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Using Windows 8.1 on a 7-Inch $59 Tablet Is Interesting, Worth It

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

It's not much of a secret around here that I despise Windows 8.1. I'm not the only one -- its market share is in single-digit territory -- but I haven't exactly been shy about my feelings: It was a terrible mistake by Microsoft to push a touch-first operating system on everyone, especially corporate, legal, and other business users whose keyboard-and-mouse setups did not play well with the OS.

On Friday, I bought my first Windows 8.1 device: a $59 WinBook TW70CA17 tablet from Micro Center. And while it may not be fair to evaluate the OS in such a less-than-ideal environment, I really was curious to see how it would fare on a tiny 7-inch screen with bare minimum specs: a quad-core Intel Atom Z3735G processor with 1 GB RAM and 16 GB flash storage.

Why did I engage in the tech equivalent of self-flagellation with a spiked leather belt? The tablet, however useful or not it may be, came bundled with Office 365 Personal ($70 from Microsoft), which meant I saved $10 on Office 365 and got the tablet for free.

What Is Windows 8.1 Like on a 7-Inch Screen?

Hah! What's it like trying to build a house with a tack hammer? I kid -- it's actually usable. It's just, with such a small flash storage drive and miniscule amount of RAM, if you try to do anything more than a single task, it lags hard. And if you try to do anything in desktop mode, like use Google Chrome, the buttons are too tiny for even the daintiest of hands to accurately poke.

In short: You're using Windows Store (Metro-styled) touch-friendly apps only, unless you take advantage of the HDMI-out port and hook up a monitor -- in which case, you're still using a pitifully slow computer.

But this is totally usable for quickie tasks, such as handling quick intake forms with a client, checking your email on the go, entering billable hours, or reviewing a motion before a hearing. And because this runs real Windows 8.1 (not the all-but-defunct RT version for low-power tablets), all of your regular desktop apps should run (slowly). Think of this as a netbook (those uber-cheap laptops from a few years back), but in tablet/touchscreen form.

Is an Atom-based Tablet With 1 GB RAM Actually Usable?

Yes, with caveats. First of all, multi-tasking is not an option with 1 GB of RAM. Second, you'd be downright insane to do anything other than basic word processing or Web browsing -- no games, no video or picture editing, etc.

If you're looking for something that you can use for more than basic tasks, the absolute bare minimum that we'd recommend for a lightweight tablet would be 32 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM, plus a 10-inch screen.

What's the Deal With Bundled Office 365?

And there's the real reason why I brought the tablet: Office 365. While I also hate subscription-based software (I prefer to own my software, rather than pay a monthly toll), Office 365 currently comes with (of course) Office itself, 1 terabyte of cloud storage via OneDrive, plus some Skype minutes. And the word from Microsoft is that they are rolling out upgrades that will make OneDrive unlimited.

Unlimited cloud storage with a reputable company for a year. And Microsoft Office. And a tablet that might come in handy once or twice, and is at least good enough to stream Netfix, HBO GO, Spotify, and my other favorite audio and video services. Totally worth $59.

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