Monday, May 6, 2013

Tech Note: More on Windows 8

Back in January I wrote the following on my review of Windows 8, "I have been very tempted to buy a Windows RT device, but I absolutely will not until either Microsoft fixes the browser or allows other browsers to be installed on Windows RT devices." Well within a month of writing that I had indeed bought a Windows RT device. I got the Asus Vivo Tab RT and after having used it for three months I thought it was time to wade back into Windows 8.

Though I have grown accustomed to using the web browser in the Metro interface I still don't like it and think they could easily fix the issues it has with minor changes.  It is not intuitive at all as can be seen when watching my wife try to figure it out.  Still over time you learn it and it is functional.  I recently had an interesting experience with the browser that gave me an idea as to what the Microsoft people were expecting.  It came with a new site out there called Vdio.  It's done by the same people that do Rdio.  Vdio has built their site to look and feel like an app more than a web site, and in the IE 10 Metro interface this web experience is fully immersible and works great.  Problem is that's one site out of millions that is made to fit into the Metro experience.  The only real complaint I have left about the browser is that if you want to jump around between tabs it is truly a pain and that seems to me something they could easily fix. by giving you options on how you want the browser to be laid out.  Still I went on about this last time and I don't want to go down that road again.  I want to talk more about what it is like to use Windows 8 RT on a day to day basis.  What are the good features of Windows 8?  Why I picked the Asus product over others?  And what is holding Windows 8 back from competing against the iPad?

Just to note I have not had any opportunity to use an Android device though I used an iPad daily for about 10 months.

The Windows 8 Experience
I can very quickly name the good features of a Windows 8 RT tablet.  You can have multiple logins.  I login I have my email and files.  My wife logs in she has hers.  Our three year old logs in and she has access to only what we want to give her access to.  This is perhaps the most straightforward feature that instantly for me puts Windows 8 RT ahead of say an iPad.  If you have kids and are going to be sharing a device around this is reason enough to choose this device over an iPad.  It's a great feature.

Second, oddly, is the web browser.  As compared to Safari on an iPad you get a full blown web browser on Windows RT.  Which means if I want to go stream live game content through ESPN, no problem.  I could not do that on my iPad.  If I am working on writing up a blog entry in one tab of the browser and looking up data on another tab I don't have to worry about constantly saving what I've done.  Those tabs can be running independent of each other as I toggle between them.  Try this on Safari on your iPad and you'll immediately see the problem I'm talking about.

Hardware installation.  When I got the device home I had it search our network, it found our printer, and voila I had a printer installed.  I can print from Word, Excel, the web, anything just like a computer.  Again this was a limitation on my iPad.

It comes with a copy of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint at no added cost.  Hop into desktop mode and you have a computer that is ready to do real work.  Especially since all Windows 8 RT tablets I've seen are available with a full keyboard with touchpad.  It's nice to be able to set it up and use it like a full laptop when you need that functionality.

The Metro interface itself.  I have actually grown to like the Metro interface.  It's easy to find what you are looking for and some information is simply always in front of you, like the weather forecast, your calendar, etc.  There is a reason why people, like HTC with their One phone, are copying this look from Microsoft.  It is a fresh look.  The only problem with it, is it is a bit tough to organize it exactly how you want it.  Still I like the interface.  It is much more than just a static holding site for links to apps.

The limit on available apps is one of the obvious problems with Windows 8, and in some cases I've stumbled upon apps that will only work with Windows 8 Pro and not RT.  Also their support for VPN is quite limited. Since I can't install say the Cisco VPN client and have to rely on what is built into the system I'm a bit disappointed in the fact that I am unable to connect to my work.  If I could then I could literally use this device to replace my laptop completely.

Also Microsoft has made a decision to limit how they sync to certain things like GMail and Yahoo and it makes no sense to me.  It limits then the functionality of their built in Mail and Calendar apps and that limits the usability of their product.  If staying in constant contact through email and calendaring is vital then an iPad would be a much better pick.

The Asus Vivo Tab RT
When I was shopping around for a tablet to purchase I quickly found that Asus offered something I really wanted, a keyboard with a built in battery.  This does two things for the device.  First it extends the battery life of the device.  More importantly it adds weight to the keyboard which gives the device a nice balanced feel when using it docked.  It feels right not top heavy.  If you are wanting something that can replace your laptop, this feel is actually quite critical.

Also when I was buying, Asus had a deal going to give you the keyboard free.  That was a nice deal.  Personally I think they should all just include the keyboard as part of the price since they are so critical to get the full Windows 8 experience.

It has a micro HDMI port, a slot for expanding memory and a USB port.  All of these are required on all Windows 8 devices, which I think is smart of Microsoft's part.

All in all I have been very happy with the performance.  The battery life is good, the device is stable and I would definitely recommend it over an iPad.

Why Isn't Windows 8 Doing Better?
I think it's a series of issues all mounting together.  Some are the shortcomings of Windows 8 itself.  The frustrations people have over IE, the poor quality of the Mail and Calendar apps.  Some are shortcomings that are out of Microsoft's control.  They can't force developers to create apps for instance.  The lack of apps available is a bit disappointing if you are use to IOS or Android devices.  And some lie with hardware manufacturers.  The keyboard with built in battery is almost a must.  I had the chance to us a Samsung that does not have a weighted keyboard and it is so top heavy it is quite annoying.  Go read the reviews of in Amazon for instance and everyone is griping about the keyboard.

All of these issues can be overcome and I hope they will.  As it stands right now I would pick a Windows 8 device over an iPad.  I'm not sure about Android since I haven't had a chance to use it.

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