Hands on: Windows 8 tablet review
14th Sep 2011 | 08:27
Samsung Windows 8 Developer Preview tablet up close
Hands on: Windows 8 tablet review
There aren't any Windows 8 PCs yet, especially not any running on ARM chips, although we've seen demonstration prototypes from Qualcomm and Nvidia at Build running the Metro-style Windows 8 Start screen interface.
So what Microsoft is giving to developers this week is a Windows 7 slate running the pre-beta developer preview of Windows 8. It also has sample apps written in 10 weeks over the summer by teams of Microsoft interns and developer tools for creating Metro apps, including the new version of Expression Blend for writing either Silverlight or HTML Metro apps.
You can check out our Windows 8 video preview - and see all of the key features on display below:
But what we got is the kind of premium Windows tablet that really shows what pen and touch can do when you put a Sandy Bridge Core i5 into a sleek metal case with 4GB of memory, a 64GB SSD and a beautiful and bright 11.6" Super PLS screen (with the 1366 by 768 resolution that Windows 8 needs to show two apps side by side in the Metro interface - with the larger app at VGA resolution and the smaller at QVGA, widescreen is a must).
The Windows Developer Preview tablet is actually based on the ultra-thin Samsung Series 7 tablet that was recently announced for Windows 7, and it has a lot of the design language of the ultra-thin Series 9 notebook as well.
You can't make a tablet with the curves of the Series 9, but the line of that curve is still there along both sides, albeit interrupted by the ports that stud the case - without making it uncomfortable to hold.
Windows 8 tablet up close
On the right of the Windows 8 tablet is the power button, the rotation lock button for when you don't want turning the screen to flip the orientation, and the SIM slot. On the top are micro SD slot, the twin array microphones - with front and rear-facing cameras this is going to be good for Skype video calls.
On the left side is the only USB port, with a neat USB blanking plate that you're going to lose as soon as you prise it out, the combined headphone and speaker jack next to the volume buttons which are slim but have a nice positive feel to them, and the mini HDMI port.
At the lower left corner is the power jack, which looks absurdly large on the slim edge. (The power brick itself isn't as small as some tablet chargers - about the size of a pack of cards, with sleek rounded edges.)
The bottom edge of the Windows 8 tablet has the docking port for the rather neat docking stand (which keeps the power cable tidily out of the way as well as giving you another USB port, plus HDMI, gigabit Ethernet and a headphone socket).
The tiny speakers on either end of the bottom edge give you the same surprisingly good sound as the Series 9. And even when it's in the dock, the all-important Windows button is easy to press to switch between the Metro Start screen and the desktop.
The inch-wide bezel is as absurdly shiny as on any other Samsung device, but having the flat glass surface right across the tablet from edge to edge is what you want because of the gestures where you swipe onto the screen from the side to switch apps or open the 'charms'.
The screen isn't as reflective as the bezel, and the fact that it will always be peppered with fingerprints might even reduce the minimal glare. Thanks to the brightness, clarity and beautiful colour of the screen you won't notice the fingerprints until the screen is off.
Touch accuracy is superb on the screen; the high touch digitiser resolution helps, as does the fuzzy hit targeting in Windows 8 and we could select every single icon, link, control and menu flyout we tried, as well as being able to swipe quickly and accurately.
There's no slot for the pen in the chassis, but it's a slender Wacom pen with a good grip that makes it easy to use the handwriting recognition; the tip has the right amount of friction too, giving you smooth inking but not sliding around on the glass screen as you write.
The 909g weight is very light for a Windows slate this large (most Atom-based Windows tablets have 10-inch screens) and it's nicely balanced, whether you're holding it in portrait mode for reading web pages or in landscape - which works well for typing with the on-screen thumb keyboard, playing games and enjoying video and photos.
Thanks to the processor, the Samsung tablet has no problem running Windows 8 Metro apps, Windows desktop apps like Photoshop, games, hardware-accelerated web pages in IE10 or any combination of those at once.
As this is definitely pre-beta hardware we're not surprised to find that the processor runs a little hot when you have Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth all running. The UEFI BIOS makes for a very fast boot; it goes from powered down to the lock screen in ten seconds - and as soon as you swipe the lock screen up you're at the Start screen ready to launch apps. It's actually quicker than turning on most phones.
With a Core i5 (and a screen this size), you can't expect the battery life of an ARM tablet. With Wi-Fi on, battery life is around three and a half hours; turn off the radios and get four and a half to five hours usage.
And while the Samsung tablet is sleek and slim, 13mm counts as slim for a PC but not for less powerful tablets - the hardware means it's still thicker and heavier than most tablets (although it makes the TouchPad look chunky and makes every Oak Trail Atom tablet we've seen looking both ugly and chunky by comparison).
Even with Windows 8, this is still a PC - but it's a very nice tablet PC, with far more power and functionality than any other tablet. It's also the ideal device for showcasing Windows 8 for developers, getting them to think touch first.
Microsoft is convinced that in a few years every screen will be a touch screen, even the ones that also have mice and keyboards. For now the Bluetooth keyboard that comes with the Samsung tablet is a necessity, but the point of giving this tablet to the Build attendees is to get them to build a new generation of apps that mean using a keyboard becomes a choice.
Liked this? Then check out our Hands on: Windows 8 review
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