"We're living in a post-PC era" is a phrase that gets bandied about every couple of years or so, and up to now, it's been wide of the mark.
However, these days you can't turn around without seeing someone on some form of tablet computer, whether your favourite flavour is Android, BlackBerry, Apple or recently, Microsoft.
I want to see if it's possible to substitute my laptop for a tablet for one week. I want to see how these devices handle my daily workload, and my evening's entertainment. I also want to compare the learning curve required to effectively use each device.
I'll not be testing the Blackberry Playbook, as they are no longer available to the general public, but these are the devices I'll be using:
- In the blue corner, we have the Dell XPS10 Tablet. This has a 10" Screen, 64GB storage and a keyboard dock. It runs Windows RT and without the keyboard it weighs 735g
- In the green corner, we have the Acer Iconia A500. This Android tablet has a 10" screen, 32GB storage and runs a custom Jellybean ROM, weighing 635g.
- And in the white corner we have the iPad Mini. It's the latest addition to my fleet, and this one is 16GB, currently running iOS 6.1.3. This weighs in at a tiny 312g, but then it is a fraction of the size with a 7.9" screen.
Before we get started, I must confess that I have a massive soft spot for Android. The geek inside me likes to hack, customise and change how my devices work. I've had Android phones since the T-Mobile G1 and a plethora of tablets. However I do appreciate the other devices out there and the innovation that they have brought to the table. I can tell you're already thinking I'll fall in favour of the Android tablet. Wait and see.
In the first of three articles, I'll be looking at whether I can swap my powerful laptop for a Dell XPS10 RT tablet.
Dell XPS10 RT
My initial impressions of the device are good. It is well made; the keyboard dock is nice, it has some extra USB ports built in, HDMI, a large touchpad, larger speakers and an extra battery. So far so good! However, it soon becomes apparent that there is a flaw with the touchpad. When you get to the outer extremities of the left and right buttons, they aren't very responsive.
It comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student. This gives you the basics of Office; Word, Excel, One Note and PowerPoint. Enough to get me through my daily life.
Outlook is missing however, and that makes collecting my emails a little awkward. I have to rely on our Exchange server's web access to access our calendars and emails. Microsoft have just announced that Windows 8.1 for RT devices will come with Outlook 2013 making this a very strong contender for a lightweight tablet that can be used productively.
After using the tablet for a little while, there are a few things that are definitely slotted into the "Cons" column. The first is the way the tablet discharges its battery. A logical way of discharging would be for the dock to discharge first, keeping the tablet charged so you can disconnect and still have another six to eight hours on the battery. Nope! The tablet is the first to go. And there's no warning to tell you. The first thing you know about it is when you've disconnected from the dock, when the screen goes off as it's completely flat.
The second is that it has its own charger. It's a large dock connector with a 40W PSU. It does however support trickle charging via the tablet's micro USB socket. The battery life is excellent, and I generally got two days of use out of it.
The third major issue is the storage capacity. My device is advertised as a 64GB device, but in reality, I have about 23GB usable. The rest is taken up by the operating system, pre-installed apps and the recovery image.
There is a Micro SD slot, but by default the apps from the app store won't install there. There is a hack for this, but it's unreliable.
Finally, there's the app store. The platform is still quite new, but to be frank there's not a lot in there. Apps I use regularly aren't there. There are other niggles, but it's still early days for this operating system, so this isn't unexpected.
If you've never used Windows 8/RT before, a touchscreen device is the perfect way to enjoy it. And I do mean enjoy. Windows RT is great to use, and you can tell the new Windows interface was designed with touchscreens in mind. The swiping from edges makes sense, and is intuitive compared to making those same gestures with a keyboard and mouse.
It also feels like Windows. The interface is identical to Windows 8, so if you're used to the newest incarnation Microsoft's OS, there's virtually no learning curve. The hardest part is remembering that standard apps won't work, and you're limited to apps available in the app store.
The way the new Office 2013 integrates with Skydrive is also a breath of fresh air. You can work on a document on any other Office 2013 computer that's connected to your Skydrive, and it will link the file there. This is then accessible anywhere, and all in all it feels like a viable alternative to Dropbox.
In terms of my daily work life, I only had to turn back to my laptop twice.
The first time I was creating a virtual machine, which the tablet couldn't handle. It's rare that I'll need to do this on a daily basis.
The second time was using a third-party remote desktop programme to connect to a client's machine. There was an app available, but this is not included under older licenses, and requires an upgrade. Most of the time however I will use Microsoft Remote Desktop and that is fully supported on the tablet.
The app store is growing every day, and the apps that are available are well finished. Prices seem to align with Apple's App Store pricing as opposed to Android's free but ad-supported method.
All in all, the Windows 8 Tablet has been an eye opener as to how productive you can actually be with a tablet. In this instance, the RT tablet is quick, responsive and has great battery life. The screen is nice, has good colour reproduction and good viewing angles. The new interface does take a little getting used to, but it's rumoured that this is something that will be tweaked in Windows 8.1 (aka Blue) released later this year.
So far, I'm very impressed with how this tablet has handled everything I have thrown at it. I'm not going to be playing Crysis on it anytime soon, but for casual gaming and office work it's been fantastic. If Dell can sort out this charging issue, it will be even better.