Epiphany: Windows 8 is a very good tablet OS

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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.

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