Epiphany: Windows 8 is a very good tablet OS

Epiphany: Windows 8 is a very good tablet OS

Summary: Windows 8 tries to be different things to different people, and according to some it succeeds in areas and falls short in others. At first I didn't find it to be a good tablet OS until getting it on the right device.

TP hand landscape
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Microsoft shook things up when it designed Windows 8 to work on all computer configurations. It handles desktops, laptops, and tablets and being a tablet guy it's the latter I have been struggling with since launch. The touch operation and control gestures just didn't feel right to me on any of the dozen or so tablets and convertible notebooks I tried. Recently I got a sensational tablet, and after using it heavily I've realized that Windows 8 is a pretty good tablet OS.

The tablets I've used with Windows 8 have come in all shapes and sizes, from big and clunky to convertible notebooks with swivel screens. While using them the Windows 8 touch operation never felt comfortable or natural, and I admit I blamed Windows. I was critical about Windows 8 because it seemed to me it was close but not quite there on any of these devices.

See also: 10 advantages Windows 8 has over the iPad and Android | ThinkPad Tablet 2: Best Windows tablet | Acer W3 8-inch Windows 8 tablet: First impressions | Windows 8 tablets: A confusing world for buyers

A few weeks ago I broke down and bought the ThinkPad Tablet 2, a device I found to be a great tablet based on its size, weight, and comfort while using it as a tablet. Like all of the tablets I've used, the Tablet 2 also works well with a keyboard but this article is not about that, it's strictly about tablet use.

Windows 8.1 is going to take what I've come to realize is a good tablet OS and make it a great one.

I've used the ThinkPad heavily since the purchase, and I've come to realize that Windows 8 on a good tablet is a very nice touch OS. It's not perfect, nothing is, but the touch operation is natural while using the Tablet 2 in the hands. I can operate it simply, often using just my thumbs to swipe things in and out.

In addition to touch operation I do believe that a physical keyboard is also needed to fully leverage tablets. That's separate from touch tablet use where an onscreen touch keyboard comes into play. The virtual keyboard in Windows 8 is simply the best shipping on any mobile platform. I do wish the predictive text, where the OS guesses what word you want after a keystroke or two, was a little better. Even so, it is easy to type on the Windows 8 keyboard given the key layout.

TP hand portrait
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Unlike some, I've come to like the Metro interface on a tablet. It's easy to move around by swiping the screen, and becomes natural after using it a while. There are things I wish worked differently in Windows 8, better portrait orientation support for example. According to reports, Windows 8.1 coming in October is going to address this and other things I wish were better. That's going to take what I've come to realize is a good tablet OS and make it a great one.

I do wish there were more good Metro apps, but until then there's always the legacy desktop apps to fall back on. The lack of legacy app support is my biggest problem with Windows RT. Those aren't always controlled by touch as well as Metro apps but they'll do for now. I am looking forward to a steady release of good Metro apps; I would like to stay on the Metro side all the time, which would be awesome.

I'm willing to do my part to help get more good Metro apps developed. If you are a developer and write a good app, I'm willing to review it to help you get exposure. Be aware that I'll be brutally honest in a review, and if your app isn't very good that's what the review will indicate. Good apps should by nature get a good review so get cracking and get some built.

I've come to prefer using the Tablet 2 as a pure tablet and that surprises me. Sure it works well with the keyboard but it's a joy to use as a slate. Hardware aside, that is attributable to how good a tablet OS Windows 8 is.

The takeaway from my experience is -- don't despair if you've tried Windows 8 on one tablet and didn't find pure tablet use to feel natural. We're all different, but for me the key was being able to hold the Tablet 2 easily in my hands and operate Windows 8 without moving my hands much. If you find the right tablet you might have your own epiphany that Windows 8 is a very good tablet OS.

Just because I've come to like Windows 8 for tablet use, that doesn't mean I will no longer use the iPad and Android tablets. Those are good tablet OSes too, and I'll split my tablet usage among the three. Windows 8 is not better nor worse than the others, it's different. It's better in some ways and worse in others, but it's still good.

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Agreed

    I agree. Ever since getting a Surface RT I've become a windows 8 believer. Unlike some, I actually like the dual nature of the OS (which is why I'm breathlessly awaiting the new Haswell and Baytrail tablets). It's a desktop style OS when I want to get real work done, and it's an intuitive tablet OS when I want to sit back on the couch and surf the web or play a game that works best with touch input.

    I'm not convinced by everything: I'm still on the fence when it comes to live tiles, for instance. I like the idea, but it also means that you often cannot rely on the look of the tile to figure out what it does. The other day, for instance, I wanted to see what was playing at the movies, so I searched my tiles for the Flixster app. And I couldn't find it. Why? Simple: because the app was displaying an image taken from an upcoming movie rather than a instantly familiar icon to latch onto.

    But these are small quibbles that app developers will soon iron out. All in all, I really like my Surface RT. Just wish there were mroe apps in the app store.
    • Very Stable

      On top of everything else Windows 8 is very stable. My wife has a small business and we put a large flat screen TV in a window as a sign. We connected to a computer and run a looping Power Point presentation. It provides an animated sign that is easy to update. Originally it ran Windows 7 and Office 2012. It would crash or hang every 1 to 5 days. It never made it an entire week. Most of the time it was the operating systems fault. I upgraded to Windows 8 and Office 365. It now runs for weeks without hanging. It has gone 4 weeks several times when I stop it to do some edits. Not sure how long it would go.
      • Does the wheel fit????

        Reminds me of the guy who found a spare wheel and tire in like-new condition. He spent a small fortune going from dealer to dealer to find a new car to buy which it would fit. Am I missing something? Do we have a bunch of PTSD victims here???
      • You have one of the Win8 mutants

        My Win8 freezes constantly, screws up all the apps which had no problems with XP, slows down all but one browser, keeps popping new windows up with no regard for what I'm doing, stonewalls Java and Adobe, and in every regard, can be best described as MALWARE.
        • Hmmm...

          I smell BS. It sounds to me like you either made all that crap up, or you actually have malware. Windows 8 doesn't pop up anything that I'm aware of other than tiny notifications in the bottom right of the screen (which can be turned off).

          I have it on oh I don't know, 30 or so devices now and not a hiccup. I run it on my home computers with a Final Fantasy XI going 24 hours a day as well as typically having chrome (10-15 tabs) and Firefox open, a few excel sheets and outlook. It hasn't crashed once.

          Stop clicking on all of the "Install our free web player app to download free PRON!" adds.
        • I had a serious "not responding" problem

          And refreshed and restored the laptop without success. Then a full reinstall, and the problem did not recur. I think the problem was malware, which may have installed while my anti-virus program was downloading. Apart from that, I have Windows 8 on three laptops at home, and no problems at all.
          • Windows RT (ARM) is the future for the masses.

            For the masses, RT (ARM) is much better then Intel based tablets.

            + Thinner then intel based
            + Cheaper then intel based
            + Works without a cooler
            + Better battery life
            + Office is included
            + Safer for users. They do not install any crap on those machines which will make them slow after a year!!!

            - Cannot run Windows desktop apps (first ask yourself, if you need them on a tablet machine)

            So, if you are thinking about a tablet and you just use it for browsing, checking e-mails, working with office - RT device is perfect for you.
            Don't let yourself listning salesman crap, that you NEED full Windows 8 tablet!
          • RT is Micosofts answer to Android.

            I'd nevery buy one.

            I have an Acer 721-3070 netbook with 1.7 Ghz processor and 3 GB of RAM. I added a 500 GB HDD from a $59 Toshiba external drive from WalMart. I have a full blown edition of Linux Mint 15 installed on the HD with an encrypted 100 GB partition.

            Presently, I'm running Knoppix 7.2.0 from an 8GB flash drive. I can access the entire hard drive and use it for storage if needed.

            Knoppix is running completely from the Flash drive and RAM. If I completely removed the hard drive it would still operate the same, and probably extend the battery life from the 6 cell Li-Ion battery.

