Monday, February 25, 2013

Thinking of getting a Clovertrail based Windows 8 tablet

Yesterday I dragged my wife down to Kawasaki to check up on Windows 8 tablets. I would not usually go check stuck up; instead I would simply order stuff online. Heck, shipping is free most of the times. Why spend money for the train when I can get it delivered to home. *To self* I'm digressing. Back on track buddy.

There weren't many tablets available. I was specifically looking at the Atom Clovertrail based tablets. I found only 2 actually. The Asus Vivo Tab Smart and Acer Iconia W510D. Both of them were pretty expensive but that is usually the case at these retail outlets. You can find them for much cheaper if you buy them online. I was going to order one online anyways, but there were few things I wanted to check. That’s the purpose of this visit. I wanted to know how they felt hands-on.

1. Was it light enough?

Yes they both weigh 580g which is slightly lighter than the IPad Retina model (which is about 650g). iPad mini is much lighter though.

I tried out an Acer W700 few months ago and felt that it was too difficult to hold because of the weight. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro weighs pretty much the same. :/

2. Is the screen resolution suitable?

I was specifically looking for a low resolution screen because otherwise the desktop components will be very small to touch. 1366x768 it Is. Both tablets were giving great viewing angles since both of them have IPS displays. Besides, I don't think Atom SOCs can support any larger a screens.

Either way, I am expecting to use 125% scaling to make things much easier to touch. I could not test 125% scaling because this would require me to sign out an sign back in, and when I tried doing that, I couldn't log back in. I slowly left the tablet as if nothing happened. Hehe. But even without scaling, I could use the desktop interface without overly getting pissed off. I guess you can get only better from that point.

The Acer W700 has a 1080p display even though the screen size is 11.6” diagonal. Even with the larger screen size, the text was too small to be useful in the desktop environment. Probably 160% or so desktop scaling would fix the problem.

3. What about the battery life? Would I need to recharge it every hour?

I don't really know. They ought to hold close to 10hrs battery. 8hrs typically I guess. Reviewers are also saying that they can do up to 9hrs or so. That's enough for me.

4. Can I really type with the virtual touch keyboard?

Now, this is a big worry. Incan use the virtual keyboard on an iPhone (btw, I'm writing this post on my phone during the lunch-break at work – well, at least 80% of it.) because it is small. But when it comes to a tablet, you cannot hold it and type easily. You will slip. And if you don't get auto correction, you are screwed. I want to type on the tablet. So using the stock virtual keyboard is going to be a bit difficult. The Asus Vivo Tab Smart does not come with a detachable physical keyboard. But the Acer W510D (not the one without the "D") comes with a detachable keyboard. However, the Acer costs significantly higher than the Asus. I'll talk about the prices later. But the difference between the two tablets is almost ¥20,000!!!  Holly cow! There is no way that keyboard is that expensive. Well, it probably comes with an additional battery but I don't give a damn. I need a cheap tablet.

But there is another option. What about a 3rd party keyboard that can be used with swipe gestures? Something like Swype that's available for Android. There is one coming out for Windows 8 called TouchPal. It is not available yet. But hopefully it will be available on the Windows Store in the next few weeks. That would fix my problem hopefully. I cannot say if it would completely improve the situation. But it should be better than the stock Windows 8 virtual keyboard . Why else would anyone make such a product?

5. Can the Atom be able to keep up with me? What about storage performance?

Well, we don't have an Core i7 in there for sure. So if you were hoping to do video transcoding and rendering on one of these tablets, you will be disappointed. I know what to expect, so I'm ready to face the slowness. I want a media consumption device, a complete web browsing experience with flash and browser extensions and the cool tools that are only available on Windows platform.

Both of these tablets don't come with a proper SSD as well. It’s solid state alright, but the controller is mediocre. Is it flash? Not sure. They call it eMMC. It isn't as fast as a SSD; it’s miles behind. I checked the Windows Experience Index score the drive get, and they are actually slower that HDDs even. They scored 5.6 where as a modern HDD would usually get 5.9. And SSD would get around 8.

But how does this affect program launch times? I could only launch the metro apps and the one or two bundled Windows applications. They all opened up in 1 or 2 seconds. That's enough for me. The chances are that I won't be opening and closing a lot of applications anyways. I want to use the Metro interface wherever possible. Hey, it’s a tablet!

Will I be able to upgrade to Windows Blue when it comes out?

That is still a mystery. I couldn't find anyone mentioning about any of that. Installing Windows Blue should not be difficult if you can get it to boot via a USB stick. Or you can try this trick I suppose.

What about the camera?

Nah, that wasn’t one of my questions. But I wanted you to understand that I don't give a damn about the camera in a tablet. All I want is a front facing camera that I can use for Skype. I don't want to look like a dork shooting photos from a tablet.

What accessories are available for the tablets?

What do I actually get with the tablet? Do I get a screen protector? Do I get a cover? What about a stand? None of these questions found answers unfortunately. But I will find them from the Internet.

How cheap can I get these at?

You can usually find the cheapest prices among the shops by the site called kakaku.com. (“kakaku” means “price” in Japanese, if you were wondering.) So according to kakaku.com, you can find the two tablets for the following prices.

Note: prices are dated 2013/02/25. They can be different by the time you read this article.

  • Asus Vivo Tab Smart: JPY47,700 for black, JPY 46,495 for white
  • Acer Iconia W510D: JPY 66,442
  • Acer Iconia W510: JPY 53,223

So, it seems the Asus Vivo Tab Smart is the one to get. I would look at some of the reviews first and see if there are anything that is inherently wrong with each tablet. We all know you won’t be getting the same support as you get from an Apple Store. I don’t expect to. But this is Japan. To Japanese people, customer is GOD.

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