Microsoft Windows 8 is designed to run on a wide range of devices including laptop, desktop, and tablet computers with low power ARM processors and high-performance Intel and AMD chips. But while upcoming tablets with low power ARM chips are getting a lot of attention, there are a few tablets already on the market that are perfectly capable of running Windows 8.
The folks at Kupa sell a tablet called the X11 which features a 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, a capacitive touch panel for finger input and an active digitizer for use with a stylus, and a low power 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Z670 Oak Trail processor.
The Kupa X11 gets up to 10 hours of battery life, which is something you’d expect from an iPad or Android tablet, but the Kupa X11 runs Windows. You can buy one for $699 and up.
Right now the company sells the tablet with Windows 7. But Kupa loaned me an X11 preloaded with Windows 8 Consumer Preview recently so I could test it with Microsoft’s upcoming tablet-friendly operating system.
Bear in mind, the Kupa X11 is currently aimed at professionals that need the versatility of a tablet as well as the ability to run Windows software. That’s why it comes with premium features such as a fingerprint scanner and digital pen.
That’s also why the tablet can be a bit chunkier and heavier than an iPad or your typical Android slate.
Unfortunately while the tablet gets excellent battery life, the trade-off is poor overall performance. Like netbooks, the Kupa X11 can run most Windows applications… but it will run some of them very slowly.
The good news is that while Windows 8 Metro style apps are sometimes a little slow to load, the Metro user interface feels pretty snappy. That’s likely because Metro apps are meant to be used one at a time, or in some cases with two apps running side by side. There’s not much multitasking to slow you down… until you try to running normal Windows desktop style apps.
This isn’t a full review of the Kupa X11 or of Windows 8, since the operating system is still in beta and the tablet doesn’t officially ship with Windows 8 yet. But having spent a little time testing the Kupa X11 with Windows 8, I wanted to share some thoughts.
Design and hardware
The Kupa X11 is thicker and heavier than your average 10 inch slate, measuring 10.7″ x 7.3″ x 0.6″ and weighing 2.2 pounds. But it’s thick plastic case feels sturdy and looks like it’s designed for industrial or business use.
There’s a thick black bezel around the 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display. It gives you something to hold onto while using the tablet. And since some Windows 8 gestures start at the bezel, the space isn’t wasted.
For instance, in order to pull up the Windows 8 “Charms” menu, you swipe your thumb or finger from the right bezel onto the screen. This is how you access the Start Screen, settings, and other features.
Below the screen there’s a fingerprint scanner on the left, and two buttons on the right.
The smaller button all the way on the right can be used to emulate a mouse click. For instance if you’ve selected a folder using Windows Explorer by tapping on it, you can double-click the small button to open the folder. Or you could just double-tap the screen… making the button feel kind of pointless.
When Kupa loaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview on the tablet they disabled the Windows brightness settings panel because it interfered with the auto-brightness. But on my demo model I was able to adjust the screen brightness manually by holding the smaller button and then clicking the left or right sides of the larger button to brighten or dim the screen.
But for the most part, I’ve ignored these buttons while testing the X11.
On the bottom edge of the table there are stereo speakers and switches to enable or disable wireless features. The speakers aren’t particularly loud, but if you need to listen to some audio and don’t have headphones handy, I suppose they’re better than nothing.
The top edge has a power button and a vent. Pressing the power button while Windows 8 is running will put the computer to sleep. This is one of the key differences between this version of Windows 8 and an iPad or Android tablet.
Pressing the power button on those devices will usually just turn off the display, allowing you to continue listening to audio, receiving incoming email or chat messages, and so on. But on the Kupa X11 everything basically shuts down. Powering up the tablet again takes few seconds, and you’ll have to enter your password at the Windows 8 lock screen.
It’s likely that Windows 8 on ARM will function differently, and tablets with next-generation low power x86 chips may also be able to stay connected to the internet when in a sleep-like mode. But for now if you want to dim the Kupa X11 screen while listening to music, you’ll have to do it manually.
The left side of the tablet is empty.
On the right side of the tablet you’ll find 2 USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, headset jack and a SIM card slot. The Kupa X11 Classic doesn’t include 3G, but the $799 Kupa X11 Pro does.
There’s also a mic built into the right side, as well as a 2 megapixel front-facing camera above the screen.
