WinTab: How near is the end?

I was browsing the Web with my Wintab last night and received a notification about an updated graphics driver (Intel 10.18.10.4653); after installing and rebooting, I kept on browsing only to see the tablet switching off after a while with a “paf” sound. I switched it on, kept using the tablet and the same thing happened again. It happened once more and then I went to bed – no need to bother about that so late.

Next morning, I booted and was greeted with the Windows troubleshooting screen; it was frustrating, because the touch screen was misbehaving as it used to do after upgrading to Win10 for the first time. I swiped on the right and the cursor went on the left (and vice-versa) so it was tricky to find the proper spot. In the end I gave up and just switched off the tablet.

I hope that the problem will be as simple as a driver issue, so that I can revert back to the old one. I like the tablet (functionality-wise, not quality-wise) so I will miss it if it stops working…

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Can a cheap Windows tablet replace your laptop?

In my case, yes. For more info, just read below.

I am a avid supporter of portability and lightness, so I always try to do my work (and live) with the less and lightest possible. My laptop arsenal consists of a huge and bulky 17-inch Toshiba Satellite (was used as a desktop in my previous work, so I rarely moved it away from the desk, and a low-end 15-inch Acer laptop, with basic specs (4GB of RAM, Intel N2940 @ 1.83GHz, 500GB HD), to be used mostly at home (by my wife and kids) and during trips, when my serious work had to be done. I needed something more portable, light but efficient, to save me from dragging these laptops around the house, where space is really limited – i.e. no desk available.

There are some related articles on the Web, authored by those who tried to get things done with a tablet, replacing their laptop. See for example

I am using a cheap 10.1-inch Windows tablet imported by a Greek tech company (Plaisio Computers), so it is practically a Chinese model with the Turbo-X (Plaisio’s brand name for my electronic devices) brand on it; a common practice among related electronics suppliers. It features (like almost all similar tablets) the following specs:

  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Storage: 32GB flash (expanded through the microSD slot)
  • CPU: Intel Z3735F @ 1.33GHz
  • Screen: 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800
  • Cameras: Front (2MP) and rear (5MP) cameras (both low quality). Practically useful only for Skype calls.

An interesting spec is that it charges both from its microUSB port and from its proprietary port (pin cable) so I can charge it and use its microUSB cable at the same time.

Modifications

Update to Windows 10: The table came originally with Windows 8.1 and no drivers were available by the supplier/manufacturer. After a couple of months, the free upgrade to Windows 10 started rolling and knocked my door, so I went for it. I had serious issues after upgrading (touch screen not working at all or misbehaving), cameras not working etc. so it took me days of researching for solutions, drivers and getting some support from Plaisio. Now it’s working like a charm with Windows 10.

Keyboard: The tablet came with a detachable keyboard, but after about after one year the plastic gaps of the tablet part, where the keyboard’s hinges plugged, broke and so the keyboard will not fit without causing issues to the tablet’s plastics. I soon replaced it with a Logitech K480 bluetooth keyboard because: (a) it doubles as a stand for the tablet (otherwise I would also need a stand) (b) it can be paired to 3 devices max and instantly switch between them by rotating a dial knob so I could also use it with my smartphones and other tablets and (c) it was bluetooth, so it would save me the only full-size USB port of the tablet (the second one was on its original keyboard part, which was now unusable) from a USB RF adapter of a wireless keyboard.

Storage: The tablet’s 32GB are mostly occupied by the OS and other app files, leaving less than 15GB for the user. I went for a 32GB microSD card, to be used as a storage so all apps would be installed on the tablet’s storage.

Peripherals
Mouse: After the original keyboard incident, I was left with no touchpad, so while I use the touch screen sometimes I need the precision of a mouse. I have a travel USB mouse with a retractable cable at hand, along with a bluetooth Microsoft mouse as a backup.
USB: I have a microUSB to USB adapter for making use of the tablet’s microUSB port.
HDMI: I bought a microHDMI to HDMI cable for hooking the tablet to TVs or larger screens. In most hotel rooms the ports (and TV menu options) are locked but sometimes I get lucky.

Ethernet: The tablet did not come with an ethernet port, so I got a USB to ethernet adapter for those rare (nowadays) cases where WiFi is not available but I have the option for a wired connection (while in other cases there are both but wired is usually faster and more stable 😃 )

Typical use

I mostly use my tablet at home, when I need to browse for something and I need a screen larger than my Lumia’s 4.7-inch one. It boots quickly, can be used single-handed and acts like a small-form laptop. I also use it for working with documents, reading ebooks, checking my emails and social media etc.

