In hindsight most users agree Windows 8 was a stinker. Many thought so at the time.
Windows 8’s reception so traumatised Microsoft the company drew a clear line under the operating system. To emphasise this, Windows skipped a version moving direct from 8 to 10.
One reason desktop and laptop owners didn’t warm to Windows 8 was because of its touch screen features. Not only could most people not use them on their existing devices, but the touch screen apps and features were often confusing in a non-touch context.
It wasn’t much better on a touch-screen PC. Switching between two modes was awkward.
Tablet or desktop OS?
Windows 8 made more sense on a tablet.
When Microsoft’s Surface arrived we saw what the software giant had tried to do. While it wasn’t perfect, Surface with Windows 8 was a plausible alternative to iOS or Android tablets.
Android and iOS were born mobile. They were phone operating systems first. Although moving them to tablets wasn’t seamless, it was straightforward.
For Windows the transition was rougher. It’s no accident that if we’re strict about the term, most popular Windows 10 tablets aren’t tablets at all.
They are hybrids. No-one considers buying a Surface Pro without also buying a keyboard at the same time. The same applies to models from Huawei and Samsung.
You never see people using Windows 10 tablets in the portrait phone orientation. They are almost always used in landscape mode. Like laptops.
Surface Pro users look like they are using laptops, because that’s how they are working. Hybrid tablets are, in effect, an alternative laptop design.
While you could say something similar about the iPad Pro and some Android models, at least they keep their born-mobile operating systems.
You can sit on the sofa with an iPad Pro in the portrait orientation. Sure, you can do the same with Surface, but it’s not as natural.
If Surface and other Windows 10 hybrids are, in effect, a different take on laptop design, they have a few obvious disadvantages compared with more conventional laptops.
First, they are expensive. Surface Pro 4 prices start at around NZ$1850 if you include a keyboard.
There’s a big performance jump between the cheapest model and the lowest Intel i5 model which would take the price up to around $2000.
Ultrabooks better value
You can get a lot of conventional laptop for the same money. Prices for Ultrabooks with an Intel i5 processor start at less than NZ$1000. Or you could buy a lot of iPad or Android tablet.
Second, Surface Pro battery life remains terrible. This may not be the case with the Huawei and Samsung hybrids.
Not only do you get a less active battery life from a Surface Pro 4, but the battery doesn’t last long on standby either.
You can flip the power off on, say, the HP Spectre Windows laptop — review coming soon — and know there will be plenty of juice later in the day, or the next day or the day after.
That’s not the case with a Surface Pro. Come back later the same day and you may need to bring the charger.
Third, while Windows 10 hybrids can run most of the vast Windows software catalog, there aren’t many tablet optimised Windows apps. You end up doing everything in the Windows browser.
That may not be bad for you. You may prefer to work that way. But it is not the same smooth experience you’ll get with an Android or iOS tablet.
When there are Windows 10 tablet-style apps, developers give them less love. Developers update Windows tablet apps slower or less often than their Android or iOS versions. They’re not being difficult, they are responding to market demand.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Windows 10 tablets is how they display non-tablet Windows apps. At times the screen is a dog’s breakfast.
Load up a tablet-style app from Microsoft’s Windows Store and you’ll get crisp text, clear lines, smooth graphics. All good.
Now go and load an old-school Windows app. There’s a chance the text is tiny, not resized to account for the high resolution screen. If that’s not the case, then instead of showing larger text, the pixels from small text sizes are blown up leaving blurry, hard to read writing.
Windows 10 laptops better than tablets
Why does this post’s headline say Windows 10 laptops are better than tablets? As we’ve seen, Windows 10 tablets are used in much the same way as laptops. Yet, apart from weight, they don’t have many obvious advantages.
Meanwhile, they have poor battery life and there is not much decent Windows 10 tablet software. It isn’t the focus of this post, but most laptops also offer better keyboards.
There’s nothing foolish about buying a Surface Pro 4 or any other Windows 10 tablet. The best are fine devices. I’d consider one for my use. Hybrid sales show Windows 10 tablets hit a nerve with customers.
Yet four generations on from the first Surface models, they still haven’t met their full potential. Windows 10 tablets could be an incredible productivity tool, but they are not there yet.