Windows 8 tablet considerations including Windows RT and Windows 8 comparison

23 Oct

[Update 14-12-2013]

It’s been more than a year since my initial post, so here are some updates from my point of view:

  • Tablets and ultrabooks are coming closer together due to all the available form factors. Tablet, clam shell, slider, convertible, dockable / detachable, etc. This provides more choice, but makes it also harder for people to choose the device that is most appropriate for them.
  • Cheaper Windows 8.1 based tablets (based on the new Intel Atom processors) have become available that make it a more viable alternative to Android and iOS based tablets.
  • Windows tablets based on AMD processors seemed interesting to me last year because of their added graphical power, but they didn’t seem to get any traction up until now.
  • High end Windows based tablets (Intel Core i5/i7 based) are still relatively expensive.
  • Many companies that previously produced Windows RT tablets, stopped making them (Asus, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, HTC. The only companies that are still producting Windows RT tablets are Microsoft, Nokia (largely backed by Microsoft) and Dell.
  • Rumours are floating around that Microsoft will be reducing the number of Windows versions and in my opinion it would make sense to get rid of Windows RT.
  • The new and improved Intel Atom (quad core processors) are making ARM based Windows RT devices even less interesting because they provide better performance and use less energy than the previous versions while allowing people to run x86 programs.
  • Windows tablets have become available in smaller sizes (8 inch) and Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 have updated to better work with this.
  • Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 have been released and many minor adjustments made it more tablet optimized.
  • Most major apps have been released as a “Metro”/Modern app for Windows 8 / Windows RT, but it’s still lagging behind Google’s Play Store and the Apple App Store.
  • The graphical performance included in processors is increasing, reducing the need for seperate GPUs for generic use and bringing more options for apps.
  • Google Android based tablets are still going strong and provide a lot of bang for buck. Also the Android OS is still getting many useful updates. Security and OS version sprawl is still an issue though, especially in the enterprise. Also there’s a big gap in user experience because there are still very cheap tablets with lots of disadvantages, while the normal and high end models are very good in general.
  • The Apple iPad (hardware) and operating system (iOS) received updates and they’re still doing very well what they’ve always done while providing great stability and improving battery time and performance. To me however it’s more of the same without much added value over previous versions. I’m curious to see if, how and when Apple will make their devices more popular for people that want to be able to do more. Maybe some kind power tablet running OS X with touch and iOS options ?

If you have something to add or if you think something that’s incorrect, please leave a comment.

[Update 14-12-2013]

Since I’m seriously considering buying a Windows based tablet, I’ve been very closely following all developments. Even though a lot of information has become available, it’s often spread across many different websites and articles and is often incomplete in my opinion. Since the Microsoft Surface RT tablet is available for pre-order and will be sold when Windows 8 will be available on the 26th of October I decided to write this article.And even though a lot of people have complained about this on various sites, most sites don’t have one article that covers all the things to look out for. In this post I try to do just that. One of the most useful resources I’ve used are the articles from Paul Thurrott on his website supersite for windows.

Also it’s not just consumers that are having trouble understanding / explaining the differences between Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets though, Microsoft employees are also still being trained to properly handle questions.

In this post it’s important to realize that Microsoft Surface RT is not the same as Windows RT, Microsoft Surface RT is a tablet from Microsoft (hardware) that runs Windows RT (software). Microsoft Surface Pro is another tablet from Microsoft (hardware) that runs Windows 8 (software).

Tablet comparison

Windows tablet advantages (in comparison to Google Android and Ipad tablets)

