Tablet Computing Has Come a Long Way (Now With Windows 8.1!)

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo
The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo

Tablet computing has come a long way. I remember when the iPad first came out, and everyone was excited about how it would transform how we interact with our devices. For the most part, they were right. I have an iPad 2, and while it’s no longer modern in computing terms, it’s definitely serviceable. Still, it’s just a tablet. I use it as a stand-alone device. It’s definitely no laptop replacement, even on a temporary basis. It doesn’t interact well with my desktop machine. These days, I mostly use it for watching movies and television, and having the kids do educational apps.

I recently had the opportunity to review a new kind of tablet, one that pretty much operates like a desktop computer. But it fits (sort of) in the palm of my hand.

I knew that the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch would be an interesting Windows 8.1 tablet. What I didn’t know was that its desktop mode ran just like my desktop computer’s. Minus the mouse, it was a little hard to navigate before I changed the settings to make the buttons bigger, but being a touch screen, it is able to make the most of the Windows 8.1 functionality, making it more intuitive and natural than the same OS on a desktop machine.

I have Windows 8.1 on my desktop machine as well, and like it very much. Even though Windows 8 felt a little odd at first, I quickly got used to it, and embraced the Start screen model. But as nice as it is on my desktop, it’s a dream on my new tablet. It feels completely natural, and integrated with all of the tasks.

I use the Start screen apps much more on my tablet than I do on my desktop, since they don’t feel quite as “extra” there. I am also able to use the tablet for the same tasks that I perform on my desktop, using all of the same programs and accessing them as I am used to. While it’s still not a laptop replacement, it has almost all of the functionality of one, and could definitely be all you need to take with you on a short trip.

Even though I’m a long-time iPad & iPhone user, this non-iOS tablet won me over extremely quickly. I was a tad bit skeptical at first, but I had no need to be. Using Windows on a tablet is very smooth, and it’s a seamless transition from the desktop to the tablet, especially with cloud computing. All of the terminology that is used on the tablet refers to it as a “computer,” just as if you were setting up a more powerful machine. And the OS doesn’t feel cut off at the knees, like mobile OSes can.

Windows can run on pretty much anything these days. Image: Microsoft
Windows can run on pretty much anything these days. Image: Microsoft

The built-in keyboard, which you can bring up or stow as needed, is very usable. The keypad portion took some getting used to, but I think I will like it more than the iPad keyboard in time. You can also change the size of the keyboard to accommodate your needs.

Unlike with iOS, you can install Flash on the tablet, and fully use every website that uses it. Installing Flash was easy; it worked just like it does on my computer.

Windows 8.1 feels right at home, like it was meant to be used on a tablet. I’ve used it on a desktop machine without a touch screen, and on a laptop a touch screen. Both are great, useful experiences, but it just feels more natural on a tablet. It is also easier to organize your start screen. The OS still isn’t as intuitive as I’d like; there is still a learning curve. But once you get the hang of it, it’s really responsive.

What’s my assessment?

Using Windows 8.1 on a tablet really is the best of both worlds. It takes advantage of the tablet’s ease of use, and the start screen with all of its apps. But it can also buckle down and work like a regular PC when you want it to. (A Bluetooth keyboard would complete the set.) I am extremely pleased with its functionality and performance. I get full use out of the OS, using the Start screen apps. And because this smaller-than-my-iPad tablet fits in more places, I’m much more likely to use it.

For someone who doesn’t have to have an iPad or iPad Mini (you just can’t talk people out of thoseā€”I know that as well as anyone), a Windows 8.1 tablet is a fantastic idea, and the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch is a great option. At approximately half the price of a comparable iPad Mini, it’s easy to use this along with your regular computer. Rather than feeling like a different device, it feels like an extension of your tethered Windows 8.1 desktop machine, or even your laptop.

And while I have no personal experience with other specific Windows 8.1 tablets, there are many out there with good reviews and reputations. But Lenovo is a solid name in computing, so it’s a good buy.

Pros: If you’re already familiar with Windows 8 or 8.1, there’s no significant learning curve. Plus, you can change the settings so the buttons are easier to tap without having to have baby-sized fingers.

Cons: This Lenovo does take a while to charge, compared with my iDevices. And, even sleeping, its power drains quickly compared to my iDevices. I’ve found no cons to Windows 8.1 so far.

Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade from Windows 8. For me, there aren’t a lot of noticeable differences between the two, but it will give you a Start button back. If you’re buying from scratch, Windows 8.1 costs about $100 or so, depending on the version.

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch tablet comes in two models, the 32 GB and the 64 GB. They retail for $299 and $339, respectively, but can be found for less on Amazon.

Note: As part of the Windows Champions program, I have been loaned a Windows 8 device for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these reviews are my honest opinions about the hardware and software involved.