On the back you’ll find a 3MP camera and another vent.
Since the Intel Atom Z670 processor and solid state disk don’t generate much heat there are no fans in the Kupa X11 tablet. That means it runs nearly silently. You also won’t feel any air moving in or out near the vents.
But the rear of the tablet does get pretty warm during extended use.
The tablet has a matte display, but Kupa also added a sheet of plastic to my demo unit to reduce glare. It seems to do that reasonably well, but it does little to improve the tablet’s viewing angles.
When you hold the tablet directly in front of your eyes, colors look decent. But if you tilt it too far to the left, right, up, or down the colors start to wash out so that images either start to disappear or look like photographic negatives. And when I say too, far, I mean just a few degrees will do it.
The Kupa X11 has a capacitive touchscreen with support for multitouch input. This lets you interact with Windows using your fingertips. When running Metro Style apps, that’s all you really need.
But when you want to run traditional desktop-style apps designed for a keyboard and mouse, a digital pen comes in handy. Kupa’s tablet has an active digitizer and comes with a pen that you can use to tap on tiny screen elements. You can also trigger a right-click either by pressing-and-holding against the screen or by tapping the point of the stylus to the screen while pressing a button on the pen with your finger.
The pen is pressure sensitive, which makes writing or drawing on the tablet easier than it would be using only your fingers. But the thing which I find makes an active digitizer indispensable on Windows tablets is that it adds support for “hover” actions.
When you’re using a mouse or touchpad you can move a mouse cursor over a menu, file, folder, or other item in order to change the way it acts without clicking on it first. You can’t do that with a finger.
Android, iOS, webOS, and other operating systems designed for finger input don’t rely on hover actions, but some websites do. That means even if you’re using an operating system designed specifically for finger input, some web sites might not behave properly.
When you use a digital pen with the Kupa X11 (or other Windows slate computers such as the Asus Eee Pad EP121 or Samsung Series 7 Slate), you can hover to your heart’s content, whether you’re using Windows Explorer, playing an Adobe Flash game, or trying to use a web app such as WordPress or Google Docs.
Unfortunately Kupa doesn’t give you any place to store your digital pen. There’s no slot in the computer case for it, so you’ll have to keep it in your bag or pocket… where it will probably get lost one of these days, just like any other pen you have.
So that’s pretty much what the tablet looks like and how it works, but here’s what’s under the hood:
- 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display
- 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Z670 processor
- GMA 600 graphics with support for DirectX 9 and 1080p HD video
- 2GB DDR2 800 MHz memory
- 64GB and 128GB solid state disk options
- 52 Whr battery
- Active digitizer and digital pen
- 802.11b/g WiFi
- Bluetooth 2.1
- Optional 3G
- Accelerometer, ambient light sensor
- Fingerprint scanner
- 2MP front-facing camera, 3MP rear camera
- 2 USB 2.0 ports
- 1 HDMI port
- 3.5mm audio jack
- SIM card slot
- stereo speakers
In a nutshell here’s the thing to keep in mind. Unlike the Windows 8 tablets with ARM processors we’ll see later this year, the Kupa X11 has an x86 processor which means that not only do you get Metro and desktop style views — you can also run thousands of apps designed for older versions of Windows. They won’t run on Windows 8 for ARM unless developers retool the apps to support ARM processors.
That also means the Kupa X11 can run virtually any app that can run on Windows 7, from Google Chrome to Adobe Photoshop. It just might not run them very well, as we’ll get to in the performance section.
You can even plug in a keyboard, mouse, and external display and use the system like a desktop computer — albeit a very slow one.
Windows 8 Metro – the tablet experience
Windows 8 is kind of like two operating systems in one… or one operating system with a bit of an identity crisis.
There’s a brand new user interface that Microsoft called Metro. It looks a lot like the software you’ll find on the company’s smartphone operating system, Windows Phone.
The Start Screen is filled with a series of “tiles” of different sizes showing shortcuts to apps, and live updates from some apps, letting you see the current weather conditions or how many unread email messages you have, for instance.
Windows 8 also features a “desktop” mode that looks almost exactly like Windows 7. There’s a taskbar, system tray, a desktop, and icons on the screen for launching apps.
