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Posted on October 26th, 2012 by Barry Collins

Working with a Windows 8 tablet: a long-term test

Samsung 700T

Yesterday’s official launch of Windows 8 felt like a curious anti-climax for me. Not because of the lacklustre presentation – although the death by PowerPoint was thoroughly deflating – but because I’ve been running Windows 8 on my primary work PC for the past six months, ever since the launch of the Consumer Preview. And for the past three months, I’ve been running the new OS on a Samsung 700T tablet, to get the full touchscreen experience.

So what’s it like using a Windows 8 tablet as your primary work PC? For the vast majority of the time, it’s been absolutely fine. The 700T comes with a smart little docking stand with HDMI-out, that lets me connect a second 24in Full HD display on my desktop. That means I can keep the old-school desktop running on my primary display with all my regular Office apps etc, and use the tablet’s screen as a secondary display for Metro apps and keeping an eye on the PC Pro Twitter account.

Without that second screen, I don’t think I’d even bother with the Windows 8 Start Screen or Metro apps at all, because they don’t scale well on screens much bigger than my tablet’s. However, when sat on the secondary display, the live tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen are actually quite useful for spotting a new email dropping into my Gmail account, upcoming calendar appointments or news headlines.

The iPad is a magnificent companion device; a Windows 8 tablet is a magnificent all-rounder

With a full-sized USB keyboard and wireless mouse, the tablet is barely distinguishable from a laptop or desktop computer when it’s docked on my desk. On the road, I’ve been using the Microsoft Wedge keyboard and mouse pair that we reviewed a couple of months ago. The rigid, rubber case for the keyboard doubles as a stand for the tablet, meaning I don’t have to lug the dock around with me, although I’ve often left the office of an evening with the mouse lying forgotten on my desk. This is an enormous pain, because attempting to navigate the desktop or apps such as Word 2013 with fat fingers or stylus alone is agonising.

It may be a driver issue – the Samsung tablet was designed for Windows 7, not its successor – but once the PC’s been put to sleep, it often fails to recognise the mouse and keyboard when it wakes up again. Resetting the Bluetooth radio or the tablet itself normally solves the issue, but it’s an irritation.

The biggest problem with my three-piece mobile set-up, however, is that I need a table to work. I can perch a regular laptop on my, well, lap when I’m fighting for a seat on the train in the morning or at a crammed press conference. But without a flat surface to rest the tablet’s stand on, I’m absolutely snookered. It is possible to rattle out an email or a couple of hundred words using the onscreen keyboard with the tablet flat on my lap, but that’s very much a last resort. It’s one of the reasons I’m gagging to get my hands on a proper Windows 8 Surface tablet or one the many other laptop/tablet convertibles (the HP Envy x2 is high on my wishlist, too).

Performance

Ergonomics aside, there are many other positives. Initially, the problem of squeezing all my files and applications onto a 64GB SSD proved a headache, but the inconvenience of having to keep a careful eye on free disk space is ameliorated by the performance gains. Heavyweight apps open in just a few seconds, searching a massive inbox in Outlook 2013 is near instant, and everything just whistles along beautifully.

When something does go wrong, a reboot isn’t the grating chore it used to be. My tablet can undergo a full restart in a little under 10 seconds, and the desktop’s ready to work from the moment I click on its icon – there’s no dangling around waiting for security software (I’m using the baked-in Windows Defender) to sort itself out or other applications to load in the background.

iPad keyboard dockWhere Windows 8 does compare poorly to the iPad is the time it takes to resume. Pick an iPad up and press the power button and it’s ready to go in the blink of an eyelid; Windows 8 takes three or four seconds to rouse itself, and that small delay can be the difference between me picking up the iPad and my Samsung tablet when I quickly want to check an email or respond to a tweet.

However, there’s no denying that Windows 8 blows iOS out of the park when it comes to doing the day job. There’s no way I could work full time on my iPad: there’s simply nothing to match the power of Outlook, Word or Excel in the App Store; working without proper multitasking, with two, three, four or more windows open at the same time is simply unthinkable; and having the ability to work in a full web browser with easy access to the file system and extensions is critical.

The iPad is a magnificent companion device; a Windows 8 tablet is a magnificent all-rounder. Yes, it does involve compromises: the Windows Store is relatively weak, the jump between Metro and the old desktop interfaces can be jarring, and you will definitely need a keyboard and mouse.

But if I was forced now to choose between by Windows 8 tablet and my iPad, it would be the Apple tablet that was going on eBay.

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Posted in: Hardware, Windows 8

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10 Responses to “ Working with a Windows 8 tablet: a long-term test ”

  1. Andy Symonds Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 11:34 am

    A great overview of life with a Windows 8 based tablet Barry and I look forward to hearing what you make of the Surface in comparison. I am holding off updating my Windows 7 desktop machine as despite repeated usage via a Virtual Windows 8 install it doesn’t feel quite ready to me. Maybe on a slow day I will bite the bullet and see what this new and “improved multi monitor support” actually does improve etc but not quite yet.

