Why I Haven’t Given Up on Windows 8 as a Concept

It's easy to chalk up recent Surface Windows 8 Pro reviews as evidence that Microsoft can't pull off a single operating system for all kinds of hardware. But the right hardware hasn't arrived yet.

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The reviews for Microsoft‘s Surface Windows 8 Pro are in, and they’re less than enthusiastic.

Even in the most positive reviews, a common thread of complaints come up: Battery life is weak, critics say, and the hardware is thick and heavy compared to most tablets. When propped up like a laptop, the Surface Pro is tricky to use in cramped quarters, due to its wide stance, single angle of incline and floppy keyboard covers.

My colleague Harry McCracken’s Surface Pro review sums it up:

If I were shopping for an Ultrabook and my budget allowed, I’d consider it. But used with the applications I tried, Surface Pro doesn’t prove that one computing device can do everything well. Instead, it makes clear that there’s no such thing as no-compromise computing.

That’s not the lesson Microsoft intended, but it’s a useful one nonetheless — for consumers, for the industry and maybe even for Microsoft.

It’s easy to chalk up these reviews as evidence that Microsoft can’t pull off a single operating system for all kinds of hardware. But as someone who’s always liked the idea of Windows 8, I look at it a different way: The right hardware hasn’t arrived yet.

Note that most Surface Pro reviews didn’t take umbrage with the software. The biggest problems with Surface Pro–its battery life and its bulkiness–are a result of the processor inside of it. Intel‘s Core processors aren’t meant for tablets. They’re too power hungry, so they need big batteries and fans for ventilation. A tablet can’t accommodate those needs while staying reasonably thin and light.

Microsoft could have used Intel’s Clover Trail-based Atom processor instead. But while Atom chips allow for slimmer tablets and longer battery life, they’re still too underpowered to handle everything Windows 8 has to offer.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

So part of my hope for Windows 8 is tangled up in Intel’s product roadmap. A future version of Atom, called Bay Trail, promises more computing muscle and even slimmer devices without sacrificing battery life. Meanwhile, the next version of Intel’s laptop processors, called Haswell, will be much more power-efficient, making them a better fit for tablet-laptop crossovers. There’s no guarantee that the next generation of Intel chips will set everything right–Intel has been promising for years to find the sweet spot between battery life and processing power–but they’ll at least do a better job than the current crop of processors.

I don’t want to pin all the responsibility on Intel, though. Some the issues with Surface Pro are strictly related to hardware design. The screen is small for a laptop (it’s more like a netbook at 10.6 inches) and it can’t prop up at more than one angle. It’s tricky to balance on a lap and demands more table space due to its kickstand. Other Windows 8 hybrids have their own dilemmas. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, for example, is too bulky as a tablet, and the Acer Iconia W510 is too top-heavy as a laptop. It’ll take some experimenting with hardware to figure out a good balance.

Between processing needs and hardware design, the launch of Windows 8 has proven that there will always be compromises. The question is whether it’s possible to strike a deal that works.

I think it is. A thinner, lighter, more battery-efficient Surface Pro could make for a great tablet, even if it’s not the perfect laptop. A slightly smaller Lenovo Yoga would still be an excellent laptop, but it would also make sense as a tablet. Neither would provide the best of both worlds–and Microsoft needs to stop insisting that it’s possible–but they’d both deliver on that original concept of two devices in one. That still sounds to me like a compromise worth making.

MORE: Review: Microsoft Surface Pro, the Surface That’s More PC than Tablet

16 comments
worleyeoe
worleyeoe

Yes, Haswel, Bay Trail and Tamesh will certainly up the overall performance / battery life of next-gen Windows 8 hybrid tablets. Personally, I think MS needs to release an ultra thin 12" Bay Trail or Tamesh Surface device. 10.6" is too small and anything over ~ 12" becomes a lot less portable.

arslan.arsal10
arslan.arsal10

A very nice article and summarise things quite well about Window 8 ;)

Jander78
Jander78

Great article and my thoughts as well. I've been waiting for the Asus Transformer Book or the Razer Edge to materialize as they seem to fit my needs the best (and a Windows version of the Asus Padfone would be amazing). It's just a waiting game for the right hardware. Windows 8 works fine on my non-touchscreen laptop in the meantime. :)

sremani
sremani

This where I am thinking Microsoft is doing a bad job, it is sucking oxygen away from likes of 

Samsung ATIV Smart PC - both atom and i versions 

Acer Iconia W - atom & i3 version

Lenovo Yoga 11 & 13

There are already convertibles out there where Windows 8 shines and shines by miles, but Surface is hogging the attention and perhaps branding the whole category in a negative way.

