Windows 8 Slate (Tablet) Hands On: It's Pretty Fantastic

A Microsoft tablet with Windows 8 has been a long time coming, but it's finally here. Sort of. We got our hands on a developer's preview yesterday and while flawed, it's extremely impressive.

More: First Look At What’s New In Windows 8

Keep this in mind as you read: both the operating system and hardware are developer preview builds. In fact, the [REDACTED] * hardware (we're prohibited from even revealing its manufacturer or specs) isn't even going to run Windows 8. And the hardware has an x86 processor, not ARM. When this Slate ships, says Microsoft, it's going to have Windows 7 on it. Microsoft doesn't even have a name for this thing, which it was sure to note (repeatedly) is not the first Windows 8 device.

Confused? It's like this: The tablet we got to play with was running a developer's build of Window's 8 on sub-optimal hardware, and, when this fistful of screen ships, it'll be running Windows 7.

Whatever the hell this thing is, it's a great preview of what's to come, even if only for a limited time. And we do mean limited time. Microsoft's press loaners are all due back in about 72 hours. I've been playing with this thing for the last 12, trying to pack as much W8 into the time I've got. Here's what we know:


Let's start with what it's like to touch the thing: fantastic. It is, in fact, the most usable gesture-based interface on the market. It goes beyond what Apple has done by quite a bit. The entire operating system is navigable in a way that is both completely new, and yet familiar within a few minutes of use. Navigation includes some by now familiar touchscreen elements, but is largely novel.

Swiping from the left edge of the screen swaps from app to app. It's blazing fast (even on this crazy setup), and as you swipe other running applications pop in as small windows that size up and take over your screen. You can also use this gesture to give over part of your screen real estate to a second running app, so you have two apps running side-by side in what Microsoft calls a snap state. Bawse.

Swiping the right edge brings up a persistant menu of "Charms": five icons that act like a home row, letting you quickly jump to the Start screen, sharing, settings, devices or search. Swiping from the top or bottom brings up application-specific menus and options. You can also use gestures to manipulate objects in heretofore unknown ways. Holding an element with one finger while swiping with another can move it around on the screen, for example. Quite simply, it's the best gesture interface out there right now.

Yet you can also connect a keyboard, or use a stylus to input text (and it will recognise your handwriting, right out of the box). All of this worked very well. And generally speaking, text input is just great. The software keyboard is superfast and responsive. It is probably the best software keyboard I've used yet. I can't type at the speed I do on a hardware keyboard, but it's impressively zippy, and laid out well with ample space between keys, and easy to swap back and forth to numbers and special characters. There is even a split key mode for thumb typers.

Operating System

Then there is the OS itself. The design is just stunning. It really makes you want to dive in and explore, and it's exceptionally easy to poke around in and navigate.

Windows 8 is a complete re-think of Windows (and holy Moses did it need one because Windows 7 was a bad idea). In this version, you're interacting mainly through so-called Metro applications. When you do fire up a Metro app (and in the shipping version of this OS, which Microsoft plans to build on lots of tablets with ARM chipsets, the Metro-style applications will be the dominant tablet interface) it completely takes over the screen. There is no Windows chrome to be seen anywhere, or even a home row of buttons or icons. It's all app. It makes for a really immersive experience, and is especially nice on very visually driven programs and games.

Metro apps show up on a unified Start screen. When you hit the Start screen, you see apps as tiles laid out in a grid. Goodbye, icons. As Jensen Harris, who runs Microsoft's user experience team said, "icons are yesterday's way of representing apps. Tiles are the more modern way of representing apps." That's kind of bullshit (even Windows 8 makes use of icons) but when you first encounter those eye-popping Metro tiles it feels true.

The tile concept is gorgeous and works wonderfully on a Slate. You scroll sideways across tiles, which you can also organise into groups by themes — and because they are so large it's really easy to navigate around to what you want to do. Within individual apps, you can "pin" actions, creating new tiles. So, for example, you can pin Gizmodo Australia from within IE (recommend!) and it will show up as a new tile on the Start screen. In addition to launching apps, Tiles convey live information at a glance. So the weather tile, for example, can constantly give you the current temp.

