Bigger isn’t always better. When it comes to computing devices, opinions vary as to the perfect size. Seven and eight-point-something inch Android tablets are abound and despite Steve Jobs’ proclamations that 7 inch tablets were “dead on arrival,” Apple later capitulated and made the iPad Mini. And there is a lot to like about this “bigger than a smart phone, more compact than a traditional tablet” design.
Thus far, though, the smaller form factor isn’t as popular for full-fledged Windows devices. There are a few out there, but nowhere near as many choices as Android fans have. And that’s a shame. For basic content consumption– Facebook, reading email, casual web browsing – Android works great. In some areas, such as Fitness apps and “informational” widgets (weather, stock market and so on), it’s superior. However, when I want to do more complex tasks, I turn to Windows.
I love my Surface Pro 3, but it’s just not as easy to carry with me everywhere as the little Samsung Tab S that I’ve had for a while. Much as I love the Sammy (especially its gorgeous AMOLED screen), I couldn’t help thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have Windows in that form factor?” Windows 8.1, and now Windows 10, make Microsoft’s operating system truly touch-friendly. So a couple of months ago, I picked up a little 8 inch Asus tablet with Windows 8.1 installed. Somewhat to my surprise, I find that I use the Tab very little these days; I reach for my “Windows Mini” instead.
Contrary to popular belief in some circles, Windows does work on a small form factor, and better than I expected. Here are some of my thoughts on how it could be better still, and how Microsoft could leverage that to compete more successfully with Android and iOS.
The hardware isn’t as powerful as I’d like, and the display isn’t as nice as that of the Tab S, but the flexibility of having both the touch interface and the desktop, as well as my productivity applications such as Word, Outlook, OneNote and PowerPoint, outweighs those cons. And yes, Microsoft makes versions of those apps for Android and no, it’s not the same.
Unfortunately, I also have to give up my favorite Android apps that I use on a daily basis, such as MyFitnessPal and Our Groceries. On Windows, I have to use the websites for those – which is doable on an 8 inch device with whatever web browser you prefer, but isn’t quite as quick and user-friendly as the Android apps. That brings up another shortcoming of the Windows tablet, which isn’t really a problem with the operating system: many of the popular apps that do have Windows versions aren’t as good as their Android counterparts.
The Kindle app, for instance, is one I use a lot; I’m a voracious reader, going through several novels per month. On Android, the app allows me to configure the brightness without changing it for everything else, so I can turn it way down on Kindle and leave it that way because I usually read at night in low light. On Windows, I have to adjust the system brightness down, then, during the day, when I’m using other apps in the light, I have to turn it back up. The same applies to rotation lock; on the Tab, I can lock Kindle into the portrait mode without affecting any of the other apps. On Windows, I can only lock the screen rotation for everything, through the system settings. I understand these are little things, but they subtly affect my user experience. Many of the other apps have similar shortcomings in comparison to the Android versions.
These are the reasons I haven’t completely abandoned the Tab for Windows. Oh, and did I mention: The Tab is also thinner and sleeker and lighter than the Asus (or any small Windows tablet that I found). It looks nicer. Is that a big consideration? No. But it is a consideration.
Nonetheless, after an intense love affair for many years with Android in general and Samsung in particular when it comes to the mobile part of my computing life, I could be easy pickings for a Microsoft conversion – if some vendor will just do the hardware right. And who better to do that than Microsoft itself? It works for Apple, and it makes sense; when one company makes both the hardware and the software, there’s bound to be better compatibility.
There have been rumors floating around for a long time that Microsoft was considering offering a small version of the Surface, although it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen this year. There is also continuing speculation about the possibility of a Surface-branded Phone. My experience with the Asus, imperfect as it is, makes me wonder if that just might be the way for the company that dominates the desktop to finally get some real traction in the mobile market.
Here’s a final shocker, for those who know me well: I’m even seriously considering switching my smart phone, after so many years of loyalty to the Note series, over to a Windows phone. I’m not at all happy with Samsung’s decision to finally emulate the iPhone and eliminate both the removable battery and the microSD card support in the latest version, the Note 5. At the same time, the rumors have been flying regarding the soon-to-be-released Lumia 950 XL and leaked information indicates that it will allow for microSD expansion. The 20 MP PureView camera is another selling point, and the 5.7 inch display is big enough to take the place of my Note 4. The big question is whether talk about an included stylus with the Lumia (with internal storage, please!) turns out to be true. If so, it just might be a contender.
Microsoft has been struggling in the mobile arena for a long time. Apple and then Samsung have dominated there, but it would be foolish to count Microsoft out of the race, given how many times in the past the company has come from behind to take over a market (think Word vs. WordPerfect, Internet Explorer vs. Netscape, NT Server vs. Netware, Office 365 vs. Google Apps, and the current steady rise in the IaaS cloud provider space as it takes on top dog Amazon). Will 2016 be the year that Windows makes a comeback in the smart phone world with a fantastic phablet? Only time will tell.