            Microsoft users still have to live with the Microsoft ecosystem of AV, critical updates, WGA, COA's, EULA's and not being able to freely copy, modify, install and distribute their OS. There are many reasons why Microsoft is losing the war. This magazine likes to concentrate on some select feature, but the truh is Microsoft is still running the show behind the scenes, and no on is going to walk away from it.
          • BTW, the Knoppix flash drive is fully 256-bit encrypted with a passphrase.

            I carry it around on my keychain and can use it on friends or relatives notebooks or desktops without ever having to deal with Windows.

            Here's my method for doing this:

            Download the 7.2.0 Knoppix CD file from:


            Burn the .iso file to c reate a bootable CD or DVD.

            Boot the CD or DVD on your computer. (no changes are made to existing OS)

            Click on the leftmost tray icon, click "Knoppix", then "Install Knoppix to flash disk", Plug in 8GB flash drive, and follow prompts. Add a passphrase when prompted to encrypte the flash drive for security if it is lost. (you are able to permanently configure the flash drive and save files to it.)

            This completes the basic installation. You can use it on any computer as long as the boot order is set to boot from the USB drive before the hard drive (use F2 or F10 to set this when startiing up the computer)

            Hers' a listing of the configurations that I apply.

            1. Click "Preferences" > "Network Connections" Connect to your wireless network or wired network. Change IPv4 and IPv6 to Google Public DNS. Use "Edit" for Wired and Wireless changes. Click on "Ipv4 Settings", change "Method" to "Automatic (DHCP) Adresses only" and add", to "DNS Servers" > "Save" Do the same for Wired Connections". Change IPv6 by selecting "Automatic, addresses only" and add 2001:4860:4860::8888, 2001:4860:4860::8844
          • (Continued)

            ..to "DNS Servers".Do the same for both wireless and wired connections. Google Public DNS caches multiple websites and provides built in phishing protection.

            Once connected to the internet, Click on "Knoppix" and "Install Components".

            Iceweasel is the default browser and is made from Firefox. Initally all browser scripts are forbidden. You can select to "allow scripts globally" if desired, or choose other options to restrice scripts partially.

            Configure Ice Weasel by selecting "Preferences", under the "Edit" option on the toolbar. (This is different than Windows Firefox, where Preferences is under the "tools" menu.
          • Also, ...

            Turn on Firewall
            Install Filezilla from Synaptic Package manager
            Install and configure Chromium from the Synaptic Package Manager.

            Right click on Main Menu entries and add the desired icons to the desktop.

            That's it.
          • You're sounding pretty nervous, Joe

            maybe lay off the cafine a bit.

            And step out of the Googleplex for a little while...
            William Farrel
          • Nervous, about not hocking Windows garbage?

            The funny thing is, Google has nothing to do with Microsoft, they use and advocate Linux 100%, even forbid their employees to use Windows. If ou use Linux, Google is your best asset.

            No wonder they are No. 1 on the MS hitlist. They are the biggest threat to the dying beast, and deserve the most shill energy available.

            Android doesn't need AV and they are activating +1.3 million units per day vs. Microsot printing COA's in record numbers.

            Wow, I can't wait to finally see someone using a Microsoft smartphone or tablet for the first time. Losers.
          • Umm Google does NOT forbid their employees from using Windows..

            Seriously... do you even believe your own stupidity? There are plenty of Windows machines in use at Google, as well as Macs and Linux. To say they forbid Windows is just patently false.
          • RE: "Android doesn't need AV..."

