Using An 8inch Windows Tablet As A Fulltime Device

Using An 8inch Windows Tablet As A Fulltime Device - featured

I reviewed the Toshiba Encore WT8 Windows 8 tablet a few weeks back, and have been testing it as a full time device every day since then.

I’ve worked out the best way to use it as the cross-over device I wanted it to be, a full desktop for writing/blogging, and a media consumption and social networking device when out and in the evenings.

To briefly recap the specs, the Toshiba Encore WT8 is an 8inch tablet running full Windows 8 on an Intel Atom  Z3740D (up to 1.8GHz Quad-Core) processor, with 2GB RAM and 32GB (64GB optional) eMMC flash storage. Don’t be put off by the processor, this is the new Baytrail version, and pushes Windows along very snappily indeed.

From umpcportal.com

The performance advantage over previous, Clovertrail-generation tablets really shows up in web browsing. It’s close to a desktop experience in terms of speed and quality and perfect for guaranteeing  that you don’t miss any of those dekstop links that reach you over social networks. Program startup times are good too and after measuring the SSD, an eMMC-based soldered module, We were pleased to see an improvement over many Clovertrail-generation test results.

Working

To use the tablet for work, I didn’t fancy typing with the onscreen keyboard, and since I was going to be in full Desktop mode, using Chrome, finger controls weren’t going to cut it either.

I have a couple of options here, I carry a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard in my bag but I really wanted full size devices for longer periods of work, and after seeing @chippy testing USB Display Adapters I knew this was the solution I really wanted.

Lenovo USB2.0 DisplayLink AdapterI had a Lenovo USB 2 display port adapter available, and connected it up. There are quite a collection of cables and adapters you’ll need to get everything working, and I have listed them all together with links at the end. All these small 8 inch Windows tablets only have microUSB to a microUSB tomUSB ‘on the go’ adapter is a must.

If I were buying one new, I’d probably go for this Plugable USB3.0 one at only £99 from Amazon.

Via the display port adapter I now had a full sized USB keyboard and mouse, ethernet, audio and most importantly a DVI monitor connection all from a single microUSB connector. I toyed with dual desktop arrangements and have the desktop on 20inch monitor and the tablet display as an auxilary display, typically displaying the tile interface, but sometimes with Tweetium loaded cycling through new tweets.

The display adapter works so well I don’t use the inbuilt microHDMI connector that made me specifically choose the Toshiba. In hindsight I would probably get the lighter, thinner, Dell Venue 8 Pro instead, although the Toshiba also has a slightly beefier battery at 20Wh battery compared to the Dell’s 18whr. The microHDMI port may yet come to use in a hotel room or presentation scenario of course.

Charging

The biggest challenge of using these devices, is being able to charge them. The charging is done via the very microUSB port you’re using for the Display Adapter. You can fallback to the HDMI monitor with wireless keyboard and mouse, and its certainly ‘clean’ but you lose the audio and ethernet you could have with the Display Adapter.

Fortunately there is a solution! It’s not exactly ‘approved’ and you need a few special cables, but they’re cheap and they work. Pick up a StarTech 3-Feet USB Y Cable for External Hard Drive and a USB female-to-female connector (sometimes referred to as a gender changer) [see cable list below] and amazingly you can plug in and both charge and use the display adapter at the same time.

The charging rate is certainly a little slower using this, I don’t have exact figures but it feels its charging at about 60-70% the rate compared to charging directly. I’m more than happy with this as typically the tablet is sitting on my desk for several hours at a time, and this ‘trickle charging’ is absolutely fine.

The desktop mode works just like any other desktop, and for my writing work I usually have Chrome for web work, Word and Outlook (via Office 365), Paint.net for graphics work, Total Commander, and a couple of other small programs.

Nothing heavy in software terms, modest needs overall, but bear in mind this is a modest tablet, an Atom  Z3740D processor with 2GB RAM and it cost me just £199. And it all works, no problems, no real stuttering. I can have about 8-12 tabs open in Chrome without problems, upwards from there you start to notice pauses switching between them. But this is a fine working number for me, although it obviously depends on the content of each tab. Paint.net can open 4 to 5 iPhone quality images and crop, resize, and save them at the same time – again perfectly acceptable.

On the go

The finger friendly tile interface is the front end of Windows 8 and is what I try and use when I don’t have a keyboard and mouse handy and have the tablet on my lap on the sofa.

The key uses I wanted in ‘non work mode’ were a good Apps for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and streaming videos.

Facebook has its own App which is fine, the Twitter client is somewhat limited and doesn’t take advantage of the screen available, so I’m currently using Tweetium which is the best of the ones I’ve tested. Youtube is a bit tougher, there is no official App, I’m trying Tube+ and YouTube- at the moment, neither are as good as the genuine client though. I’ve heard good things about Hyper for Youtube though so I will be trying that next.

toshiba encore windows 8 tablet

All of the games I tried from the Windows Store performed fine, but I’m not trying intensive GPU games like Civilisation in Desktop mode or anything, these are more relaxing ‘pass the time’ games. Wordament is an excellent game for example, and you earn Xbox live achievements!

If you don’t set Chrome as your default browser, you can still use Internet Explorer in the tile interface, the browser is more touch friendly and safer as it is a sandboxed App away from the OS.

For streaming video, the Netflix App is excellent and works flawlessly, and I can connect to my NAS from Windows Explorer and play my own video content too.

Summary

So far using this ‘lightweight’ tablet as a full time computer is working extremely well. It doesnt come with Windows 8 Pro of course, so if you need to use it in an Active Directory environment, you would need to reinstall Windows 8 Pro.

It works perfectly for my usage scenario, but by nature (and preference) I am largely based in a browser and email client, nipping out in other applications as required. If you have a requirement for a lot more programs open at once, or seriously heavy applications like Photoshop, this is not the solution for you.

I feel the biggest limitation is the memory, the 2GB RAM is more of a restriction than the processor. This is most probably a specific restriction by Microsoft however. Even the newer, more powerful, Lenovo Thinkpad 8 with the faster Baytrail Z3770 processor and high-res 1920 X 1080 screen is still limited to 2GB RAM.

Cables

Here is a list of the cables and connectors I bought and links to Amazon where I ordered them from.

  1. StarTech 3-Feet USB Y Cable for External Hard Drive – Dual USB A to Micro B (USB2HAUBY3) £4.21
  2. USB to USB Adapter Converter Gender (USB3.0 Female to Female) £1.99
  3. Micro USB Host Mode On The Go OTG Cable £2.98

 

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk