Windows 8 on the Thinkpad Yoga – Experiences

For my work, I am now using the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga, a laptop computer which can bent the screen over so that it looks like a tablet. It has a touch screen and additionally a Wacom digitizer.  A simple pressure sensitive pen is included and can be stored in a slot. In contrast to the Microsoft Surface it can be opened for maintenance. I changed the included hard disc with a 512 GB SSD. With this, the computer is actually quite fast. The graphics, of course, is only an on-board chip by Intel. It is not meant to be a gaming machine. Of course, the device is quite expensive starting well above 1000€. But it was the most affordable digitizer enabled computer I could find.

Now that I have used it for a while let me talk about my experiences. Windows 8.1 is actually quite okay. I see no reason not to replace Windows 7 by Windows 8. If you cannot get yourself to use the start page with its tiles as a replacement for the old tiny start menu, you can install Classic Start Menu and follow old habits. Windows 8 will then look and feel like Windows 7 most of the time, only better. It can even boot right into the desktop. I am using the laptop with a 24 inch screen and a separate keyboard and mouse connected over the cheap docking station. All looks very traditional with the task bar and the icon for the start menu in the corner.

But laptops are also used as laptops. Then all of a sudden the screen feels very small, fonts get tiny and nothing can be done without glasses. The pixels reduce from 1920×1200 on 24 inch to 1920×1048 on 12.5 inch. It is obvious that this difference needs special attention by programmers. However, too often the same layout is used on all screen sizes and resolutions. Android, by the way, has the same problem running on phones and high resolution tablets alike. There, however, is an API to handle font changes automatically. If such an API is available on Windows 8.1 for desktop programs I do not know. But it is certainly not widely used. My feeling is that Microsoft should at least provide a full screen mode for all windows which hides the window decorations completely together with the task bar. Another idea would be to automatically replace scroll bars with finger operation if touch is available. Of course, an automatic or user controlled scaling of programs would also be welcome.

On Windows 8, there are apps, which are meant to run in full screen mode. Sadly, even for the apps by Microsoft the GUI is not completely thought through. E.g., the full screen mode of the Internet Explorer still wastes much of the height of the screen for a bar on the bottom. The picture app from Microsoft has very limited functionality compared to other viewers. It cannot display data or titles of the images, nor can it search for images. The latter can be done by the general Windows search. But then each search result opens the picture viewer in the folder of the image. It is not possible to go through the found images. The Picasa slide show, by the way, cannot be used by swiping across screen. These few examples show that there is much to be done. But many apps work flawlessly. I find myself liking the full screen version of Skype, or the Bing News. The news reader Readiy is also quite nice though I like Feedly more. But Feedly does not have a good Windows app.

There are more problems. E.g., the internet explorer can open as an app only if it is the default browser. That’s not nice. I would like to keep Chrome as the default on the desktop, and another browser app for the tablet mode. By the way, the fonts of Internet Explorer look much better in laptop mode, but not on the big external screen. Google Chrome blurs the text a bit. This maybe some setting. But I had the same experience with other programs. It seems the video driver on the Thinkpad is doing some interpolation to cope with two different pixel densities. But this could be a wrong explanation, since Internet Explorer looks very well on the laptop screen.

With all this problems, it must be said that the tablet mode and the digitizer are very welcome features on the long run. With a software like ZoomIt you can draw on the screen in presentations. With One Note you can scribble notes directly on the tablet screen. You can annotate PDFs directly in hand writing. Of course, you can draw images with the pressure sensitive pen. The pen would work better, if icons and elements were larger in desktop programs, but it is not completely impossible to work with the digitizer or even the finger on desktop programs.

Time will show how apps on Windows develop. Clearly a Windows tablet could be a great gaming station. I see no reason why Android should be a better choice. Add some well done productivity apps, and Windows 8.1 could be a winner.

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