. I might even go so far as to say shocked. The HDMI monitor shows up as a second monitor and you can set it up anyway you want. Including full 1080p video. It’s crisp, smooth and just plain works. I set the HDMI output as the only monitor so that way movies being played, XBMC whatever just go there. And it is amazing.

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On some of the devices the keyboard dock has a spare battery. Not in this one. The dock has a VERY usable keyboard that has nice feel and placement. Like any laptop keyboard it takes some getting use to with the different layout but it’s quite good. It includes a trackpoint, and while I’m not a lover of trackpoints, it works fine. I wish more would adopt the IBM style pointer stick. I prefer it, am quite good with it and it takes up less space. I know I am in the minority here. It also has two full size USB ports and a power port. The mating system between the tablet and dock is quite good and rigid. It is well designed, well built and solid. Even more so than the tablet iself. You can then use this device like a netbook. I have to say I love this accessory. The device is almost like two totally different devices with and without it. Without the dock the tablet gets used with the touch interface. With this attached it’s just like a netbook with a keyboard you can actually type on! The dock sells as a $100 model increment, or $129 from Samsung as an add on. I highly recommend this accessory. Love it. The dock isn’t light, I couldn’t find the spec for it, but it does add some weight to the device for sure. Probably almost the same weight as the device itself.

This device comes with a limited 64G of internal storage. You need to be aware that this is shared with Windows. So when it boots your looking at around 30G free. I immediately removed Norton Internet security (and added back Windows Defender that is built into Windows 8), Microsoft Office Trial and Adobe Acrobat. The device seemed more sluggish with Norton there. Samsung included the version of Adobe reader that includes all languages taking over 400MB Vs the <20MB single language edition. Bits are bits. And they are precious on this device.

Now there is a microSD slot that you can use that includes support for exFAT, FAT32 and NTFS. 64G cards are supported (yes I tried it), so that means SDXC, as are class 10 cards. So this ought to be compatible with larger cards as they become available. Now Windows recognizes the microSD card as a removable device. This is worth noting because it means you can not use it (by default) for program storage. Oddly Windows Video/Picture/Music libraries will NOT allow you to add removable storage. This is a bizarre over sight and dramatically limits how the microSD card can be used. This also means the built in Video/Picture/Music apps can’t be used for content on the micro SD card. You also won’t be able to share out the content on the uSD card to your homegroup. The help file for windows says explicitly: What type of locations can be included in libraries? “On removable media (such as a CD or DVD), or a network-attached storage (NAS) device … No.” Bizarre. I even tried creating a symbolic link and it still said it wasn’t allowed 😦 So I finally found the solution. You go into disk management (under computer management) and delete the drive letter. Then create a directory on the C drive. Then mount the SD card under this blank drive letter and your done! You can then also use it to install programs but be aware that uSD cards are quite a bit slower than internal storage. Also since you no longer have the ability to do safe removes your probably going to want to be careful about removing the card especially if there is anything important on it. Maybe even only remove it when the device is powered off. As a reference my class 10 card yelds about 21MB/s Vs 70 MB/s for the internal storage. So if you choose to use uSD storage for programs you need to be aware of the speed difference.

sdcard

drive-path

Speaking of Homegroup, in spite of being on a network where a home group existed Windows created a new one with the Microsoft logon and ignored the existing one. Without asking. Fortunately this was easily fixed by removing it from new homegroup and then added it to the existing one. Still odd behaviour in a world where we are suppose to be sharing everything.

Connectivity options for this device are very good. The full windows this device runs opens up a world of possibilities Android can only dream of. I added my USB Media center remote and it worked like a charm. Add in the HDMI output and this device works just fine as a media device. Oddly it won't let me add Windows Media center to it. I have no idea why.

Tethering worked perfectly for my S3 for both Bluetooth and WIFI. Once paired you can initiate the Bluetooth tethering (assuming you have enabled it on the phone, and remember this reset each and every time after a reboot, lastly remember bluetooth ends up limiting the connection to 1MB/s) by right clicking on top of the phone in the devices and selecting connect using access point. For some reason USB tethering would not work. It never got an IP address. And by the way turning on USB tethering turns off MTP file level access to the phone from the tablet. An Android limitation. Bluetooth is tethering is slower but has better power consumption.
bluetooth

Metro (the name for the tiled interface of Windows 8) works well with this tablet. Frankly IMHO it demands a touch screen. I am TOTALLY shocked how many vendors are completely ignoring Metro. Google, facebook etc. The positive is that you can run normal non Metro apps on this device (unlike Windows RT devices where you can not). There isn’t even a way to display basic information like battery status and time of day in a tile.

One of the things I never did with Android is internet banking. I frankly don’t trust the platform. No anti virus and a market place filled with adware programs. This is paranoia I do admit. But none the less it’s my paranoia. Might as well own it. No issues on this device (for me). It’s a PC!

The Windows key at the bottom will also wakew up the device. This is good and bad. It’s convenient but it also leads to the device waking up when in a case. Unfortunately I don’t see a way to turn this off. Shame the button isn’t more depressed so that doesn’t happen accidentally, but this admittedly is a nit pick.

