Choosing from the Spectrum of Windows 8 Hardware

How do you choose from the spectrum of Windows 8 hardware?  I’ll take you through some of the things I considered to help you along the journey. 

Windows 8 choices


This is Canada-based, but applies to the US in a relative way.

First I’ll say that I’m disappointed at the effort made by Future Shop and Best Buy.  Yes, it’s true that manufacturers haven’t all got their wares out ready for the launch, but these retail outlets have done little or acted slowly in focusing customer attention on what should have been a rapid success.

I walked into a Future Shop and Best Buy on Oct 26th and found the following conditions:

  • Android devices under WinRT device display banners.
  • A single WinRT device with no emphasis
  • Limited Windows 8 knowledge – only online-training is provided
  • Predominantly Windows 7 machines
  • No clear group as per the Windows site.
  • No more than 2 touch-screen devices with no notice that they are touch-screen – I’m the guy walking around feeling the edges of the screens.
  • Some of the devices listed on the Windows site (as available in the particular store) were not available in the store.
  • More available online but with 2-4 week ETAs

When I went back two weeks later to buy a Lenovo Yoga 13, they had been in stock for 5 days but none were on display.  I was told that the decision on what to stock and display is made outside of the store.  This person/team needs some advice.

What I want to do here is really give you a sense of the range of devices available to you from an outlet like Future Shop.  It was much easier when they had a nice link to touch-screen Windows 8 devices on the front page – but of course that was only there for about a week or so, and there’s no specific filter for touch screen!

Future Shop does have some incentives, if you actually manage to locate a Windows 8 machine, and depending on what you get that may include free Office 2010 Home & Student, discounts on printers, discounts on new Microsoft keyboards and mice.

I keep mentioning touch-screens (and noticing that touch screen, touchscreen and touch-screen are all OK with the spell checker) because you really need to get one when you buy your next Windows machine/PC/tablet/device.  I’ll stick with ‘machine’ for now (even though for something without any moving parts – even no fan – it seems like an odd moniker now).  It’s like a microwave.  Once you start using one, you don’t really go back.

So let’s go in price order taking what’s available at Future Shop.  We also going to go through these categories:

  • ARM Tablet running Windows RT
  • Intel ATOM (Clover Trail) Tablet/Laptop running Windows 8
  • Intel i3 processor running Windows 8
  • Intel Pentium processor running Windows 8
  • Intel i5 processor running Windows 8

Disclaimer: do your own research and make your own decision – this is non-exhaustive and merely illustrative of my thinking Smile

ASUS Vivo Tab RT 10.1" 2GB 32GB Windows RT – $599.99

Win8 asus tablet

Students: this comes with Windows RT and Office Home & Student 2013 RT (Word, Excel, PowerPoint & OneNote).  Add a $50 keyboard and/or mouse and you have a powerful offering for students – better than any Android and Apple offering.  Better yet, order a Microsoft surface for only $519 + $50 keyboard/mouse.  Still pricey though – this category could kill next back-to-school but would be killed over by Clover Trail machines (see below) if it weren’t for included Office.

Kids/Family: at $599.99 this may be one to share around the house, but then you could go with the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT at $519.  It will not play Minecraft, and there’s no sign of a WinRT version of this in the future.  The Windows Store will provide lots for your young ones to eat up.  Better value than iPad story.

Information Workers: you need an Office enterprise license to cover your use of Office – see next machine.

Developers: It’s a test machine – get the cheaper surface instead.

Also: bring on an Xbox music account, use the Xbox store and have your Xbox gamertag on there (if you can navigate the whole issue of combining Microsoft Accounts, formerly Live IDs), and you have a great device; unfortunately not a great story for families since while one account (of various types) can work on multiple machines, one account doesn’t share well for servicing multiple users – there are ways to do this for some accounts but it doesn’t always work – it needs a lot of work.

Overall: buy a Microsoft Surface starting from $519 instead; if the price gap between Windows RT and Windows 8 machines widens then these will because as plentiful as coasters but much more useful; the size is too big to replace a Kindle for long-term reading – a 7" Xbox Surface optimized for games and $219 cheaper would kill; this does not run Windows 7 (or earlier) desktop software.

Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T 11.6" 2GB 64GB Windows 8 – $649.99

win8 samsung ativ smart pc

Students:  add $50 for keyboard/mouse and $140 for Office Home and Student (which can go on up to 3 machine AFAIK), and you have a great story, though pricey; however it will play Minecraft and most other older apps; no great performance though and don’t try any serious gaming.

Kids/Family: Well… Minecraft -  it’s compatible with previous Windows software – I hope you have an only child or saintly children; definitely just one to share at this price; and you may be wondering why you wouldn’t just get a laptop on sale for $400 – it’s probably not a touchscreen but price is likely your major factor so this really may not work for you.

Information Workers:  this is where it get’s interesting for you and you may want to consider the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 or Dell Latitude 10 with cool optional dock; screen may be too small but that’s why you dock it to a large 2nd screen.

Developers:  Business machine, demo machine or backup developer machine with external screen.

