What do normal people think of new Windows 8 PCs?

What do normal people think of new Windows 8 PCs?

Summary: Real people, the kind who don't read tech blogs and who buy PCs from shopping channels on basic cable, have finally got their hands on Windows 8. The early reviews will almost certainly surprise you.

TOPICS: Windows, Hardware

Remember last month when the Home Shopping Network (HSN) accidentally began taking orders for new Windows 8 PCs a couple weeks before they were supposed to?

The company pulled the listings down in short order. But it was clear from the selection of devices and from HSN’s marketing material and in-house videos that they were planning to make a significant push into this new market.

And now that they've recovered from that false start, HSN is pushing a very large collection of Windows 8 PCs (at least 26, by my count).


One thing that’s fascinating about HSN is that it’s a community made up of people who are very different from the tech bloggers and gadget addicts that tend to hang around places like this.

Hipsters and techies might scoff at HSN, whose habitués are about as far as you can get from Silicon Valley and Williamsburg when it comes to tech and design sophistication, but HSN shoppers buy a lot of technology. And because they’re a community, they love to leave reviews. It is no accident that every HSN listing for a Windows 8 PC has a Pinterest button alongside the Facebook Like and Tweet This buttons.

So I was particularly eager to read the first reactions to these new devices from, for lack of a better word, normal people.

I went through a total of 42 reviews for three low-priced laptops running Windows 8: one from Acer, two from Gateway (a subsidiary of Acer). All three looked like commodity machines designed to appeal to a price-conscious demographic.

I sorted the reviews into buckets, based on whether the buyer seemed to like or dislike the device overall, with a further breakdown of comments that specifically mentioned Windows 8.

The sample size is far too small to draw any firm conclusions, but overall I found the impressions of these nontechnical early adopters to be far more positive than I would have expected—especially with less-than-top-shelf hardware.


A significant subset of the reviews were unabashedly positive, using words like “awesome” and “great” and “loved it” to describe their new Precious. Presumably the operating system is part of that experience.


Nearly 1 in 4 reviewers made a special point to single out Windows 8 for praise. A self-described senior citizen, for example, said: “I love this laptop, its a little challenging to get used to Windows 8 but once you do you will love it!!! Big buttons for easier typing…”

Another buyer gushed, “The setup of windows 8 is great I can see everything with [ease]. The computer itself has so many features that I have had it a week and still discovering new ones.”

A handful of these people who probably have never seen Engadget and think Gizmodo is a character on The Cartoon Network were pleasantly surprised that the new OS wasn’t as difficult to use as they had been told:

  • “Windows 8 has a bit of a learning curve but overall, I like it.”
  • “Great machine! Win 8 easier to learn than expected.”
  • “I love it! It's fast, Windows 8 is rather easy to use…”


As expected, some of the early adopters liked the hardware but were flummoxed by the new operating system. A sampling of comments:

  • “Windows 8 … this take some getting used to. The idea of getting to information faster is good however, there aren't enough programs preloaded.”
  • “Great so far - getting used to Win 8 will take a few days!!!”
  • " trying to get use to this new windows 8”
  • “I haven't made my mind up about Windows 8. I've sort of figured out how to use it but I find myself switching back to the desktop. It's easier for me to navigate.”

I think part of Microsoft's bet on the Windows 8 interface is that people will get over the discomfort quickly. If so, this comment has to be reassuring:

Windows 8 scares me as I'm not used to not having a "start" menu to get to my All Programs. : The more I use it, however, the more I like it and this computer is...FAST!!!


One of the biggest problems with the PC ecosystem is that cut-rate hardware can be slow, unreliable, or poorly supported. And in this sample, about 1 in 5 buyers really, really didn’t like the product they bought.

None of the reviews that I sorted into this group had a bad word to say about Windows 8. In fact, a couple reviewers pointedly mentioned that they had used Windows 8 on other hardware and blamed the hardware for system sluggishness. HSN’s India-based support staff also earned brickbats in this category.

But when 20% or more of your customers are unhappy with your product within days of buying it, you, Mr. PC Maker, have a problem.


This number is pretty much in line with what I expected, and significantly smaller than the doom-and-gloom scenarios some Microsoft watchers are secretly hoping for.

Microsoft must have expected a certain amount of backlash from its strategy of going all in with a new interface and removing familiar touchstones like the Start menu. And sure enough, 6 of these 42 mostly non-techie reviewers made sure to point out that they didn’t like Windows 8.

One called it “a real pain” to learn the new ways. An HSN customer who described the laptop screen as “amazing, the best I have ever seen” went on to add, pointedly: “Not crazy about Windows 8.”

For one buyer, the combination of Windows 8 and sluggish hardware was a dealbreaker:

It was very slow just turning it on and sometimes when you go from one app to another. Also not too thrilled with the upgrades that Windows 8 offers. Only upgrade for me was the screen size. Most likely I will be sending back unless Windows 8 grows on me - not likely

But my favorite bad review was this deliciously understated entry, which threw in a verdict on Windows 8 almost as punctuation:

Looks beautiful but after 3 days it now has a pc error. I had to reset. So no i'm not a happy consumer. … Also i hate windows8. Thank you

You're welcome.

This exercise, while certainly not definitive, really does zero in on the core problems that Microsoft is desperately trying to deal with in the PC ecosystem.

The first is a set of recalcitrant hardware partners who are willing to put out a product that a significant percentage of their customers are going to dismiss as "junk" or worse. We'll see if Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung can pull better satisfaction ratings from their customers.

