My Windows RT Tablet Experience

As a follow-up to my blog series on Windows 8 (1 | 2 | 3), I felt compelled to write something about Windows RT. Just like Windows 8, Windows RT is receiving lots of press, mostly around how it’s a commercial failure. Apparently, Microsoft has sold “only” about 1 million Surface RTs and I can see how compared to the iPad that’s meager. But by itself, I know lots of organizations that would like to sell a million units at $499-$699.

About 2 months ago, I purchased an ASUS VivoTab RT, a Windows RT tablet. It pretty much has the same specs as the Microsoft Surface RT, but without its keyboard dock, it’s lighter. With the keyboard dock, the battery life is longer. Less than a month after I got the tablet, it was dropped and slightly damaged (screen survived, case was bent). Not willing to spend the next 3-some years with a dent in my tablet, I decided to send it back for repairs. I knew it could cost me, although I expected that my AMEX purchase protection would kick in. However, much to my pleasure and to ASUS’ credit, they fixed it at no charge.

I did have to spend about 25 days without it, and hard to imagine as it may be after having only had the tablet for about 30 days, I really missed it (and so did my kids, but for very different reasons). It turns out that after a month, I had already changed my workstyle around this new device I could carry a lot more places than the much heavier Lenovo X230 Tablet.

I’ve long been a proponent of the Tablet PC form factor (the form factor Microsoft launched around 2002) that provides pen input and more recently also touch. I’ve had several Tablet PCs from Compaq, HP and Lenovo and will continue to get that form factor for my main device. However, a lighter tablet has some advantages. Here is the short list of why I missed my tablet and why I believe Windows RT may yet hold promise:

  • Remote Desktop: while you can get an RDP client for most tablets, Microsoft’s Windows Store RDP client is designed very nicely. When I am troubleshooting a problem at a user’s desktop or in a classroom, I can log on to a server from my tablet, rather than from the other user’s computer (which decreases the security of my domain admin account).
  • Snap: for some Windows Store apps, like Skype and Twitter, this really makes a lot of sense.
  • Swiping: not unique to RT (it’s also in 8), the swiping gestures just make sense. Swipe from the right to get the Charms bar (silly name, but great concept to get a unified UI for search, settings and sharing between apps), from the left to return to a previous app (or snap), from the bottom to access the menu.
    It becomes so intuitive that when I recently picked up an iPad, I started swiping to get to the home screen. I’ve used many iPads before and I know to press the home button to get to the home screen, but the swiping gestures just felt natural.
  • Full USB port: I can plug in a flash drive or many other USB devices with a standard USB A interface (the VivoTab RT requires a dongle without the keyboard dock, but that’s a minor annoyance only).
  • Office 2013: Even though the version of Office 2013 that comes with Windows RT has somewhat limited features and comes with licensing gotchas, having the power of Word, Excel and PowerPoint with SkyDrive integration is a useful complement.

The one thing that’s missing for me is pen-based input. In order to get that, you need a full-blown Windows OS, which you can find on the Surface Pro, Lenovo Twist and others, but at a much increased price.

What about the lack of Windows Store apps? Every time I check the Windows Store, more apps have been added. I try to be conservative when it comes to apps, but these are apps that I use regularly: (many of these are free!)

The kids love the Dr. Seuss books, Fresh Paint and Angry Birds (of course).

I do agree with some reviewers that the quality of the out-of-the-box Mail, Calendar and People apps is below what I would expect. I can use them with Office 365, but many necessary features for true productivity are missing at this time. Prime example is the inability to flag an e-mail for follow-up or to manage tasks. Hopefully, that’s coming in one of the future releases.

Sven Aelterman.

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