The Winbook TW700 Tablet

2015-03-15 03:42:24 -0400

If you're familiar with this site and my work, you're probably very surprised to see me reviewing anything even called a "Winbook", let alone a device that's an actual Windows 8.1 tablet. Turns out that Microsoft's push for low-price machines to demonstrate the breadth of the Windows 8.1 umbrella meant that we ended up with devices like this; turns out Winbook is a MicroCenter house-brand, and while it's supposedly a $200 device, it was introduced as a $70 special... which apparently never ended (you can find it from $60-$70 on Amazon even today.)

It's not a thin tablet by any stretch, but it has a nice bright IPS (good angles) screen, micro USB charging port, external micro sd, micro hdmi, headphone jack, and a full size USB port... this does not feel in any way like the usual sub $100 "cheap" tablet. 16G flash, 1G ram... 4-core ATOM cpu, and the real kicker: a real EFI BIOS... which means no jailbreaking, no "rooting"... just hit one menu option and you drop down to a flashback-inducing cyan-and-white BIOS screen, where you set boot priority to USB-stick first... and then install Ubuntu on it.

That's right, you just install Ubuntu like it's an actual computer.

Got that, Google? Got that, Samsung? A useful portable computing device that's actually open... and it's because Microsoft.

Now, there are some slightly screwy bits about the initial install process; for example, it needs a 32-bit bootloader, even though you're installing the amd64 kernel and OS... and while you can make 14.04 or 14.10 work, you need a not-quite-in-the-kernel yet wifi driver for the onboard wifi (which is still a little flaky) and you need a 3.19 kernel (the one that's going to ship in 15.04 "vivid vervet" is good enough) to handle the touchscreen. But there are a handful of webpages that walk you through a working install (par for the course for "new" hardware that isn't a ThinkPad, really) and while there are still some problems (it'll crash during initial startup 3/4 times, but if it makes it through initial startup it stays up just fine) and I've got some streamlined instructions to post soon.

It works well enough as an ubuntu box that I grabbed a git checkout of some project notes, went to a meeting with the Winbook and the ThinkPad compact USB keyboard and took notes in emacs for 90 minutes - which is the ideal environment for me, it means paying attention to the participants and only occasionally glancing at the screen, because my fingers know Emacs as well as they know QWERTY - and later rsynced them back to my desktop to research some of the points we brought up, not because of any flaw in the tablet, but because my desktop screen desktop screenis about 12 times larger...

The instructions I started from (part 2) are pretty detailed, but with a few key changes:

(Hmm, that's not "streamlined instructions" just "interesting bits that might save you some time" - basically I think a lot of the later steps in the upstream instructions involving building grub and the r8723bs wifi module can be simplified if you can start from a 14.10 desktop system, and just shove everything on the stick with the installer.)

I do need to make a bracket/stand for the Winbook to actually attach it to the keyboard, but it's already chalked up a major win as "most portable device to usefully run emacs", over Emacs for Android (which never really worked, though you could tweak some things and get it to start and not be able to access the filesystem) and Corbin Champion's GNURoot (which sort of worked, but not enough to actually run emacs on.) The Winbook plus ThinkPad keyboard is actually smaller than the Chromebook Air running crouton so we'll see if it comes with me to Pycon.