At one time, I decided that carrying my 15.6-inch laptop around during my business trips was an overkill so I started using my WinTab instead. And I haven’t regretted it. It is much lighter, flexible (e.g. I can use the tablet only when reading a document or reviewing my slides during a flight, where space is limited, and attach the keyboard when I am at the hotel room or during the meeting / workshop that I am attending, for working on my slides, keeping notes, sending emails, sharing outcomes through social media etc.

In both cases, WinTab is a great laptop substitute: It is capable of handling light multitasking, e.g. a few browser tabs open along with a couple of MS Word files, a PPT presentation etc. It can decently play YouTube videos and MP4 files without stutters. It is really sufficient for such light tasks and makes me wonder about the crappy netbook I once owned (an Acer Aspire One 751h), which was a real nightmare to use, even with lightweight Linux distributions – how badly designed it was…

Issues faced

Battery: The battery lasts much less than advertised. I haven’t tested it thoroughly but it won’t keep charge for more than 3 hours, which is really low (and less than I need), depending on the usage. For this, I decided to buy a 2m microUSB cable so that I can access any available power outlet.

Lack of Miracast support: It would be lovely for the tablet to support Miracast, so that I could wirelessly mirror its screen on a Smart TV or large screen. Its hardware does not allow it so I need to hook it through the HDMI port. It cannot be used as a larger screen for other devices, so e.g. I cannot project my smartphone’s images or videos to it – wirelessly.

Screen quality: I do not mind about the low resolution of the screen, and it’s size is adequate most of the times. However, I recently noticed some flickering of the screen, which is really annoying.

Storage: I use the remaining internal storage of the tablet for installing apps and the microSD card for storing stuff (music, movies, images etc.). However, my work is much larger than that and I need to keep files synced. In order to address this, I keep my archive on an external HDD and work directly on it, when it comes to real work. I also have a selection of movies and music there, so that I do not exhaust the microUSB capacity. I’d love to have more than 128GB of internal storage, so that I could avoid this.

Heat: The tablet is fanless and shouldn’t raise the temperature but maybe due to bad design (and lack of air flow), it gets really hot behind the CPU. It may affect the battery life, but it’s not really a problem.

So to make a long story short, one can replace a laptop with a basic Windows tablet, but this surely depends on the expected use and requirements. A typical Windows tablet with a Z3735f CPU and 2GB of RAM can do much more than I expected and costs less than a low-end laptop.

Wintab keyboard broken; what alternatives do I have?

I recently took my WinTab with me on the go (inside my backpack) but it seems that for some reason the keyboard was not correctly attached to the tablet (or it was, who knows?). The point is that when I took it out of my bag back at home, I saw that there was a gap between the tablet and the keyboard when it was closed. I took the two components apart and tried to reconnect them. Tough luck: it seems that the two “holes” on the tablet side (where the keyboard prongs attach) were slightly broken (both of them) and each attempt to attach the keyboard resulted in creaky sounds and the plastic around the tablet to come off…this would not be covered by the warranty (happened one year after the purchase) so I was in need for a tablet keyboard.

The truth is that I was never really satisfied by the tablet’s keyboard so I was already looking for an alternative. Not only the keys were a tad ser than I would like (for comfortable typing) but on top of that, the connection between the keyboard and the tablet was not stable, so every slight movement of the angle of these two caused an instant disconnection and lots of missing keystrokes in the meantime – just try to imagine keeping notes during an important meeting or conference, only to end up with incomplete words and sentences…

Getting a Bluetooth keyboard meant that I would have to live without the extra full-USB port that came with the original keyboard, but based on my typical usage, I could live with that (or without that, to be more precise). My typical setup consists of the tablet and its keyboard, a mouse and sometimes an external hard disk; however, the mouse could be connected to the tablet through a micro-USB to USB converted (that I already have) leaving the full USB for the hard disk. When both USB ports are occupied,  could charge the tablet (if needed) using the proprietary port.

 

I kept an eye on the prices of the following items during the last months:

  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard: The most lightweight and compact of all models I checked – plus it is spill-resistant (which may come handy in some cases). However, it was a bit pricey, could not be used as a stand for my 10,1-inch Wintab and typists mentioned an issue with the Space key, being split in two (which caused issues when typing). Its price ranged from 80-95 euros.