  • Multi-user support (not necessary to buy a tablet for each family member, each can have its own apps, personalization and integration and limit visibility from other family members).
  • Multi tasking and being able to display two applications on the screen at the same time (using snap).
  • Better management options for enterprises (especially with Windows 8). Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 are expected to be managed using Windows Intune.
  • The Windows 8 tablets are more suitable as mobile desktop replacements.
  • On Windows 8 tablets you can use applications that you’ve used on previous Windows versions on your desktop/notebook (providing they are compatible with Windows 8). This means you don’t have to buy new applications. Examples include Office (including older versions), VLC player, Media Player Classic Home Cinema, codec packs. But you will also be able to run more demanding applications like by example Adobe Photoshop and Autocad.
  • Similar user interface / user experience as desktops/laptops when they are running Windows 8. Especially when touch screens are being used.
  • Both first party (Microsoft Surface) and 3rd party tablets lead to more choice, which should lead to more competition, more innovation and better prices. Also people can determine what model(s) best meet their needs and preferences.
  • You can use SD and SDXC memory cards and even USB drives. This allows you to increase your storage in a cheap and flexible way or to easily read/write documents on external media. This is also true for many Android tablets. With the iPad there is no option for memory card expansion and the model you decide to purchase is very important, also the price difference between models with different sizes is pretty hefty.
  • On Windows 8 tablets you can use all USB peripherals in the same way as you do with desktops and notebooks. This includes, but is not limited to mobile broadband USB dongles (3G), USB cardreader, MP3 player, keyboard, mouse, photo camera. With Android I believe there are some tablets where you can use (some) USB peripherals, but this is very limited. This is also true for the iPad, which even requires a proprietary cable.
  • Microsoft Office can be run on the tablets. On Windows RT, Office 2013 RT Home & Student (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote) is even included at no additional cost. There are rumors there will be an Office version for Android and iPad, but these are rumours and it is unclear if/when it will be available and for what price.
  • You can print directly from the tablet (Windows RT printer support is limited to the ones added by Microsoft, while with Windows 8 you can install your own driver should the printer not be supported). This is still better than with Android and IOS which is generally more troublesome.
  • Tight integration with Microsoft online/cloud services.
  • Application personalization/settings can roam between your devices if the application leverages it. This means that specific settings you’ve configured  on one device will can transfer over to other devices you use. Think of by example when you’re reading a document on your desktop that will save what page you were on and will start there when you continue on your tablet.
  • Touch gestures are more elaborate and provide more options. As with all new things, it will require some training/getting used to.

Windows tablet disadvantages (in comparison to Google Android and Ipad tablets)

  • Less apps available currently in the store.
  • Apps in the Microsoft store might not work on all architectures which could be confusing to some. Users have to realize this. So if you bought an app in the store for your desktop/notebook, there’s no guarantee it will work on Windows RT or Windows Phone. Currently from what I read, more than 90% of the apps work on all architectures, which means you will be able to use apps you bought on all types of Windows 8 devices you use. Android and iPad users don’t have this problem since there are no versions on different architectures.
  • Most people are currently using iPhone or Android based phones, which means they need to switch apps or buy apps again.
  • Tablets are generally more expensive than Android based tablets and similarly priced as the iPad.
  • There might be too much choice, which could lead to confusion and varying user experiences due to different expectations. The same is seen with android tablets as well. This is not the case for the iPad however (even though there are different generations of the iPad).
  • It is still unclear if you can upgrade Windows tablets when a new version of Windows 8 will be released.
  • As far as I know, the space available to you for installing apps is limited to your (SSD) drive space. This means that you need to substract the space used by Windows and that you cannot run apps from a memory card expansion as you can with (some) android apps. This is important to realize when considering different versions with different (SSD) drive sizes. Especially some games in the Windows store I’ve seen can take up a lot of space. Maybe hacks like the one I describe here is sufficient for some, but it’s something to keep in mind. Also you might want to take a look at this way to make more space available on your windows tablet by making a USB recovery drive.

Hardware comparison

There are many different manufacturers creating many different models with different specs and included peripherals. So be sure to compare specs and preferably also physically test before buying so you have a better chance of getting a tablet that meets your needs/expectations. Specs to look out for in devices may include the ones listed below. Even though some specs are specific to tablets, most of the specs can be used for other devices as well like desktops, notebooks and all-in-one devices.