    My main wish is that Ubuntu for Android every takes off (http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android) then I could imagine a time when I just something like a Galaxy S3 for everything and dock it when wanting to do serious work etc much in the same way you are using your Samsung tablet and what Asus have been trying to push with their PadFone 2 but hopefully for about 50% of what they are wanting to charge.

     
  2. TheoB Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Now that Windows 8 is available both for PC and tablet, and WP8 is already there, I wonder how it competes with Apple in the integration department?

    I love the Apple hardware design, I love OSX but I think iOS is like Windows 3.1 :( The great thing is, if my wife puts an appointment in iCal on our iPad it appears in the Calendar on my iPhone automatically. Does Microsoft support things like that as well in their new ecosystem? That would be great!

     
  3. Stewart Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    TheoB: The simple answer to your question is a definite “yes”. I use WP7 for my phone and W8 for my pc, all linked in to my primary email account (Gmail). Plus they link seamlessly with my wife’s email account and our Facebook account. A calendar item on my phone syncs automatically with the pc (and Gmail as a backup). To top it off both devices also link to my Xbox.

    W8 takes a bit of getting used to, but having my own personalised news feeds, photos, documents, apps, etc full centre on my home screen is brilliant. And as for speed, W8 is fast – much, much faster than W7

     
  4. Rich Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    I too keep a party hat by the side of my desk. You never know when you will need to cheer up a colleague.

     
  5. bob Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    The only issue I have with surface, is there is no GPS built in.

     
  6. PB Says:
    October 26th, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I also use one as my main work machine, docking at home and work and using with usb keyboards and mice. Also the addition of a USB to DVI display adapter allows for easy dual screens when docked, a cheap Startech one works really well.

    I have the windows 8 bug where one of either the dock or device usb slots messes up and needs to be disabled and enabled to pick it up again. It worked fine with the original windows 7 drivers, also chrome with youtube videos don’t exit full screen, I have to launch the start menu, desktop, then run the short cut I’ve pinned for the task manager and end task to get out of it when in tablet mode, rather annoying! Still hopefully these issues will be resolved once/if Samsung release full W8 drivers.

    Slightly more annoying is both my docks seem to have put their ethernet sockets into permanent sleep and no longer work….

    All in all I wouldn’t be without it, maybe if I had the £1000 back now I’d opt for an ultrabook instead, but it’s only a maybe…

     
  7. Andy Says:
    October 29th, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Great LT review Barry, thanks.
    As a technet subscriber I have used Windows 8 on both a Desktop and a touchscreen laptop, and whilst it made perfect sense on the touchscreen, on the desktop it was a different story.
    It feels like Microsoft have bolted a UI on top of Windows 7 and no matter how I try, I cannot find a reason to use the interface formally known as Metro and after 3 months finally removed it and went back to Win7.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Microsoft basher having made my living for 20 years supporting their products, and there are many things to like about 8, (and there are many) but if I had an option to turn of the UI and put my start button back I (and suspect most other users) would upgrade in a heartbeat, but I feel like MS have bolted a UI on top of a perfectly usable Interface in order to jump on the tablet bandwagon.
    I fully appreciate that MS had to do something but I fear this will end up alienating many core customers on the Desktop.
    As an experiment, I handed my laptop sat at the Win 8 Metro screen to my dad who already uses Windows 7 and asked him to give it a go, then watched him spend 10 mins trying to get around it with very little success.
    Ok you can pin programs to the taskbar or use shortcuts, that’s slightly annoying for experienced users, imaging what that’s like for 95% of Microsoft customers who don’t work in the industry and just want a computer to use.
    Time will tell but I suspect this could be Microsoft’s biggest mistake.

     
  8. Rich Says:
    October 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    @Andy
    I too have been using Windows 8 on a desktop since RTM and agree with your conclusions. I was willing to give the new interface a fair go, but have concluded that it’s not a good fit with a keyboard and mouse setup.

    I have no interest in using any of the ‘metro’ apps as the desktop alternatives are much better and have more features. It’s a real faff to switch between ‘metro’ apps and desktop applications.

     
  9. Peter Says:
    November 1st, 2012 at 8:38 am

    To me windows 8 is windows 7 on steroids and I love it. I love the metro interface so much easier for dealing with basic things and when I have to do heavy duty stuff I have the desktop.
    Once you know all the shortcuts and mouse gestures going between desktop and metro is easy and worth it. The desktop is viewed as an app by windows 8 so you can snap a running app such as mail by the side of the desktop.
    Do not understand does that say they have removed and gone back to windows 7.

    Apps do not scale well on a large screen ? I have found all apps to look great on a 23″ and a 40″ screen.

     
  10. atsel Says:
    November 2nd, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    win7 is an app on win8 so it very easy to switch over. And from win7 to win8 ‘ctrl-esc’ takes you there without sweat. Other as a reviewer on the subject said, if it takes so much to learn to be comfortable operating win8-of course with bias/emotion appropriately managed, then the educational system of most countries are due for serious review

     

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