When the iPad first came out, I was as stunned and impressed as anyone, and anxious to have one of my own. My wife is largely supportive of my gadget addictions, but regarding the iPad, didn’t understand where it would “fit in” as a necessity when I already had an iPhone, laptop and desktop computer. She didn’t get it, even when I tried explaining it to her. (I believe that may be because when I talk about electronics that excite me, most of what she actually hears is “wah, wah, wah….wah…wah, wah…” )
So, I thought that Steve Jobs may do a better job of explaining it than I could. The woman sat and watched the Keynote on the original iPad – all 1.5 hours of it! At the end, she said, “We’re BOTH getting one, and I want the same one YOU get!” And so, we got the iPads within about 10 days of their release, and have never looked back. When the iPad 2 came out, I upgraded, but she was happy with her original iPad. I never upgraded further than the iPad 2, but it went with me everywhere and became a staple of my gadget bag. (I still have to grin when I walk into the living room and see my wife on the couch with her laptop on her lap, and her iPad in her hands!)
I never planned to give up my iPad, and it was complete chance that brought me the ATIV. I had done no research in advance, other than to think that I wanted to be able to try one of the new Win8 tablets, but I didn’t think it would replace my iPad any more than the Galaxy Tab did when I got that to check out an Android tablet.
But, nearly from the moment I powered on the ATIV for the first time, I’ve been in love. Not because it’s perfect and that everything runs smoothly and problem free. (Hello…it IS still Windows based after all!) In some ways, it’s pretty challenging, but in ways that I never expected, it is ultimately perfect for me!
Yes, iOS is more stable, “cooked” and refined than any Windows product will likely ever be. iOS, is well…iOS. Apple has a polish in their devices and software that really cannot be emulated. But, I don’t think that Samsung is trying to be an iPad with the ATIV.
So, what is the “it” factor for me?
1) Keyboard Dock
Yes, I know there are a ton of BT options for the iPad, but none of them really address the idea that when you are trying to use the tablet in “laptop” mode that it’s just a bit off. The mousing functions are non-existent and it feels unnatural to lift your hands off of the keyboard to tap on the screen. And one of my biggest pet peeves is just how hard it is to get the cursor where you want it when you are trying to work with text in iOS. With the ATIV, it works just as it does on any other Windows computer, and doesn’t feel in any way like a “work around” to try to accomplish simple word processing or spreadsheet functions.
The dock uses a physical connection between the tablet and the dock, so it doesn’t need a special case or stand to make it work or to be in the “proper” position while using it. That may not seem like much too some people, but after having used several BT keyboards (and even a BT mouse for about an hour – that never really worked) with the iPad, it’s like realizing that you’ve been holding your breath for a long time and exhaling in relief. It’s astounding just how much of a difference that makes for me!
2) Full USB Ports
You get 1 USB 2.0 port on the tablet itself and 2 additional ones with the keyboard dock. (The Atom processor can only use USB 2) They are all fully powered ports, so I can use an external DVD drive, thumb drives, external HDD’s and sync/charge my iPhone from any or all of the ports. You can even run a USB hub from any of the ports if you really wanted too. I tried that before I got the keyboard dock, just to see what would work and what wouldn’t. I didn’t find anything that didn’t work from the USB port like it should.
3) MicroSD Card Slot
I would actually have preferred that this slot was a full size SD slot, as it would make a few things easier, and can take larger cards than 64GB, but I’m not complaining! I can add an SD card reader to the USB port, and not have to remove my MicroSD card from it’s slot. The now limitless memory (by being able to swap out MicroSD cards, or use any combination of SD cards, thumb drives or external HDD’s make the non-upgradeable 64GB (about 30GB available to the user) onboard memory of the ATIV much less challenging. I don’t have to worry about picking and choosing content before I leave on a trip, and being stuck with my choices until I get home again.
Previously, I was satisfied with the 64GB on my iPad, but now never having to worry about hitting a memory cap, I realized how constrained I felt with the limited and non-expandable memory on the iPad. Sure, there were some work-arounds again, like using the USB iPad Connection kit, and putting all of your movies into a DCIM file to copy them to the iPad by “tricking” it into thinking they were videos taken by a camera of one variety or another. But those really are work-arounds, and not having to worry about things like that freed me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.
One of my long time gripes about the iPad (and all capacitive touch screens) is that it’s fine for tapping, but trying to get anything that resembles actual handwriting is actually nearly impossible, and when you try, it feels like you’re trying to use the fat crayons from kindergarten. I know there are some people with artistic talent that can use a variety of software and create very impressive works of electronic art, but I’m not one of them. I just wanted to be able to write on the screen in my own handwriting without feeling like I was trying to finger paint.
The pressure sensitive Wacom enabled S-Pen does just that. The added length of the ATIV’s screen when held in portrait mode is also quite cool, since it gives you much more length to write or take notes. I haven’t tried converting my handwriting to text, or even really spent that much time on this feature yet, but knowing that it’s there, ready and waiting for me, is amazing!
You can also use any capacitive stylus as well, so you aren’t giving up any features to gain the use of the Wacom pen.
On the ATIV there is a silo for the S-Pen, so I’m also not leaving it somewhere or having to go digging around for it when I want to use it.
5) Software vs. Apps
I don’t know that anyone else makes this particular distinction any more, but in my head, Software is what runs on Windows 8 in desktop mode, and Apps are what run in the Metro / Modern UI, as well as on iOS and Android devices. Apps are usually “lighter” and utilize fewer resources, and often cost less than software. But, it’s the choice that makes the difference for me. Being able to use MS Office 2010 Professional with no work-arounds, is nothing short of awesome. Throw in some other of my personal “go-to” software, like Snag-It for screen captures and light photo editing, means that I don’t have to learn how to do the things that I like to do in a different way, or use different apps that may not have as many features as I’d like.
