Why A Windows 8 Tablet Cannot Completely Replace A PC

Christian Cawley 15-11-2013

Imagine you had lots of space on your desk, no cable clutter, and sitting in front of you is a light and compact computer that doubles up as a tablet. It’s your work & home computer, your tablet, your ebook reader, and of course it fits into your bag. When you’re tired of working from one place, you can just tuck it under your arm and go somewhere else. This is everyone’s dream and a Windows 8 computer almost achieves that.


Back in February 2013, I became the owner of the Acer Iconia W700 tablet Acer Iconia W7 Windows 8 Tablet PC Review and Giveaway Slimline, sleek, sexy and silver - but you can’t have everything. The Acer Iconia W7 is a Windows 8 tablet priced between $799 and $999 (depending on the chosen model) that looks as though it... Read More , an Intel Core i3 Windows 8 slate running the full version of the operating system. This Windows 8 tablet is flexible, versatile, lightweight, productive, and has changed my working life considerably. No longer am I crowded out by a huge tower PC; I can effectively work almost anywhere. At the same time, I’ve lost certain functionality.

While a Windows 8 tablet might seem like a great option for flexible mobile working, purchasing such hardware isn’t something you should leap into without a proper assessment of the pros and cons.

Advantages Of The Tablet Over A Desktop PC

The reason I opted for the Acer tablet over building a new PC was influenced by two key aspects of daily computing: power and portability. My previous computer was a self-build utilising an AMD Phenom II X4 Black Edition and a pair of graphics cards; electricity bills were noticeably affected. Since switching to the Core i3 tablet, electricity usage has dropped significantly.


As for portability, the ease with which the tablet can be undocked, put in its case and taken to a local coffee shop (or even used in my car, with the dashboard section on the passenger side as a desk) is remarkable. There is a definite sense of liberation when suddenly you’re no longer tied to a desk. Of course anyone who has used a laptop or an ultrabook will find nothing new in this. Indeed, there is little new for anyone who has enjoyed using an Android or iOS laptop.


Functionality Lost By Going Mobile

As a freelance writer, working mobile is vital to my sanity. However, there are certain things that I cannot do with a Windows 8 tablet, regardless of whether it is running the full version of the OS or RT.

For instance, as a tech writer, there is often a need to run virtual machines. My particular device has Hyper V disabled in the BIOS (for some odd reason) which makes booting up a Linux distro or running a safe Windows test environment particularly difficult. Dual booting is a challenge too, albeit one I’m currently tackling.

Then there’s gaming. In fact, forget gaming – unless you’re playing older titles or certain MMORPGs (which are often scalable to enable the widest audience), this isn’t an option beyond the tap and slide of the titles available from the Windows 8 Store.

As a long-time PC user, I have a lot of old hard disk drives. With much of the data accessed regularly, the 64 GB mSSD in my Windows 8 tablet was too small for most storage needs. Even with cloud storage, I still needed additional space, which resulted in the installation of the 256 GB mSSD How to Replace or Upgrade the SSD in Your Windows 8 Tablet With less than 4 GB of storage remaining on my Windows 8 tablet – and the majority of useful applications, cloud storage and games installed on my external USB 3.0 drive – I decided that... Read More (upgrades on Windows 8 tablets are extremely difficult to achieve, as with laptops). Accompanying this is a USB 3.0 external hard disk enclosure, which houses my old 500 GB SATA drive and a USB 3.0 Icy Box hub for checking older disks.



Of course, none of this can be taken anywhere in a snap.

While the processing power of a full Windows 8 tablet is superior to that of tablets based on mobile operating systems, there remains that problem of a lack of apps.

Now, Windows 8 naturally has a wide selection of apps available to it; the vast majority of those designed to run on Windows for the past 10 years. When it comes to using your tablet as a touchscreen device, however, this can prove problematic – there simply isn’t a good selection of productivity apps available.


What this means is that wherever you’re headed, if you need to do anything remotely industrious then you’ll also need to pack a mouse…

Should You Buy A Windows 8 Tablet?

For over six months I’ve been using the Acer Iconia W700 exclusively as my main PC. I had no need or desire to run to computers, and the device specification effectively made it more powerful in many ways than my old tower.

Should you be looking for advice on a Windows 8 tablet, the quick answer would be: “don’t do what I did.” A tablet PC running Windows 8 can be used as a desktop; it can also be used as a tablet PC, but like any Windows 8 device it is neither one nor the other. The modern interface isn’t mature enough to allow complete use as a tablet, and the desktop interface has been invaded by so much finger-friendly nonsense as to make it difficult to use consistently.



However, this isn’t a buyer’s guide. My experience has hopefully proved to you that buying a Windows tablet is nothing like buying a traditional Windows PC. Upgrades are tricky, features you might expect to be present are not and while the specification might suggest a device suitable for daily desktop use, this might not be practical.