But it's better in theory in practice. All of the apps tend to surface a lot of older data and repeat themselves. You see the same tweets and photos over and over again. New information doesn't come bubbling up onto the Start screen the way it ought to. Again, this is a developer preview. We expect that will be remedied with the shipping product.

The new Search function works really well too. Bring up the charms by swiping the right edge of the screen, and an (old-fashioned!) search icon appears. When you enter a search term, not only will the interface show results with locally named files and internet results, but it can also search within various apps. The results show up in-app so, for example, you can find music results from within your music player without leaving the social media app.

Yet to Come

Some of its most promising features we weren't able to experience. It will automatically sync your settings between devices, and save to your Microsoft SkyDrive, for example. Businesses will be able to set up custom apps and deploy them remotely, so users can log in to a remote desktop on the road and more or less have their work machines. And it isn't just enterprise. You'll be able to browse your home computers remotely too. The goal seems to be to get all your data on every device, everywhere. There's also a built in app store, called Windows Store. Microsoft showed us a demo of building an app and deploying it to the store in a matter of minutes. There's nothing there now, but we expect it will be pretty rich.

Don't like new things? You old Andy Rooney, you. Good news, you can always swap over to Desktop mode and run a version of Windows that's as familiar as 1995. Microsoft showed off a version of Photoshop running in this state, and reassures that all your existing Windows 7 programs will still run in that mode. But you won't want to. The Metro apps are so inviting that going back to the old way of doing things feels, well, old.

The Bad News

There are hiccoughs. (Again, at risk of repeating myself repeating myself, this is a developer preview build, so we're hoping a lot of issues will be remedied by the time Windows 8 ships. Which may be a while.) When I tried to watch a video on YouTube, I was notified that I needed to update my Flash player to version 10, which I was further notified was not available for my 64-bit web browser. It prompted me to install a beta of 11. This kicked me over into Desktop mode. I reinstalled. I restarted. No luck. I still couldn't watch James Brown dance. It was, precisely, every Windows and Flash usability cliche in you've ever heard in the space of a few minutes.

I asked people to send me videos on Twitter just to see how a random pool of internet video would look. None of them worked. Not one. I was able to play a video on Vimeo that I navigated to myself, and subsequently found a few others, but Internet video as of now is a dark place for this Slate.

And then there's the fan. Yes, this tablet has a fan, and it's almost always running. Granted, this is an x86 device. But so is the MacBook Air, which doesn't even have a fan has a minuscule fan that basically never runs. Microsoft talks a big game about how Windows 8 is going to be optimised for any device, but in its present state it seems to have some serious performance issues. Both the demos yesterday, and my personal experiences over the last 12 hours, were riddled with system freezes. Again, I know this is a developer preview, but it wasn't encouraging.

In Closing

YUSSSSSSSS. Largely this thing is great. You hate comparisons, but I'm going to make them: It's not on par with the iPad (even the original version, to say nothing of the iPad 2). There are simply too many things that don't work as they should. But it's already far more usable than any Android tablet I've encountered. By the time Microsoft gets ARM straightened out and can ship this OS on optimised hardware, it's going to really sing. This is, in fact, the first tablet other than an iPad I can see myself buying and using. It's early, but Microsoft seems to have a hit.

Microsoft said we can't say who made the tablet until after today's keynote. (Damn, son.) But OK. That's cool. We won't mention which Korean manufacturer (that also makes lots of phones, some Android tablets, displays, televisions and Blu-ray players and is not LG) made this device until we get the official go-ahead.



    The whole 64-bit browser (assuming that's now the default) and flash issue is a bit messy right now.

    I suspect by the time Windows 8 ships to consumers Flash 11 w/64-bit support for IE will be released, so it'll be a non-issue.

    Also I had read the Samsung hardware is not intended to ever be released, they did a special run for Build attendees.

    The Macbook Air should use it's fan more often, despite their nice looks and speed, they run extremely hot - hello dead components

      Not that they can greet you back, being dead and all.