Fear not, Haswell, will re-establish Wintel.


murray
murray

if you can wait a whle there is an Intel small SSD/HD up to 256GB and integrated processor chip that is less power hungry, etc that will advance PC design by miles. also, Win 9 and GG thin flex screen may be worth waiting for.

WeeBoonTan
WeeBoonTan

Lenovo Yoga 11 or the Dell XPS 12 with full Windows 8 is a better PC/tablet hybrid in my opinion. It works extremely well in notebook mode, and can sometime function as a good enough tablet. Thats is the best compromise I have seen so far- Surface Pro tried to be good at both area and failed at both, most other manufacturers like HP and dell focused more in the tablet area, but I dont think a "good tablet, not too shabby notebook" device is better than a "good notebook, good enough tablet" as a all rounded device. 

For now I will just sticked to using two devices- a good laptop, and an iPad 

WeeBoonTan
WeeBoonTan

*other manufacturers like HP and Acer, Asus, Samsung etc.

JustinSalvato
JustinSalvato

This is the first problem with most critics; they don't know they are talking about.

The Surface Pro is a PERSONAL COMPUTER.  It is at the very least, a tablet. 

The Surface RT is a tablet.  Someday it may be considered a PC, but Microsoft's new user interface has to evolve before that happens. 

If you were looking for a PC with a touch screen and some very attractive portability options, the Surface Pro is your answer. 

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

The Surface Pro really is too heavy to be a tablet. I'm not sure the hardware will be ready for several more years that will allow for a device that is a laptop and tablet. At 1.33 pounds, my iPad is much lighter than a Surface Pro, but I'd still prefer if it were less than half a pound.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@mtngoatjoe Good gawd, man! Stop comparing the iPad to Surface Pro. It's absolutely, utterly pointless. If Mac did an Intel iPad, they would have the exact same constraints as MS, mainly 1/2 lb of added weight to accommodate what is a bigger hybrid tablet running a real processor.

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

I think weight is a legitimate topic when discussing tablets. As far as iPads are concerned, forget I mentioned the name. My tablet is 1.33 pounds. The Surface Pro is about 2 pounds. After using my tablet for almost 2 years, I can say that I do not want a tablet that weighs even an ounce more. And as I mentioned, I would really like my tablet to weigh a lot less than it does. And the reason is simple: tablets are NOT meant to be used at a desk. They are meant for the couch, bed, on the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.

The Surface Pro is probably a very nice machine. But it isn't a good tablet. It's a small laptop that desperately wants to be a tablet. That's important for consumers to understand. Very few users will find the SP a useful tablet. Some will, of course, but most won't. And for those that find that they need a keyboard, a slow realization will inform them that they've bought a netbook. Those were popular for a while, but not so much anymore.

I'm not going to tell you the Surface Pro isn't the right platform for you, but don't pretend it's something it's not.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

First and foremost, have you really used one? I doubt it, since they just went on sale and immediately sold out. As such, you're speaking without any real credibility. Again, comparing an iPad to the Surface Pro is apples to orange, bro! The Surface Pro is, in fact, a full desktop replacement. You can connect it to a large screen HD display as well as a more comfortable Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, letting the device be the brains and storage. Then, it turns into a ultra-portable laptop that is .38 to .96 lbs. lighter than the MBA. Finally, things will really start to get interesting when Intel and AMD release their upcoming Baytrail and Tamesh chips, respectively. These devices will have around Core 3i capabilities along with 10-12 hours batter life, running full Windows 8.

ArthurRadley
ArthurRadley

The mantra for Windows for a long time has been "just wait until the next version/service pack/processor", but the promise never materializes and nothing changes.  I wonder if this is how a battered wife feels.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@ArthurRadley Um. You've heard that Apple is releasing an all new iPad later this year, no? Well, maybe its possible they will release something like the Surface Pro for Mac OSX. It's very, very possible. With Haswell, Intel will deliver chip that has the right mix of power and battery performance that its users will want.

ggSolutions123
ggSolutions123

It's reviews like yours that will help them improve. Good job.