Windows 7 on Tablets is Just Not Worth It
It’s got a higher-clocked processor (1.66GHz vs. 1GHz), bigger screen (11.6-inch vs. 9.7-inch), higher screen resolution (1366×768 vs. 1024×768), more memory (2GB vs. 512MB), a built-in HDMI output and easy storage expansion (USB & SD slots).
It’s a pity, then, that the user experience is just not up to scratch. And that’s the problem some tech buyers run into – it’s easy to reach conclusions based on the spec sheet but this tells you nothing about what a product is like to use.
One thing about Apple products is that even though they don’t always contain all of the features the geeks love, they’re almost never cluttered, unintuitive or frustrating to use.
The biggest downside to Windows 7 on tablets is that Microsoft has failed to offer a specialised tablet user-interface. This is a huge oversight as Microsoft was first to push tablets over a decade ago but has completely failed to make an impact on the new generation tablet market pioneered by Apple and Google.
Perhaps Microsoft’s lacklustre efforts in the tablet space could be expected given that its chief strategy officer, Craig Mundie, recently told a lunch in Sydney that he didn’t know whether the tablet category would be more than a passing fad.
Analysts are so pessimistic about Microsoft’s tablet prospects that Gartner recently predicted that even by 2015, Microsoft won’t even be a player in tablets. ExoPC UI – not bad, but not great
To make up for the user interface oversight from Microsoft, the Leader Slate 12 uses the third-party ExoPC user interface.
When you fire up the tablet you are greeted with the standard Windows 7 desktop screen and to enter the ExoPC UI you hit an icon on the desktop. Most of the time it works, but sometimes it hangs when loading the UI.
The ExoPC UI presents shortcuts in a Connect Four-like grid and the experience is much more touch-friendly than standard Windows 7. Lined up along the right-hand side are icons showing your open applications (drag them to the right to close) and a home button, while along the left there is the application store icon, a clock, a battery indicator and a button to jump back into the standard Windows UI.
ExoPC also powers the app store, dubbed the ExoStore, which contains about 2000 apps. There are some solid apps and games on offer but the quality and breadth of apps pales in comparison to the 65,000+ on the iPad.
For instance, some of the apps are just a complete fudge – the Facebook and Twitter “apps” just re-direct you to their respective websites. The range of e-books available is paltry and popular games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are nowhere to be found.
Furthermore, don’t expect local media companies and other Australian developers to be rushing to support the ExoPC platform. There are preloaded apps for accessing international streaming TV channels and radio stations but these didn’t work for me.
Of course, any standard Windows software you’d use on a desktop or laptop will work on the tablet – probably the only advantage of the device running the full version of Windows 7.
The tablet can be operated by finger or a pen-like stylus but I found I could pretty much ditch the stylus from the outset. However, while I preferred using my finger to work the on-screen keyboard, Windows 7 has some neat built-in hand-writing recognition and for this the stylus is essential.
The preloaded Milennium software makes it easy to switch Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G on/off, as well as disable auto screen rotation and adjust the screen brightness. Sluggish performance
Surprisingly, despite the enhanced processing power when compared to Google and Apple tablets (a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 2GB of DDR2 memory) the Leader Slate 12 was far slower than its rivals.
Launching applications is slow and even switching between portrait and landscape mode is sluggish. It appears the full-fledged version of Windows 7 is just too bulky for tablets.
Web browsing on the device was hit and miss – you can either use the standard Internet Explorer browser or a customised, more touch-friendly browser inside the ExoPC interface. Pages render nicely on the former but on the latter images take ages to load and pages look slightly warped. Both browsers are on the whole far slower than on the iPad and Android tablets and even though Flash is supported, the experience was chuggy.
The tablet includes a HD accelerator allowing it to handle full 1080p video but I didn’t find the video watching experience any more riveting than on an iPad 2. A bit too bulky
With an 11.6-inch screen running at a resolution of 1366×768, the Slate 12 offers more screen real estate than competitors on the market. However, that extra screen size certainly adds to the heft – the device weighs around 1kg and is 14mm thick. The iPad 2, on the other hand, weighs just over 600 grams and is 8.8mm thin.
Asked what the Slate 12 offered consumers that the iPad 2 or Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 didn’t, Leader cited first and foremost the bigger screen.
But personally I feel closer to the 10-inch mark is the sweet spot and the larger screen isn’t worth the extra heft. The larger weight is particularly a problem when trying to, for instance, read books with one hand in portrait mode, or when using the tablet on the go.
Other features not offered by competitors out of the box include easy storage expansion (two USB slots and an SD card slot) and a 1080p mini-HDMI output for connecting to a TV. That said, iPad 2 owners can buy the optional camera connection kit and digital AV adapter accessories.
Save for the fact that it’s a little chunky, the Slate 12 isn’t a bad looking tablet, with a clean glass front and a back devoid of everything except a power button and some air vents. In the top left-hand corner there’s a 1.3-megapixel camera for video conferencing (just install Skype) but there’s no camera on the back for taking pictures. Poor battery life
One of my main pain points with the Leader tablet was the battery life. The most you’ll get from a single charge is around four hours but if you’re a heavy user then you may not even get that.
The Leader Slate 12 is priced between $999 and $1249, the former buying you a 32GB model with Windows 7 Home Premium and the latter offering Windows 7 Professional and 64GB of built-in storage. All models come with Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS support.
This price is just unacceptably high considering the iPad 2 is clearly a superior product and starts at $579. Unless you’re a corporate user who needs to be able to run Windows apps, you’re likely to have a much more satisfying experience with an iPad 2 or Android tablet.