So, This Just Happened:

Cheap-ass Windows tablet

Yes, that’s a Windows tablet. Yes, mine. Yes, I still don’t like Windows. But I now own a Windows tablet. For personal use, not work even. Explanation and excuses after the jump.

I’m old enough to have gone through a bunch gaming systems or game-friendly computers in my life (off the top of my head: Odyssey 2, TI-99 4/A, Atari ST, Atari Lynx, Mac, CD-i, PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, Wii). But for most of the last decade, my iPhone or iPad has been my main gaming machine. And that’s become a platform of gruesomely diminishing returns over the past few years.

I played tons of Angry Birds back in the day, scored a royal flush in Poker Night 2 (that’s my screenshot on the Wikipedia page), did livestream let’s plays of Tanto Cuore and Love Live! School Idol Festival, and I still buy the new Pinball Arcade table every month, but it has been years since I was really into any game on the platform. The App Store now seems like a morass of in-app purchase exploitation garbage, and “indie twee”, which is my term for that kind of game that you get when you combine a developer, an art school graduate, and $25,000.

It’s a shame, and it seems to be a consequence of the App Store economy — the kind of games that are successful on consoles require $30-60 prices to be viable, and the market on the App Store has made it very clear that the only price customers will accept is $0. So, developers have picked up their tinkertoys and gone home. And it’s a shame, because the hardware and the APIs are great, but if nobody can afford to make a game with Metal, they won’t.

In fact, I don’t even want hard-core, graphics-intense action games. Over the last couple years, I’ve been getting more and more into visual novels, choose-your-own-adventure style games with extremely modest hardware requirements. Thing is, few VNs of any consequence are available for iOS (I wrote about a few of them for iOS back in 2010), and it was certainly a blow to my Apple-fanboy pride when the Muv-Luv kickstarter included stretch goals for PS Vita and Android, but not iOS or Mac. Well, my Apple-fanboy pride and my Muv-Luv pride… after all, that’s Muv-Luv Alternative I’m cosplaying in my avatar.

So, when I watched Friday’s livestream from âge, the creators of Muv-Luv, and they showed off running the game on a simple Windows 10 tablet, I got very interested.

So interested that I immediately put in an order on Amazon for a cheap-ass Windows 10 tablet. And I’m not kidding about the “cheap-ass” part: this unit only cost $100. My thinking being that I would see if it could even run the VNs I’ve acquired through Kickstarter, Steam, or direct purchase and have thusfar been running in emulation, either via Parallels or Wineskin. If they didn’t work, I wouldn’t be out a lot of money. If they worked, but poorly, I’d always have the option of moving up to better hardware later.

Given that I’d just gotten my wife a new iPad mini 4 for her birthday (she’d been using the first generation and complaining that Facebook crashed when she followed links… probably because that model has a pitiful 512 MB RAM) and that cost $500, I kept my expectations for this unit very low. And that was pretty much met. For example, there’s a clear plastic film over the screen that has bubbled up along the edges — I honestly can’t tell if this is a protective film meant for shipping that I’m supposed to remove (though I haven’t been able to get a fingernail under it), or if it’s the actual screen surface, just really poorly applied.

Maybe shipping sleeve, maybe protective film
Not sure if bad build quality, or just bad packaging

But, having said that, it can do things that my iPad can’t do. Like run my Steam games:

Title screen for Kindred Spirits on the Roof on crappy Win 10 tablet

Playing around for the afternoon, I found I could also take CD-based Windows visual novels, make .iso images of them on the Mac, transfer them via sneaker-net to the Micro USB port, and install, just like any other Windows installer:

Installing ef The First Tale

And, detached from its cheesy optional keyboard, the small screen is perfect for reading visual novels like Clannad:

Clannad on Win 10 tablet

Still, having to figure out where the installer put the installed apps, I also feel like Apple made the right choice keeping iOS and Mac OS X separate. Windows 10 on a tablet can be said to “work”, but only if you’re being extremely charitable. Interacting with the File Manager is pretty ridiculous (files generally need to be shown in list view and get checkboxes, so that it’s possible to perform actions on multiple files. Needing to adjust the position or size of a window seems nigh-impossible, and I just put all my games into full-screen as soon as possible to avoid the hassle. The Steam games seem to have better Win 10 integration than the CD installs – I was able to create a tile for the Steam-based Kindred Spirits on the Roof, while the CD-installed Clannad doesn’t even have a start menu item (despite my asking for one at install time), meaning I need to find it in the File Manager when I want to play it.

Also, I haven’t found a way to take screenshots. Supposedly Window button + volume down puts a screenshot in your Photos app on some tablets (maybe just Surfaces?), but not this one, and I can’t get the Snipping Tool to work because it wants to have its own window, and I’m running my games full-screen. Tweeps recommended I use the old PrtScn button and paste the screenshot into Windows Paint, but the provided keyboard doesn’t have that key, nor does the software keyboard. Also, FFS, it’s not 1998 anymore; why are we doing that hokey old technique?

So, I got what I expected from the hardware. The OS is inelegant and perhaps chasing an impossible goal of integrating the needs of desktop computing and tablet UI. But you know what? At least in this area, the software I want exists at all on this platform, and does not (and will not) on iOS. So I think I’m going to be packing this tablet on all my future trips, and when you see the developer at the iOS conference using the crappy Windows tablet to play graphic adventure games with sad anime girls… probably gonna be me.

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