Windows 8 Gets a Raw Deal and Lenovo (and Others) by Extension
This post has two parts: 1) why Microsoft Windows 8 is being unfairly tarred; and 2) why PC vendors (particularly tablet makers) are being unfairly affected by extension–particularly Lenovo, because we have experience with one of its Windows 8 tablets that we can use as a foundation for our arguments.
Before we begin, a little background information is necessary in order to see where I’m coming from. I have put up with and sometimes loathed Windows since version 1.0. Consequently, I have strayed off the path nearly every time the opportunity presented itself such as with the Amiga (my all-time favorites) and Apple Mac operating systems. I also have vast experience with dozens of touch and mobile devices from the Sharp Zaurus up to and including Palm OS, Windows CE, Apple iOS, and Android. However, when it came to business applications, I was always yanked back into the world of Windows. Thankfully, that world progressively improved from Windows XP to Windows 7 (we skipped Vista altogether).
When Windows 8 was introduced, nearly every review I read was critical. Consequently, we decided to hold off the upgrade process for as long as possible. Then things suddenly took an unusual turn and we were forced to reckon with it–on a Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx tablet.
Taking a few steps back: we purchased the original Apple iPad but within six months or so grew tired of its reliance on a PC with iTunes, and its proprietary sync cable. Sure, we needed it for the testing of apps, but an iPhone works just as well. The iPad quickly sold on eBay with accessories for what we paid for it–one of the best things (or the best thing) about Apple products. Next, after exposure to an HTC phone, we dove into Android and purchased an Acer Iconia 500a tablet, followed by an HTC Evo View 4G tablet, and finally a ASUS/Google Nexus 7 tablet. All the while, our needs for laptops diminished to the point where they were in pretty sad shape and limping along running Windows XP. Bear with me here…
When we were called to a meeting with some high-level Samsung executives, we needed to do a presentation. None of our tired laptops were presentable in that scenario and none of our in-house tablets could handle a professional presentation. That called for an emergency hardware upgrade and after some research, the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx tablet appeared to be our most cutting-edge and affordable option: it had a relatively large 11.6″ screen that was large enough for an intimate presentation, it could run Microsoft Office 2013, and since it was roundly thrashed by reviewers (we’ll address that) its price had dropped considerably. We didn’t really care what reviewers said because it had what we needed for this business opportunity. However, the tablet ships with Windows 8 Pro so we needed to master this operating system in a hurry.
So, I spent most of a Saturday setting up and learning Windows 8. There’s no doubt that it took longer than it did to go from 95 to XP to 7. Yes, we could’ve taken the easy way out and stuck some icons in the quick launch area of the traditional Windows desktop that is built into Windows 8, but the Metro user interface (UI) was intriguing to somebody like me who loves the challenge of learning new technology. I found that the desktop was…well identical to the Windows 7 desktop with the exception of the “Start” button, and well…boring.
That brings me to what is known as Modern UI and the Windows 8 start screen/desktop. The major difference between Modern UI and your typical Windows desktop is that the former has tiles (that can be live) and the latter has static icons. Reviewers who complain about Modern UI fail to mention the tiles can be organized in named in groups where the Windows desktop is simply littered with icons whether they are needed or not. Yes, there are programs that only run in Modern UI, but they are functionally re-styled duplicates of what is found on the standard desktop. Moreover, you can also pin tiles for traditional Windows desktop apps on the WIndows 8 start screen and eliminate any or all of the Modern UI apps if you so desire. So, the major complaint of “too hard to use” (translates into “I need a start button”) is rubbish, and negated by the fact that you simply don’t need one, and the bottom line is that if you can’t handle the modern look of the tiles you can use the boring old traditional desktop with its boring old static icons just like you could with virtually all modern versions of Windows in the last 20 years; and if you can’t handle a click/swipe or two to access ALL of your installed programs, maybe you should consider going back to pen and paper (or hammer and chisel for that matter).
The Windows 8 desktop. Look familiar? You can pile as many icons on the desktop as you wish.
If you prefer a clean desktop, you can access the start screen from two locations via swipe or mouse click.
If you can’t find the tile for your Metro UI or “traditional” desktop app, you can easily add one and
move it into a customizable group. You can also access all installed apps via touch or right click
via the “All apps” icon.
Viola. All your installed apps organized exactly the same way your old Windows Start/All
Programs button did in two swipes or clicks. You can scroll to the left and right via swipe, the mouse wheel, or the horizontal scroll controls that appear on the bottom of the screen.
So, the bottom line is that with Windows 8, you can have your “old” Windows and eat it too. All of the tired old tropes are still there like Control Panel, Printers and Devices, Notepad, Command Line, Run, Remote Desktop, ad nauseum. Moreover, all of the whining about “I need a start button” has resulted in Microsoft relenting and bringing it back with the forthcoming free Windows 8.1 update. Now quit your whining and get some real work done–something that is not remotely possible with either iOS or Android-equipped devices.
