In my review of the Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T Windows 8 tablet, I noted that the optional keyboard dock would be reviewed separately. This, of course, is due to the fact that the two items are sold separately, and one could conceivably use the tablet without a dock. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend it. Adding a dock to the mix turns a tablet from a consumption device into a production device, making it infinitely more useful. Unfortunately, for as great as the Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T Keyboard Dock is, it’s also somewhat frustrating.
Samsung’s optional keyboard dock is strange in that it feels sturdy, yet also inexplicably flimsy. For $130, you sure don’t get much compared to the docks for competing devices like the Asus VivoTab RT. The size of the keyboard feels great and the two additional USB ports are nice, but that’s about the extent of it. The keys are somewhat loud, the touchpad is frustrating, and the plastic doesn’t feel nearly as nice as the one used on the Ativ Smart PC 500T itself. It’s also roughly the same weight as the tablet it connects to, despite the fact that it doesn’t include an additional battery. This might sound overly negative, but the drop in quality and attention to detail when comparing the tablet to its docking accessory is noticeable. That being said, the keyboard dock is still a pretty darn useful accessory.
Before snapping the tablet into the dock, you’ll need to remove the plugs from the bottom of the tablet. The connection between the two devices is usually pretty sturdy, but there have been a few instances where they didn’t actually connect together even after I’d put a decent amount of pressure on the top of the tablet. Other times, the tablet just couldn’t detect the connection in general. Thankfully, these issues only seem to occur a small percentage of the time. To disconnect the tablet from the dock, just press down on the button in the center and pull upward.
Once the tablet and dock are connected, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish it from a regular laptop. It has the works, from the power and number lock lights on the front edge (the former light duplicates the indicator next to the power button) to the clamshell-like design. I also really appreciated the additional USB 2.0 ports on the left and right sides, allowing you to connect up to three USB devices at once. Additionally, the dock moves the power plug from the bottom to the back of the left side.
In my review of the Asus VivioTab RT dock, I criticized how it covered up the Start button and didn’t automatically disable the virtual keyboard. Unfortunately, the Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T has the same flaws.
The design of the keyboard is relatively clean. With the exception of the function keys and the arrows, each Chiclet key has just a single white character printed on it. Some people will like this, while others will miss the shortcut hints provided by other keyboards. Samsung also decided against including dedicated keys for the Windows 8 Charms, which is ok in my book, since I rarely use them anyway.
The dock’s keys feel fine under your fingers, but they are noisy enough that I have been hesitant to type too fast in a class or meeting. The volume level isn’t too terrible when compared to some keyboards – my old Logitech G15 keyboard makes more noise, for example - but it still makes me somewhat self-conscious in a public setting.
My biggest complaint, however, is with the touchpad. Good laptop touchpads are few and far between, and Samsung’s definitely doesn’t fit into the elite category of excellent touchpads. The sensitivity is fine, but the feeling of your finger sliding across it could be much better. The left- and right-click buttons are especially clacky, and speed of two-finger scrolling could be a little more consistent. Additionally, while the touchpad supports edge gestures for switching apps, pulling up the Charms, and invoking the app bar, the small lip around the edge of the touchpad makes it difficult to get the positioning right. As a result, I found myself repeating edge gestures multiple times or accidentally activating them at the most inopportune moments.
Is the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T Keyboard Dock bad? Not really, no. It’s a passable dock, but it could be so much better; especially when compared to the tablet it’s designed to go along with. I am of the opinion that a keyboard dock - even a semi-disappointing one – is better than no dock at all, so I’d still recommend picking one up. But at $130, you won’t get nearly as much value for your dollar as competing accessories.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T Keyboard Dock retails for $129.99. The tablet review unit was provided to me by Intel as part of the company’s #IntelTablets #TabletCrew program, but the keyboard dock was purchased separately.