In my 6 Tips for Windows Tablet Owners blog post I teased that I had more tips. I know you were all on the edge of your seats. It’s dangerous to publish the first part of a blog post without having already written the second half, but against all odds I pulled it off. Lucky you guys. Here are my next five tips for Windows tablet owners:
1) Change the Onscreen Keyboard
While I use a Surface Pro 2 as my daily driver, I have a bunch of smaller Windows tablets that I use. They’re in the 7” and 8” range and I don’t normally have a keyboard attached to them. I normally use them for consumption, but every once in a while I find the need to dispense some invaluable advice to someone on the Internet that’s wrong about something. The normal onscreen keyboard is okay, but Windows has an even better keyboard available for these smaller screens.
To check out the other keyboards, open up the onscreen keyboard. You can do that by clicking in a box in a Metro app, or triggering it manually anywhere from the Charms bar:
Once the keyboard is up, you can choose one of the alternate keyboards from the popup in the lower right hand corner:
The split keyboard highlighted above is great for the 7” and 8” laptops. It allows me to hold the tablet landscape and speedily type with my thumbs. it looks like this:
Different keyboards work better for different situations, so make sure to check them all out. Once you find the best one for you, you can help me correct all the wrong people on the Internet.
2) Use a Picture Password
I like my tablets to be secure. I don’t need any ne’er-do-wells combing through my collection of funny cat pictures if I leave my tablet unsecured at the local watering hole. But I also want to be able to get into it without typing my 27 character password that includes upper case, lower case, numbers, symbols, hieroglyphs, and a duck quack. Windows 8 has the solution.
Because, for better or worse, Windows 8 was designed heavily with touch devices in mind. You can log in with your old style password, but there are a couple of new options. You can set up a PIN, or use a picture password. You can get to these from the Charms Bar > Settings > Change PC Settings > Accounts > Sign-in Options:
To set up a picture password you first have to type in your password, then choose a picture, of course. Next you set up three gestures on that picture. That action can be touching a spot, drawing a line from one point to another, drawing a circle, or resizing. Windows will have you walk through it a second time, just to make sure you both agree on it. Once you get that set up, you can now use that to login or unlock your tablet. You could also set up a PIN, but I don’t like those because they are limited to four characters and seem too insecure. I value my funny cat pictures and their safety.
If you get to that screen and don’t see all the options, you probably see this sad notice instead, “Some settings are managed by your system administrator.” This could be because of a domain policy, or a policy pushed out through your email with Exchange Active Sync. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do about it if it’s disabled at that level. Your best bet is to find incriminating pictures of someone in your IT department.
3) Use the Start Button on the Charms Bar
When using Windows 8 on a primarily touch device, you end up making a lot of use of the Start/Windows button. It gets you back to the much-maligned Start Screen. It also gets you back to whatever application you were running before you went to the Start Screen. Depending on how you are currently holding your device, and where the hardware Windows button is (like the top left edge on my Dell Venue 8 Pro), it can be cumbersome.
Fortunately, as is often the case in Windows, there is more than one way to skin a cat. (The author’s cat, Yngwie, would like, no, demands, the reader to know that the author in no way encourages or condones the skinning of cats, the animal kingdom’s finest specimen) Hidden, right in plain sight is the alternative I use most, the Windows button in the middle of the Charms bar.
If I’m holding my tablet landscape with both hands, it’s pretty easy to swipe in from the right with my thumb and hit that Start button. The placement of the hardware Start button on the Dell Venue 8 Pro is horrible, which is what initially motivated me to find this alternative. Since then it’s become the standard way I access the Start button regardless of the tablet I’m using.
4) Keep an Eye on Your Storage
One of the ways that manufacturers are able to churn out these inexpensive Windows tablets is to put cheap storage in them. That usually means small amounts of onboard storage, some as little as 16 GB. The storage they do get is usually not very snappy, either. But in most cases, those are okay compromises to make. Smaller tablets normally only have Metro apps installed, which are small. They’re also mainly used for consumption, so there aren’t big virtualized machine files, or hi resolution video files to edit. But, they do need to store some media like MP3s, pictures, and video files from my Netcast, so some storage is necessary. Because of that you need to keep an eye on your storage. Here are a few quick tips around that:
- Get a MicroSD card and store everything you can on it. Most, if not all, of these tablets have a MicroSD slot on them. For all of these tablets I buy cheap 64 GB MicroSD cards. Amazon has them for as cheap as $30. I put all my MP3s there, as well as anything else I can. I do everything I can to keep files off of the C drive. I haven’t tried it, but you should be able to put your Internet Explorer Temporary Internet Files there, Outlook PST and OST files, etc. If you install something like Dropbox, make sure you sync it to the MicroSD card as well.
- Shut off System Restore. Don’t get me wrong, I think backing up files is a very important thing. But on devices like little tablets, it’s not as important. While it would be annoying if the drive in one of my tablets died, I wouldn’t lose any data. Most content there is copied from other places, and everything else is synced to OneDrive. Because of that I disable the System Restore on them. Typing “Restore Point” on the Start Screen will take you to the Control Panel applet where you can shut it off.
- Use Disk Cleanup to, well, clean up your disk. Disk Cleanup is a tool built in to Windows. It goes through some preset locations and lets you choose to clean them up. It’s easy to use and you can’t beat the price.
- Use a tool to figure out where all your space is going. There are a bunch of programs that do this, but I like WinDirStat. It gives you a graphic representation of how much space each folder on your computer is using and lets you drill down into them. Once you find the big folders you can figure out how to make them smaller or move them somewhere else.
- Use a program to compress your drive. Windows includes file and folder compression, and those help some. But I never keep up with them when I create new folders. Another option I recently saw reminded me of the 1990s, drive compression software. The folks that make ZipMagic have a program you can run that will compress your drive, much like WimBoot does. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it’s on my list.
5) Keep an Eye on What Autostarts
I use my small tablets also exclusively on battery. Performance is important, but battery life has to be good too. To help with that I don’t allow any applications to autostart on my tablets, whether they think it’s a good idea or not. I can find out which sneaky apps are trying to eat up my battery and use my previous CPU and RAM by going to the Startup tab in Task Manager:
If your Task Manager doesn’t look like that, try clicking “More details” on the bottom of it. I don’t have many things installed on this tablet, so there aren’t many offenders. On my other tablets I have to make sure things like Dropbox and SnagIt are not allowed to autostart. You’ll see in this screenshot that I have allowed several Intel processes the privilege of autostarting. That’s because that tablet has an Intel chipset for video and I’m not sure what would break if I disabled those. If I had any hair on my chest I’d disable them and see what happens. I do go in here periodically and certainly after I install or patch anything to see what’s been added.
That’s all the tips I have for now. I have a couple more ideas. They may or may not end up as blog posts.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments below.