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My own setup has changed considerably in the past few months since purchasing the Acer Iconia W7 series tablet, which I use as my primary PC. Gone is the tower of my old self build AMD-powered game station, replaced by far more compact dimensions, a new monitor and an external HDD. Along with a few other pieces of kit, this is the main hub of my professional life: a Windows 8 tablet.
Yes, you read that right. Now, I don’t want to get into whether or not Windows 8 is a success or a failure or whether it is good or bad as those things have been discussed at length elsewhere on MakeUseOf. What I am interested in doing is demonstrating how you can improve Windows 8 productivity. It is possible, and with the right Windows Phone apps you can get great results.
The Basics: Splitting the Desktop and the Start Screen
Regardless of what you think of the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) there are some very good reasons for leaving it intact, especially in a dual-display setup.
What I do is switch to the desktop on my main display (via a HDMI cable from the Acer Iconia W7) straight after booting, which is done by tapping the Start button on the Charms bar of my tablet display.
Instantly, I have the benefit of a 22″ Windows desktop as my main work area and the live tiles of the Windows 8 Start screen keeping me-up-to-date with weather, news and email updates. This works really well, and in the occasions when it can prove distracting I can easily switch to an extended desktop view on my tablet.
Hold on, That’s an iPad!
In the main photo you’ll have spotted my iPad. Now, I haven’t had this for long, purchasing initially to work on the script for an app development project.
Since then, this first generation tablet has taken over from my once-loved-but-now-sold HP TouchPad running Android Ice Cream Sandwich and I use it mainly for research. There are two key apps I use here: WhoNews for staying up to date with Doctor Who news (I run a website related to the show) and Reeder, into which I have all of my Google Reader RSS feeds.
Although my Acer Iconia W7 is just as flexible as the iPad for early morning research over breakfast, it does have the disadvantage of being docked most of the time. Unfortunately the HMDI and audio cables don’t connect to the dock, but to the main device. All of this means that I would need to disconnect both when undocking – not ideal most of the time, and certainly not at 6am!
Windows Phone 8: Research, Email and Note-taking
There are five main productivity uses that I rely on with Windows Phone:
- Phone calls – sadly, there is no call management tool to filter out the spam/sales calls, which isn’t ideal.
- Email – easy collection of Gmail, IMAP, POP and Exchange account mail is possible. I use combined inboxes to separate business and domestic email accounts.
- Calendar – thanks to the People screen, this is populated with birthdays and upcoming Facebook events, as well as all of my appointments from my Outlook.com and Gmail calendars.
- Note-taking – usually with the built-in Microsoft OneNote, the results of which are synced via SkyDrive. I occasionally use the other Microsoft Office apps, but this is usually just for checking existing documents.
- WordPress – I have a handful of my personal blogs set up on the WordPress app. Having used the Android, webOS, iOS and BlackBerry WordPress apps, this Windows Phone version is my least favourite due to a couple of quirks and missing features, but is good enough for making quick, short posts.
As OneNote has an audio recorder I use this rather than any third party apps for audio notes. However, it isn’t a great option for interviewing people, for which I instead rely on a Sony dictating machine.
Windows 8 Productivity Apps
I’ve used several productivity solutions on Windows 8 over the months, but keep coming back to OneNote MX. Despite running Microsoft Office 365 (the monthly subscription option suits my long-term computing philosophy of going completely open source within the next two years) I don’t use Outlook for emails mainly due to speed issues in past releases. Instead I rely on Gmail through my browser or the official Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging tool from Microsoft. Interestingly, I tend to react better to alerts on my phone than on my desktop computer, so it is useful to have calendar events synced.
With Microsoft Office 365 I use Excel and Word. This article was original drafted in Word. As I worked on it using the primary display, the secondary display was filled with an Excel spreadsheet, which I use to schedule work in 30 minute blocks. This is a hangover from my schooldays; back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, all of my lessons were blocked as 35 minute/1 hour and ten minute sessions, a format I became used to. It works well for me, and Excel is a great way to display this.
In summary my favoured Windows 8 apps are:
- Word 2013
- Excel 2013
- OneNote MX
- Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging
- OmmWriter (for any creative writing I have time for)
Going Outdoors with Windows 8
As a freelance writer, the benefits of changing my working environment from time to time are well-known to me. There are several places I like to up-sticks and head to, usually coffee shops although I recorded a podcast in my back garden just last week.
My Acer Iconia W700 comes with a leatherette case and around 5 hours of battery charge when wireless is switched on. This is more than enough for my purposes, so with the tablet and keyboard packed up I can head anywhere I like.
More often than not I will be able to call on a local wireless network to get online but if this is not possible I will, of course, use the wireless tethering on my Windows Phone 8 handset, a Nokia Lumia 920.
Conclusion: This Is My Freelance Writing Toolkit
One of the benefits of Windows 8 is its fast boot time, something that enables me to switch on my tablet PC in an instant and take advantage of the most appropriate apps for the situation. All in all, I’m more pleased with this setup than I have been with any other that I’ve used since the 1990s.
Although the tablet computer isn’t the most powerful available (and its modest SSD necessitates the use of a USB 3.0 external HDD – the lack of virtualization support is the only real niggle) it is sufficient for my needs at this time.
Most of all I hope I’ve been able to demonstrate how Windows 8 can help with productivity. OneNote MX and the Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging app are particularly useful, particularly in tablet mode, while the use of a secondary display improves the situation considerably.
One last point: if I was using Windows 8 on a desktop computer, I would have put a block on the Start screen and restored the Start menu. It is only because of the flexibility of having the Modern apps on the secondary display that I haven’t done this.