High-end 8-inch Windows tablets – Where do we go from here?

Updated on 30 October 2014 by

I recently wrote about what a late-2014 high-end 8-inch Windows tablet could offer. I talked about Intel’s Realsense camera technology, 3G, USB3.1, 1080p screens and AC WiFi. A digitizer and additional access security could be interesting too but is there a market for these high-end features in the 8-inch sector? Could Microsoft create a market with a Surface Mini and a really special technical feature?

Toshiba Encore 2 10 38-inch tablets are bobbing-along at the $200 price-point now and the excellent Dell Venue 8 Pro is just $224 today at Amazon.com.  At the high-end the Lenovo Thinkpad 8 is still $413 which is nearly double the price for very little more in terms of speed or power. The Dell VP8  is the #43 best-selling computer, tablet or accessory at Amazon.com which is pretty impressive. The Lenovo Thinkpad 8 is at #1828, which isn’t that impressive.

Clearly there isn’t a huge audience for high-end 8-inch tablets with a lot of bells and whistles so is there any reason to make one?

The Surface Pro 3 appears to have launched well and it too is a niche, high-end product but it’s getting a lot of traction in terms of search traffic, news and review articles and good feedback from owners. After one month on Amazon.com there are 23 customer reviews with an average rating of 4.3 and It’s the #154 most popular computer, tablet or accessory which is really very good for what is a niche product. Why is that?

Firstly the Surface Pro 3 has set a new bar in terms of engineering. They’ve cracked the 800 gram mark, reached an impressive level of thinness and still managed to design a tablet with a good battery life, at least for a powerful tablet like this. Secondly, it’s a Surface. Surface has become a quality brand and is getting netter all the time. Microsoft continues to market the brand and products heavily across many types of media. Could the same engineering, branding and marketing make a Surface Mini a success?

A Surface Mini, or indeed any high-end 8-inch Windows tablet, will have to fit with a high-end brand so it doesn’t have to be cheap. It also needs to match that higher price in terms of perceived quality, more importantly, in terms of breaking new ground with a new feature. That ‘new feature’ could be an issue in the 8-inch space because smaller tablets are bounded by tighter pricing.  Then there’s the question of limited physical space in which to innovate.

Brand + Quality + Feature

We know Surface has the brand quality and that Microsoft can give us some great engineering but what can they pull out of the hat in terms of new features. I’ve done some brainstorming and come up with a set of features that could be possible given pricing and sizing constraints. Not many of them are really that interesting from a marketing perspective but some are worth further consideration.

  • Battery life – There’s very little scope for a unique feature here in 2015.
  • WiDi – It’s useful but there aren’t many people that even know what it is and how it can be used.
  • USB3.1 – A point upgrade, as seen by the customer.
  • AC WiFi – Not exactly a deal breaker if it’s not there at this stage.
  • Type cover keyboard –  There’s little scope or demand for creating a good typing experience within the limited space.
  • Super-thin design – Sure, shave 0.5mm off but it won’t look much thinner than a Lenovo Miix 2.
  • Screen size. Do users want a 5 or 7-inch Windows tablet? Given the huge competition in this area it’s a risk not worth taking.
  • Digitizer – 8-inches is not really the best place to put a digtizer, adds thickness and reduces space for battery.

Camera

Given that Nokia camera technology is now under the control of Microsoft and that other companies, like Intel, are looking at depth-sensing cameras for new photographic experiences, security, gaming and gesture control there’s an exciting possibility that a high-end 8-inch tablet could break new ground by being the smartest camera ever.  The hard technology is there to make an optically-stabilized sensor that might even have some zoom capability but it would need some very special software to make it work well. Is this something that consumers would be interested in or is there too much competition in the established smartphone sector?

Screen technology

Isn’t it time to finally get an outdoor-readable screen with low-power properties in a reader-focused device?  8-inch tablets are great for reading both book and web-based content but the screens are terrible outdoors. Pump up the backlight and you’ll use your battery charge quickly too. I’m not aware of any screen technology that’s quite ready to transform the outdoor experience and battery life in 2015 so maybe it’s something that’s going to come with flexible or folding screens. While we’re talking about screens, how about some waterproofing too? There’s a lot of scope for change in screen technology.

Connector-less tablet / processor-less tablet.

