Windows 8.1 Preview: First Impressions and issues

Screenshot (6)I’ve spent the last couple of days using Windows 8.1 on my Asus VivoTab Smart Tablet. Overall, I am happy with the updated operating system. Many small changes equal one huge improvement over the previous release of Windows. Things seem to be a bit more fluid, some things seem more responsive while others, well, not so much.

First, the install process.

For me, the install went wrong from the moment it finished downloading. I noticed the battery was below 20%, so I plugged the tablet into the power supply.  Little did I realize that this particular tablet seems to run off of the battery, no matter what. It knows it is plugged in, but still runs from the battery.  I don’t think this is a Windows issue, more a design flaw from Asus.  Because the battery died, and the install had gotten to the setup stage, when the battery had charged to 15% or so, it powered up and rolled back the installation. While the tablet did not get bricked, I had to go through the install process all over again.  While I am not sure why, the install took well over three hours to complete. Since I was not at my home, I was using my portable Sprint hotspot. I am guessing that factored in.

Screenshot (8)Once the install was complete, I noticed the whole experience was, well, wonky.  The scrolling was jaggy, apps didn’t draw fast, some were not rendering correctly and, over all, video performance was just awful. A quick check of the video driver revealed that it was no longer using the Intel graphics driver, but something called ‘Microsoft Basic Video Driver.’ Re-installing the correct video driver fixed the issue.

Once the experience was smooth again, I was able to peruse the new environment and, get a bit confused all over again.

Screenshot (7)The first thing I wanted to check out was the returned Start button and all of the options it had. Well, funny thing, the damned options are in the oddest of places…compared to the RT side of the house. To get them, go to the antique Windows Desktop and then tap and hold the button for a second and then let go. A list of options will pop up. Among the options listed are control panel choices, call task manager, Run, Search, File Explorer and, best of all, an option to shut down the computer.  To access the button’s settings, tap and hold the taskbar for a second. The context menu will display. Tap the Properties then the Navigation tab.  There, you can the options for the Start button and the four corners of the screen.  What a bizarre and unintuitive place to put these settings. But, they are there…including the option to boot to desktop.

Oh, you can also set your desktop wallpaper to show on the Start Page. 

Screenshot (11)There are many, many small changes that, added up, make Win 8.1 feel new, like Windows 7 did over Vista.  Some of the smaller changes, like moving the tabs in ‘metro’ IE from the top to the bottom of the screen, seem like they were always there. It took me READING about the change to actually realize that, yeah, that was new.  Other changes are noticeable and make a lot of sense, like the settings page. There are a bunch of former Control Panel settings that are now in the metro style.  It makes the operating system look and feel a lot more cohesive. Microsoft still has a ways to go, but they are awfully close here.

The packaged apps-like News, Weather, Sports and others have received updates and there are a few new ones as well. I especially like the Bing recipes application.Screenshot (19)

There are improvements in the onscreen keyboard, like the word suggestions, that make the onscreen keyboard one of the best touch screen keyboards I have ever used, far and away better than iPad’s.

Now, all is not smooth in Asus land and Windows 8.1. Aside from the battery issue, I’ve run into a slew of problems since the upgrade. It’s like the drivers are incomplete, resulting in things not working quite right or at all.

The camera app is supposed to have Photosynth allowing you to create a virtual 3D rendering of your photo. You take a series of photos, guided by an onscreen arrow, of your target (a room, area, etc.) and Photosynth stitches it together allowing you to explore the photo. Well, the option is totally missing on my Asus VivoTab Smart. I’m guessing Windows is using a generic camera driver that is not fully compatible. Whatever the reason, the button is missing for this feature.

The battery indicator is missing from the sign in page, the status window and the task bar.

The Windows Store won’t always download applications and, in the case of the new Alarms application, it says I have it, yet I uninstalled it since it was not completely installed. Now, the store says it is installed.

The onscreen keyboard does not always display when I login to the computer. I have to shut down and restart.

The photo editing feature in the Photos app does not properly render the photo when you try to edit it.

Wi-Fi dropped out occasionally. I was able to correct the Wi-Fi issue by reinstalling the driver package from Asus.

Issues aside, this is worthwhile upgrade, even in the beta state that it is clearly in.  I am sure the little bugaboos listed above will get fixed before the final release. Even so, If you want to play around with the new OS, download and install on a machine that you can afford to sacrifice because when the final release is out, it will install like a new install and NOT migrate your applications. 

Stay tuned for more. I am still evaluating, but, so far, it is looking really nice.

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