            Android is the least secure of all the mobile OSs on the planet. Check out some security research sites before you post something like that. Or you could "Google" it.
          • "Nervous"

            I use a two year old, off-brand tablet that I've upgraded to Windows 8, now Windows 8.1 and (I'm sure you wouldn't believe it), I take it to class and everyone admires how nice it is, and where did I find a full-fledged OS that works so well on a tablet. I also have a laptop and desktop, all running Windows 8.1 and I wouldn't trade any of those devices for anything Apple offers. I was at my sister's for dinner today and watched her struggle to get her mac to work properly- it was far slower than any of my computers and doesn't do as much and isn't particularly intuitive to use. I also have two Windows 8 phones in my household and they are the best I've seen yet among smartphones. My sister is a teacher and recently purchased a Windows 8 laptop, because she needs something that will actually run serious programs rather than the "there's an app for that" excuse for an OS. My mother bought for herself just after her 75ft birthday a Windows 8 laptop and though she usually calls me to help with almost any new tech, I didn't know she'd purchased the laptop until I visited her a few weeks afterward. She figured out how to use it with no help from me and no calls to tech service. I did show here a few shortcuts to speed up what she was doing, but now she uses it every day of the week and not just for email, and could even her old printer with it, unlike Apple's tendency to only make products that will work with the latest tech. And with support guaranteed for the next ten years, she won't have to buy a new machine every two years or so just to get better versions. I, sir, am not a "loser" and I resent you saying that I am. If you truly want to see a real loser, Joe., look in the mirror because there he stands...
          • Have you submitted this as a blog article?

            I would think this would make a good ZD or TR blog ... good info.

            And also a "use case" that I think is going to become increasingly important, the "carry-your-OS-on-a-stick" model. Things like Project Ophelia (which isn't exactly the same, but has some of the same core concepts) smooth the trail for greater adoption/recognition of this approach, I think.

            Hmm, a stick computer (Project Ophelia style, MK808) that _also_ would serve in the way you describe, as the root partition for plugging into separatel compute resources ... that might be interesting. Dual CPU architectures needed - maybe a dual-arch hypervisor on the stick ... hmm ...
          • Honestly, I love Mint, but I use this Knoppix USB all the time now.

            I'd like to add something important that I did this morning.

            Knoppix uses LXDE, which is a light GUI and file manager, but I went to the Synaptic Package Manager this morning and installed GDebi, the instlaller used in Mint.

            It's much easire to install items like Google Call and other packages from external (trusted) websites. Just right-click on the downloaded file and select "GDebi package installer" and follow the prompts.

            Knoppix, I believe, was the first innovator of the Live CD/DVD operation. It's 32-bit, so for Google Call, I selected the 32-bit debian from the Google Page, even though my netbook is 64-bit. Fortunately, there is absolutely no performance penalty.

            Also, the Knoppix CD utility to install Knoppix on a flash drive formats the drive to FAT 32, which is handy if you need to copy some Windows files to the drive, (from Windows). Microsoft hasn't evovled yet to handle EXT3 and EXT4 formats, which are far superior to Microsoft formats that need defrragging and maintenance.

            Another item I discovered in my Flash Computer travels. I used an 8 GB flash drive. I have some USB drives with a higher capacity that I tried, but performance was very slow compared to the 8GB one. My theory is the 16 GB flash drive I used containted (2) 8 GB chips with some sort of switching device. This internal switching device seemed to be causing the problem in the larger capacity drive in the OS funcition, causing repetitive delays. I did some research and looked up companies selling live Linux USB drives of higher capacity. I was able to determine the manufacturer they were using, and hopefully, they are using higher capacity chips without the switching.

            Also, if you have a hosed Windows computer, this Live USB drive can instantly access and back up all the files to another USB flash drive or an external USB 500 GB hard drive. It's a very dangerous tool in some situations, so be careful where you bring it.
          • I am shocked and amazed

            A guy who pushes Linux won't be getting a Windows RT tablet.

            He is also peddling that you need AV on it, that updates are something bad, that most users give two craps about distributing their OS, etc.

            Joe, I'm sorry, you're living in a bubble.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • The fearful all sound like him

            The story has nothing to do with Linux, in fact, according to Joe, Windows 8 and RT are nothing for Android or Linux to fear. This is one blogger's opinion of a Windows tablet

            And yet he feels compelled to try and convince everyone that Windows is to be bypassed, and starts the FUD/Spin machine for something that shouldn't need that used against according to all his posts.

            So it appears he's been lying through his teeth all these months, and just doesn't know everyone's caught on.
            William Farrel