  • Operating system used
    • Android, iOS, Windows RT,  Windows 8.
    • Version of the operating system (especially important for Android and Windows based tablets).
  • Design / form factor
    • Looks.
    • Ergonomics and usage
    • Form factor
      • Tablet
      • Clamshell
      • Detachable / dockable
      • Hybrid
      • Etc.
  • Do you like how it works ?
    • Intuitive
  • Do you like how it works ?
    • Intuitive
    • Speed
    • Fluid
    • Personalization
    • Browser performance
    • Browser supports what you need ? (flash, silverlight, activex support, java, etc)
  • Specifications
    • Dimensions
    • Battery life
      • Time needed to charge.
    • Cpu
      • Architecture (ARM / x86-x64)
      • Cpu type (Nvidia Tegra 3, Intel Atom, Intel Core i3/i5/i7, AMD Hondo)
        • The Intel Atom quad cores introduced in 2013 are greatly improved over the older ones.
      • Cpu cores/speed/performance (both cpu and gpu)
    • Memory (amount/performance)
    • Disk
      • Size (available size after OS is installed)
      • Performance
    • Ports/connectors (which and how many)
      • Proprietary connectors
      • USB 2.0 and/or USB 3.0
      • HDMI
      • Displayport
      • Ethernet (gigabit ?)
      • Possible to use memorycards (which and what size)
      • Charge using USB ?
      • Proprietary charger ?
    • Screen specifications
      • Matte / Glossy (usable outside in direct sunlight ?)
      • Brightness (might improve usability when used in direct sunlight)
      • Contrast
      • Size
      • Resolution
      • Viewing angles
      • Aspect ratio
      • Size of the bezel
      • Type of glass used (by example gorilla glass to prevent/minimize scratches and breaking)
    • Sensors (ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, NFC)
    • Build quality
    • Weight
    • 5 or 10 point multi-touch
    • Camera (front/rear ?, resolutions ?)
    • Network connectivity options (GPS, 3G, Wi-Fi 2,4 Ghz / 5 Ghz, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, gigabit ethernet, bluetooth)
    • How long does it take to charge
  • Peripherals (which are included and what does it cost to buy those you want/need that are not included)
    • Cover / carrying case
    • Charger / adapter
      • Size and weight of the charger
      • Connection type (magnetic)
      • Standardized charger or proprietary
    • Pens
    • Docking stations (ports, extra battery life ?)
    • Keyboards
      • Portability (size/weight)
      • Touch or key based ?

Windows RT vs Windows 8 comparison for tablets

Windows RT advantages in comparison to Windows 8 Pro/Enterprise:

  • Generally cheaper tablets.
  • Generally lighter tablets.
  • Generally better power efficiency/longer battery usage on tablets.
    • With the new Intel Atom processors the gap has become smaller between ARM based tablets and Intel Atom based tablets.
  • Includes Office 2013 RT Home and Student (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote) at no additional cost.
  • Connected standby (new form of power management) is available on all Windows RT devices, while only Windows 8 devices running the very latest chipsets support this functionality (currently only those devices based on the Atom “Clover Trail” processor).

Windows RT disadvantages in comparison to Windows 8 Pro/Enterprise:

