So…I bought a Windows 8 Tablet

One of my goals in writing posts for is to help teachers use technology in music education, regardless of platform. As my daily life becomes Apple (iPad) centric, I have to take steps to stay up to date with other trends in technology. This is why I also own a tablet that runs Android and a Chromebook.

I am a convert to Apple products, moving to all Apple products in 2008. At that time, I had Windows XP computers, and my school district had Windows XP computers (we even downgraded new computers to XP) through the fall of 2012, when my school district changed to MacBooks.

Effectively, I have not used a Windows computer with anything newer than Windows XP. I have skipped Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

But as Microsoft is (finally) doubling down on touch-based computers and tablets, and there are still plenty of anti-Apple school IT departments, I saw a need to educate myself on those tablets and what they can offer for music education. I wanted to stay away from Windows RT, which appears to be an operating system with no future, even though Microsoft is releasing a second RT tablet this fall. I did, however, want to spend some time with Windows 8 (and soon, Windows 8.1), particularly in tablet form.

I have been l looking at the Surface Pro, but have been unwilling to pay $899 plus another $140 for the keyboard cover. In truth, my five year old MacBook needs replacing more than I need a $1000(+) Windows tablet. So I started searching for an alternative. I settled on the Asus W3, an eight inch Windows 8 tablet that was originally $499. I have been bidding on W3s on eBay, and finally bought the 64GB version with keyboard for $293, shipped. The W3 arrived last night, and I have been spending a lot of my free time with it.

I realize that I am not getting the full Surface experience with the W3–nobody is dancing around me with snapping Surface tablets and keyboards. Nor is there a stylus that allows you to draw on the screen (although any iPad stylus will work–but not like the “actual” Surface stylus). But this does give me a chance to work with the Windows environment under Windows 8, which is drastically different than XP, no matter what anyone says.

Setting up the tablet required significantly more work than any iOS device I've ever worked with, and I'm sorry to say that Windows still isn't touch-friendly. Granted, it is up to software developers to make programs that are designed to run with touch in mind, but even dealing with open windows and selecting items within windows is difficult. Again, I'm on an eight inch tablet versus a ten inch Surface; I would find it hard to interact with many Windows elements even on a twenty-four inch screen. All window icons (close, minimize, maximize) are just too small to actively navigate with your finger, and it is difficult to select a single item in a window (list view) with your finger. And this is Windows, so you need those window icons all the time.

I still have problems tying to close a program via the new gestures (You are supposed to be able to swipe down from the top of the screen…this has not worked for me). I don't know how to effectively move my cursor on the screen when typing, nor do I know how to select text. There are ways to do these things, but I am still learning–and have not been able to figure them out on my own. Without the Acer keyboard and old Windows commands, I would be lost. I get the Metro interface, big icons that come from the Windows phoe experience. But once you get into actual operation, all of the interaction happens in the old windows format, which really isn't tablet-friendly at all. And of course, most of the apps aren't tablet friendly, either.

Windows 8 is supposed to be an operating system “without sacrifices,” but you seem to sacrifice a lot when you run it as a tablet; the Metro interface must be infuriating on a traditional computer.

My take so far is that Windows 8 is more difficult to learn than iOS, and I would be fearful of tyring to teach this interface to students. I think of Windows 8 as being schizophrenic, having a promising touch interface that is only skin-deep. That's a problem. I also have to get some anti-virus software for the device.

Now, I remind you, I am just working on the process of getting this device set up for my use…I haven't even tried to start thinking “music education” with it yet. The Windows interface does allow for Flash content, but most up-to-date web-based services are pushing out HTML-5 enabled interfaces that work on all platforms.

In the case of the Acer Iconia W3, it comes with micro everything, with no included adapters. It has micro-USB, so you can use USB, but not without the adapter. It has micro HDMI, but you have to buy the adapter. And it has a micro SD slot, so you can easily add more memory. I now have the micro adapters on order from Amazon, and when they arrive I will get a chance to see how the W3 interacts with HDMI and USB peripherals.

Without AirPlay (or something like it), Windows tablets are at a disadvantage for education (mirroring is very important). The W3's lack of VGA is also an issue (many schools do not have HDMI projectors or HDMI wiring). I need more time to see if any Windows 8 programs can match the power of the (now free for new iOS devices) iWork and iLife apps, although Microsoft Office Home and Student comes free with the Acer Iconia W3, which alone is a $139.99 package.

I will continue to work with this device and learn how to use it. I will certainly write more about the topic as I find uses for the device in music education.



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