Talking tech since 2003

I’m firmly entrenched in the Apple world as far as my everyday devices go. My laptop is a MacBook Air. My tablet is an iPad mini with Retina. My smartphone is an iPhone. By all accounts, I probably qualify as an Apple “fanboy” to some readers.

dell-venue-8That isn’t the case at all, however. I’m not against trying different products to see if they fit into my life. I’ve owned Windows laptops. I’ve owned Android tablets and smartphones. I’ve even owned a Chromebook. And there were pros and cons to all of those devices, and I wound up feeling like the Apple ecosystem worked the best for the things I do every day.

But then I got a new full-time job in an office that runs on Microsoft Exchange. Apple devices have great support for Exchange email and calendars, but I wanted to use a device other than my iPad so that I could keep work and personal things separate. After some shopping around, I dropped $225 at on a Dell Venue 8 running Windows 8.1. I thought Windows would provide the best experience for syncing my email, calendars and, most importantly, my tasks. I’m a huge user of tasks in Outlook, and I wanted that experience on a tablet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.

Disappointed!

I was mere hours into my ownership of the Dell Venue 8 when I realized that Windows 8.1’s mail app didn’t sync Outlook tasks through Exchange. In fact, nothing in Windows 8.1 at all would sync my tasks. And the version of Office that came with my tablet, Home & Student 2013, didn’t come with Outlook. So the biggest reason I bought into the Windows 8.1 ecosystem wasn’t even a thing the operating system could do. For some reason, Microsoft just decided to leave out even a rudimentary tasks application, something that iOS devices do right out of the box.

But it wasn’t just that finding that made me want to return the tablet. As I used the Venue 8, I saw more and more how convoluted the Windows 8.1 OS is. The mash-up of desktop and touch might be more doable on something like a Surface or a Transformer, but on a device that is strictly tablet, the presence of the desktop in Windows 8.1 doesn’t make sense. And despite having the Start screen with a fully touch-optimized experience, getting to important settings actually feels like it can be done faster in desktop mode.

Case in point: on the iPad, I can swipe up and turn Wi-Fi off immediately. In Windows 8.1, the process involves a swipe, a tap to open a new screen, another tap to open another screen and then another tap. When you’re on the go, it’s important that you can access what’s important quickly and get on with your business. Windows on the tablet doesn’t really allow that to happen, despite that being the entire reason “Live Tiles” exist.

Well, It Wasn’t All Bad

There were some things I like about Windows 8.1 on a tablet — mostly the same things I like about any desktop operating system. I liked that Windows 8.1’s touch interface allows side-by-side multitasking, which could definitely come in handy. Apple seems poised to add this to iOS, though, this might cease to be a check in Microsoft’s box in the future. I also liked that users could create multiple profiles. This would help me on the iPad, as I could create one profile for my own personal use and one profile for work, and switch between the two without having them mix together. This is a feature I hope that iOS adds at some point.

Maybe Next Time, Microsoft

I gave a Windows 8.1 tablet a whirl and, as it turns out, it wasn’t a good fit for me. I feel that Microsoft really dropped the ball in bringing the whole Windows experience into the touch-optimized bits of Windows 8.1 — especially where business use is concerned. I also feel that Microsoft doesn’t have the correct mixture of touch OS and desktop OS just yet. On a tablet-only device, touch should be the end-all be-all input method, and everything should be optimized to work for it. Pushing me toward the desktop at all is a big no-no, and it shows me that Microsoft has more work to do.

I wound up returning my Dell Venue 8 a mere 22 hours after purchasing it, but I really can’t knock Dell for the hardware. I liked the feel of the device, and I thought it ran smoothly (though it ran a little hot at times). The biggest problem with the Dell Venue 8 is Microsoft’s Windows 8.1. Hopefully, Windows 9 will address the problems and make Windows tablets worth checking out.


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