Since November 2011, I’ve been using a Samsung Series 7 Slate (S7S) as my personal mobile machine. It’s a great computer and to this day I have no complaints about it. When Microsoft announced Surface Pro, it was the first machine to capture my interest enough to possibly move away from the S7S.
I picked up a 128GB Surface Pro on launch day from the Microsoft Store in Arlington, Va. and have been putting it through the paces. So far, it’s impressive on every level. This write-up is a comparison of the Series 7 Slate and Surface Pro based on how I use them. While comments from reviews and spec sheets help to give an idea of what to expect, I prefer to get my hands on a device and make my own decisions since your own use case is the only one that should matter in your purchasing choices.
First, on the topic of specs, these systems appear very similar on paper. This is the rundown from Microsoft’s built in performance assessment.
Series 7 Slate
Neither PC is a slouch when it comes to the internals with the S7S really just showing signs of its longer market availability in the slightly lower specs. Both have 128GB Solid State hard drives, but, I’ve moved the recovery partition from Surface to external media while the S7S still has 20GB reserved for one which accounts for the additional space available.
For the externals, without the covers on, Surface pro is very, very slightly thicker than the S7S. It’s not enough to notice in the hand and barely noticeable in pictures. When in the cases though, the Samsung case / stand adds a little more size than Surface Pro with a touch cover and becomes the slightly larger one.
Now, on to the actual usage.
Of course the first thing you need to do with any computer is turn it on. Cold booting the S7S takes a mere 15 seconds to get to the logon screen. While that is impressive, Surface Pro is up and ready to use in just 10 seconds! This is important in those situations where you may be between periods of use and want to maximize battery conservation but be able to hop back to it in a moments’ notice. I only use the sleep mode during meetings where I need it to be instant-on for note taking and both support that with no lag, otherwise it’s either on or off. By the way, disabling hibernation and removing the hiberfil.sys is another way to free up a few more GB of precious space (3.1GB in my case).
From that point forward Surface continues to shine, moving faster than the S7S in every aspect from launching apps in either the Desktop or Metro interfaces to rendering webpages and everything in between. During testing I intentionally tapped the apps on the S7S a split second before Surface and in every instance Surface was faster. Of course, if it wasn’t faster that would be disappointing considering the newer processor it has. The S7S does not disappoint, Surface just impresses in a way that you can see.
Speaking of things you can see, the screen on Surface Pro is another key differentiator. The max screen resolution on Surface Pro is 1920×1080 and with a 10.6 inch screen, this results in great clarity. Text is easily readable and even at 100% zoom there’s no perceivable pixelization. With a max resolution of 1366×768 the S7S still looks great on its 11.6 in screen and you really have to get close to see blemishes in the text. They both have great color reproduction and are easily readable outside but Surface has the edge here with a brighter display, deeper blacks, and a wider viewing angle.
One of my key uses for PCs in this form factor during the work day is note taking. I haven’t carried a paper notebook for over a year and a half but have notes from every meeting / idea / or briefing I’ve attended always at my disposal in OneNote. While MS hasn’t specified the technology used to drive the digitizer, it supports 1,024 levels of pressure which is on par with entry level Wacom devices. The S7S is equipped with a Wacom digitizer and all Wacom pens are compatible with it. This gives a great feel that you’re writing exactly where you place the pen on whatever digital surface you’re putting ink on. Signing .pdf documents without having to print them is a huge benefit for me. You can review and mark up Word docs, draw your designs by hand in Visio, or create whatever you desire Fresh Paint, Sketchbook Express, and anything else that supports digital ink. Considering the price of a Cintiq tablet, either of these may serve the purpose of a relatively inexpensive way for artists to get their hands on a digital canvas. Some have noted that pressure sensitivity is an early issue in PhotoShop and Microsoft has already confirmed an update is in the works to resolve that problem.
For us office type workers, we also have options such as remote access. Connecting to the office over VPN is a breeze since both of these systems run Windows. The kickstand and covers give Surface a considerable edge in this aspect though. While there are very nice cases available for the S7S, none of them have an integrated keyboard and when doing real work typing away on a virtual just doesn’t cut it for most of us. Of course, you can always bring along your favorite Bluetooth or USB keyboard and mouse if you like, but, that’s more stuff in your bag. Propping Surface up wherever you chose to sit and simply flipping the cover down to get to work is a killer feature and can only be appreciated after having used both options for a while. Having tried both, I actually prefer the touch cover option with my Surface but many like the tactile feel of the type cover for getting things done. Like I said in the beginning, make the decision based on your own use case, there is no wrong answer.