Beyond email, web browsing and social networking, it’s difficult to use any Windows 8 tablet as a tablet in the way you would use an iPad or an Android slate. Worse still, reading is made next to impossible thanks to heavier tablets and dimensions that result in uncomfortable handling. You may have seen the tests I did before going on holiday this year, comparing the iPad with the Windows 8 tablet for suitability as a reading device – the iPad won, of course Reading eBooks on Your Tablet: Windows 8 vs. iPad I'm off on holiday today, and intend to do a bit of reading. This is all very well, especially when it comes to my handful of print books that I want to catch up with.... Read More .

As a portable device a Windows 8 tablet can be useful, but as a productive piece of hardware, until better apps are available in the Windows 8 Store, it is lagging behind. As far as productivity tools go, the lack of a serious word processor (beyond OneNote MX) in the Modern interface is bizarre (and curiously overlooked by many of the worst Windows 8 critics).

While I don’t plan to part with the tablet any time soon, especially as the resell price for these devices has dropped incredibly in the past six months, I’m currently planning my next desktop build.

Have you tried working on a tablet only?

Related topics: Windows 8, Windows Tablet.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Scott
    February 21, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    LibreOffice, OpenOffice and (my current choice to store info in the cloud) Google Play's office suite offer more than enough functionality for me when using a tablet.

    My Razer edge replaced my desktop for general surf, work and much of my play. But it didn't replace my ipad either. For simple tasks, the light and responsive ipad still sees much more use and the Razer is more an ultrabook without a keyboard than a real tablet. The edge makes a great desktop with the docking station (sold separately, tyvm Razer) and a decent laptop with the keyboard dock (also sold separately...). What its never exceeded at being is the tablet in my lap while browsing the web in my offtime. Its too darn big, too clunky, and the batterylife is a dirty joke in my house.

  2. Christian C
    November 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks everyone for some excellent comments.

    I would point out that the article is called "Why A Windows 8 Tablet Cannot Completely Replace A PC" and not "Why A Windows 8 Tablet Cannot Completely Replace A PC The Final Word On The Matter" - your contributions and comments are the most important thing about this web site, so please don't misinterpret the article as some sort of ultimate declaration on the state of W8 tablets!

  3. Cleavitt
    November 18, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I got halfway through this article and thought that surely it is several months old. It reads as though there are still only a few Windows 8.x tablets on the market and that those products are all pre-Haswell hardware. I was surprised to see that it was just published two days ago. Nearly all of the arguments in this article against using a Windows 8 tablet as your only computer are specific to the device that you chose. There are plenty of other tablets that are much more capable. I own a Surface Pro 2 for example and I use it as a multi-monitor desktop, laptop, and tablet. I also work with complex IT software for a living so I'm not a "light computer user" by any means.

    - Hyper-V, VMware, and other virtualization software works very well on many Windows 8.x based tablets. You just have to buy a tablet with a CPU that supports virtualization which is true of any desktop or laptop. I use VMware daily on my Surface Pro 2.

    - You chose to buy a tablet without enough storage for your desktop computing needs and then cite that as an issue with all Windows based tablets. Buy a tablet with more storage or get a more portable external disk and plug it into the USB3 port. I also have external disks that aren't very portable, but I don't store things on them that I would need when I'm on the go.

    - You suggest that the lack of touch apps keeps people from being able to get work done while on the go. I would argue that touch apps are not the right tool for getting work done anyway (and never will be). For getting real work done, the desktop/keyboard/mouse is where it's at. I use desktop apps while in tablet mode all the time with no issues, but of course I also chose a tablet with a keyboard/trackpad cover and an active digitizer stylus. I can use my Surface Pro 2 just as effectively as a laptop when on the go or as a multi-monitor desktop when at my desk. When I'm not doing work there are plenty of touch optimized apps in the windows store to meet my needs. Do you somehow think that other tablets like iPads or Android tablets are better for getting serious work done? Do you think that a desktop is even slightly portable? The same things that you claim are not ideal on a Windows 8 tablet while in tablet mode are not even possible on other tablets (not a productivity device) or with a desktop (not a mobile device). Trying to do serious precision work on a tablet size touch device is never going to be as efficient as a desktop type experience, but at least it's an option with a Windows tablet. Also, that is why it's so cool that you can plug a Windows 8 tablet into a docking station and turn it into a multi-monitor desktop workstation or connect it to a keyboard and use it as a laptop. Somehow you manage to portray one of the most unique and innovative features of Windows 8.x tablets/hybrids as a con.

    In my opinion, the only valid point you made was in relation to intense 3D gaming. However, that weakness exists in all other tablets and most other laptops. Hardcore 3D gamers have always required a desktop computer (or massive laptop) to run the latest game titles. For most people this is not a requirement though.

  4. Angi G
    November 16, 2013 at 3:33 am

    My Acer Iconia W3-810 tablet arrived a little over 3 months ago and I've been extremely happy with it. I haven't used it exclusively, because it's just not possible in my field. But the fact that it has the whole OS not RT makes life much easier with it. I did some minor tweaking and additions to it right off. All-in-all I'm glad to have something that helps me walk away from my desk and get some fresh air, but still allows me to keep working.

