Windows 8 tablets: A confusing world for buyers

Windows 8 tablets: A confusing world for buyers

Summary: Tablets of all kinds running Windows 8 are finally appearing and while choice is normally a good thing for consumers, in this case buyers may be overwhelmed.

Envy tablet
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The choice by Microsoft to make Windows 8 an OS for desktops, laptops, and tablets has been cheered by many and jeered at by others. Whatever side of the Windows 8 for every device camp you fall on the fact is that the multi-dimensional OS is here to stay. Microsoft wants everyone to buy Windows 8 tablets and numerous models are starting to hit the market. 

Tablets running Windows 8 come in all sizes and styles, each trying to get consumers to purchase one rather than the competition, iPads and Android tablets. Having choice is always a good thing for prospective buyers but that may not be the case when it comes to tablets running Windows 8.

See related:

Buyers looking for an iPad have a choice of two sizes and that's it. The purchase decision comes down to which size you want, large or small. The decision is easy with storage space the only option other than size. Most buyers don't want integrated LTE and it usually doesn't enter the purchase decision process.

When you buy an iPad or Android tablet you get good hardware that handles all apps nicely. App handling is an uncertainty for Windows tablets due to the variety of hardware inside.

Shoppers wanting an Android tablet have more options but many of them end up getting a Samsung tablet. It's the biggest selling brand in the Android tablet space. Samsung offers several different sizes so once the consumer decides on how big a tablet is desired the purchase decision is straightforward.

Samsung tablets come with different storage sizes and like the iPad that's the only real decision for purchase. Like the iPad, Samsung Galaxy tablets all run good ARM processors and similar hardware components. 

Even the budget Nexus 7 tablet has good hardware inside and buyers don't have to wade through various internal hardware options.

The same is not true for those looking at the Windows 8 tablet. While tablets of different sizes are beginning to appear on the market, size is only one of several choices that may end up confusing prospective buyers. 

The big choice confronting Windows 8 tablets is of course the Windows RT vs Windows 8 option. Buyers will often find Windows RT on the cheapest of the tablets available, due to the ARM processor inside (like the iPad and Android tablets). The fact that legacy Windows apps cannot be installed on Windows RT tablets is another reason these tablets are cheaper than full Windows models. While current advertising leads buyers to believe that Windows RT and Windows 8 are the same, there's a big difference in the two as noted above.

Once the choice to get a tablet with full Windows 8 is made, buyers need to get familiar with the different Intel processors being used before making a purchase. Most of the cheaper tablets have an Atom processor inside, and while that handles common tasks with ease they aren't the best performing choice. Buyers may end up frustrated by lags doing typical tasks like watching video with the Atom.

To get the best performance possible on tablets running Windows 8 buyers need to go with full Intel Core processors. That usually drives the prices up significantly, even double that of the iPad or Android tablet. That choice also hits the battery life hard, dropping it from near all day utility to just four or five hours. That's not even close to what the competition delivers.

It's no wonder that tablet buyers may be confused when it comes to buying a Windows 8 tablet. There are two versions of Windows to choose from along with several different processor options. The choices can overwhelm non-techie buyers, who often end up buying based on price.

In the Windows world low price means inferior processors which translates into low performance. The buyer will likely end up less than thrilled with the tablet for this reason.

So the typical tablet shopper can choose from the iPad, Android tablet, or Windows tablet. The iPad decision just involves a single model making the purchase process simple. The same is basically true for Android tablets as most branded tablets come with a single model. The iPad and Android tablets all have powerful hardware configurations that run all available apps with ease.

That's not the case with Windows tablets. Some run all Windows apps, some don't, and depending on the hardware inside some tablets may not run heavy apps very well if at all. The only tablets that run all Windows apps well are the high-end models that come with prices that are much higher than the competition. It's no wonder tablet buyers seem to be going with the competition much more often than the Windows 8 options.

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Any tips?

    This article seems to be fulfilling a weekly requirement for articles by the author. The whole Windows RT and Windows 8 discussion has been gone over about a billion times already too.

    Do you have any tips on specific Windows 8 tablets people should be getting?
    Stuart Becktell
    • It would be regarded as a useful article

      So they stick to the tried and trusted 'Bash Microsoft'
      Dreyer Smit
      • Who do you think we are?

        If you reading an online computer column like on this site, chances are you have half a brain. Half a brain is all it takes to figure out how to buy a Windows 8 computer. The author thinks were are ignorant. Its more difficult to figure out how to buy a car.
        Sean Foley
        • Confusing for who ?

          It’s pretty simple. There are two types of Windows 8 tablets, Windows RT and Windows. Everybody is following me. James… stop sleeping on your desk and wake up.
          We continue. Those two types of products can be installed on various tablets. Microsoft is one of the manufacturers involved. Their called Surface. Samsung, Dell, HP also makes tablets and they call them… whatever. James… you just went back to sleep…. Wake up.
          So that is it. That’s all there is to know.
          I hope that everyone will study enough for next week’s exam. I expect to results from this exam to be a lot better than the previous one because the world of windows 8 tablets is a lot simpler the all the different forms and factor of Android tablets.
          • words

          • Sorry

            I am still learning the subtleties of the English language. My French is a lot better. I should pay more attention.
          • What a dreadful piece of journalism

            First of all, every electronics vendor under the sun has attempted an Android tablet in all possible permutations of form factor, memory, resolution, connectivity, Android version, etc. Yet the author, in order to make his point, collectively gathers every Android tablet user (and presumably Kindle Fire user) under the generalisation "many of them end up getting a Samsung tablet... Samsung tablets come with different storage sizes and like the iPad that's the only real decision for purchase."

