Let's Play the Windows Tablet Matchup Game!

For every tablet, there’s the right tablet user. Find the Windows-based beauty that matches your needs and score a win for both productivity and pleasure. By Matt Whitlock

If you were to carefully analyze the tablet market, you would find that there are arguably more Windows-based tablets worth buying than those sporting iOS or Android. The iPads have their strengths, particularly in certain verticals, but for business applications and sheer productivity it's difficult to beat a Windows-based PC. With Microsoft now sweetening the deal by including the core Office suite on both Windows RT as well as 8-inch Windows 8 tablets, the value proposition offered by Windows tablets for someone seeking consumption and productivity capabilities in a single device is hard to ignore.

Speaking of ignored, hardware quality is often overlooked with tablets. While there are a seemingly endless number of options for Android tablets right now, I could probably narrow down the list to four or five choices that offer a good balance between quality and price. The Nexus 7 and 10 are obvious choices, as is the Samsung Tab line, with the remainder of decent (yet largely underwhelming) options scattered among a few of the major OEMs.

Windows tablets are a safer buy across the board, perhaps because they don't yet try to compete with the sub-$100, off-brand Android tablets that were in every doorbuster ad this past holiday season. Sure, Windows tablets cost a little more, but the result is a wider range of options with a good blend of quality, performance, and price.

Some of those Windows tablets don't just cost more-they cost a lot more. Unlike Android and iOS devices that operate solely on low-cost ARM processors, Windows tablets can be powered by both ARM and x86 processors. Microsoft's Surface Pro 2, for example-one of the most expensive Windows tablets available-runs the same Core i5 processor found in many high-performance Ultrabooks.

Those x86-based slates are also compatible with traditional Windows desktop programs and games, whereas the ARM-based models are not. That may sound like a big deal, but many find desktop compatibility to be far less important today than it was a year ago. For most, the modern side of Windows and the Windows Store (plus Office) sufficiently handle the tasks most users want from a tablet.

The most important part of matching yourself up with a Windows tablet is managing expectations for the things you realistically want to do with it. Sometimes people's ideas of what a Windows tablet should do border the ridiculous. Can a Windows tablet run Adobe Premiere Pro and Hyper-V while compiling code in Visual Studio and streaming HD video from Netflix? No joke, I've been asked questions like that. My response is that tablets, notebooks, desktops, and other types of computers all exist as tools best suited for certain jobs. A hammer and screwdriver can build a wall, while a pneumatic framing nailer can hang a picture, but there's no question which tools are best suited for which task.

Let's take a look at one of the many Windows slate tablets that shouldn't be overlooked, the pros and cons of each, and the right match for a user seeking a tablet.

Microsoft Surface 2
To be blunt, Microsoft's first Surface tablet wasn't much of a hit. There are many reasons why, but I'll narrow it down to two major factors. One, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor that powered it was just a bit lacking to handle the broad range of functionality within Windows. And two, Microsoft's Windows Store had just launched and didn't offer enough apps, making Windows RT's lack of legacy application support a tough pill to swallow. Do yourself a favor and forget the past year. Microsoft's Surface 2 is a different animal.

Internally, Surface 2 is a much more evolved device than its predecessor. The Tegra 4 is a more capable processor, offering better battery life and plenty of power for entertainment and productivity tasks, and the screen has been upped to 1080p. I've always loved the integrated kickstand on the Surface line, and now it's even better, thanks to a more lap-friendly second position. The front-facing camera is better than any notebook or tablet I've used in terms of low-light performance, which is largely overlooked.

Surface's claims to fame are the click-in Touch and Type keyboard covers, both of which have been largely improved in the second generation. These covers transform the Surface slates into pseudo-notebooks without adding much to their size or weight. And, since Windows RT comes with Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, that pretty much defines the right person for this Windows tablet.

As a pure slate, the Surface 2 is simply too expensive. Its value comes when you add the Type Cover, which is a good enough keyboard to consider Surface 2 a hybrid. The Windows Store and Windows 8.1's bundled apps have evolved enough to handle the needs of anyone who primarily lives on the Web, types a lot of long emails or blog posts, works in Outlook, and wants great battery life. For anyone who does a lot of videoconferencing via Skype, the camera in this tablet makes it ideal for that particular use case as well.

About the Author

Matt Whitlock is online director and technical editor for ChannelProSMB.com.