    The keynote last night was simply amazing. Win8 runs on an old Lenovo Netbook with a lower memory footprint than Win7!

    I have the press release, and my main take-aways from the keynote over at wpdownunder:

    Simply awesome!


    i want this on my tegra 2 tablet. i hope they release a ARM build soon

    I really want to grab the dev preview and play around with it, but I'm *really* not sold on the idea of that screen replacing the start menu. It just seems so inefficient.

      Why? Since windows 7, the search bar is the only funtion on that start menu I ever use. Perfect for stuff like "Run", "Cmd" and "Calc"... It just worked good for a long time, then got slower and slower... There's only some apps I want instant access to, other apps, search will do me... Browsing through that stupid menu sucked balls. Especially since they've turned it into the listview.

    "Largely this thing is great. You hate comparisons, but I’m going to make them: It’s not on par with the iPad (even the original version, to say nothing of the iPad 2). There are simply too many things that don’t work as they should. But it’s already far more usable than any Android tablet I’ve encountered."

    Uhhh... I find my Asus Transformer far more usable than the iPad2... so much for comparisons.

    I can see instant confusion. Control Panel and Settings. Shouldn't they be consolidated into one?!

    The URL for this article is

    But the headline is "Windows 8 Slate (Tablet) Hands On: It’s Pretty Fantastic"

    Was this an AU edit? If so it's a welcome one. Comparing a developer preview of an OS to an existing product is an unfair comparison. Having said that Windows 8 looks a lot more useful than iOS. The swipe gesture, the side by side apps. Brilliant.

      Definitely agreed, MDolley. I didn't even see the address and it's a stupid headline to be sure. 'Don't sell your ipad'?! Based on a developer preview? Kinda like kicking a baby before it's out of the womb. And the obligatory kneel-before-Apple comment.

      Well done Giz Au for giving a proper headline, and power to you. Rise up and become a better publication than your American counterparts (hint: you already are better! Keep it up!).

      Yep, thx. Wasn't able to tweak the URL on this one, normally can, though.

    From your article...

    "But so is the MacBook Air, which doesn’t even have a fan has a minuscule fan that basically never runs."

    Apart from that, great write-up! Windows 8 is looking good.

      Beat me to it! But yes - Win8 is definitely looking good & this write-up was pretty decent as well.

    Windows 7 was a bad idea? Are you kidding me? Windows 7 saved them from an early Vista death and bought enough time and consumer trust to keep them going and develop Windows 8. Windows 7 is great, clean and fresh compared to Vista and XP. However, I cant wait for Windows 8, looks great.

      Win7 is universally seen as the successor to XP that Vista should have been, and I've never seen a justifiably negative opinion of it.

      Win8 is another step in the right direction. <3 the side-by-side multitasking!

      Im gonna give the benefit of the doubt and say it means windows 7 on tablets, given the context of the article. windows 7 is pretty boss though.

      I have to agree with typedmillepede - most definatley has to relate to tablet installs, because we all know how good Win7 is and what it's done for MS.

      I know I'm in a vanishly small minority but I much prefer Vista to Win7. From the rubbish version of WMP to the krap Start Menu, Win7 was one step forward and two steps back. I'm kinda used to it now but I really miss Vista.

    Question sir,

    Did you say this was x64? because flash is buggy as *%&% on 64bit, has been for nearly a year now. I'm surprised you actually expected adobe to update it to be useable.

    And why is windows 7 a bad idea? XP was woeful out of the box, IF it actually installed without an error :S UNTIL the Sp1 update, you were better off with 2k.

    As for the macbookair comment -
    Personally, iOS shits me to tears - why you'd want it over android i'll never understand. My SGS2 gets quite warm if im doing something intensive, I'd expect there to be a fan on a Tablet with a full OS running

    I only just saw the Windows 7 was a bad idea comment. What? That is crazy!

    Did Gizmodo watch the keynote?
    Windows 7 has almost overtaken XP
    Windows 7 has sold around 450 million copies.

    Just for reference that is more than double the number of all iOS devices (Touch, iPhone & iPad) combined.