            Eh? That's like saying "over 50% of phone handsets these days are running Android, so let's just say that everyone is using Android".

            The author then says "Samsung offers several different sizes so once the consumer decides on how big a tablet is desired the purchase decision is straightforward" while contradicting himself towards the end of the article with "...Android tablets as most branded tablets come with a single model"

            So what's it to be, James? Are we generalising every Android user as buying a Samsung model, then their only choice is size, or are you discounting their options for size because they're all buying Samsung which offers a single model?

            Confusing, misleading (to say the least), and downright wrong.

            Furthermore, the article seems to suggest to potential buyers that WinRT tablets are weak, underpowered, and incapable of running the software built for them, which is not true: WinRT tablets are easily capable of running the only apps that can possibly be installed on a WinRT device. So an iPad can't run AutoCAD - that's because AutoCAD wasn't built to run on an iPad, nor was an iPad built to run AutoCAD. So WinRT won't run the desktop installation of Office... it's not even available for WinRT, so it's not as if the buyer of a WinRT tablet could even attempt to install it and be disappointed with sluggishness.

            "The only tablets that run all Windows apps well are the high-end models that come with prices that are much higher than the competition"

            What the author is not revealing is that the high-end tablets he's referring to here are far more capable than any Android device.

            This article smacks of Mr Kendrick being on the books of Samsung.
          • Which aspect of the article

            Do you regard as inaccurate? Seems like a fairly succinct summary of the windows issues to me!
          • Yes, confusing for consumers

            Apple's choice:

            ipad or mac

            (easy to remember)
        • Who do you think we are?

          I guess we both have half a brain huh??
          El Gordo69
        • Of course you need half a brain... to buy a Windows 8 tablet...

          That's all you need to think: "Maybe I should skip Windows 8 until Microsoft gets it right with Windows 9... worked for Vista, sure will work with Windows Wait..."
        • I think he has a point

          For you, me and others probably no real problem.

          But for my brother, or sister, who really dont care about hardware, OS (what the f is RT or 8 - they only know Windows) or whatever, it is something different. They want a "thingy that works". If they have choose from all these variables they probably end up with the tablet the retailer wants to sell them (or has in store). Not what fits their needs best.

          And i have learned there are lots of ppl like them.
          The majority is.
          Only a minority is interested in all this hardware, OS en tech-knowledge.
        • You misinderstood

          I think the article was about the confusion among average shoppers, not a buying guide for those that read these articles.
          • I agree

            I think you are right this is confusion among general shoppers and the lack of knowledge on the part of the sales staff at most electronics stores. I mean buying a windows 8 tablet is no harder than buying a PC or laptop has been for many years really. Although I think that Microsoft would be best served to really market the win RT platform as it's competing tablet offering because the RT is closest to what everyone else is offering. The higher end windows 8 offerings, like the surface pro, are not really even tablets in anything other than their form factor. What they truly are is a laptop with a detachable keyboard, assuming you get the keyboard. If you break it down that way and look at Win RT only you have less options than android for sure and the buying landscape is far less daunting.

            Also the notion that buying an Android tablet is simple with no options like an iPad is just silly. Many android tablets don't even have full access to the android app store lol.
        • 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!
    • Asus TF810

      Tablet that transform into a netbook with all day battery life.
      active digitizer pen as well
      if you don't need gobs of power, this is a brilliant device
    • Any tips? For Stuart Becktell

      Yes I have one:

      Android and iPad sales are through the roof because because no one wants
      a MicroKlunk virus trap Shablet.

      Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
      • Acrid Smoke

        I tried - bleh!

        Bought a Surface Pro after a lot of looking.
        Seeing in the stores, friends asking, I see the biggest issue is the RT vs. Pro confusion.
        btw: have a Transformer and an iPad4 too....... Awaiting the next gen Nexus10 or the ASUS Win8/Android all in one tablet thingy......
      • Oh yes, your shilling is Soooooo discrete

        It cetainly worries you enough to create another anti-MS sock puppet.
        William Farrel
    • Thinkpad Tablet 2

      My specific recommendation for a Win8 tablet is the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2. It's the approximate size and weight of an iPad (weighs a little less actually), and gets an easy 10 hours of battery life, even watching video. I recommend getting the one with the stylus pen, which can't be added later - even if you think you won't use it, it's not a lot of extra money, and it's extremely useful in the desktop, where many controls etc were not designed for touch.

      People expect bad performance from Atom processors, as I did before trying the current Atom in the TPT2. Performance is great, including in Outlook and Word. I have not had any issues watching Netflix, YouTube, and recorded TV over my home network - the video quality seems excellent, even with HD. About the only valid negative point I've read about the TPT2 (or other similar tablets) is that the USB port won't power a device such as an external hard drive or optical drive. Use flash drives to work around this, or get the TPT2 dock, which will power any USB device you plug into it.

      If you live in an area where you can get your hands on one of these in a store, check it out. If you're in the market for a Windows tablet, I'll be surprised if you don't end up with one of these.