Also: these are Atom Covertrail machines which bridge the gap and they may be the entry point for many users, except most people haven’t been told the difference.

Overall: see the options from other manufacturers, but this is where you can start if you want to keep compatibility with previous apps from Windows 7; the one at Future Shop doesn’t come with a mobile internet SIM card slot – I reserved one from Rogers that does (and still waiting).

Acer Aspire V5 15.6" i3-3217U 8GB 750GB – $699.99

win8 acer laptop

Students: you could get a cheaper laptop, though this one has a touchscreen – they are hard to find right now – nothing special

Kids/Family: touchscreens matter to Windows Store apps and children – so consider something like this for your next laptop for the living room but still not a big gaming machine

Information Workers:  does the job, but you could also consider the more form-factor-flexible Samsung ATIV

Developers: not quite the power machine and no solid-state drive, but it will get some work done and it is a touchscreen


Acer 23" Pentium G640 – $799.99

win8 acer allinone


Students: not really very portable, though it may make a good dorm-room entertainment device and could be paired with a Surface – oh wait you’re a student and we just went spending crazy – the good news is that many things sync nicely.

Kids/Family: the category is one for the kitchen or living room and the touchscreen brings at least a bit of physical exercise – OK, not really; some of these things may not be so easily upgradeable though.

Information workers: not really for you

Developers: really just for testing and demos for apps that work well with touch

Overall: there are many of these all-on-ones and they are nolonger at a premium price.

HP Envy 14" i5-3317U 8GB 32GB+500GB – $949.99

win8 hp

Students: more serious laptop; may run some games; audio may be cool – a bit pricey though; relatively light

Kids/family: perhaps if you have some serious work to do at home

Information workers: it’s an Ultrabook – good power and weight

Developers: a good developer machine for working on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 projects – I would have replaced one of my laptops (2-year old HP touchscreen – a rare beast) with this one but I personally wanted some form-factor flexibility.

Also: I’d swap out the drive from a proper SSD, but I’m not sure if this machine is user-serviceable.

Overall: I almost bough this one.


Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13.3" i5-3317U 8GB 128GB – $1199.99


win8 lenovo yoga 13

Students: no need to go this high in price – there are other flexible form-factor options available; if an attached keyboard is preferred but with flexibility, then there are detachable keyboard options with the Windows RT devices and higher options.

Kids/family: same flexibility comments as for students

Office worker: this may work for you if you occasionally like to use a pen for handwritten notes or for drawings

Developer: works for me and this is what I got; hard-drive is big enough for installing all the dev tools; my only issue is that the resolution (1600×900) could be lower (1366×768), but I now see more of Visual Studio toolboxes this way; I also get a tablet (albeit a big one) when I occasionally want one.

Overall: for someone that wants occasional tablet form-factor – I’m not sold on the A and backwards L shape positions that can be done with it.


Other choices

There are of course choices not available at Future Shop but I also think these are ones that will be less popular.

Lenovo Twist (12.5") – $829+ (some eCoupons available to reduce that)

win8 lenovo twist

Not a great screen-size for productivity, but it’s a full on TPM option and some great flexibility. $899+ for i5 processor models. I’ve had a 12" Fujitsu Windows tablet before and rarely used the twist part.


Dell XPS 12 (12.5") – $1299+

win8 dell xps 12

I didn’t pick this because the screen was just too small for serious productivity and it’s $100 than the Yoga 13.


Asus Taichi (11.6") – $1399.99

win8 asus twoscreen

Well – really – not so sure about this, especially for the price.

Special mention – Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro 64GB i5-3317I – US$899 – due out January 2013

win8 surface pro

Students:  if you can spend a lot on an iPad, then you should consider one of these instead, but watch old for poor battery life

Kids/Family: once you get fed up sharing it, get a Surface with Windows RT for the kids and keep this one for yourself

Information workers: the battery life mention on the web (‘half of Surface for Windows RT’, i.e. perhaps 4 to 5 hours) could be an issue if you really use this thing on the plane a lot, assuming there’s no in-seat charging.  It’s going to be US$899 + US$130 to get

Developers: not a great screen size, but possibly a good option for presenters; powerful enough.

Also: consider the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro and others in this category.

Final Comments

There are quite a few Windows RT/Windows 8 machines out there, but some are hard to locate.  The number of machines is going to grow and things will get more complicated.  I didn’t cover i7 devices or gaming-level machines.  You know if you really want one of these.

Microsoft’s efforts on their site to categorize machines is helpful but this is not clear on retail store sites and the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8 will not be clear to many people.  Note that most machines listed from Future Shop do not have Windows 8 Pro, but it’s cheap to upgrade. 

Remember, consider buying a touchscreen for your next machine.  An old machine with Windows 7 upgraded to Windows 8 may not have the power management, security and hard drive performance that a Windows 8 specific machine has.  If you get multiple machines remember that keyboards/mice can be shared between machines, e.g. Surface keyboards between the two types of Surface or Bluetooth keyboards/mice with many tablets.  Many of the portable machines have great battery life of 7-9+ hours.

I hope this has given you a sense of the range of Windows 8/RT devices available and helps you with your decision making process.

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