Intel want to make a connector-less tablet after Broadwell products have launched. You might see something at IDF in September but it won’t be a final product. WiGig is the technology that would be used and it can enable remote docks that offer completely transparent local wireless experiences. Someone could even make the first procesor-less tablet. Instead of having the CPU in the tablet and the connectors in the dock, why not put the CPU in the dock and run the screen and touch layer over WiGig? This would completely transform the tablet design and enable incredibly light builds with extremely long battery life. They wouldn’t be usable without the dock but there’s nothing stopping the dock from being small too. It could clip on to the back of the tablet.

Give us your feedback in the poll below and if you think there’s a ‘feature’ just over the horizon that would be perfect for a high-end 8-inch Windows tablet, let us know in the comments below.

 

[poll id=”7″]

16 Comments For This Post

  1. hasi says:

    2 Full size USB Ports.
    User replaceable M.2 SSD.

  2. stan says:

    Agreed. Replaceable battery and 3G/4G are also a must for me. Thus my x15 but wish it was an 8 or 9 inch device. Above 11″ it becomes hard for me to call it a umpc.

  3. scoobiesnacks says:

    Digitiser, on board pen and replaceable battery for me. Hey it worked for the Samsung Note.

  4. Dwig says:

    More rugged design:
    connectorless (no openings in the case) I/O (bluetooth), networking (WiFi AC), and display – we almost have these in the current crop
    flexible display screen (more rugged because is won’t crack when “flexed”)

    Docking station:
    connectorless but provides charging & multible USB
    optional alternate version with a keyboard

    More storage:
    larger SSD options, at least 128g if not 256g.

    IMHO, the increased storage is a requirement for any upmarket device.

  5. some says:

    Is there a reason why 8″ screens are the smallest these things will go? Do companies think most people will be carrying around 6″-7″ screened phones soon so they’re avoiding those sizes?

  6. Clio says:

    Short version…

    Surface Pro 3 Mini: Target Audience = People purchasing with intention of “One device for both Work & Play”

    – 9.4″ ~ 9.7″ 3:2 Screen to achieve <6" device width in portrait mode (hand-stretch limit)
    – Side-to-side(portrait) display
    – Full Windows OS, i-Core CPU, Digitiser are musts
    – micro-USB chargable
    – Optical trackpad on bezel for less optimised apps
    – Fingerprint scanner (ideally double as above mentioned trackpad)
    – swappable battery
    – Full USB3 x 2, mixed-mode micro-usb x 1, Full SD slot x1, mini-HDMI out
    – USB/battery-powered Miracast receiver accessory available for wireless link to meeting room projectors.

    wish-list, highly unlikely:
    – Slider at 800g
    – … at least give me a rigid hinge between it and the keyboard…?
    – Thunderbolt x 1
    – Built-in WiDi _RECEIVER_; CPU, thermals, full-sized ports, etc… "off-shored" to puck-sized thing.

    Recommendations:
    – Relocate capacitive "Windows" button to top-left(landscape)/top-right(portrait) of bezel.

  7. Clio says:

    Long version…

    Digitiser-pen and pen-enabled applications is key for the Windows OS going forward. The main audience would be:

    Group 1.) Creative professionals:
    They want a device with large surface to draw on. They may need to take the device on the road, but they will be sitting comfortably when using the device and therefore willing to sacrifice mobility in favour of a larger working area.

    Solution: Surface Pro3’s hardware got it exactly right, but the software needs some optimising/maturing.

    Group 2.) Corporate/Business, Purchasing with intention of “Office-use”:
    They want to replace their heavy laptops, and a pen-enabled Windows tablet allow searchable note-taking (plus make meetings looks futuristic).

    Solution: The Surface Pro3 screen size and 3:2 aspect ratio is just IDEAL for note-taking, and also good for all tasks around the office. But it is not so “mobile” outside of the office because of size and “lappability”.

    Group 3.) Employees of above mentioned Corporate/Business, Purchasing with intention of “One device for both Work & Play”:
    They want a screen big enough for note-taking in meetings, but small enough for use in their daily commute. They also need the device to be snappy(read: they simply look for i-Core CPUs) with full-on windows OS, and be able to connect to projectors, monitors and peripherals with minimum dongles/hubs.

    When in portrait, its width needs to fit between thumb and middle finger on one hand (ie. width = 6″ max), because that is how most people would hold a flip-notepad for note-taking while standing. To maximise writeable area, the screen will need to span across that width with minimum bezels.

    Also, these device will contain lots of personal+work details, and is highly likely to get lost. So a finger-print scanner will be extra useful.

