Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Windows 8 Tablets Part 1: Review of the Surface Pro & Dell Latitude 10

Back in November I tried out the Surface RT tablet and liked it quite a bit, although at that time I still preferred my MacBook. This weekend I got to try out the Surface Pro and Dell Latitude 10, both with Windows 8. You can find the details and professional reviews all over the place, so I won't get into them here but basically these are basic laptops in tablet form - like an iPad that's actually a computer running Windows 8. I didn't get to really dig in and customize them over a long period of time, but I think I got a decent feel for them.

I got them at a perfect time, because I was training faculty on Camtasia a few hours later and I wasn't sure if everyone would have a laptop, so I decided to get the free trial of Camtasia on these tablets to see how they fared. Camtasia is a really important program to me for online course development. It can be used for screencasting as well as video editing in general. Two people used the the tablets during the training and it seemed fine. They jumped right in. I'd say the only difficulty was figuring out how to navigate between applications, which would be an issue with getting used to Windows 8. The only pervasive problem was that the tiny screen is not made for serious work, especially multimedia editing - but if you're doing this, you're typically going to have an external monitor. The mousepad built in to the Surface Pro's keyboard was important; the Dell definitely was found lacking without it. Overall, it was great to have them for this training because we were short on devices. The person who used the Surface wants to try it out for a longer period of time.

They both functioned the same for me overall: fine. The Dell seemed a little slow when I had 6 tabs open in Internet Explorer, a few in Chrome, and Outlook running. I had difficulty using my finger to close tabs or switch between tabs in Chrome - I could have used a stylus, but I don't want to. I'd definitely lose it. Also, it is not possible to make a Chrome window bigger just by pinching out with your thumb and forefinger, like you can on IE, so Chrome was basically unusable unless a monitor was connected because it was just too small to read (that was difficult to explain - hopefully it makes sense). Unfortunately, IE works much better than Chrome with the touch interface but when I used a mouse and a big monitor, Chrome was fine.

My only actual complaint is that I had a lot of difficulty connecting to wireless and it was slow to reconnect. You can't count "always on" as a benefit of a mobile device when it won't easily connect to the wireless. I don't know if this was an odd situation for me or a common problem, but it was frustrating and it happened both at my house and a coffee shop. When I got back on campus it was fine though.

The Dell is probably a better option because it is a lot less expensive and it has a longer lasting, removable battery and a docking station. I really didn't have a preference between the two as far as functionality goes though. I read that there are issues with the speakers going out on the Dell right now, but they are covered under the warranty.


Dell with Kensington Keyfolio case & keyboard
Surface Pro with Type Cover

Dell Latitude 10: The Dell came with the Kensingon keyfolio Bluetooth case and keyboard and I really was not impressed. First, the keyboard had trouble connecting for me and I had to restart it to work (could be user error, I admit, but I didn't have any problems with the Surface). It is very odd how the tablet just sticks to a sticky area in the case; I wonder how long the stickiness will last. Finally, there's just a lot of material that makes up the case. I don't think it's cleanable either.

Surface Pro: I am a big fan of the Surface Pro's kickstand and the awesome click-in type cover keyboard with mousepad (don't bother with the weird touch cover keyboard). I admit there is something about the click that is appealing. I just want to emphasize that having a mousepad on the keyboard was a huge advantage over the Dell case. That makes it truly a combo tablet and a laptop. It seems well thought out and is very cleanable - a key characteristic to me. The kickstand is brilliant. The Surface is the clear winner in the accessories department, compared to the Dell case I have now. However more cases will come out, so this is probably just a temporary win (I hope, because the Dell is better in the battery and price department).

Would I Buy One? (or ask my supervisor if I can get one?)

I'm on the fence right now, mostly because they are so new and there will probably be a better option soon (Samsung?). I don't feel I'm lacking with a Macbook Pro and an iPad because I don't mind using the Mac primarily and the iPad when I need portability, which isn't often. The main reason I have an iPad is to test things at work - I don't think I ever would have bought one myself. I kind of dislike Apple in general, but I love my Mac. My first smart phone was an iPhone but since then I've had Motorola Droids. So I try to be technology agnostic. But I digress.

If I was deciding between an iPad or Windows 8 tablet right now, I'd definitely get a Windows 8 tablet. Not a bit of hesitation - I primarily use a browser or apps that are fine within the browser on the iPad anyway. YouTube on the iPad has been really annoying every since they got rid of the YouTube app; the Windows 8 tablets' wide screen is amazing for watching videos. I could deal with IE until other browsers get better. I don't hate Windows 8, on a touch screen anyway.

However, if I had to decide between a new computer - let's say a Macbook Air, which I've been wanting for years - or a Windows 8 tablet right now, I think I'd go Macbook Air, assuming I already have a tablet since I do. This is because I like a bigger screen all the time and don't really care that much about having a touch screen, personally.

But if I didn't have anything and I needed something now, I'd go with a Windows tablet because it can do it all. I think I'd go Surface Pro mostly because of the case if money was not a big concern. I'd want to try it for a longer period of time and really customize it before deciding for sure though.

That's just my opinion! The beauty of technology now is that there are so many options to meet peoples' needs. 

Check out Part 2 of my Windows 8 Tablet posts: Educational Applications.

Kensington keyfolio case image from
Surface Pro image from

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