20150925153125_microsoft_universal_foldable

  • Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard: It was a great candidate – adequate size for fast typing, rather compact and sports a magnetic cover which could also be used as a stand for the tablet. It was also a bit pricey for me though and in fact I found the size a bit too small for my fat fingers to type quickly and efficiently. Its price ranged from 55 to 70 euros.
  • Various foldable keyboards from Amazon.Some of them looked pretty interesting but they were mostly small and did not feature s stand for the laptop. Some of them were rather expensive, too.
  • Logitech K480: This one was really interesting, too. It was a tad larger than the competition, keys were adequately large and easy to use and there was also a handy gap to hold a 10-inch tablet along with a smartphone – it has the option to manage 3 different devices at a time by simply rotating a dial switch. However, it was the bulkier and by far the heavier one (so that it could hold the weight of the tablet). Its price ranged from 45 to 55 euros.

Choosing one of them was not an easy task; there were different factors affecting my decision and a price drop of one of them was a significant one. But which one was it?

 

Clean install of Windows 10 on Turbo-X WinTab: Nailed it!

[NOTE: I hold no responsibility in case you follow the process described below and damage your tablet; it has worked perfectly for me but this does not mean that it will also work for you – try at your own risk!]

Yeap, I am really excited; despite the total lack of support in terms of drivers and all the issues I faced during the last months in terms of trying to clean install Windows 10 on my WinTab, I finally managed to complete it and have everything work properly (including both cameras).

I always want to have a clean install of an operating system and this was the case with my WinTab which currently runs Windows 10 but after upgrading the original Windows 8.1 (so not a clean install); however, I did not have the necessary drivers for the touch screen and the two cameras of the tablet so after a refresh of the OS, I got a misaligned (and non-functional) touch screen and no cameras at all. Plaisio, the distributor and maybe the manufacturer of the tablet does not provide any drivers on their website nor after requests (I was told that they only have an image of the system with Windows 8.1 that they install when needed). I got so frustrated that I kept looking for a solution. And it seems that I found it.

First I created an image of the system using the built-in functionality of Windows 10 – I wanted to make sure that if something went wrong, I could still revert back to a working state. Then I copied the few files I needed (photos, documents etc.) to the SD card that extends the insufficient 32GB storage space of the tablet. After thatñ, I went through the System settings and went for the clean install of the OS (Windows 10) opting to delete everything. Since I had already upgraded to Windows 10 (so I did not need the product key for the upgrade) I could also use a USB flash disk with Windows 10 Home 32bit but I didn’t have to as I could do the same without creating a bootable disk.

The process took quite a while and when I booted into Windows, I noticed that the touch screen was not functional, the cameras were not present/installed at all and there were a couple of devices not properly installed. After the research I made throughout the last months, I ended up with the following solution for these issues (the link to the drivers is at the end of this post):

A. Touch screen

1. Uninstall KMDF HID Minidriver for Touch I2C Device (in the Human Interface Devices) and click on Remove Drivers
2. Uninstall all devices from the Human Interface Devices APART FROM the USB Input Devices
3. Install all .inf files available in the subfolders of the folder [Onda v820w Dual OS Full Touch Drivers JACKBAUER]
4. Copy the file SileadTouch.fw from the Touch screen files folder to C:\Windows\System32\Drivers
5. Restart
Working version of the KMDF HID Minidriver for Touch I2C Device driver: 18.24.23.67, 2/6/2015

 

B. Cameras

1. Update driver of the Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2400 (in Imaging Devices) by manually selecting the camera.inf from the folder Camera_GC310_HM2056_OV2680-5648
2. Restart

Working version of the Intel Imaging Signal Processor 2400 driver: 10.46.22.382, 19/9/2014

The files are available hereGood luck with the process and let me know in the comments of you have managed to successfully apply it in your case 🙂

Attempting a clean install of Windows 10 to WinTab

It seems that there is no rest for the wicked; especially when the wicked use a Turbo-X WinTab! To make a long story short, just before my last business trip, I realized that the cameras of my tablet were not working – so I could not take photos or video call anyone…the former is not that important as the cameras are nothing special but the latter is – especially when I need to Skype call friends, customers or colleagues. So I decided to fix the issue – a few hours before my trip!