    Solution: A suitable tablet doesn’t exist yet. Pythagoras Theorm on the 6″ width limit and 3:2 ratio gives a ~= 9.9″ (diagonal) screen allowing for some bezels. I’ve folded a 6″x9″ paper and it feels a nice size to pen on. So a 9.4″~9.7″ 3:2 screen would be good compromise between pen requirements and dimension limits. Give it another inch of bezels along its height will also allow for a decent-sized keyboard cover and maybe an optical trackpad built into the bezel for less-optimised applications.

    Conclusion:
    I think the mini Surface Pro3 should be targeted at group 3, as the other groups are already well-suited by the Surface Pro3.

  8. Hildy J says:

    I have a Dell Venue 8 Pro which replaced my Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 which replaced my HP500 Slate which replaced my OQO 02 which replaced my Motion m1300 (I’ve been around). Here’s what I want:

    Weight: less is more. My 14 oz. Venue is about as much as I’d be willing to tolerate. My 1.2 lb. TPT2 was too heavy for extended hand holding.

    Size: The Venue’s 8″ screen and 8.5×5″ overall size work well (although sometimes menu selection with touch is an issue). Depth is a silly spec to highlight. My Venue is slim but that doesn’t make it anything other than sexy looking.

    Digitizer: Give me Wacom. My Venue’s Synaptics and my HP’s N-Trig just don’t measure up. Plus the batteryless design of the Wacom allows for a mini stylus that can be docked in the tablet. Yes, the tablet would be thicker. I don’t care.

    USB: Full sized and 3.0. Yes, the tablet would be thicker. I don’t care.

    Battery: More is more. Fill the thicker tablet with more battery.

    RAM: 8GB, or at least 4.

  9. Mark says:

    Are 7″ screens and a built in mouse not allowed or something?

  10. aden says:

    If the unreleased Viliv X70 were updated to current specs, I’d get it over any current 8″ tablet even if they had a Wacom digitizer. No thumb keyboard would be unfortunate but I’m not sure how that’d be implemented on a 7″ screened device.

  11. qix says:

    With what’s available and trends it looks like I’m going to end up just getting the DragonBox Pyra when/if it ships and hope they learn from their mistakes from Pandora. Maybe my UMPC future will neither involve Microsoft nor Intel.

  12. aden says:

    I’m keeping an eye on the Pyra as well. It may look ugly (to me) but it seems to be more functional than these 8″ tablets. For those who will be using the desktop (be it Debian or Windows), a capacitive touchscreen (even with an active digitizer) may not be as useful. I guess I could play a game on the Pyra every now then.

    Good thing I’ve had to use Debian and Scientific Linux for work for a while and the software I use are the same, equivalent or better than the ones I used on desktop Windows. Too bad I can’t say the same for Android, iOS and Metro software. The whole touch first interface really does make it difficult to create more robust apps.

  13. ArchiMark says:

    +1 for Pyra…..

    Got a Pandora 1Ghz now and it’s great…..pocketable linux computer….

  14. curaga says:

    I’m tracking the Pyra as well. Having used 8″ and 10″ Windows, 7″ Android and iPad Air tablets, touch just makes for a cumbersome interface unless the app is severely dumbed down and you just make do until you get to a PC. Not waiting for a PC is the main reason I bought these mobile devices. I still think a physical keyboard and a mouse pointer (not via a digitizer pen) are necessary but can be complemented by a touch screen. Of course, some software will just never be available on Android and iOS.

    I, too, hope that the Pyra is successful so I can buy one. I’m glad they’re using Debian as their base OS. That should provide a lot of software packages out of the gate. The OMAP 5 seems like it’ll give adequate performance.

  15. Dell Venue 8 Pro sucks says:

    I had the Dell Venue 8 Pro and returned it.
    The Synaptics active digitizer system
    wasn’t ready for prime time, and had lots
    of problems, Tablet PC Review forums
    document the problems for this Dell and
    also the Asus tablet.

    I think the problem is that, to meet the
    price point, mfrs are cutting too many
    costs/corners. So for now, I’m sticking
    to ThinkPad Windows convertible for
    when I need a new device with an active
    digitizer, avoiding the hybrid/2-in-1
    which apparently has overheating problems.

  16. evozero says:

    built-in keyboard, for use while standing, i.e. thumb-typing

    something in the form-factor of the kindle keyboard would be great
    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61D-zVxgCCL._SL1500_.jpg

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