2012-12-14

New Windows 8 hybrid computer

This Sunday I could finally acquire Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, a new Windows 8 hybrid computer for whose arrival to Israel I had been waiting impatiently for a few months. It has impressed me more than any other Windows 8 hybrid computer I could find on the web. Here are some of my random thoughts about this device itself, Windows 8, preinstalled "Modern UI" applications and how legacy desktop software programs work in this new environment after five days of using them quite intensively.

Ever since I got disappointed with Android tablets in terms of both hardware and software, I have been thinking that the future of mobile computing lies in a hybrid computer that can be both a notebook computer and a tablet, and that with a single operating system. Before I purchased this hybrid computer, I feared that 11.6" might be too small as the size of the display, but I find it big enough thanks to its high resolution and clarity. Although the computer turns out to be a little heavier than I thought both as a notebook computer and as a tablet, it is the lightest and slimmest (but the most powerful) computer I have ever owned. The only thing I am sorry for is that the battery life does not seem to be long enough as I wanted.

Windows 8 is probably the most revolutionary but controversial upgrade in the history of Windows though internally it is only a minor version upgrade from Windows 7. Actually, Windows 8 is quite similar to Windows 7 when it is in the traditional desktop mode. What makes it both revolutionary and controversial is its "Modern UI", which is best experienced with touch interactions instead of a keyboard. In spite of many negative reviews I have read online about "Modern UI", I find it quite sophisticated and comfortable when I use my new computer as a tablet. But I have not found an efficient way of switching between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes yet, and feel as if I had two operating systems on one computer.

The source of the biggest confusion (and complaint) for many users, including myself, is the lack of the "Start" button and menu in the desktop mode. Fortunately, I have already found a number of software solutions. Start8 appealed to me most; I have already purchased and started to use it. This (or some other similar tool) is probably the single most important desktop program for people who are migrating to Windows 8 from an earlier version of Windows. I still wonder why Microsoft had to remove this indespensable function from its new operating system.

Having tried all the preinstalled "Modern UI" applications, I have already come to a conclusion that this UI is meant basically for passive computing. So I have even uninstalled all the preinstalled applications except for four by Microsoft for four main types of my passive computing, i.e., reading ebooks, viewing photos, listening to music and watching videos. Actually the ebook reader by Microsoft called "Reader" was a pleasant surprise to me. It has already become one of my favorite programs, especially when I use my new computer as a tablet, and it will probably remain the single "Modern UI" application I will continue to use on a daily basis.

It did not come as a big surprise that I encountered no problem in installing and running any of the legacy desktop programs I used to use on Windows 7. Because of the small size (and high resolution) of the display I had to change its virtual size to 175%. This has caused serious usability problems with some desktop programs with an old UI which seems to rely heavily on graphics. Among those programs with these problems which I use frequently are LibreOffice and Adobe Reader.

All in all, I am very impressed and satisfied with this new Windows 8 hybrid computer by Samsung and would even recommend it to anyone who is looking for a well-balanced Windows 8 hybrid computer, though it is rather expensive (nearly $1,600 including VAT in Israel). For Windows 8 I have a mixed feeling. Although I think there should be more seamless integration between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes, I fully agree with Microsoft in that the future of mobile computing is to use a single operating system for notebook computers and tablets (as well as smartphones), pace Apple.