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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Above the Surface: Asus VivoTab Smart Windows 8 Tablet

Tablet-PC-Stylistic-1200I’ve been wanting a Windows tablet for years. I even bought two Fujitsu Windows NT (the Stylistic 1200) tablets off eBay a few years back, but could never get them working. Turns out, they used all proprietary parts that I needed-and could have gotten, but did not want to pay the price.  When the iPad came out, I thought it would satiate my desire for the ever elusive Windows tablet. For awhile, it did.

The iPad was a godsend, to be sure. But, it’s shortcomings-and there are many-got to be more than I wanted to deal with and with each release of iOS, the first gen iPad really began to show its age.

My Kindle Fire became my workhorse slate, so to speak, but, it too, was lacking in so many areas.

When Microsoft showed of the Surface, however, I knew that my ideal table would come from Microsoft. Indeed, the folks from Redmond did a nice job with the Surface. It looks great, feels nice to hold and is just nice to look at. Windows 8 RT looks and works great on this thing.  Windows 8 Pro is even better, though I did notice a bit of warmth to the body of the device, which means it could run a bit warm. There is one huge drawback to Surface: price.  At $499 and $799, they are two to four hundred dollars too expensive. I could have purchased the 64gb Pro, but, at nearly a grand for the device and keyboard cover, I just couldn’t do that for a tablet. I don’t know, mentally, I think these things should not be more than $500, no matter what’s under the hood. I could settle for the RT, but that defeats the purpose of the WINDOWS tablet.  What to do?

Enter Asus.

Asus just introduced a full-blown Windows 8 tablet for $499.  So, for the price of the Microsoft Surface RT, I could get a full on Windows 8 device.  Sweet. Open up the checkbook already!DSC_4342

So, I got my Asus VivoTab Smart tablet from Best Buy. Now, before I go on, I have to say that the buying experience was less than stellar, but not as bad as when I bought my son and wife their laptops from the same store.  First, the sales guy did not know anything about the tablet. He tried to tell me it was RT and, when I challenged him, he did go look it up.  So, then he had to figure out if they had them in stock. The web site said they did, which is why I went out of my way to go to this particular store.  Anyway, while waiting, I was bombarded with questions about Comcast! I told the lady that was talking to me about them that I was very displeased with them and if I have a viable alternative for internet access, I’d drop Comcast in a heartbeat.

Back to the tablet.

So, upon getting the device home to live internet connectivity, I proceeded to set it up. That was notvivotabfront difficult or time consuming, though I did have a hiccup with ACTIVATION. Really, Microsoft, this BS has to stop. Your products will always be pirated, get over it. All your activation silliness does is piss off your customers, it does not stop the piracy.   The problem? Well, as it turns out, if the date and time on your device are not correct, your activation will not work.  Once I realized that the date was a year out, I fixed it and tried to activate again. It worked.

Setting up my user account to be the same as my other Windows 8 computers allows me to sync my Windows 8 style apps across my devices. This involves creating a new user and using your Windows Live ID mail box.  Now, I have most of the same apps across all three of my Windows 8 devices.

OK, OK, how about the tablet?

This thing is nice. It is 10 inches wide and in 16:9 format, which means movies will play nicely on the device.  The screen is very nice, but not quite as nice as the Surface or a current gen iPad, though it still looks REALLY nice.  Audio is weak, but I don’t expect booming sound from a tablet, but the volume level could be a bit better. The heft of the device, for me, is just right. The quality of the casing is not quite as nice at the Surface or an iPad, but better than most tablets.  I think I like the rubbery feeling on my Kindle Fire a tad more. The case is plastic and feels like it. However, it does not look ‘cheap’ like some tend to look.vivotabtop

The speed of the device is a bit better than I expected. Running a dual core Atom from Intel, the machine is fairly snappy and I found web page rendering and video playback to quick and smooth. I’ve not yet played many games, and the only graphical game I’ve play, so far, is something Jetpack Joyride, a 2D side scrolling action game in the style of the old Commander Keen or Duke Nukem. The game played just fine.

Because I want to use this as a mobile work machine, I bought a 32gb SD card to increase storage to a more reasonable size.  Nearly 100gb (with 24 gb taken for OS stuff) should be enough for my needs.  I also needed a keyboard.  Interestingly enough, the RT version of the device includes the cool snappy add keyboard, similar to Surface, but the VivoTab Smart does not. In fact, the only connectors it has is the single micro-USB connector and the SD card slot.  I did buy a Logitech K400r keyboard with integrated touch pad, but it is USB (wireless, with USB adaptor) but cannot find a full size female USB to micro male USB cable. rpi3After a couple of days hunting for such a thing, I caved and purchased an iHome ‘tablet’ keyboard with Bluetooth. The VivoTab has Bluetooth built in, so this works nicely. Not as elegant as Surface, but it cost under $50 so I’m still way ahead.

Oh, it does have a micro-HDMI connector as well. How could I forget that?  It’s another $35 cable. That is still on the store shelf.

Unlike my Kindle or old iPad, the tablet has two cameras: a forward facing camera for things like Skype and a rear facing, 8 mega pixel camera. The rear camera takes nice photos and pretty good HD video.

Battery life excellent, on par with my iPad: about 10 hours of battery life. They advertise 9.5 hours, but I got about ten out of it.

The thing that really amazes me with this tablet is that it is a full Windows 8 computer.  I can run pretty much anything I already have, including Visual Studio. It feels nice, is good looking, will work all day before needing to be charged and pretty fast for a mobile device. It is $499 and is available at Best Buy, online and from Asus.

 

Specs:

  • Windows 8
  • Intel® Atom™ Z2760 Dual-core CPU @ 1.8Ghz for best performance, power efficiency and compatibility ·
  • 10.1” IPS panel with 1366 x768 resolution for increased visual clarity ·
  • 580g light and 9.7mm thin with colorful design ·
  • TranSleeve as combined cover and stand with wireless keyboard ·
  • 9.5 hours extra-long battery life for all-day computing ·
  • NFC – Tap and Explore: simple interaction with other NFC enabled devices ·
  • Crystal clear 8MP auto-focus camera