Windows 8 Pro on a Tablet – Print Just Like from a PC Desktop
Now that the “too hard to use” (“I need a start button”) myth is debunked, let’s move onto other ease of use advantages that Windows 8 brings to the table via the use of mouse clicks or swipes, using our Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx as an example.
Right off the bat, Windows 8 Pro on any tablet (not the watered down RT version) can do anything that your Windows desktop can do. I’m talking about running full-blown applications from Adobe, Microsoft, and all others, as well as hook up to any mouse of keyboard, attach to any network or network drive, print to any printer, etc., providing a level of functionality that is unheard of by iOS and Android tablets that users had to find lacking the hard way. In fewer words, Windows 8 Pro don’t need any apps or AirPrint in order to send ANY DOCUMENT to ANY PRINTER or connect to a network drive. It is an incredible achievement that this OS works better than anything else out there via touch AND mouse and keyboard.
Touch and Swipe
I am not going to get into the details, but I found that the Windows 8 touch and swipe operations blows everything else out of the water. Now, when I go back to my formerly beloved Nexus 7 tablet running the latest version of Android, I find myself swiping all over the screen and not much happens because the OS is primarily touch-centric with basic gestures that are more than covered by Windows 8. Here’s a several examples of what I am talking about:
- You have an application open. You want to close that application. You swipe down and flick the application off the screen. The application actually closes, unlike with Android (where you have no control over the closing of applications) and iOS (where you have to jump through hoops in order to close applications that continue to run in the background whether you like it or not).
- You have an application open. You want to switch to another open application. You swipe in from the left to switch to another open application. If you stop the swipe midway across the screen, it splits into side-by-side application mode. With Android, you have to hunt through an application menu that takes up a portion of the screen (Windows 8 is obsessive about menus hogging screen space) that shows every application that you’ve used since you’ve rebooted or since the OS decided that you have too many open applications and decided to close some for you. With iOS, you go back to the main screen(s) and touch the icon of the app you want to switch to, even though it is still running unless it is the first time that you’ve used it. Yes, it is possible to close iOS apps but you have to jump through hoops and it is so un-intuitive that I cannot remember how to do it even though I used iOS from the iPod Touch up until this day. The bottom line is that with Windows 8, you can actually close and restart an application that is misbehaving and yes, apps misbehave in iOS and Android too, but good luck trying to actually restart them without rebooting.
Mouse and Keyboard
Everything that I described above and more works even better with a mouse. Add a keyboard and you’re all set to get some work done. Yes, iOS and Android will work with Bluetooth and USB keyboards, but iOS doesn’t even support a mouse and using a mouse with Android simply supplants touch operations–Android does not support full right-click mouse functionality, drag and drop, and mouse swiping like Windows 8 does. Add Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts to the mix and it’s game over.
Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx Disrespect
I am convinced that reviewers who do not have to spend their hard-earned bucks on the products that they review eventually lose perspective. It is obvious after a cursive look at the Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx that it is not in the same all hand-tooled aluminum league as an iPad or an HP ElitePad, but its MSRP is several hundred dollars less. And, thanks to unfairly negative reviews, its price is currently even lower (more on that later). So, continually comparing everything to some perceived gold standard does not do any favors for those of us who don’t have the dough to fork over for the prettiest device–most of us need a capable tool to do our work and tools don’t have to be pretty. Moreover, pretty tools usually don’t look so pretty after using them for hard work, so pretty is not everything and probably meaningless in the actual scheme of things. Read on as we refute the most common complaints.
Poor Build Quality
Queue in the tiny violins: “it’s made of plastic.” Yes, the rear of the unit is textured plastic which, oh-by-the-way is far more impervious to disfigurement compared to the brushed aluminum and/or chrome backs of “premium” tablets that will show scratches the moment your cat sashays over it. After all, the bumpers on the most expensive cars in the world are covered in plastic and I don’t hear any whining about that. Reading the reviews, you get the impression that the rear cover of the Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx is a hideous atrocity. The reality is that it doesn’t look or feel cheap at all. The bottom line is that it feels fine in your hands, especially since a majority of tablets are covered with some kind of protective case anyway
Awful Keyboard Dock
Major scorn was heaped on this accessory that turns your IdeaPad Lynx into a quasi notebook and even has a battery that considerably extends battery life. Keep in mind that ANY keyboard dock is not as good as any standalone keyboard or keyboards found on thousand+ dollar laptops–the gold standard for out-of-touch reviewers. I admit that the keyboard dock does not approach the speed and accuracy of my desktop keyboard, but you can actually get real work done, in a pinch, ON A TABLET when you attach it AND it extends battery life. Here are some of the major reviewer complaints:
- Attaching Keyboad Dock – “It was so hard to attach and detach that the tablet almost flew out of my hands.” This is BS unless you are an out-of-touch klutz.