Once you’re done with work and want to kick back with some entertainment, there’s no need to swap to another device, both are still great machines. Due to the better display, Surface is a better device for reading but not exactly for holding. The angled design of the case is intended to allow users to hold it comfortably from either portrait or landscape orientations. While I get what they were after, I do prefer the feel of the rounded S7S here. The angled case is not a problem I just like the rounded edge better.
Moving on from reading to videos is as simple as tapping another app. Watching videos either locally stored or streamed is no problem for either computer and at the highest quality settings both cruise along without a hiccup. Comments about screen and comfort carry over here in lock step.
Sound quality is slightly better from Surface Pro, likely due to the different speaker location. It’s not going to shake your desk or anything but as long as you have realistic expectations it will satisfy them. Keep in mind, these are small speakers on a small devices, when attached to external sources they are predictably better and kick out sound as good as whatever your driving.
Finally, while these systems are not designed to be gaming computers, they can support the fun as well as many laptops out there today. Running Windows 8 means they have full access to the titles found in the Windows Store and considering the vast majority of those titles are able to run on Windows RT with ARM processors it’s no surprise that neither of these systems had a problem with anything I’ve found in the store so far. For the less casual gamer, there are options like Steam out there where you can get your hands on the latest and greatest titles but you may wonder if a slate PC can run them. So far with the ones I’ve tested, yes! I’ll expand on the gaming aspect over time since this is first and foremost a device I bought to do work on, but, while testing it out I installed Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and ran a couple of rounds. The S7S did take a little longer to get started and I did have some slight choppiness when all of the sprites were onscreen but it was completely playable. Surface, on the other hand, knocked it out of the park. I posted a video on YouTube using only the touch cover as keyboard and mouse and while that’s likely the worst configuration for gaming I can think of, it worked. Using a different mouse, a Xbox controller, or anything else would make this a viable option for playing on the go!
The biggest con of a computer in this form is battery life. These things are not tablets and they are not going to last from dusk to dawn without a little help. Those of us who are interested in these should be well aware of that before jumping in. Running both computers at the “High Performance” with 100% brightness setting in Power Options off the juice, I saw the biggest difference in results. Surface squeezed out the advertised 4 hours before throwing the first notification that my battery was low. After that notification, set to pop up at 10% remaining battery, it still went for another 30 min before putting itself to sleep. The S7S did not fare nearly as well with the 10% notification coming up at the 2 hour mark and 15 min later it was done. While off the charger, I also did quite a bit more with Surface during that time. This includes drafting a document in Word, watching a couple of YouTube videos, and some general web surfing. I played around with Smartglass and Xbox Music for a while and also did a couple of minutes on Skype. I flipped through pictures stored on my desktop, played around with Fresh Paint a little and launched all kinds of stuff from the Metro interface just to see how it handled it. The S7S was largely just standing by waiting for me to do something with it so actual use may have been lower. In either case, these are not the settings I’d use during the work day and expect to be able to stretch the life a while longer just by not trying to kill it. I’ve carried the S7S to work every day while leaving the charger at home for months and never ran into battery life issues so I doubt Surface will be a problem there either.
If someone were to ask me if they should upgrade from the S7S for Surface Pro, the only good answer I can give is “maybe”. If you’re looking simply for improved performance and not interested in the things like a kickstand or the touch / type covers, Surface isn’t a huge upgrade from the S7S and you’ll likely be happy sticking with the existing device. For me though, it’s an absolute yes. I’ve been very happy with my S7S and feel that Samsung shorted themselves by not promoting that computer better than they did, Microsoft did not make that same mistake. Surface Pro is everything they have advertised it to be so far. It covers the roles of laptop, tablet, and digital notebook all rolled into one very portable, very capable device.
I’ve posted a couple of pictures of the two here, click the image to view them on Skydrive:
Microsoft Surface Pro- http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-us/surface-with-windows-8-pro/home
Samsung Series 7 Slate- http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/tablet-pcs/XE700T1A-A03US
Counter-Strike on Surface Pro YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X05HHnid4o
After carrying Surface Pro around for a while now, I’ve changed my tune on the angled sides. While the weight is just about the same as a Series 7 Slate, it feels more portable. While walking it doesn’t feel cumbersome at all and it seems the sides help it rest more naturally in the hand.