21 Oct.

Living with Windows 8.1 on an 8 inch Atom tablet (8/81)

Last week I was away from home for four days, and decided to rely solely on the Acer W3 8” tablet. Not as a secondary device, but as my only device. Apart from my Lumia. As I knew I would need to do some real work I also packed a Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse and Wedge Mobile Keyboard, the benefit of which is that the keyboard cover acts as a tablet stand. I prefer this combination as I can place the tablet in a more comfortable position than where the W3 keyboard forces it to be from a viewing angle and hand position.

The trick to getting a good experience with this device, and no doubt others like it, is to effectively abandon the desktop. In other words, treat it like a Windows RT device and only use modern/metro/store apps. Why? The 2GB of RAM isn’t your friend on the desktop, and most of these devices have limited storage capacity (32GB in this case, but there is also a 64GB edition) as well, so you need to be careful what you install. Windows 8 apps work well in low memory environments, partly due to their low memory requirements in general, but also due to their ability to drop out of memory if needed.

Wedge Mobile Keyboard

The inclusion of TPM 2.0 capabilities in these devices means that they are an option for those who want to be able to use BitLocker the way it is supposed to be used. In my case, this also means that I can use it for Direct Access, so remote access to network resources is a breeze. I’ve used TPM inclusion as one of the first filters I apply to laptop selection since Windows 7, and now I can easily extend that down to tablet devices such as this.

Where I struggled the most was resisting the temptation to use Outlook. The Mail and Calendar apps served me well when I was using the device as a tablet, but I admit that I needed to get back into Outlook 2013 a few times to get some things done the way I was used to. As you could imagine, this worked much better with the mouse/keyboard combo rather than the touch capabilities of a small screen and the desktop. The Mail and Calendar apps have had several major updates since the Windows 8 preview days, so it was about time I gave them another look.

The screen size works very well in a variety of positions, and the weight was much more comfortable for longer term usage than other larger tablets I’ve used recently (Surface, Surface Pro and iPad), and it encouraged me to do something that I haven’t done for a while – browse the Windows Store and install a few more apps. Normally I let SkyDrive remind me what I need to install based on what I’ve already installed, but with this device I found I went into the store looking for more apps to get more out of the tablet experience.

One of the things I don’t like about this platform is that it is still heavily reliant on 32 bit Windows, due to the RAM, CPU and storage restrictions. With many organisations standardising on 64 bit Windows it means that supporting these devices may involve some backtracking on their deployment decisions, but at least with tools like MDT and SCCM it’s easy enough to create and manage multiple OS builds.

Now that several more small form factor Windows 8.1 tablets have been announced and are shipping, it’s worth taking a look to see if there’s room in your deployment plans for a device like this. Like most companion devices, there needs to be a requirement for them to be used, and carrying around a third device that doesn’t get used much isn’t a great user experience. For some users, it might be enough to be used as a primary device, but for many more I suspect they will still crave something a little bigger and more capable.

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