There are three essential things to know before purchasing a Windows 8 tablet:
- What’s the screen size and resolution of the tablet?
- What kind of CPU does it have? A weaker CPU may only be up to running the limited Windows RT version of the Windows 8 Operating System.
- What kind of digital pen, if any, do you want your system to include?
16:12 is optimal for portrait mode note taking like you’d often use a tablet for, but 16:10 is the closest you can get to that nowadays. Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Sony’s Vaio Duo 11 convertible both offer 16:9 ratio screens with resolutions of 1920×1080. A 16:9 resolution is mostly good for landscape mode, and is a common aspect ratio for tablets with resolutions of 1366×768. Keep in mind that nearly all Windows ARM and Intel Atom tablets have 768p resolution, whereas most Intel Core tablets have 1080p resolution.
CPU for Windows 8 Tablets
Windows 8 Slates / Tablets are powered by ARM (atom) or x86 Intel processors (i5 / i7). ARM processors possess certain limitations for tablet users wanting to run a full OS like Windows as opposed to the more lightweight Android OS, which will be explained in the next section.
Atom CPU Windows 8 Tablets
The Intel Atom Z670 CPU (Oak Trail) has a 2gb ram limitation that is a bottleneck for Windows 8. The Z670 is also a single core processor, which limits its multitasking prowess. The Dell Latitude ST, featuring a 10.1 inch screen and a digital pen, unfortunately uses the Atom Z670, as does the HP Slate 2 (8.9” display). You won’t get any Atom-powered tablets with high resolutions: they graphics chips are just too underpowered.
The 2012 Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) is a dual-core chip optimized to run Windows 8 and offers speeds of up to 2 ghz while optimizing the battery life of the tablet. You’ll find that compared to Core i5 based Tablets, Clover Trail Tablets have limited resolutions: most are 1366×768 or 1280×800. Although that may sound constraining, the Windows Metro interface looks great at 1366×768 on a tablet screen. Some Clover Trail tablets that use the Atom Z670 chip include :
- Asus VivoTab (stylus can be purchased seperately). Note that there is no USB on the tablet itself, only the dock. Asus has released the 11.6″ ASUS VivoTab 810 ( TF810C) and the 10.1″ Asus Vivotab Smart which both run the full Windows 8 operating system on an Intel Atom Dual core 1.8GHz cpu at 1366 x 768 resolution. Both have 2gb of ram. The 810 has a Wacom digitizer (the VivoTab Smart does not) and a magnetic keyboard attachment that also functions as an added battery:
The Vivotab has GPS which can be used in conjuction with the Maps app built into Windows 8. The Vivotab is available at http://www.amazon.com/ASUS-VivoTab-TF810C-C1-GR-11-6-Inch-Tablet/dp/B009F1IOJO/.
- HP Envy x2 (1,366-by-768 resolution / no stylus). Comes with 2 gb ram, 64 gb SSD drive and a 10+ hour battery life thanks to the second battery located in the keyboard portion of the tablet. In contrast to the magnetic latch of the Microsoft Surface Tablet, the latching mechanism is a bit clunkier as shown in this video:
- HP ElitePad 900 (1280×800 / pen included)
- Dell Latitude 10 features a 10.1″ 1366×768 display (with an optional active pen) and is available for less than $700. There is also an optional dock that allows you to use it with a desktop monitor and keyboard. The battery is swappable, meaning you can pack an extra battery and have 20+ hours of available use time on the Dell Latitude 10 even if you didn’t have a power outlet available.
- Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 ($649 – 10.1 inch 1366×768 display. A digital pen is available for $50 more. The Thinkpad Tablet 2 has an optional bluetooth keyboard with an optical trackpad (looks like a small red nib). One note is that the USB port is too underpowered to plug in a portable hard drive. Early release models have been plagued by a pinched wireless connector, but this issue appears to have been resolved in later shipments.
- Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx (11.6” / no stylus)
- Samsung Series 5 ATIV Slate (stylus included). There are people who have noticed that the Samsung 500T WIFI can be unreliable. Pro tip: if you turn off Bluetooth the issue goes away.
