Windows 11 tablets are now good enough to replace your iPadon February 16, 2023 at 17:32 Tech Advisor


Throughout its history, Windows has been an operating system focused on keyboard and mouse input. The touchscreen experience has always felt like an afterthought, despite a dedicated tablet mode in Windows 10 (and 8, if you cast your mind back that far).

Ditching tablet mode in Windows 11 sounds like a step backwards, but it’s turned out to be the opposite. A host of small changes mean running the OS on a tablet now makes more sense than ever before. But is it really a viable alternative to Android slates or even the iPad

To test this, I spent a week using the Surface Pro 9 without any accessories connected. My goal wasn’t for it to replace my usual Windows laptop, but to use in place of an iPad for activities where tablets usually excel, such as browsing the web, watching videos and playing games.  

Despite a few niggles and frustrations, I was surprised how good the experience was overall. So good, in fact that many people would benefit from ditching their iPad or Android tablet in favour of a Windows 11 tablet. Here’s why.

1. Full desktop apps

All iPads run iPadOS, while Android tablets are shifting to Android 12L. Both offer a handful of tweaks to operating systems designed for smartphones, but few apps are genuinely optimised for larger displays.  

Instead, you’ll often find phone apps that are awkwardly stretched to fit a bigger screen that’s a different shape. Or, you might find you just can’t get those apps for a tablet: Instagram and WhatsApp for iPad spring to mind. 

By contrast, all Windows 11 tablets can run the full desktop versions of apps. Not only do they typically have more features than the mobile equivalent, some are exclusive to Windows or macOS. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

The touchscreen experience isn’t always perfect, I will admit, but I had no problem installing and using a variety of apps such as WhatsApp, Chrome and Slack.

2. No app store limitations

That brings me to my next point. For most people, Android and iPadOS apps are limited to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store respectively.

There are millions of apps on both, but you won’t be able to download any that aren’t available in those stores unless you go down the sideloading route – something that’s not recommended unless you have the necessary technical knowledge and understand the risks.

While the Microsoft Store can’t compete for sheer numbers, you can download apps from anywhere on the web because this is Windows. Provided you take the necessary safety precautions, such as using good antivirus software, you can install any app without Microsoft stopping you.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Plus, almost all developers release a version of their app for Windows, meaning you certainly won’t be short of new apps to download on a Windows 11 tablet.

3. Play full versions of games

Mobile gaming is seriously popular these days, but the size of phones and tablets means you’ll often find simplified versions of games. Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG Mobile are impressive on tablets, but they can’t quite match the full PC equivalent.

With a tablet running Windows 11 there are no such limitations. Just head to the Microsoft Store, install Steam or download whichever game you want: it’s the same as on any PC.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

As a bonus, it’s easy to connect an Xbox or PlayStation controller to a Windows 11 tablet. Plus, the built in Xbox Game Bar offers console-like in-game features.

Your main challenge will be to find a tablet that’s powerful enough (something you definitely don’t have to think about when you buy an iPad) but devices such as the Asus ROG Flow Z13 prove that it’s possible. Windows 11 tablets with dedicated GPUs are becoming more common, while even less capable devices can handle casual games.

4. Lots of tablet-focused features

The touchscreen experience has never felt like a priority on previous versions of Windows, with even Windows 10’s tablet mode far from polished. 

And that was pretty much the case when Windows 11 launched in 2021, but Microsoft has set about changing that via various updates since then. 

Many tablet-focused features arrived in the 22H2 update, including a range of navigational gestures and the option to hide the taskbar when using an app full screen. You now have Start menu folders and a single swipe to access all your apps, all of which make Windows 11 feel more like an actual tablet operating system. 

The on-screen keyboard used to be one of Windows 11’s biggest weaknesses, but several improvements mean it’s now just as good as the Apple or Google versions. If you don’t feel like typing, the built-in voice dictation is impressive and works across all apps.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Add that to the existing Snap Layouts (for split-screen multitasking) and Task View (for seeing all open windows at once) feature, and you’ve got software which is surprisingly good on touchscreen devices.

5. They can replace your laptop

It’s tempting to think of the iPad Pro as laptop replacement, but that’s simply not a reality for most people. The limitations of iPadOS are the main obstacle, but with a Windows tablet, you have a proper laptop as soon as you pair it with a detachable keyboard cover, and even a mouse if you like.

Windows 11 isn’t universally liked, but it does offer everything you need to get all sorts of work done. With this sort of setup, you’ve got a portable productivity device that’s as good as a ‘proper’ laptop.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

And I’m not talking just about Microsoft’s Surface devices, either. More and more companies are releasing Windows 11 tablets with keyboard covers. There are even some with screens that can fold in half. 

If you’re persuaded by all this, do take a look at our best 2-in-1 laptop and best Microsoft Surface roundups to see what we recommend buying.

Tablets, Windows

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