One thing you won’t find in desktop mode is a Start button. Instead, you’re expected to bring up that same Metro style Start Screen whether you’re using Metro or desktop style apps. That’s where the identity crisis comes in.
We’ll get to the desktop experience in a moment, but first let’s take a look at how the Kupa X11 handles the Metro experience.
Microsoft has deemed that devices should have at least a 1366 x 768 pixel display in order to run the full Metro experience. In fact, most Metro style apps won’t run at all if your screen resolution is below 1024 x 768, but you’ll need those extra 342 horizontal pixels if you want to be able to use Metro “snap” to run two apps side by side.
That means most netbooks and older 10 inch Windows tablets like the HP Slate 500 are Metro crippled. The Kupa X11 is not. With Kupa’s tablet you get the full Metro experience.
Since Windows 8 is still in the preview stages, there are only a few dozen Metro style apps available. Some of those come with the operating system, such as Internet Explorer 10 or the Windows 8 Weather or Mail apps.
Others are available for download from the preview version of the Windows Store, such as the Kindle app, WordPress app, or Flixter movies app. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the Kindle app to load any of my books, and the WordPress app allows you to read blog posts written by WordPress.com users, but doesn’t let bloggers create their own posts on the tablet.
So I’ve spent most of my Metro testing time using Internet Explorer and a few other default apps — and playing with the UI.
The third party Kobo Books app does work better on my Kupa X11 than the Kindle app, but to be honest, the prospect of reading books on the 2.2 pound tablet wasn’t all that appealing, so I’ve pretty much stuck to my 6 inch Kindle Touch for reading.
There are a number of touch-based gestured available for navigating Windows 8. I’ve put together a detailed list of Windows 8 gestures, but here are some of the most important:
- Swipe from the right bezel to bring up the Charms menu/Start Screen button.
- Swipe from the left to switch between running apps.
- Swipe slowly from the left to snap an app into place so you can see two apps at once.
- Drag your finger from the left bezel and back quickly to view live previews of all running apps.
- Pull down from the top of the screen to close an app.
Despite the Kupa X11’s slow processor, it handles all of these gestures pretty well… most of the time. From time to time I’ve found myself swiping or tapping and waiting to see if anything would happen. Sometimes it did, sometimes I had to try again. It’s tough to say if this was because Windows was struggling to keep up or because the touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as it could be.
But for the most part, when running a single Metro app at a time, the Kupa X11 felt pretty responsive.
It takes much longer to load Internet Explorer 10 on the tablet than it does to load Safari on an iPad or the Android browser on an Android tablet, and pages don’t load very quickly. But the browsing experience isn’t all that different on the Kupa tablet.
The browser supports pinch-to-zoom and kinetic scrolling. You can also open multiple “tabs” by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to bring up a tab menu.
Unlike tablets running mobile operating systems, Windows 8 tablets will also show you the full desktop version of websites, even for sites that have mobile versions. That’s because even though you can use a Metro style user interface with Internet Explorer 10, you’re still basically using a desktop web browser.
Windows 8 also features an on-screen keyboard that’s almost as easy to use as the one Apple designed for the iPad.
The keys are nice and large, and on a 10 inch screen you an almost touch-type… assuming you don’t really need the physical feel of the keys beneath your fingers. In practice, I found myself typing with one or two fingers more often than ten, in order to minimize typing errors. But ten finger typing certainly felt like a possibility.
You can also change the keyboard layout to use a split-screen view for thumb typing, but I didn’t find this very useful.
Windows 8 also supports handwriting recognition, allowing you to write out letters and numbers by hand. This is easier to do with a stylus than a finger, so it’s nice that the Kupa X11 comes with one.
Windows 8 desktop – the classic Windows experience
From the Windows 8 Start Screen you can bring up desktop mode by tapping the tile for “Desktop.”
The Windows 8 desktop view look almost exactly like Windows 7… except for the lack of a Start button. You can bring up the Start Screen either by swiping from the right bezel to bring up the Charms menu and then choosing Start, or if you have a mouse plugged in you can scroll to the lower left corner of the screen to bring up a Start Screen icon.
But for the most part anyone that’s used Windows 95 or later should be pretty familiar with the Windows 8 desktop experience. In addition to the desktop and taskbar, you can use Windows Explorer to navigate through your files and the desktop version of Internet Explorer complete with on-screen buttons to close, maximize, or minimize the app.
