Coming into CES 2012, expectations were high for quad-core Android tablets and ARM-based Windows 8 slates. While some, notably ASUS, which has the quad-core Transformer Prime on the market and announced a higher-end model, didn’t disappoint, most manufacturers held off on unveiling any quad-core tablets, and the Windows 8 on ARM tablet PCs on the show floor were hidden safely behind glass.
Undeterred by OEM reluctance to showcase these future devices, the team TabletPCReview scoured the CES show floor for any info on the elusive tablets.
Where Are the ARM Tablets?
We found only two Windows 8 ARM tablets on the show floor, one with ARM-chip maker Texas Instruments, and the other with NVIDIA, makers of the Tegra 3 quad-core chip.
Microsoft has its hardware and component partners tight lipped regarding Windows 8 ARM details, so we officially learned very little news that had not been already confirmed. But looking at the hardware and chatting with the reps all but confirmed some interesting details.
For starters, Windows 8 on ARM will not feature desktop mode, which rumors already stated. It will only feature the Metro UI. Look closely at the NVIDIA ARM reference tablet and you’ll see that a second Internet Explorer tile “Flowers” Windows Media Video tile sits where the Desktop tile should be, or at least where the Desktop tile is on the x86 Windows 8 Developers Build. Of course, a NVIDIA employee could have moved the tile, but we take this as confirmation that Desktop mode is not present.
Also, conversations with other reps from other companies revealed that legacy x86-based Windows apps will not work with ARM devices, as had been previously reported. Metro apps written for ARM tablets will work with x86 Windows 8 tablets, and vice versa, but that old copy of Microsoft office you have lying around will not run on a Windows 8 ARM tablet.
On the hardware side, Windows 8 ARM tablets should resemble the Android counterparts in thinness and weight. The extra back bulge you see on the NVIDIA reference tablet is actually a developer board with additional inputs and outputs to aid the dev process. Other than that, no one would talk on the record regarding screen size, resolution, or minimum specs.
That said, it’s safe to assume that since much of Windows 8 is swipe based, including motions from the screen border edges, displays with a raised bezel, like the type found on older convertibles, will not play well with Windows 8.
Where Are the Quad-Core Tablets?
We know how great quad-core Android tablets run thanks to our time with the Transformer Prime, so we have high expectations for the quad-core tablets coming soon to the market. While only ASUS has one on the market, Toshiba confirmed that they do have one planned for later in 2012.
Lenovo had its IdeaTab K2010 on display, a NVIDIA Tegra 3 Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 tablet bound for the China market. Lenovo reps confirmed that it may make its way Stateside if there is market demand. The quad-core IdeaTab has one feature the other quad-core tablets lack: front-facing speakers. The tablet is a bit longer than most, with the two speakers protruding out of the short sides, directing sound directly at the user. This tablet design is ideal for media consumption, with both the proper speaker arrangement and quad-core power for HD video streaming, and we hope to see it in our test lab soon.
Acer and ZTE both had a limited presence at CES, though both had tablets on display at the NVIDIA booth. The 10.1-inch Acer Iconia Tab A510 was present to show off the Tegra 3’s gaming chops, as was the unnamed ZTE 7-inch Android tablet.
What Are They Waiting For?
It’s obvious Microsoft is very keen on getting Windows 8 done right, and they won’t release anything, including details, before its time. This Windows update marks Microsoft’s first real play in the new tablet market now dominated by mobile devices, so we understand Big Red’s hesitancy.
The quad-core tablet makers reluctance is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps they are all waiting for Apple to reveal the iPad 3 first, so they know what they are up against, and so that their products are not overshadowed by the market-leading tablet; just as the Xoom and the Honeycomb tablets (unveiled at CES 2011) were by the iPad 2 mere months after the show.