- Acer Iconia W510 (no pen)
- LG H160 Resolution is 1366 x 786. No pen, but it has 12 hours battery life, 2 gb of ram and a nifty hidden keyboard feature:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GqCFTgK5lg
Instead of of the H160, customers can opt for the premium model LG Tab-Book Ultra Z160. This upgraded version features a Core i5 processor instead of the Atom cpu.
Note that even though Windows RT can support active digitizers, no hardware vendors have implemented it so far.
Intel Core i5 Windows 8 Tablets
ASUS Eee Pad Slate EP121 – This 12.1-inch tablet computer has a 1280 x 800 display, an active digitizer and a 1.33 ghz Core i5 processor. The street price when released in late 2012 was around $850 (MSRP: $1,099). Update: The Asus Eee Pad Slate has been discontinued.
Samsung Series 7 ATIV Slate – Features an 11.6” display (1920×1080) and an active digitizer. Some models of this tablet can’t be docked and used like a PC: Samsung has video out on the Series 7 docks, but no longer offers them on the XE700T1C series docks.
- The covers on the micro hdmi/SD/usb are all in plastic and fragile.
- There’s no TPM option available in BIOS unless you purchase the A03 version. (The A01US and A03US both come with Windows 8 64-bit pre-installed, while the A02US is 32-bit. The A01US and A03US include WiDi and the A03US includes TPM Security.
- The Samsung 7 series (and the Arm-processor based 5 series) are preloaded with a bunch of garbage apps that slow down the system and take up disk space. On the Samsung ATIV, you should reinstall Windows 8 (and get rid of the bloatware) as soon as you buy it by holding in the power and volume up button to start the machine. You can use the Samsung update utility to get driver updates (and also use Microsoft Update to take care of the rest of your system).
The Samsung 7 Series tablet is currently available at http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-ATIV-XE700T1C-A01US-Smart-700T/dp/B0098O9TRO and prices start at $1,199.
HP TouchSmart TM2T is a Tablet PC featuring a 12.1″ / 1200×800 display. It doesn’t include an active digitizer and is more of a convertible PC as the display can be detached from the keyboard and used as a standalone tablet. It has a 1.33 ghz i5 processor and includes an external dvd writer.
Sony’s Vaio Duo 11 will be a love/hate thing with consumers. The tablet locks into place for a more traditional desktop experience, which may be disorienting for some users. Remember, you only want to be touching your screen when it’s flat on the ground, not when it’s propped up (else your risk the dreaded “gorilla arm” effect where your arms get tired and feel like they’re going to fall off). Price is around $1,300, and the Duo 11 includes a pop-out keyboard (with nub pointer and no trackpad), a gorgeous 1920×1080 resolution 1080p ISP panel lcd and a digital pen. There is no storage slot for then pen unless you buy the external sheet battery – it adds weight, but it will give the Sony Vaio Duo 11 about 8-12 hours in battery life.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 – This tablet / laptop hybrid offers a large 13.3” display (1600×900 resolution) and the ability to rotate the screen completely back so that it turns into a tablet. Doing so leaves the keyboard exposed, which we’ll have to see how it holds up in use. This is a larger machine, so it’s heavier (3.5 lbs). No active digitizer /stylus on this model, and it sells for around $999.
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist – This laptop features the ThinkPad name, so it should be a sturdy machine. It features a 12.5” screen (1366×768 resolution), is approximately the same hefty weight as the IdeaPad Yoga 13, but is a bit more affordable at around $750. Like the Yoga 13, it doesn’t have an active digitizer screen.
Asus Taichi – The 11.6″ Taichi 21 and the 13.3″ Taichi 31 take the Dell Latitude 10 swivel screen idea to another level. The Asus Taichi features two screens: an interior matte screen (non touch-sensitive) and an external glossy touch screen that activates when you close the lid. Price starts at $1,299 for the 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 ULV model with 4 gigs of RAM and 128 gb SSD. The Taichi 21 / 31 feature an inner matte 1920 x 1080 IPS screen and an outer 1080p glossy screen with 10 point multi-touch and a digital sensitizer layer. The tablet comes with an N-Trig Duo digital stylus.
Although the 4gb of ram is not upgradeable, Windows 8 ultrabook optimizations and the SSD drive help speed up this machine. The Asus Taichi 31, which features a 13.3″ 1080p screen, is currently available at http://www.amazon.com/ASUS-Taichi-13-3-Inch-Laptop-Taichi31-DH51/dp/B00B7K0ZGQ/.