- Using Keyboard Dock – “I can’t type fast enough and it drops characters.” “Dropped characters” scares the bejesus out anybody who works with words. I initially felt the same way but after developing a slightly different and more deliberate typing technique from when I use my desktop (with the finest standalone aftermarket keyboard), I found that the “dropping characters” stopped. Another issue that appears to cause dropped characters is a common one–you tap the touchpad with your thumb or palm while in the midst of typing. I have to admit that the touchpad is one sore spot of the keyboard dock, as it doesn’t support common touchpad settings such as “palm block” and gestures. It is simply a replacement for a mouse. However, the dock supplies two USB ports and the OS supports Bluetooth so you can hook up any pointing device that suits your fancy and simply ignore the touchpad. They keyboard dock also has a row of dedicated function keys that I use the heck out of.
- It Looks Cheap and Flexes When Typing – Yes, the dock is made from plastic and not brushed aluminum, but just because it is plastic it “looks cheap?” Nevertheless, when you attach the tablet the dock is automatically recognized (no fumbling with Bluetooth). Moreover, when you close the docked tablet, it automatically goes to sleep and looks like a sleek notepad with a bulge at the hinge. When you open the docked tablet, it automatically awakes. Finally, you have to press down pretty hard and looking for something to nit-pick about in order perceive “flexes while typing.”
“Effects battery life.” “Slow performance.” It uses some “ancient” Intel Atom processor (Z2760 1.8GHz processor, 2GB of memory, Intel GMA graphics) that does not excite reviewers who are salivating over the latest Intel Haswell processors. When a tablet cost several hundred dollars less than that of the gold standard, do you really think that it will be equipped with the latest and greatest CPU? Does it even matter unless you can roast nuts on it? Even with a considerably larger screen, it runs cools and gets battery life that is comparable to the tablets that I have owned. Plus, I can attach the hideous keyboard dock to extend its battery life and use a common micro USB charger in order to run it with AC power, unlike an iPad with its proprietary and overpriced cables and chargers. Finally, the IdeaPad Lynx is faster than my primary Windows 8 desktop when it comes to opening Web pages, etc.
The Windows Store isn’t Good
The Windows store is several years behind the iTunes App Store and Google Play. It is true that it does not have many of your favorite iOS apps and games available. However, after several months of visiting the store, I have noted the steady addition of apps. Plus, Windows 8 Pro can run virtually any modern Windows software application, most of which Android and iOS will never, ever run. The bottom line is that if you are primarily concerned with all of the latest iOS game apps, Windows 8 Pro on a tablet is not for you. If you want to run a smattering of Metro UI app, all of the latest Window apps (including games) and actually get some work done, Windows 8 Pro on a tablet is the way to go.
The Windows Tablet Bottom Line
I am certain that other tablet/keyboard combos like Microsoft’s very own Surface 2 look and maybe feel better. However, is paying hundreds of dollars more for the “gold standard” going to make it easier to get some work done? I have been using the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx for several months and feel that it is an outstanding value for those of us that need to get work done and enjoy the portability and usability of a tablet during off hours. Better yet, since it runs Windows 8 Pro, I no longer need to put down my iOS/Android tablet and run off to a PC whenever a work-related issue rears its head, where at the very worst, I have to attach the keyboard dock and a Bluetooth mouse. The bottom line is that my Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx will not replace my desktop or a business-class notebook for hard-core work, but I love the portability of a tablet and with this one I can actually get some real work done–unlike with its iOS and Android predecessors and competitors. It also runs Office 2013–enough said.
The Windows 8 Bottom Line
As far as Windows 8 is concerned, I have never been one to praise Microsoft but Windows 8 Pro is a remarkable operating system. Once I got used to using it on my Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx, every other OS felt like it came from the stone-age. I even upgraded my other PCs and have been eying the rare Windows phones. The bottom line is that it’s high time to get over your “old time Windows” phobia, upgrade to Windows 8 and get with the picture.
How Out-of-Touch Reviewers Benefit You – But Not Windows Tablet Vendors
We have explored how reviewers excessively nit-picked the Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx to within an inch of its life with their out-of-touch gold benchmarks. Moreover, reviewers compare it and other Windows 8 Pro tablets to iPad and Android tablets whose operating systems makes it nearly impossible to get any real work done. Thankfully, the nit-picking has actually benefitted potential buyers. The Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx debuted with a MSRP of $499.99 (several hundreds less than competitive Windows 8 Pro tablets) and the nit-picking commenced. Several week later, I purchased mine on Amazon for $380. Today, it can be found for as little $299.99.
Since reviewers have virtually nit-picked the Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx to its deathbed, my advice to value-conscious workers is to get one while they are still available.