I first tried to find drivers for the camera from Intel (the manufacturer) but it was not possible. Then, I searched for generic drivers from other sources, such as fora and other online sources. This led me to a driver package for Lenovo tablets featuring the same camera. I downloaded on of them. I even installed it. And then I started getting Blue Screens Of Death! I tried rolling back the driver but it did not solve the problem; the package had installed other drivers as well. I even tried deleting some of the affected drivers and tried reinstalling them but this did not work either.

I recalled that I had installed a driver backup app for sending my drivers to another poor guy who had issues with his WinTab so I tried to restore the drivers but no luck. In the end, I booted into Safe Mode, did some work and then managed to make the tablet booth without BSOD. So I thought that everything was ok. However, during the flight I noticed an extremely quick battery drain so that I only got less that half of the typical battery runtime. This caused me issues during my business trip, as I was forced to use my 15-inch laptop all the time – which proved to have a battery lifetime of more than 5 hours with WiFi open!

As soon as I got back home, I decided that it was time for refreshing my Windows 10 installation: I created an image of the system using the built-in functionality of Windows 10 and I even got a copy of some of the files so that I could copy them back to the tablet if all went well. I went for refreshing the installation (not formatting) without keeping the files and settings and expected that everything would run normally. Alas; the touch screen was for once more so misaligned that the tablet was not usable. Since I wanted to avoid getting back to the previous situation by restoring the image, I tried a driver back up tool I had for restoring the previous version of the touch screen driver but for some strange reason, this would not work either – it seems that the current drivers were newer than the previous (working) ones, so the app would not restore them!

In the end, I had to go through restoring the previous version of the OS through the image restore and it seems that the battery lifetime issue is not that severe – the BSOD are also a thing of the past. However, the cameras still don’t work and I need to find a way to make a clean install of Windows 10 without such issues. Only time will tell how much patient I will need to be with this nice but still ill-fated transformer…

Working with my WinTab

It has been quite a long time since I got my WinTab and the more I use it the more I love it! I have already used it as a laptop in a couple of trips and I felt really comfortable with it – checking emails, working with documents and presentations, reading documents and e-books during a flight and watching movies at night.

Compared to the competition, it has one USB port more (1 full USB 2.0 on the tablet part and another on the keyboard – plus a micro-USB on the tablet side) and on top of that, it sports a dedicated charging port (even if it is pretty proprietary, I still have the charger). Thanks to its size it is really portable so I usually just throw it in my backpack and I tend to use it a lot at home, as there is hardly space now to use my 15,6-inch laptop (plus the tablet boots up much faster!). Sometimes I use it as a basic media player, plugging it to my TV through its micro-HDMI cable and watching movies and TV series I have stored in the microSD card.

On the other hand, I have realized that the battery life is not great (but better than my laptop’s) and this may be due to the fact that the minimum brightness setting is still pretty bright. I am usually using a small utility called PangoBright for dimming the screen a bit – and this leads to improved battery life. In addition, I still haven’t got used to its keyboard – it’s not only that the keys are small (I have tested other keyboards of the same size and they felt better like the one of the Asus T100) but the keys have a strange feeling when pressed, like balloons or something.

I believe that the tablet would benefit from a portable, even foldable, keyboard and a wireless mouse (both Bluetooth).This combination, along with a projection of the screen onto a larger monitor would significantly improve things when working with large documents or spreadsheets is required. The processor seems to handle such tasks easily, at least until a load point.

Business trip with a tablet

I just returned from a two-day business trip. It was the first time as far as I remember that I traveled with a cabin luggage only and I had to make some room – starting with my laptop. Instead of taking my 17-inch (ouch!) work laptop from the office with me (too heavy) or my personal 15-inch from home (that was hardly an option, as both my wife and kids use it on a daily basis), I opted to take my 10.1-inch transformer with me.

Did it perform well? Well, I managed to finish my slides, keep up with my emails (using Mozilla Thunderbird on an external hard disk), browse and use social media, blog, check maps of the city and places to eat – all using just my tablet with its docked keyboard.

Could it be any better? Well, I had my micro-HDMI to HDMI cable with me, hoping that I could plug it in the flat TV available in my hotel room – unfortunately the TV did not have any HDMI ports. Apart from that I faced no performance issues with 4-5 browser tabs open, an external HD plugged in as well as a USB mouse and the charger at the same time.

