Tech Thursday: Should you buy a Windows 10 Tablet?



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Tech Thursday: Should you buy a Windows 10 Tablet?

Background


This is the final post in our series of pre-Christmas buying guides for 2015. We have had a look at:

  1. Choosing a tablet for reading and writing

  2. Difference between iPads and Android tablets

  3. Review of Kindle Fire for £50

This week, we will have a look at Windows 10 tablets. We had a look at what’s new in Windows 10 and concluded that it is a huge improvement on Windows 8. I have now tested two cheap Windows 10 tablets and my conclusion is that they may be the best option for certain type of more technical user and even some less demanding non-technical users who want the option to occasionally access full computer features. As someone belonging to the first group, I now own two cheap Windows 10 tablets (a small and a large one). I am writing this on one of them, the HP Pavilion X2.


What is a Windows 10 tablet?


Everybody has heard of an iPad or an Android tablet. But isn’t Windows what runs on laptops and desktops? Yes. But with Windows 8, Microsoft has made Windows suitable for dual use. But Windows 8 wasn’t very good at this. Windows 10 has fixed most of the problems and is now a real contender on a tablet, not just a computer.

The great thing is that this way you get a tablet that you can also use as a computer or a computer you can also use as a tablet.


Big advantages of Windows 10 tablets


  • Full computer functionality

  • Works as a tablet

  • Multiple windows side by side

  • Can install any Windows software



Disadvantages of Windows 10 tablets


  • Few tablet-optimised apps (many famous apps missing)

  • Cheaper tablets not powerful enough for high demand applications

  • More technical skills required to accomplish more advanced tasks

  • Occasional bugs in the system make for mixed experience



Hardware: What to look for


With Android tablets, there are few things to consider when it comes to hardware. In general, you can be confident that any Android tablet you buy will have just enough power for anything you do on it. And even more so with iPads because they’re all made by one company.

But with Windows tablets, you have to be more careful. They will all work as tablets but you’re probably buying one because it can also be a computer. And computers can do more things than tablets, but not all of them equally well. Here are things to look for:



  • RAM is the most important thing for smooth computer experience. Less RAM means that you will be able to do less multitasking. Most cheap Windows tablets come with 1GB or 2GB of RAM (which is similar to Android tablets). I found these surprisingly usable but sometimes there were hiccups when switching between many open windows. If you want 4GB or even better 8GB, you find yourself in laptop price territory.

  • Storage space limits how many apps you can have installed and how many documents or media files you can store. Most of the cheapest Windows 10 tablets come with 32GB but that includes space taken up by the operating system. Luckily, on all the Windows 10 tablets I looked at, you can extend this storage with a MicroSD card by another 64GB for less than £20. This is probably enough for most people if you back up your photos online and stream most of your music and videos. The advantage is that the storage is an SSD which makes opening files faster and is not subject to shakes and drops. Some devices on the edge of tablet and laptop will offer a larger traditional hard drives but they will be slower and mean lower battery life.

  • External screen options are more important here because sometimes you may want to connect an external monitor for working in Windows. Many of the cheap tablets have an HDMI port that will link you with most modern TVs. And you can buy an HDMI to VGA adapter for old style computer monitors. Note, some of the small screen tablets don’t have this option, so check before buying.

  • Long battery life is another feature of the Windows tablets. Making it more similar to iPads and Android Tablets than laptops. You can expect 8-10 hours or a full day’s normal work.

  • Medium to low power processor is all you can expect on a cheap tablet so don’t expect to do much video editing. But because this is Windows, you could look to buy one of the more expensive options that still works as a tablet.

Apps to install


Many of the tablets currently on offer come with bundled Microsoft Office Mobile which is suitable to the touch screen and has all the features most people will ever use. Some even offer a free year’s subscription to Office 365 offering virtually unlimited online storage with OneDrive. But I found the combination of Office-OneDrive buggy and would recommend Dropbox until Microsoft fixes these problems.

Windows 10 also comes with a very good Mail and Calendar apps that can replace Outlook and help you connect to Gmail. Unfortunately, on one of my tablets, they simply started crashing and I had to reinstall them.

Because you are running a full version of Windows, you can install any software you want. But if you are planning to use it as a tablet, you will want to install some apps from the Windows Store that are aimed at touch or small screen use. Here’s a list of the ones I recommend:


  • Freda ebook reader is the only ebook reader I found that supports text to speech. It will read all your ebooks without DRM.

  • Xodo PDF reader is the best app for reading and annotating PDF documents on the screen. It works well with a cheap stylus for drawing on the screen.

  • Calibre Viewer will let you easily view your Calibre library.

  • Kindle or Kobo apps are also available if you’ve purchased books from these stores and want to read them on the tablet.

  • Overdrive will let you check out ebooks from your local library and read them on the tablet.

  • Write Plus is the best of the distraction-free editors I tested. I wrote a draft of this post in it.

