With every generation of Windows, we see Microsoft deliver an updated interface and new features, in Windows 10, the changes have been aplenty as the company aimed to deliver an experience fit for any device size in the 21st century.
As we discussed in our Windows 10 review, the company mostly delivers on this aim and one key part of the OS, at least with regards to tablets, is the aforementioned Tablet Mode, which detects when you have attached or removed a keyboard and alters the experience accordingly.
Initially, Tablet Mode seemed like a great idea but the more I use it, the more I’m convinced it’s an extra feature added merely for the sake of it: while the concept is certainly impressive, it feels like an afterthought to – what is otherwise – an excellent platform.
It’s great… if you have a keyboard
Let’s first address one thing about Tablet Mode – it’s fantastic, if you have a keyboard that is. Using it on my Surface Pro 3, the one thing I can say with a degree of certainty is that it is a great feature to have if you find yourself constantly connecting or disconnecting your keyboard.
When connected to the Surface Pro Cover, my Surface Pro 3 turns into a fully fledged laptop and when I remove the cover, it switches to the touch-friendly Tablet Mode. The feature is fantastic if you can endure the limitations of the touch-friendly Tablet Mode and would like to automatically switch between desktop and tablet mode depending on whether your keyboard is connected.
The limitations are relatively vast and while you may find that it’s nice to automatically (or prompt you to) switch between the two modes, closer inspection of tablet mode suggests that maybe it’s better to just turn off tablet mode in the settings.
A confused and unintuitive interface
When you disconnect the Cover, the experience alters to bring an interface that’s more akin to Windows 8 and this can be enabled and disabled within the settings. When you’re in tablet mode, the Start Menu is replaced with a Start Screen, the task bar gains a back button and apps run in full screen instead of individual app windows.
Whereas Windows 10 in Desktop and Mobile modes are cleverly thought out and designed, Tablet Mode in Windows 10 aims to represent the minimalist nature of the interface on Android and iOS tablets. The problem is – it doesn’t do this too well: Both Apple and Google’s rival platforms have had carefully designed interfaces, but tablet mode in Windows 10 feels lacking.
Aside from the differences in UI and some elements that don’t quite make sense, the other key issue with Tablet Mode is that it is hit and miss whether the feature actually works or not. Take for example my experience with the Surface Pro 3; sometimes when I remove the Cover and enable Tablet Mode, it all works as it should do.
Other times however, the on-screen keyboard fails to pop up, apps become unresponsive and once, it even caused my Surface Pro 3 to crash and restart (which is the first time that had happened since upgrading to Windows 10 almost two months ago). Things get even stranger as sometimes when I’m in Tablet Mode and attach the cover, it doesn’t recognise it and neither the physical nor the touch keyboard work.
The oddities don’t end there as Microsoft’s Edge browser also acts rather funny in Tablet Mode. Such examples include not showing the responsive version of the BBC website (even though it does in desktop mode), randomly freezing and not allowing two tabs to run at the same time. Although updates have begun to improve the Microsoft Edge experience in desktop mode, the browser implementation in Tablet Mode is in need of improvement.
The Tablet Mode Start Screen
A key part of the Tablet Mode experience is the Start Menu, which becomes a Start Screen similar to Windows 8 but this somehow reduces the amount of information on show while taking up more space.
When using the Start Menu in desktop mode, you can get a list of frequently used apps, shortcuts to power, Settings and All Apps and your life at a glance, in a nicely designed window. It’s perfect, even for touch screens, as you can still access all the options using just the fingers on your left hand.
In Tablet Mode however, the list on the left is moved to underneath a hamburger menu and then you have a landscape set of live tiles that you swipe along. Compared to Desktop Mode, there’s a lot more unused space that is sacrificed and I’ve found that the desktop start menu is a lot more intuitive and easy to use.
Should you use Tablet Mode?
On paper, this seems like a difficult question to answer but it’s actually really simple; it comes down to personal preference, but I personally have disabled Tablet Mode. At least for now, that is.
After spending a fair amount of time switching between the tablet and desktop modes, I’ve found that using the Surface Pro 3 in Tablet Mode doesn’t make it any easier to use. Apps that work well in desktop mode won’t necessarily be touch-friendly and apps that designed with tablets or touch screens in mind work just as well in desktop mode.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I come to the same conclusion; in its current state, there’s just no need for Tablet Mode. It doesn’t bring any major benefits and some of the negatives are pretty large.
Unlike previous years, which are sold as a complete platform with major updates on an infrequent basis, Microsoft is selling Windows 10 as a work in progress. I can’t wait to see how updates over the next few months improve Tablet Mode.
Do you use Tablet Mode on your Windows 10 tablet? Or do you prefer Desktop view? Let us know your views in the comments below guys!