Will I do it again in the future? Well, unless I get myself a 12/13-inch ultrabook, this will be my travel companion from now on. I may get myself a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse so that I can type faster and use the tablet from a distance while it is plugged in a larger monitor. No need for carrying around a much heavier 15-inch laptop or an even heavier 17-inch one – I have done that in the past and it did not work well while commuting with a backpack full of papers, books/notepads, cables etc.

Things I like & hate about my Turbo-X WinTab

I expect the lists below to be updated at some point:

Thing I love:

  1. It has a full-size USB port on top of the common micro-USB; this means I can plug at least two USB devices at once.
  2. It has an additional full-size USB port on the keyboard part, which makes the system even more extensible.
  3. It can charge through its proprietary charging port, so I can work and charge it at the same time, without unplugging any USB devices (the micro-USB port can also be used for charging).
  4. It is compact and easy to carry around.
  5. Boots much faster than my new laptop, so I tend to use it more frequently compared to my laptop when e.g. looking for information online.
  6. The tablet/system is responsive enough for daily tasks, like document editing, blogging, email, social media and video playback (even full HD); it does not complain instantly when multitasking.
WinTab & Lumia 735
WinTab & Lumia 735

Things  I hate:

  1. The keyboard sucks; it is small and the keys are hard to press correctly (for my fat fingers), having a strange behaviour. I literally cannot type long texts using it (I am writing this one though!) so I am thinking of a bluetooth one. FYI, the one I have used in other similar tablets (the Asus Transformerbook T100) was way better; actually usable.
  2. When the keyboard is used, each time I move the screen/tablet to a different angle, the keyboard is instantly deactivated (like removed and identified again by the system; I clearly hear the notification sound)
  3. Sometimes, when I connect the keyboard after I have used the tablet for a while, the keyboard is not recognized and I need to reset the system to make it work.
  4. Right-clicking using the touchpad is not very precise; the right part of the touchpad does not click equally to the left one.
  5. Minimum screen brightness is still high for my eyes (and apparently results in lower battery lifetime).
  6. The power button is so close to the Vol Up that I keep deactivating the tablet while I actually want to increase the volume
  7. Storage space is not sufficient, if I want to use the tablet as my daily driver; all my work files are stored on the cloud (DropBox & OneDrive) and I can’t sync them with my tablet.
  8. Screen is a tad smaller than I would like; it is not bad but the Surface one might be more convenient to me.

Wintab 2-in-1: Issue with charger and upgrade to Windows 10!

One of the advantages of the specific tablet is that you get a charger (with a strange plug) for charging it; this means that you don’t need to occupy the micro-USB port for this purpose and as a result, you can plug another micro-USB device.

One of the issues that I noticed from the first days with Wintab was that this charger was not fully charging the tablet (it only reached about 70-75%) and then it stopped charging – so I started using the micro-USB charger for this purpose.

After some weeks, I noticed that the charger was getting really hot (hard to touch it while charging) and at the same time the red charging light on the tablet started flashing – that was a bad sign! In the end, the charger went dead; it would get warm (not hot) but would not charge the tablet.

For once more I headed to Plaisio, to have the charger checked. They did and insisted that the plug (pin) of the charger was damaged and that this was the cause; so I had to buy a new one. While passing by the section with the chargers, I noticed a demo tablet like mine – running Windows 10! So I went home, used the new charger for topping up the battery and got an image of my system using an external hard disk. After that, I started working on the upgrade to Windows 10, the notification for which I kept seeing during the last weeks.

The result: Everything went smoothly, the tablet rebooted normally and the touch screen & display adapter were correctly recognized! For some days now, the tablet runs smoothly on Windows 10, activated and fully functional! Just to be on the safe side, I also got an image of the system at this point, too.

Yes, Turbo-X Wintab 2-in-1 tablet CAN run Windows 10. Flawlessly. 🙂

Wintab 2-in-1: Issues solved

To make a really long story short: The guys at Plaisio were fast in activating again my tablet (the issue was caused by the replacement of the board) but each time I refreshed the tablet and restored stuff, I got the same issue; after they fixed it for a 2nd time, we both agreed that I will take an image of the system (using the built-in functionality of Windows 8.1) in case the issue comes up again.

This is exactly what I did so now I have a fully functional tablet again; even though it still runs on Windows 8.1. 😦