  • Evernote Touch is a touch-friendly version of the well-known note-taking app.

  • Sketchbook for Tablet is an easy to use free drawing app that will make an investment in a cheap stylus pay off.

  • Blue Stacks will let you install and run most Android apps (if your Windows tablet has at least 2GB RAM). It works well except for most intensive games.

There are also many games in the Windows store even if the selection is more limited than Android or Apple app stores.

Even if you can install full versions of software like Evernote, I prefer the touch-optimised versions from the Windows store. They also tend to consume less storage and operating memory.


Windows 10 Tablet mode


In our Windows 10 review, we mentioned tablet mode but did not go into detail. Here, we it is worth taking a closer look at what it is like to use Windows 10 as a tablet.


Tablet mode


You can switch between tablet and desktop modes in the Action centre. You can access this via the square speech bubble in the bottom right corner of the screen.

The tablet mode will make the tablet more touch friendly by:



  • Making the start menu take over the whole screen

  • Starting apps in full screen mode

  • Remove most items from the task bar and the notification tray (you can change that in settings)

  • Adds back-button to the task bar (similar to Android)

I sometimes like to put even my big laptop into a tablet mode because it is also less distracting.


Swiping


Apart from regular touch, you can also swipe from the edges of the screen to achieve from different results.

  • Swiping from the left edge brings up the Task View for switching between apps

  • Swiping from the right edge opens the Action Centre

  • Swiping from the top edge you have two choices:

    • Light swipe from top edge will bring up the menu in some full-screen apps

    • Swipe, hold and drag will let you drag the window to one half of the screen to work in two apps side by side


Star screen / menu options


You can also put shortcuts to favourite apps in the Start menu which becomes the Start screen in the Tablet mode. The shortcuts will be displayed as Tiles which can have four sizes



Devices to consider


There are several categories of Windows 10 tablets. The first two are comparable in price to cheap Android tablets. But you can also buy more expensive ones more comparable to iPads or to full laptops. I will give some suggestions along with brief reviews of the two devices I have tested.

8inch tablets (around £100)

DELL Venue 8 Pro (1GB RAM, 32GB HDD, £90)


Very decent performance once upgraded to Windows 10. Let down only by lack of HDMI for connecting to monitors. Does not come with a keyboard but a cheap one can be purchased (I do not recommend the expensive keyboard accessory that comes from DELL). I often take it with me when I travel for the day and have written several of these blog posts on it. Decent battery life.

Other options


Linx 8 (£100) – similar specs to the Dell Venue 8 Pro but includes HDMI

Lenovo ThinkPad 8 (£180) – 2GB RAM and 64GB storage explain the higher price.



10inch tablets (around £200)

HP Pavilion X2 2 in 1 (2GB RAM, 32GB storage, HDMI out, keyboard, £230)


Light, long battery life enough power that it feels like a regular laptop most of the time. Those are all the things that make me not regret buying this 2 in 1 tablet for less than the cheapest iPad Mini. I have now used to create full presentations for a conference, present for several hours. I also wrote most of this post on it. When I travel, this will now be my main machine. But I have also had to do a number of Google searches to figure out some problems that arose when I tried to push it too far. I can easily imagine this being a good option as a study machine for a secondary school student but they won’t play many games on it. But it’s great for reading and writing.

Other options


There are many options in this category which offer similar features for similar prices. I do not give links or prices here, before buying search for reviews.

ASUS Transformer T100

Acer Switch

Lenovo Yoga 2

Linx 10 (comes without a keyboard)

Toshiba Click




Larger tablets / touch laptops (£300-£1200)


There are far too many options to list in the premium category. Most of them have larger screens of 11 to 13 inches. Many of them also come with a traditional spinning hard drive. This gives you more storage but I highly recommend a smaller but much faster SSD drive. 128GB should be enough for most people and you can buy a cheap external hard drive for your media files.

This category is perhaps led by the Microsoft Surface but other machines I have looked at are Acer R3 and the Lenovo Yoga. This review gives an overview of some of the best in this category.



Conclusions


Compared to Android Tablets or iPads, using a Windows 10 tablet can be a frustrating experience. Apps do not crash all the time but they crash more often than on a Windows computer or the other platforms. And when they crash, they don’t give you any warning. But having the option of using a tablet as a full computer is very useful and for some users can make up for the lack of power. If you want productivity, the situation is reversed. You can use Android Tablets and iPads as a real computer (and I have) but that is also a frustrating experience. But on Windows 10 tablets, you don’t have to compromise – you are only limited by the power of your hardware.

I own and use two Windows 10 tablets and for a technical user like myself, they are an obvious choice. For someone who wants a tablet that works all the time and has virtually unlimited store of apps, Android or iPad is still the right choice. But I think that when we revisit this issue in a year’s time, the situation may be reversed.


Next time


Next time we will have a look at how to use apps to change your habits for the New Year.



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