Technologizer

I Hope I’m Wrong About Small Windows 8 Tablets

How will cramming full-blown Windows 8 onto even smaller screens help Microsoft's tablet initiative?

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I still can’t get used to using the words Windows and underdog in the same sentence. But when it comes to tablets, Windows 8 is still an also-ran: according to IDC, Windows and Windows RT tablets accounted for just 3.7% of tablets shipped in the first quarter of 2013. Is the problem that the first wave of Windows 8 tablets, at 10 in. (25.4 cm) and above, are just too large?

Looks like we’ll soon get the chance to find out. As PCWorld’s Brad Chacos reported on Friday, Amazon briefly featured a listing for an unannounced $379 8.1-in. (20.6 cm) Acer Windows 8 tablet before pulling it down. And today, the Wall Street Journal’s Eva Dou reports that Asus — a PC company that is never afraid to try something new — is getting ready to release smaller Windows 8 tablets, possibly at price points below $300.

I’m always wary about coming to firm conclusions about products before we know all the details. But even though I’d like to see Windows find its way in the post-PC era, I’m having a hard time figuring out how small-screen Windows 8 tablets will have enduring mainstream appeal.

It’s not that I don’t see a place for Windows on smallish tablets. Microsoft’s new Windows interface — the one everybody calls Metro even though that’s no longer its name — should work fine on a dinky display. But you don’t need Windows 8 to get that interface, and apps designed for it, onto a small tablet. All you need is Windows RT, the Windows 8 offshoot designed for power-efficient ARM chips of the sort that manufacturers put into compact mobile devices.

What will putting full-blown Windows 8 (and the x86 processor it requires) on a little tablet get us? Mostly the ability to run conventional Windows applications. But they don’t even work very well on large tablets, like Microsoft’s own Surface, without an external keyboard and pointing device. And I worry about battery life taking a major hit.

The history of netbooks is instructive here. The first ones, like Asus’ original Eee PC, had microscopic 7-in. (17.8 cm) screens, which made no sense at all for Windows apps. As screen sizes inched upward, Windows ran better and better — and the dominant netbook screen size ended up being 10.1 in. (25.7 cm), the size of a large tablet, not a small one. Even that was too cramped to keep netbooks popular forever.

Thinking back even further, small Windows 8 tablets remind me of the Ultra-Mobile PC, one of a number of attempts to make itty-bitty Windows computers that never went anywhere. Windows 8’s version of the conventional Windows 8 interface, though more touch-friendly than the Windows of the UMPC era, hasn’t made any sort of true Great Leap Forward.

I could be wrong. I hope I am. But I think that Windows 8 runs better on large-screen devices than small-screen devices — and best of all on decidedly PC-like devices with external keyboards and pointing devices, at least as options. No shocker there: there’s almost 30 years of conventional-PC history behind the classic Windows interface. So here’s hoping that the fact that small Windows 8 tablets are on the way doesn’t mean that Microsoft isn’t simultaneously working on something — maybe an update to Windows RT — that’s designed for smaller tablets, period.

22 comments
Sportsdoctor
Sportsdoctor

I own a Windows Smart Phone, the Windows Surface Pro Tablet, and of course Windows 8 computers. I simply don't get the "issues". I know its different, but wow, so intuitive and so simple to navigate. Change is difficult, but having the same platform for all the devices, including the X-Box is great. Once you use the Surface Pro tablet, all the others are simply tiny APP machines on steroids.

carruthiphone
carruthiphone like.author.displayName 1 Like

I recently purchased the windows surface pro, under the delusion that the increased memory, larger HD, and mainly the OS itself would benefit my productivity while constantly traveling each week.  I wanted to like the tablet so much, and gave it every opportunity, making adjustments to settings, but kept coming back to the same issue (which the author already hit)....battery life just won't cut it.  Everyone has an opinion, my personal opinion is that if I needed a tablet for mobile use on an airplane each week, that it would last for at least a 2 hour trip, however, after 4 trips, the battery never made it once on a full charge when leaving.  Sure, you can plug it in at each airport, when you get home or to the hotel, but if you need the device for mobile purposes, part of that mobility is the ability to use the system, not have it go dead on battery power.  I had only installed MS Office, and was using Word/Excel on a regular basis on the plane, turned off bluetooth, turned down the brightness, and had wireless in "airplane"mode...no difference, battery gone in about 1.5 hours.