Microsoft Surface Pro – Microsoft also offers an RT version, but most people will want the Pro version that allows you to run Windows applications and not just RT apps (think of these as Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPad apps). This tablet features a 10.6” screen (1920×1080 resolution), an i5 Processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000 and 4GB RAM. The high resolution on a small screen will require some adjustments to the scaling to make it comfortable to read on the tablet. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a 17W Intel Core i5-3317U (Ivy Bridge) processor. In power saver mode when not plugged in, the tablet will run both of its cores at only 800MHz. This is a standard default setting for a Windows notebook. You can change the setting to “balanced mode” to up the core baseline speeds to 1.7GHz and turbo up to 2.6GHz (and can even burst past that for short periods of time). This tablet features an active digitizer stylus (which can be flipped and used as an eraser) and a detachable keyboard. Pricing for the Microsoft Surface Pro will be announced in early 2013 and will probably be in the $800-$1000 range. Note that the keyboard covers are an add-on accessory ($119-$129).
As far as scaling the resolution to make it comfortable for your eyes, try using the 125% scaling which will allow you to see more things on the screen (compared to 150% scaling) while keeping the size of the text suitable for reading. You can also adjust any Office apps using the built in zoom control (lower right of the Office apps) to scale the desired text size. You can also change the width of the cursor under Ease of Access. Users should seriously consider opting for the two year extended warranty upgrade that covers accidental drops: http://myservice.surface.com. Users can opt for the service coverage upgrade at checkout, or within 45 days of purchase.
Lenovo ThinkPad Helix
This 11.6″ convertible latpop features a latch design similar to the Microsot Surface Pro where the display can be removed and function as a tablet. Pricing starts at $1,499, an i7 processor upgrade is available, and it comes with a digital pen:
Windows 8 Tablet Pens
A fully pressure sensitive digital pen will make your tablet experience much more productive especially compared to an Apple iPad and its limited capacitive touch screen.
- Wacom – these digitizer systems are the gold standard and essential for digital artists.
- S-Pen – Samsung’s S-pen system in their 5 & 7 series tablets are made by Wacom.
- N-trig pen system – The N-trig pen is not as precise as the Wacom system, but should be good enough for taking notes and doodles. Sony’s Vaio Duo 11 uses an N-trig pen.
If you’re not satisfied with the pen that came with your tablet, consider upgrading it to something like the Bamboo Stylus Feel.
Tips for Tablets Running Windows 8
Why does the screen on my Windows 8 tablet keep flipping from portrait to landscape? If you’re getting sick of the auto-rotate feature on your tablet, you can lock the screen orientation to prevent Windows from swapping orientation whenever there’s an inadvertent twist of your tablet. To do so, go to Charms => Settings => Screen.
Help! My Windows 8 tablet is filled w/ bloatware and is causing the machine to run slow. First of all, if your device came with Norton antivirus, you should consider uninstalling it. Windows Defender is free and comes straight from Microsoft. To get rid of the rest of the bloatware and useless apps that are installed by default, use the Windows Reinstall option provided in the Windows 8 (in General Settings). This allows you to reinstall Windows and dump all the extra garbage apps that manufacturers get a kick back for preloading.
I have to get through the lock screen (pretty picture w/ weather & time) then login to my Win8 tablet – how can I get straight to my Windows 8 start screen? To do away with the lock screen, you’ll want to hit the windows-r keys to get the run command and enter in gpedit.msc. Navigate to “Administrative Templates” (or “Adminstrative Tools” if you’re on Windows 8) => Control Panel => Personalization and enable “Do not display lock screen”. That gets rid of the lock screen. You can disable the password in your Control Panel, under the power settings.
My Surface Pro has less than 30 gb of usable space. How can I free up more space on my Surface Pro? You can recover 6-7 gb of space by getting rid of your recovery partition (or at least moving it off your hard drive). Using the built-in Recovery Media Creator, copy the contents of your Windows 8 Recovery partition onto a SD card or USB flash drive. The last step in the Recovery Drive wizard allows you to delete the recovery partition from your drive. You can then use the Disk Management console to extend the existing system drive to use the space occupied by the Recovery partition.