You can also install and run most Windows apps, so if Internet Explorer isn’t your thing you can use Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or any other browser.
Basically, if it runs on Windows 7, it will probably run on Windows 8 — as long as your device has an x86 processor. While Windows 8 Metro style apps will only be distributed in the Windows Store, there are thousands, if not millions of apps available for the desktop Windows environment. You can download and install many of them from the web and run them on the Kupa X11.
Now for the bad news: while the tablet can run these apps, it will run many of them quite poorly.
The 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Z670 processor is built for efficiency, not speed. It has a maximum TDP of 3W and enables computer makers to build devices which offer long battery life. But computers with Z670 processors are very slow compared to most systems with modern chips — even most netbooks with Intel Atom processors. The Atom chips designed for netbooks tend to be much more powerful than the Z670 Oak Trail processor designed for tablets and other low power devices.
Aside from low power consumption, the one other thing the Z670 has going for it is support for HD video playback. The Kupa X11 can handle 1080p HD video playback without breaking a sweat, although most HD web video is a bit more hit or miss.
Long story short, it takes the Kupa X11 longer to launch most programs than it does on a typical netbook. Multitasking is a chore, and even surfing the web with more than two or three browser tabs open can slow the tablet’s overall performance to a crawl, making it very unpleasant to use as a desktop replacement.
I ran a few performance tests on the tablet to see how long it took to transcode audio and video files or compress a large number of files into a single ZIP file. It turns out the Kupa X11 performed these tasks more slowly than any other computer I’ve ever tested… and I’ve been using these same tests to benchmark netbooks, notebooks, and tablets for nearly 3 years.
The Netbook Navigator Nav9 is a Windows 7 slate with a 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 2GB of RAM. The Acer Aspire One 522 is a 10 inch netbook with a 1 GHz AMD C-50 dual core processor and 1GB of RAM. And the Eee PC 1015PN is a netbook with a 1.5 GHz Intel Atom N550 dual core CPU, NVIDIA ION graphics, and 1GB of memory.
Your results may vary depending on the tasks you hope to run, but generally you’re going to get the best performance from the Kupa X11 if you don’t expect it to do much. Run one app at a time and close it when you’re done, and don’t expect the app to be blazing fast and you should be able to get some work done.
I can see how that would be useful for certain customers. If you plan to equip doctors, cable installers, or other field workers with tablets that can run a certain Windows app, for instance.
But if you were hoping to get an iPad-like tablet that can also function as a desktop replacement, the Kupa X11 isn’t it.
The Kupa X11 can do things that an Android or iOS tablet can’t, and it can even do things that a Windows 8 tablet with an ARM-based processor won’t be able to do. But it can’t necessarily do those things very well. It’s a low power tablet, not a high performance tablet.
When I hooked up a keyboard and mouse and used the tablet like a desktop PC with music streaming over the internet, I got about 6.5 hours of battery life. Kupa says you should be able to get up to 10 hours of use under some conditions, and while I think that’s a bit optimistic, I can definitely imagine the tablet getting more than 8 hours of run time if used a little less vigorously.
The Kupa X11 shows that it’s possible to offer a tablet that offers long battery life, durable construction, and support for Windows 8’s finger-friendly Metro user interface and desktop style interface.
While Windows 8 won’t officially launch until later this year, it’s nice to know that you can buy a table today that will be able to handle Microsoft’s next-generation operating system. But it would be nice if it performed a little better.
You can find instructions for installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview on the Kupa X11 at the Kupa blog, as well as tips for enabling .NET 3.5 and installing drivers for the fingerprint scanner.
Keep in mind, the unit I tested was running pre-release software, and it’s possible that Microsoft and Kupa could both tweak the software to improve performance.
But at this point, I’m not convinced that Intel’s low power Oak Trail processor is really powerful enough to power a consumer-oriented Windows 8 desktop-style computer. Intel’s next-generation Medfield processors won’t likely be much better, since Intel is more focused on reducing power consumption than improving performance.
As more and more Metro-style apps are released, this might not be much of a problem. You could pick up a tablet like the Kupa X11 and only run full-screen Metro style apps. But at that rate you cold probably save a lot of money by buying a cheaper tablet with an ARM-based chip and without an active digitizer and stylus.