By Stephen Schenck | October 23, 2012 7:57 AM
Whatever your feelings are about Windows 8 on the desktop, there’s no denying that Microsoft has really set the platform up to shine on tablets. Between Windows RT and Windows 8 proper, there will be plenty of different ways for manufacturers to deliver hardware that features Microsoft’s new platform. With Microsoft’s own Surface tablets looking so good, though, who’s going to be buying tablets from the other OEMs?
The situation over in Redmond is a bit unique. With iOS or BlackBerry, users don’t face anything like this, and are well used to getting their hardware from the company behind the OS. Android has its Nexus devices, but for as impressive as they’ve been, they’ve never really caught on as must-have models. There are a number of reasons for why that is, but I’d bet that the two big ones are the blazing pace at which new Android hardware arrives, meaning there’s always something much better just around the corner, and users getting locked-in to carriers and not having the sort of choice they’d like.
This Windows 8 tablet situation is something quite new. We’ve got the platform leader introducing things with two very impressive pieces of hardware. Make no mistake: the Surface models are the definitive Windows 8 tablets. Everything else for the foreseeable future is going to be compared directly against them, and other OEMs are going to have to give consumer some compelling reasons why they should break from the pack and give their own devices a chance.
We don’t yet have the complete story on third-party Win RT and 8 Pro hardware, but we’ve seen a good deal of it previewed at shows like IFA, and heard much of that confirmed since, giving us a sense of what to expect. Based on what we know now, let’s look at a few reasons someone might have for wanting to pick up a Windows 8 tablet that’s not one of Microsoft’s Surface models.
Here’s an easy one; if you want a tablet that’s more powerful, or includes options not available on one of Microsoft’s Surface tablets, of course you’d look for something from another OEM. Are you going to find anything like that?
One problem is, at least for now, just how similar everything out there looks. Especially when we’re starting with hardware as high-end as Surface uses, it’s difficult to spot other Win 8 tablets that specifically outshine Microsoft’s in any particular field. That’s not saying they don’t exist, and we rounded-up a few models that fit the bill.
If you’re used to working on a full-sized laptop, shrinking things down to the 10.6-inch screens on Surface models could be a difficult adjustment. We’ll be seeing tablets with larger screen sizes from other manufacturers, like the 11.6-inch Iconia W700 from Acer. At 1080p, even screens a bit larger than that should still look great. Maybe instead of a larger screen you want more storage; Surface Pro tops-out at 128GB, but some of these OEMs will be offering more.
What about battery life? Here’s another way for OEMs to really stand out, offering tablets that can hold a charge longer than Microsoft’s models. One key element to seeing them do just that lies in their keyboard docks, a very common feature for these tablets. While Microsoft wants to keep things thin, other manufacturers are putting batteries in their keyboards; Dell has just such an arrangement with its XPS 10, effectively doubling the tablet’s battery life with the keyboard attached.
Especially when we’re dealing with Win RT tablets, SoC choice could make a big difference for performance. The Surface RT tablet runs an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, and while that’s a fine performer, any Android fan knows that it’s been nearly eclipsed by the Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm. We’ll have to wait for hands-on reports comparing several models, or at least the arrival of benchmarks, but we could easily see one SoC or another start dominating the Win RT field of devices.
If you’re used to tablets like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, Microsoft’s Surface pricing has to be a bit of a shock. We’ve already seen the RT models start at $500, and Pro’s only going to add another several hundred to that. Maybe more so than by creating models with better specs, OEMs could really hope to stand out from Microsoft by offering more budget-friendly devices.
The problem here is, once again, how much we still don’t know about many of these Win 8 tablets. For those tablets we do have pricing info for, the situation’s a mix of good and bad news. Acer’s W510 doesn’t manage to beat that $500 mark, for example, but it is running full-on Windows 8 on an Intel processor, rather than being an ARM-based RT solution. While we may have to wait a while before we see really cheap Win 8 tablets, at least it’s clear now that some are going to be better values than others.
There definitely are several reasons why you might want to turn down Surface in favor of another manufacturer’s Windows 8 tablet. Whether any of those are pertinent to your situation is going to depend a lot on what you’re hoping to get out of your tablet experience, and that’s ultimately going to be a personal choice. Still, there’s no denying that Microsoft set the bar impressively high with its tablet efforts here, and if that’s encouraging all these other OEMs to step-up their own games, well, that just sounds like a situation where everyone’s a winner.