The second problem is Microsoft's need to help new Windows 8 users get over the learning curve. It's not entirely clear from this small sample that they've succeeded at that task yet.

And a footnote: I was fascinated that not one customer complained about the pre-loaded software, and in fact many of them saw the trial version of Norton and the bundle of 19 programs on a separate CD as selling points.

Topics: Windows, Hardware

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  • My experience

    Tried the developers preview on traditional Laptop hardware. This is my thought.

    In their quest to be one of the more relevant OS' again (lets face it, "mobile" is the future of OS), MS tried to develop an OS that deals with the most pressing use cases that other OS' may not be doing well. I know this because of their marketing.

    My experience is the OS fell short of tackling those use cases as well as they hoped. Maybe with the right hardware my experience would be different.

    I do expect Google to take note and start paying attention to those use cases that are now being marketed so well and trying to tackle them with their own OS. While MS refines their OS.

    The results should be an exciting three horse race that will be good for the customer.
    • Try RTM

      Do you really mean developer preview which released like one year ago? You should try RTM or at least consumer preview.
      • Sorry...

        I meant consumers preview. I struggled with it on an old school trackpad.

        I'm willing to try it on more appropriate hardware but won't be buying anything anytime soon as I'm enjoying my new MacBook air and ML.

        My main complaint is found it awkward to get back to the live tiles which I felt didn't always tell me as much as I wanted (Still more then iOS' grid). I think it will get better and it did drive Apple to creation the notification centre. I also think Live Tiles will be the thing Apple will look to respond to in iOS 7 where iOS was lets get away from Apple.

        competition is fun
        • No copy...

          " I also think Live Tiles will be the thing Apple will look to respond to in iOS 7 where iOS was lets get away from Apple."

          That should be fun watching. Especially as Apple and Microsoft has signed deals not to copy each others interfaces. Hence WP does not look like an iPhone and never shall an iPhone look like a Windows Phone.

          Will be fun watching Apple trying to get out of this self induced trap :-)
          • Widgets in Android

            Widgets in Android allows you a similar functionality as tiles, to see information without open apps. Although Android looks a bit messy with a mix between Widgets and Icons.
          • Messy?

            Really? I find it refreshing that I can put my quick info in widgets and my most-used app shortcuts on the same screen. And live tiles aren't all the same size, so it's the same kind of "a bit messy" with Win8.
        • I agree about the awkward transition back to the 'Start' screen.

          I do find it somewhat curious, there's a tile that takes you to the desktop, but no icon on the desktop that takes you back. Fortunately, this seems easily fixable.

          As a matter of fact, I think I may do some searching online and see if there's a way to create a "Start" screen icon.
          • STart button

            Start8 is a program that works.
          • Why

            ... would you ever want to go back? :-) Actually, if you use Classic Shell with the Windows 7 skin, your Metro Apps are listed at the bottom of the Start Menu, just below "All Programs". This makes it pretty easy to go back and forth.
          • Doh!

            Just press the Windows key - and you are back to Metro....
          • Start is ALWAYS there in the lower left corner

            There is no START button in Win 8 - you just move the cursor into the lower left corner and you see the START ICON, plus as mentioned you can just hit the Windows key on your keyboard. Couldn't be easier.
          • not so

            Easier is that you have a menu button visible and you can click it or press menu shortcut.
            Modern UI is harder.
          • Agree

            Having a "hidden icon" which only "comes to light" when hovered over is just NOT intuitive at all - and we all know how many non-tech users do NOT RT*M.....
          • Disagree

            I don't know why people find this so difficult just put you cursor in the lower left corner and click.

            If this is too hard for you, you should not be using computers!
          • hover over something you don't neccessarily know is there

            I'm sorry, but how does that help a newb' work with their computer? It's like telling a visually impaired person, "look it's right in front of you!!" And of course you were born with all the all the skills to just sit behind a screen and do everything? You must be awesome, not!!
          • You know there's a tutorial, right?

            AIUI, every new PC shipping with Windows 8 launches into a welcome video by default, and the first thing that video does is tell the user to navigate to the corners of the screen to find things. My guess is that people who can't find the Start screen are the same people who thought they already knew everything (and apparently didn't), and skipped the video.
            Nunya Bidnez
          • Is too well hidden.

            Why need to hide it so well? We have so many empty spaces with Metro apps, it will not hurt with a tiny Start icon at the bottom left right?
          • Sheesh!!

            Blimey - why do you find it so difficult?
            Just click the Windows key (or on the Surface just tap the Windows logo) and you're taken back to the Metro Start.

            (Or you can always swipe from the right and the Metro Start icon appears.)

            I thought I'd miss the Start bar - but having tried the Surface I've discovered I don't want the old Start menu back.
            The Metro Start is a dream to work with. NB: You can just start typing and Metro will just narrow in on your app (a bit like a combination of the old "Run" and "Start"). Works a treat.
          • Just start typing....

            What if you dont know exactly what something is called? I also do not need the whole screen to open a new program.
          • not for long

            trust me when the apps store really gets stocked up in about a years time, users will have screens full of apps, if mobile phone use is anything to go by. I suspect that in the longer term they want to encourage users towards metro and I am sure most of us will use it more once all the traditional desktop apps are available. I think that you can be fairly certain that one day in the distant future the traditional desktop will be phased out, as I suspect will mice and even keyboards. Todays babies will probably grow up without ever knowing these old fashioned ways of interacting - my two year old grandson is pretty competent on an iPad