There’s never been a better time to purchase a Windows tablet. Yes, I know how nutty that might sound. Apple’s iPad pushed Microsoft into rethinking how it approached the tablet space, and how it continues to build software for different form factors. The result is Windows 8, an operating system and range of tablets that are built for what modern tablet users want and with the features that future tablet buyers will crave.
There’s now a sudden explosion of quality tablets all running Windows 8. That’s great because there’s more choice. With all that choice comes the task of running down each tablet’s specifications and deciding what’s right for your needs. Here’s what you need to know about buying a Windows tablet and which tablets you need to keep your eye on.
Which Version of Windows Do You Want
Before you head out to your local electronics store or order online, there’s a few things you have to think about ahead of any decisions and the biggest one is about Windows itself.
Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft’s famed operating system, works well on tablets, desktops and laptops across the board. All of your content syncs between each device with a Microsoft Account. You’re also able to purchase apps through the Windows Store and have them sync to each of your Windows 8 devices.
Where the choice comes in is actually directly related to the Windows Store. Microsoft now makes two virtually identical versions of Windows 8: Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT. It’s Windows 8 that you’re likely most familiar with. It runs on desktops and notebooks and does everything an older PC can do. That includes letting users install desktop applications. Tablets running Windows 8 have great battery life. With that said, it isn’t more than what users could expect from a tablet running Windows 8 RT.
Windows 8 RT is a different beast. You still get all of the benefits of a tablet running Windows 8 like a USB port, settings and document syncing too. However you’re unable to install Desktop apps like iTunes and Photoshop. For some, that’ll be a big trade-off. Tablets that run Windows RT are closer to what you’d get if you were in the market for an iPad. It uses mobile processors that are slower than what’s available on Windows 8 tablets, but are enough to get the job done.
A great way to tell the difference between each is to equate them to machines you are already familiar with. Windows 8 tablets are tiny low-end notebook PCs with a touchscreen and without a keyboard. Windows 8 RT tablets are like the iPad, but offer extras you can’t get anywhere else, like that USB port for plugging in accessories you already own.
3 Best-In-Class Tablets to Choose From
If you’ve tallied the positives and negatives and are sure you don’t want to run desktop applications, then the only Windows 8 RT-equipped tablet you should be considering at this point is Microsoft’s own Surface 2 tablet. It features a 10-inch display and a full-size USB port for plugging in every single Windows accessory you already have, including mice and keyboards. There are multiple versions with different storage sizes, and you can also purchase a version that has its own built-in mobile internet connection.
The Surface 2’s biggest feature is the accessory port at the bottom. The tablet can be paired with three different covers that add more functionality. There’s the Touch Keyboard 2, which offers a touch sensitive keyboard that also protects the Surface 2’s display. Microsoft also offers covers that have a keyboard with real movable keys and another that features movable keys and a battery.
The Surface 2 can be used for some light photography; it has both rear and front-facing cameras. The device will run for about 10 hours before needing another charge without that extra battery cover.
The Surface 2 with 32GB of storage starts at $449 on its own. It does come with a power cord, but doesn’t include any of the extra cover accessories. They begin at $79.99. A display port on the device’s right side allows users to plug it into an external monitor. Users can add more storage through its MicroSD card slot. It also comes with free Windows updates and Microsoft Office.
Dell Venue 8 Pro
As I mentioned earlier, the key thing with Windows 8 is to remember that there are different tablet designs for different people. Some users simply don’t need anything with a 10-display and that’s where the Dell Venue 8 Pro comes in.
Its 8-inch display makes it perfect for a lot of what tablets are used for today. It has just the right screen size to make it a comfortable device to read books on or watch movies on. The Dell Venue 8 Pro also secretly has the heart of a lion. It may look small, but packed into it is an Intel Atom quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. In short, it has the internals of a low-end laptop and runs Windows 8. Venue 8 Pro users can still run iTunes and all their other favorite Desktop applications alongside apps they download from the Windows Store.
Like Microsoft, Dell also makes a few accessories that expand the Venue 8 Pro’s uses. There’s a wireless keyboard dock that turns the Venue 8 Pro into a very acceptable laptop. There’s also an optional pen for taking notes. The Venue 8 Pro doesn’t include a full size USB port like other Windows tablets. Instead, the device relies on a dongle accessory that must be plugged into the bottom USB port. It too has front and rear facing cameras.
The Dell Venue 8 Pro with 32GB of storage for media is $299 from Dell, however the company also offers a bundle with a wireless keyboard and case for $375. The Venue 8 Pro comes with free Windows upgrades and a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student at no additional charge.
Surface Pro 2
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 tablet includes all of the greatest features of the Surface 2. However, users don’t have to give up their Desktop apps.
To be clear, the Surface Pro 2 is a melding of both the tablet and the full-size laptop. Inside is a powerful Intel Core i5 processor that’s normally included in high-end laptops. This processor doesn’t just enable it to run Desktop apps, it can run online games and more. Think of it as Microsoft’s answer to both the iPad and the Macbook Air.
Like its brother, users can add more capabilities with different covers. For example, the $199 Surface Power Cover can boost the Surface Pro 2’s 7 hour battery life by 50%. I should note that this Surface features front and rear-facing cameras and a full size USB port. There’s also a display port for hooking it up to an external monitor, an adjustable kickstand and a MicroSD card slot for adding more storage.
What makes the Surface Pro 2 truly unique is its included Surface Pen. Buyers can use it as a mouse replacement to navigate around the operating system, or for drawing and sketching in Photoshop and other apps. I myself use the pen to take handwritten notes that don’t look as awful as they would have on the iPad.
The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 for 64GB of onboard storage, so it’s really a high-end laptop in a tablet’s body.
Regardless of whether you choose one of these, buying a Windows tablet just makes a lot more sense than it used to. Microsoft’s dedication to enabling new form factors and adding features that make since have created a reality in which Windows is actually competitive with iOS and comes on devices that come in more shapes and sizes than the iPad and iPad mini.
Microsoft has finally gotten its tablet strategy together.