    Either Gizmodo was joking, or have strange way of judging if something is a good idea

    I stopped half way through to check the comments and see if anyone else felt like Giz handed the tablet to the biggest Windows fanboy on staff.
    It felt too gushing to be trustworthy.

      There are no windows fanbois at giz, they all love apples

    you can download the dev build now

    That tablet looks like an iPad..
    lol someone had to say it.
    But really, I don't like the looks of the OS.. I've never been fond of the looks of WP7 - no fanboy, just personal opinion.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

        They all look like iPads.

          the iPad looks like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

            YOU look like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

              I wonder how far we can keep indenting this?

              and you my friend are making Microsoft cool again.

                Microsoft doesn't have jeans and turtlenecks = Microsoft will never be cool.

                  Refer to this link, top image


                  close enough.

      My LCD also looks like a large ipad. Also, my digital photo frame looks like a small ipad. You know... black.

        I knew you'd come around and realise eventually.

    Yes - it has arrow/cursor keys on the soft keyboard. Fixes my most-hated iphone "feature"!

    HTC...Korean manufacturer?? really?

    i going to go right home and download this for my touch screen kitchen computer.
    the interface has always been a huge impediment in using it.
    hope it has automatic support for HP multi-touch monitors

      Now that may juist be the right place for the metro interface - domestic computing.
      It's too fat to be a productivity gateway, but with a limited number of apps and a decent SPU with connectivity, it wouod work well for recipes, contact lists, calendar etc...

    Mat Honan wrote it... It's written just above the article... Dan, you should have some eyes.

    This was already mentioned, shit happens, you don't need to have a fit about it.

    without Apple, non of this tablet fanfare would be happening. I love how the apple haters give absolutely no credit to them for inventing the consumer's rabid frothing at the mouth for these products....smartphones, tablets, MP3 (ipods), Touch's etc.....

    Apple haters are so lame. I like Apple but would be willing to move to something better if it comes far though, nothing compares to my iPad apart from the slightly better ipad2.

      They all think they'd still be walking around with their Android and WP7 phones and tablets without Apple doing it first. They're blind to the fact that without Apple, even if Android and WP7 existed today, they almost certainly wouldn't look the same.

      Credit where credit is due. Apple brought tablets to the front of the market.

      When the iPad came out, I knew I'd want a tablet in a year or two when the rest of the market caught up with the design.

      I had barely any interest in the iPad at the time though, as it's just a massive iPhone, and have zero interest now that functional computers will be coming out with 7+ hours on battery and better UI.

      "without Apple, non of this tablet fanfare would be happening." Rubbish! What is an iPad but a netbook that is even less useful? Or maybe a PDA that doesn't bloody fit in your pocket. It is the obvious next gen netbook device, Apple just happened to get their timing perfect, unlike MacBook Air, which has only now come into it's own in the 3rd gen. And despite all the hype, iPad sales have not eclipsed the estimated 36 million netbooks that shipped in 2010.

        You clearly haven't used an iPad at length. I thought the same thing until I tried one myself, now I own one.

          correct BenDTU. I also scoffed at the iPad's functionality. I got one for Xmas last year as a surprise, and have used it every damn day since. It makes life much easier when you don't have to wait for it to boot up and load everything. iPad is always on and at the ready, saving a hell of a lot of time.....oh and that 11 hour battery life? Nothing else comes close to that longevity.

          Apple just knows how to please. (Albeit, in a limited capacity sometimes)

          Of course I haven't used one extensively, it can't do more than about 5% of the things I use my computer for. More importantly, it cannot do one thing that my phone doesn't already do. Not one thing.
          I will have a lot of interest in tablet computers when I can run Photoshop on one. Until then, they are completely irrelevant to me.

    I hope it does a lot more than this upon release.
    Thus far it looks like WP7 with too many of the same components that made me give my WP7 phine away.
    Of all the examples, the only one I would use is the weather applet - which I can also get by looking up into the 'cloud(s)'

    Metro is pretty, but only suitable for perhaps 20-30 front-page applets.

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