But I also like the option to use apps, because many of them are small and both easy to use and finger friendly, and do one thing (say simple photo editing) very well.
In my experience so far, the Atom processor is not great with games that run in the desktop mode. Some work, but far fewer than you would think, even for simple games like hidden object or Match-3 types.
If you use Gamehouse for your game purchases and are contemplating upgrading or switching to Win8, be afraid…very afraid! They have a list of games that are supposedly compatible with Win8, but thus far not 1 will open on the ATIV. Their support department doesn’t seem to care, and they’ve pretty much said that their customers are SOL without just buying new games. The fact that their games don’t run on the Win8 tablets doesn’t seem to bother them either. Wild Tangent has many of the same games in their catalog and you have the option of getting them from the Windows Store, but I haven’t tried to use them. I don’t like having to buy games I’ve already paid for to use them on the same platform! So, I don’t know why the Gamehouse versions will not work. I suspect it has something to do with their anti-piracy/activation/download system, but cannot confirm that with any certainty.
There aren’t tons of game options yet in the Windows store either, but the ones that are there and show the X-Box logo seem to be well done and easy to run. I haven’t tried a lot of games yet from the Windows Store that don’t have the X-Box logo on them, so I can’t really say how some of the smaller developers are doing with those kinds of games.
On iOS, there are work-arounds that will let you use some network printers if you really try hard, but they are not consistent. Bluetooth printers are also not a 100% certainty for being able to print either. And, not everything in iOS is set up to let you print it either, like a web page. The option to just print a web page is something I do often enough with my computers that not being able to do it with the iPad, always made me feel its limitations.
Now, I can install a local printer via USB and have a dedicated printer, including all AIO features like scanning or faxing if I want to. I can also easily install the drivers (using an external DVD drive or thumb drive OR downloading them from the web) for whatever printer I choose. I’m not limited to just a few printers from 1 or 2 makers to get only partial compatibility.
Sure, I can use the camera on the iPad to take a picture of something instead of scanning, but there are times that just doesn’t accomplish what you need it to do.
So, what doesn’t the ATIV do as well as an iPad? So far, it’s not as media friendly as the iPad. Viewing photos, movies, music or audiobooks is nowhere near as easy or instinctive as in iOS. Most media is set up to open by default with a Metro/Modern application. Unfortunately, few of them actually work to open the files.
Movies are supposed to open by default with an X-Box player, which so far is not compatible with any format or video that is not downloaded through the app. The S-Video (Samsung’s video player) works better and will open and play the files, but since I relocated my “My Videos” folder to my MicroSD card, I have to navigate to that folder manually every time, and choose the file I want. There doesn’t seem to be any way for them to show up in the library or to have the app retain the location information for my files. It’s certainly not insurmountable, but it IS annoying. In desktop mode, I have no problem opening any or all video files with Windows Media Player, or with iTunes. It’s a bit of a tradeoff, not being able to watch videos from the Metro/Modern UI, but I’m sure this will get fixed with an update soon enough, or someone will make an app that works better than the 2 options I currently have.
I don’t spend a ton of time with music personally, so I haven’t done much to see how the music apps work or if they have the same limitations as the videos do.
The Metro/Modern Photos app also has some glitches. Photos are set to open by default with the Metro/Modern Photo app. But when I open a folder within the app that has 60 photos in it, and want to swipe my way through them, only about 20 show up. I’m not sure what it is about the app that makes it not “see” all of the photos. But, if I use Windows Photo Viewer, they’re all there with no problem. They just don’t look quite as large or crisp as the Photos app displays them. It’s a trade off again, for now.
Internet Explorer has a bit of a “quirk” as well. You can ONLY use the IE Metro/Modern app if IE is set as the default browser. As a long time Firefox user, this chafes a bit! But, even in desktop mode Firefox is not quite totally “finger friendly” yet. Often, you cannot scroll with finger flicks…you just wind up highlighting text rather than scrolling. That is annoying as heck, since the scroll bar is sooo tiny that it’s really hard to “grab” with a finger. Even using the S-Pen for more precision is hard. Pinching in and out to zoom in or out of a page is also very laggy and is often seconds behind your actions, so resizing a window is very challenging. I know Mozilla is supposedly working on a Metro/Modern app for Win8, but until that’s ready for prime time, I’m using IE, which is very responsive to finger taps, scrolling and resizing. The Metro/Modern app is also quite nice and easy to use. But, when I want to use Firefox where all of my bookmarks are synced and whatnot, I have to be prepared to use the keyboard or a mouse to aid in navigation.
At the end of the day, most of my issues are related to Windows 8, rather than with the ATIV. And, I have every confidence that those glitches will be worked out easily enough in the end. The Metro/Modern UI apps are not all completely ready to go on machines that are not using Windows RT. Win8 or Win8 Pro users will find themselves using more desktop software to accomplish tasks until the Metro/Modern apps “grow up” a bit.
But I can be patient while I wait, because I can use my desktop software to do what I want to do, AND I’ve gained the ability to use handwriting, add unlimited memory, print wherever and whatever I want to and use any USB accessory I can desire.
The only time that I’ve even picked up my iPad since I got the ATIV, was to restore it and give it to my wife! I was afraid that I would miss it, so took about 10 days before I was willing to give it up, but honestly, I haven’t missed it one little bit! I guess at the end of the day, I really am a Windows girl!
Now, if only someone could come up with a nice case for the ATIV! I hate having it naked!