Jorj_X_McKie
Jorj_X_McKie

@carruthiphone For traveling types who often don't have a wall socket handy, the Surface Pro is not viable. MS did admit that they can attach a sheet battery to the Surface's bottom surface, but why they haven't done so, I can't say. The need is pressing. I have a Sony Duo 11 with the optional sheet battery and I get all day usage when I need it. It has made ALL the difference. Hopefully Surface Pro users will have a solution before too long, or face the prospect of dumping a brand new machine made obsolete by the Haswell variants. That is a nasty bit of reality to foist on one's customers.

sfs1sdfs
sfs1sdfs

You are missing a basic fact. Windows RT apps will run on Windows 8 (but not vice versa). If Intel's Haswell is everything promised, a Windows 8 8" makes much more sense than a Windows RT 8".

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hilarious. At least ONE editor has finally come to the right conclusion. While "Metro" apps work quite well on small, low res screens (obviously, because they are specifically designed for that very purpose), a full blown Win8 version + old GUI applications are giving a deterrent user experience. Even some Win8 settings-dialogues don't work on small screens. MS Office menu bars suck up 1/4 of the screen. 

bobkemp2123
bobkemp2123 like.author.displayName 1 Like

The Windows 8 interface on a touch device is really superior to iOS or Android. Once you use the touch interface on Windows 8/RT, you'll wish iOS or Android had the same gestures/features. Of course with only 60,000 apps, Windows 8 has a ways to go before they can match the variety of apps on iOS or Android. With external HDMI and keyboard, these 7 inch tablets can be turned into mini "desktop" machines. I'll definitely get one.

Jorj_X_McKie
Jorj_X_McKie

@bobkemp2123 If MS puts a Wacom on a 7-8" tablet, I'm in. Desktop without a stylus would be painful if not impossible, unless Win8.1 has a good fix for the scaling problem.

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

@bobkemp2123 It's all about PERCEPTION. Windows is definitely not perceived as a typical touch-enabled OS like Android or iOS. Windows is deeply entrenched in our minds as the 30 year old classical desktop OS ... and actually that's what it is. It's just MS that desperately tries to disguise that mere fact and wants to make customers believe a new OS has arrived.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well, one has to question the sanity of anyone who WANTS a tablet in the first place, let alone a Windows-based tablet.  They're toys. ALL tablets are toys.  People are arguing about toys.  Big toys.  Little toys.  Apple toys, Android toys, Windows toys.  They're ALL toys.  Folks just haven't gotten over the delusional "new tablet smell" state yet that tells them tablets are actually useful for most things when patently they're demonstrably worse (With the possible exception of certain niche markets and uses, and I'm not talking about those).

I dare anyone to go through their day fingerpainting on a tablet and never ONCE even think about how they could do something they're doing on a tablets faster, better and smarter on a PC or even a laptop.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

You are a foolish person to presume we all have the same tasks in our daily lives. I replaced my very basic little hp laptop with an ipad 4. I write extensively on it with no problems. There is no fingerpainting. It is far superior to the hp in every sense......screen resolution, battery life, weight, tv/movies picture quality, sound, portability, looks, it's made of glass instead of plastic and far sleeker. And apple products can be temporarily converted to currency at the pawn shop to help out in a pinch. My hp was rejected for that purpose because its optical drive was nonfunctional and i only bought it eighteen months ago.I personally feel your apparent anger toward tablets and their users must stem from your financial inability to purchase one. There could be no other reason for such disdain toward an inanimate object.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

You are a foolish person to presume we all have the same tasks in our daily lives. I replaced my very basic little hp laptop with an ipad 4. I write extensively on it with no problems. There is no fingerpainting. It is far superior to the hp in every sense......screen resolution, battery life, weight, tv/movies picture quality, sound, portability, looks, it's made of glass instead of plastic and far sleeker. And apple products can be temporarily converted to currency at the pawn shop to help out in a pinch. My hp was rejected for that purpose because its optical drive was nonfunctional and i only bought it eighteen months ago.

I personally feel your apparent anger toward tablets and their users must stem from your financial inability to purchase one. There could be no other reason for such disdain toward an inanimate object.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@DeweySayenoff I have to agree.  My husband and I, who are both huge computer users, both for games and work, got an android tablet a few months back.  It's handy for some tasks, like checking the weather, carrying music around on, and playing quickie online games with my mom, or looking up a recipe for use in the kitchen.  But it's frustrating as anything if you have to do any significant amount of typing on -- so, for example, any of the programming work my husband or I do.  And it's not big enough to play complex games enjoyably on, or have multiple windows open in parallel (for example, having two Word documents open and visible at once).  And the stupid swiping motions are a lot more annoying than shift-tab, especially since (for reasons I can't understand), they're needed for EVERYTHING, even things that would be more easily handled by a simple, short list. 