  • x86/x64 apps like those you used on previous Windows versions cannot be used (because of the ARM architecture).
  • Adobe doesn’t officially support Windows RT for ebooks with their DRM. There is a workaround though.
  • Cannot be joined to a domain.
  • Windows 8 RT is harder to manage in enterprise environments. Integration/support is better with regular Windows 8 and by example the system center suite.
  • Internet Explorer 10 flash only works with sites whitelisted by Microsoft. A “hack” to allow other flash sites is described here. Microsoft changed this to a blacklist where only some sites are blocked.
  • Internet Explorer 10 add-ins cannot be used. Some important examples why this might pose a problem:
    • Silverlight is not available on Windows RT. Even though it’s likely that many of the current content providers will come up with dedicated apps, HTML5 (or other) solutions there is no guarantee if and when this will happen. For now however it means that some content will not be (easily) available. An example of a site that requires silverlight is RTL XL, a website from a TV channel that provides users with ways to look at re-runs of shows or paid on-demand content.
    • Windows RT devices cannot download or install ActiveX controls.
    • Java applets won’t work on Windows RT.
  • It is unlikely that you will be able to install 3rd party browsers on Windows RT.
  • Out of the box you won’t be able to play movie files like by example x264 MKV and other formats that require either filter/codecs to be installed or mediaplayers that include these. Currently these apps are not available yet. It is uncertain if they wil come, but I do think so. But still it will be unclear when they will be released, which media files they support, what they cost and if they both Windows RT. With Windows 8 you can just install either codec/filter (packs) and/or your media player of choice like by example VLC Media Player, Media Player Classic Home Cinema (MPC-HC), ffdshow, etc. This blog post contains a list of supported media on Windows 8.
  • Included Office 2013 RT Home and Student is limited to Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. And at the moment it looks like this won’t change in the near future. Outlook 2013 RT has been released for Windows RT. With Windows 8 you can install the complete Office suite without any limitations.
  • Included Office 2013 RT Home and Student does not support the following features that are supported in the full version of Offie 2013:
    • Macros, add-ins, and features that rely on ActiveX controls or 3rd party code such as the PowerPoint Slide Library ActiveX control and Flash Video Playback
    • Certain legacy features such as playing older media formats in PowerPoint (upgrade to modern formats and they will play) and editing equations written in Equation Editor 3.0, which was used in older versions of Office (viewing works fine)
    • Certain email sending features, since Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications (opening a mail app, such as the mail app that comes with Windows RT devices, and inserting your Office content works fine)
      • Not sure if this has been resolved now Outlook 2013 RT has been made available.
    • Creating a Data Model in Excel 2013 RT (PivotTables, QueryTables, Pivot Charts work fine)
    • Recording narrations in PowerPoint 2013 RT
    • Searching embedded audio/video files, recording audio/video notes, and importing from an attached scanner with OneNote 2013 RT (inserting audio/video notes or scanned images from another program works fine)
  • Included Office 2013 RT Home and Student is not for commercial use in enterprises and might require additional licensing.
  • Drivers might not be available for all your peripherals (because of ARM architecture?). With Windows 8  on the x86/x64 architecture you can install these drivers manually if they are available.
  • You can only use modern UI apps that are available from the Microsoft Store.
  • Generally slower hardware.
  • USB peripherals support is more limited than with Windows 8. But according to early reports due to the use of built-in class drivers, the support on Windows RT is still pretty good.
  • Printer support is limited to only those printers for which Microsoft added drivers. See previous bullet.
  • Smaller chance that you will be able to upgrade Windows RT to a newer version of Windows.
  • Some Windows features are missing like:
    • Windows Media Player.
    • Windows Media Center.
    • Storage Spaces.
    • Bitlocker (but it does have its own unique full-device encryption).
    • You cannot remote desktop to the tablet. There’s only a remote desktop client available to connect to other systems, no server functionality.
    • For more information about features, check out the wikipedia Windows 8 comparison chart.

List of announced Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets

My personal opinion

I am a Microsoft specialist and have worked for many years with Microsoft products. I tried to be as objective as possible though. I personally think that Windows 8 tablets will become very successful in enterprises. For the consumer market however, I think the majority of people will at first stick to what they know (iPads and Android tablets). I expect this to change when Windows 8 tablets become cheaper and when there will be more apps in the app store that really help Windows 8 tablets differentiate itself from the competition. I think the fact that Windows 8 apps will work on phones, tablets and desktops will help grow the number of apps very quickly. I feel this way because Microsoft’s market share for desktop computers is enormous which means that the sales potential for developers is enormous as well.

Personally I’m a power user and think that I could never accept the compromises of a Windows RT tablet, especially not at the current pricing. I’m however looking forward to the Windows 8 (x86/x64) tablets even though they will probably not be cheap either. Still it will be hard to choose a model with all the different versions from the many competitors. For now I lean towards the Microsoft Surface Pro because of the form factor, the included kickstand and the “surface touch cover” and “surface type cover”.

All in all it’s great that Microsoft tablets are entering the tablet market and I hope that this will lead to more competition, innovation and cheaper tablets. As of now it seems like the Microsoft Surface RT pre-orders are doing great and that there’s a lot of confidence because reports are saying that Microsoft is expected to build 3-5 million Microsoft Surface tablets this quarter.

The competition isn’t sitting still either so I’m very curious how the Microsoft tablets will be able to compete with:

Time will tell.

Thanks and feedback

Many thanks go out to the nice people on who were kind enough to provide me with valuable feedback. For Dutch people it might be nice to keep track of the Microsoft Surface thread and the Windows 8 ervaringen & discussies thread.

Also if you spot any errors, miss important information or have other suggestions to improve this post, please leave a comment.


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