Windows 8 really wants to use a Windows live account for logon. It’s amusing Android needs a Google account. If you don’t use a Windows live account each MS ap from games to the Store etc will want you to enter the account. Not exactly convenient. So I gave in and am using a Live account. I did encounter one limitation of this, Skype has integrated sign on with that account and no way to over ride it. I have a Skype account from before it was part of MS so the two aren’t coupled. So you need to go onto your Skype account on the website and link these accounts.

The US version of this device includes an S-Pen (and a place to put it) and a digitizer (no idea if there is a premium for it). Sadly the Canadian version does not. And I tried my capacitive pen that works fine on my S3 and no joy that won’t work either. A shame. Not sure how much I’d use it, but a shame to not have the option.

Specs say this device has a GPS. The MS Maps aps seemed to be able to make some use of it and I found an app in the Store that would talk to it and get location but oddly not elevation so no idea if this is somehow a limited GPS or what? And no idea what other aps might be able to make use of it. I tried a bluetooth GPS but got nowhere with it.

The Windows 8 Metro Kindle app is nice and works nicely on touch but I can’t seem to find a way to side load my own content. So the easy solution to that is to install the Windows 7 desktop app where content can easily be added.

XBMC presented a number of challenges. First it wouldn’t play at all (distorted video playback). I found an article that explained how to fix this by disabling DXVA2 and enabling DXVA. This helped. But for some reason XBMC was always rescaling the movies to play full screen and choking on that. So a 720p movie played badly on a 1080 screen. Audio came out of the laptop instead of the HDMI port so that too had to be changed. All in all there were a lot off issues with XBMC. Movie playback from within XBMC was some times jerky while the same file would play fine using the native video player. So XBMC is less than perfect. Somewhat expected.

I’ve read that some models of these devices do not sleep properly when the display is closed on the keyboard. This one works perfectly and sleeps and resume as it should.

Performance:
WiFi caps out at 4.5 MB/s Vs 5.6MB/s on my other laptop in the same situation. Oddly it linked in at only 65Mb/s even when right next to the access point, while my other laptop linked in at 100 Mb/s quite a distance from the router. The SDIO implementation of the WIFI could be a limiting factor to the speed of WIFI. According to this article theoretical max of SDIO is 100Mb/s while proactically it’s more like 40Mb/s. This could be a limiter in things like tethered LTE connections.

I measured 60-70MB/s off the internal storage (I had trouble getting a stable performance number). While not horrible it’s not as good as it could be. Likely limited by the chipset eMMC interface at 100MB/s.

I had some difficulty finding a case for the tablet. I found a case for a 13″ MacBook at TheSource that is basically a neoprene case with no protection but does have handles. I found a nice hard cover iPad like case with adjustable angles on Amazon from Asuxtek:
41fAKAgiYwL._AA300_

Summary:
In the end I really like the device. As you delve into the design you come to realize the compromises that were made for this format and the implications they have. You have to decide for yourself whether this device will do what you want it to. I ended up finding no hands down show stoppers that made me return this device. All the while knowing there is a faster, more competent device out there (Surface pro and the like) albeit at a much higher price, lower battery life and heavier. What this device does is offer reasonable performance, light(er) weight, and better battery life. Given I have this device I have no idea if/why I would choose an Android tablet other than the better portability of a 7″. I can really see these carving out a niche for themselves. I can’t wait to see when more of them hit the market, even more innovation and prices come down!

Update:
I’ve recently discovered a bug or problem on my device. The unit is consuming a fair amount of power when it is suppose to be “Sleeping”. It turns out MS invented a new state for these tablet devices called Connected Stand by. A number of the tablets are consuming a lot more power than they should be in this state. Here are a couple articles about Connected Standby if you want to read about it. One from Intel and another from Microsoft. According to spec to meet Microsoft requirements “Connected Standby systems must drain less than 5% of system battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period”. Mine was drawing 5-10% per hour. Meaning if left over night it was basically dead. I found this article very helpful in finding and resolving issues. It also recommends changes to the power settings to keep the battery from completely draining which is hard on it. The conditions Microsoft describe in their spec are really quite specific. It reminds me of the whole EPA MPG … your mileage may vary 🙂

With my tweaks I’m down to around 1% per hour in connected standby. Not perfect but quite an improvement. Being connected to the dock brings that number up to around 5-6% per hour. To say this state is brittle is an under statement. Desktop aps can keep it from properly sleeping as can many things. Personally I would love to find a way to disable connected standby altogether and go back to good old standby.
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May 1, 2013 - Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, Uncategorized, Windows tablets

3 Comments »

  1. nice (and really long) review:)

    Comment by sean | May 2, 2013 | Reply

  2. Hi, I would like to subscribe for this blog to take latest updates, therefore where can i do
    it please help out.

    Comment by http://polskiglos.com/blogs/16/14/ideal-time-to-trade-the-currency | July 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Feel free to click on the RSS feed entry on the right side and add the feed to your favorite RSS reader. Thanks for the kind words. Feel free to share with your friends!

      Comment by johngalea | July 29, 2013 | Reply


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