  5. tony
    November 16, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Past 8 months have had a Samsung Ativ slate, and from work, a surface pro, both i5 based and both with active digitizer styluses.
    The samsung has a virtual machine which contains XP Pro for use with a flight simulator which wouldn't run with windows 8.
    The surface pro does everything I require at work - Office, Acrobat Pro, Interactive whiteboard software,various maths applications. In fact it's at least as powerful/capable as most of the PCs scattered around the school I work at. It works well for reading the newspapers I subscribe to, and if I didn't have an android tablet already loaded full of books,I'd be 90% as happy using it for book reading in bed.
    I'm 64, fat fingered, yet still manage to use touch ok... though obviously the stylus or the mouse is more accurate.
    Overall, reading your article, it seemed to me, that the problem lay more with your choice of tablet rather than with tablets per se. Of course, my satisfaction comes at a price that many users wouldn't be prepared to pay,but as someone who needs to write maths, the tablets I'm using are almost the only game in town and are well worth it.

  6. Andy
    November 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I'm using a surface pro 2 as basically my sole computer. I have a desktop PC in my office, but it's actually slower and more cumbersome than the pro compared to when I dock the pro at home, so I don't use my work PC all that much anymore with all my client files being in the cloud anyway.

    I'm not a power user like you, but i find Office 365 to be touch friendly, even though it doesn't run in metro. I bought the arc touch mouse, but honestly don't use it very much undocked because I find the touch screen just as easy, if not easier than using a mouse most of the time. Photoshop is the only program I consistently must have the mouse in. Even editing in MS Word, which I do a lot of, is pretty easy with touch once you figure it out (At home when I am docked, of course I use a mouse to edit documents, but at the coffee shop or at a meeting, conference, etc., touch is just fine and rarely pull out the slim arc mouse).

    One Note and full Outlook are phenomenal to stay on top of clients, meeting notes and emails. The app store is lacking but again, not being a power user, I find the Bing apps and Skydrive + the usual Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Flipboard to be as good (mostly better, actually) than their Android or ios counterparts. Flipping the keyboard back and resting the kickstand on it is perfect for relaxing on the couch or in bed and doing casual playing with apps or surfing. I probably wouldn't use it as a primary gaming device, but I'm not a gamer so that takes care of that.

    The tablet computer is probably a bit ahead of its time, but I've had no issues with the pro 2 being my main PC. It's actually much more portable with better battery life than any laptop I've used, and the Haswell i5 isn't exactly a processing slouch. I have the 256SSD and 8G RAM as the icing on the cake.

    I think generally the Pro 2 is a gem of a device for a business user who is on the go a lot and travels for work, and can absolutely replace a PC so long as you have the accessories to dock it appropriately.

  7. HildyJ
    November 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    A couple of comments. As far as Hyper V, I don't know why your tablet wouldn't support it. My Thinkpad Tablet 2 won't support it but that's because none of the old Atom processors would. Yours though, has a Core processor and the Surface Pro does support it with a similar processor.

    You're right about the touch screen for desktop apps - to get screen pointing accuracy you really need an active digitizer and a stylus like the TPT2 or the Surface Pro has. Without that, take a look at Lenovo's keyboards with a built in trackstick which would allow you to ditch the mouse.

    As far as games, you're right, they aren't built for intense graphics. Maybe the next crop of chips will help.

    And storage? Really? I can understand keeping huge archives but if you can't travel with just a paltry 256 GB mSSD, maybe you need to think about doing a bit of housekeeping.

    • Christian C
      November 15, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Hildy - thanks for your comment. The i3 version of the Iconia W700 does not have a Hyper V option in the BIOS. End of story.

      As for the storage - I think you've misunderstood. The device shipped with a 64 GB mSSD, which I upgraded to 256 GB. The setup I described is for the desktop - there is no problem using 256 GB, it's more than adequate for most use.

    • likefunbutnot
      November 16, 2013 at 2:04 am

      Very few Intel processors meant for notebooks have the full set of virtualization instructions enabled. It's a marketing decision, really, meant to drive people with more intensive needs toward more expensive CPUs that are less likely to wind up in consumer-type notebooks. AMD CPUs by and large adopt new features line-wide as they are introduced, but of course AMD isn't a big player in mobile devices at the moment.

      Microsoft Hyper-V has particularly stringent hardware requirements, but Oracle VirtualBox is free and I've found that it works on a wider range of systems. Of course, there's really nothing stopping the author from setting up his hypervisor on more appropriate hardware and using some kind of remote console viewer (Vsphere Client, Remote Desktop, VNC et al) to do the work that needs done. There's very little functional difference WHERE the guest OS is running and having it physically on a non-mobile computer is probably better for battery life anyway.

      I don't know why anyone familiar with PC hardware would bring up 3D gaming in the context of an x86-class tablet. Gaming hardware and mobile hardware are utterly at odds with one another. It's not going to happen. Play retro titles or flash games and be grateful you can carry around more computing power than existed on the planet 35 years ago in the palm of your hard.