*shrug*  I'm not really against tablets, since they're handy for some small, mobile tasks.  But they simply can't do the same things that a nice desktop can, or at least not as easily.  So what I'm most worried about, concerning Microsoft, is that they'll get so excited about their new tablet software that their desktop software will suffer (since we'll be forced to use the same things as the tablets, or similar).  Let's not forget that there are two different products, used for widely different tasks, and which need -- or at least deserve -- different operating systems and tools.

auronlu
auronlu

@DeweySayenoff I do most of my work on a tablet and, as often as not, use the desktop for playing. Sorry to bust your bubble, but it's  heck of a lot easier to use a stylus and tablet for graphics, and a portable keyboard makes the tablet easy enough to use for monitoring website stats, webpage editing and updating, and writing. 


About the only work I still do on desktop rather than tablet is Excel work, since the larger screen real estate is useful for complex datasets.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@auronlu @DeweySayenoff I take it you don't do much programming, or work with multiple Word documents open at a time, then?  Because tablets aren't good for either.  As for gaming, maybe we play different styles of games, because trying to play the ones I like on an itty bitty screen with slow computing capacity and little memory would be an utter disaster, I fear.  :(

Tablets are fine tools for some things, but they're simply not good for everything.  I hope Microsoft doesn't forget about that.

sixtymile
sixtymile

@DeweySayenoff In fact, many I know take this dare and do it by preference, and with results that put false to your "fingerpainting" rhetorical mock. The touch interface is actually far more natural and expressive for most who are using tablets for graphical imagery and never ONCE even think about missing their awkward and obsolete PC stylus adapters.

skyledavisbooks
skyledavisbooks

The atom chip in the Acer tablets runs fine on all-day use. I have the big brother of this one (the W510), and I get all-day charge with normal usage. And then, a lot of the other small tablets will be running on the new Intel chips:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2037549/intel-releases-key-details-of-its-atom-redesign.html

These get really great battery life and perform even better. And don't forget that, unlike an iPad, this platform is DESIGNED for you to connect a second monitor and a mouse and keyboard. Small traveling device with power when you need it. Besides, Win32 (desktop) support gives you access to things like Spotify. There is rarely an app I wish I had that I don't.

SMP
SMP

@skyledavisbooks 

Atom chips are fine for Metro apps. For Windows apps, however they are painfully slow - When you buy a Windows 8 non ultrabook tablet, what you are getting is an EeePC class netbook with insufficient local drive storage to run Windows.

The minimum spec to run Windows apps comfortably is an ultrabook class Windows 8 tablet, but they you have to spend at least $750 and you get a hot, noisy, and heavy brick with a 5 hour battery life or less with a hairdryer blowing hot air out of the side.  

bobkemp2123
bobkemp2123 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@SMP @skyledavisbooks You are exaggerating. New Atoms are dual core 1.8GHz processors that are designed specifically for Windows 8. Plenty fast to run Office and even light Photoshop editing. With 8-10 hours of battery life, these tablets are good for most everyday tasks.

SMP
SMP

@bobkemp2123 @SMP @skyledavisbooks

I am not exaggerating at all, I am just explaining to you exactly why Win dows 8 tablets and hybrids are not selling.

I am glad you agree with my post about Windows 8 ultrabook tablets being horrendously expensive hot and heavy bricks with built in hairdryers. They are too heavy to hold in one hand and so are uncomfortable to use.

With regard to the Atom powered Windows 8 tablets, what you claim is not my experience. Atom Windows 8 devices are in reality painfully slow grossly overpriced netbooks. They are fine for lightweight Metro and Office 365 apps of the type you can equally well run on Android or iOS, maybe OK for MS Office if you are editing small files, but the reason people would want to buy these things over an Android would be to run proper mainstream Windows apps. The 7" screen also makes it impossible to run proper Windows apps comfortably (including Office). You are much better off running QuickOffice on Android or iOS.  These things have the performance levels and screen/keyboard size of Windows netbooks, but much less drive space, which Windows fills up in no time, and will require frequent cleanup and reformatting. If this type of performance is fine with you, why not just buy a Windows netbook for the same performance and save yourself a whole load of money?

Neither is worth buying in place of a laptop.

prakash.heda
prakash.heda

I am afraid you will be proved wrong, i am a user using W8 on samsung ativ with TE/GPS and its perfect device for what i need

But if it comes in 7" andhas a doc which i can connect to big screen and keyboard in office that would be perfect

in future expect a small 5" device running full windows 8 and all u do is connect to office dock when u go to office which will light up 2 screens and keyboard/mouse, connect to home dock when u r back, take it to vacation and be available when u need to be, use the software u need to use no need to worry about compatibility

WIDI would be default which means not only u can share everything on ur screen to big TV ur media requirement will be handle by this device as well


benso033gm
benso033gm

You're not wrong.

Crash and burn, part II.