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Windows 8 Touch On the Cheap

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Many people, both inside and outside Microsoft, see touch as a primary driver for adopting Windows 8. But do you really need a touch display to take advantage of touch in Windows 8? Ed Tittel's careful analysis shows that the surprising answer is "Maybe not!" Ed explains and illustrates with affordable alternative options.
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In early 2012, about ten months before Windows 8 was released commercially, I wrote a two-part series of blog posts for TechTarget on "Buying a Touchscreen for Windows 8," (Episode 1, Episode 2) as I worked through finding a suitable touchscreen for a Windows 8 test machine in connection with a book on Windows 8 I was researching.

Although plenty of affordable touchscreens were available at the time, only a very few—and more costly—touchscreens actually complied with the Windows 8 touch requirements for such devices.

After some diligent research, I determined that somebody insistent on compliance with the Windows 8 touch requirements would have to spend more than $1,000 to meet them, most likely in the form of a very nice 3M M181866PW 18.5" Multi-Touch Display (if not something bigger). Today, that monitor still costs more than $1,100, while bigger models cost even more (3M's offerings go all the way up to 32" for a whopping $4,500 or thereabouts).

That was a lot of money to add Touch to my test desktop, so I was inordinately pleased when the marketing team at 3M graciously granted me a loaner unit while I worked on that project. Today I'm very happy to report that extreme outlays are no longer required. Although it's still possible to spend more than $1,000 on a Windows 8-compliant touchscreen monitor, it's no longer the only way to obtain a touchscreen monitor that does everything you need it to do.

But First, Ask Yourself: "Do I REALLY Need Touch?"

I raise this important question because as I write this story I've now had more than one year of day-in, day-out experience working with Windows 8 on desktop, notebook, and tablet PCs. Because I work primarily on the Windows 8 desktop—which means that I'm not running Windows Store/Modern UI apps, and I'm using a conventional keyboard and mouse—I've observed that while touch is nice to have, it's not absolutely essential unless I'm working on a tablet or a smartphone, for which touch is the ONLY interface available.

Here's why many ordinary users will be able to skip the touchscreen experience on Windows 8. When you work mostly on the keyboard and with a mouse, you have to move your hand some distance away from its usual home location to access a touch display. This disrupts workflow because it takes time to make such moves and then to reset your hand(s) to work the keyboard when returning from the display, or vice-versa.

Also, consider this: you can spend a lot less—$50-80, as shown in Table 1—to purchase a touch mouse (both Microsoft and Logitech have nice models) or a trackpad instead of a touch display. Then, without disrupting your workflow as much, you can still get the benefit of those gestures that touch enables when driving the Windows 8 interface. That's because you can switch to a trackpad from the mouse, or use a touch-enabled mouse instead, to take advantage of gestures and movements on those surfaces that you'd otherwise have to perform on a touch display. This adds most of the benefits of the touch experience —except for touching the display to drive the user interface—without requiring purchase of a Windows 8 compliant touchscreen monitor.

Table 1 - Windows 8 Touch-enabled Mice and Trackpads

Still Want a Touch Screen Anyway?

Prices have fallen dramatically (and the number of purchase options have increased likewise) for touchscreen displays that comply with Windows 8 Touch requirements (now under the umbrella of the Microsoft Hardware Certification program, as the former Windows Logo program has been renamed).

With just a little trolling online, I found recent articles from ComputerWorld, PC World, and PC Advisor that provide buying advice and product reviews on offerings from numerous well-known vendors, including Acer, Dell, LG, and Viewsonic, among others, A carefully crafted Google Shopping search turns up more company names, including Planar, ELO, TouchSystems, HP, NEC, Samsung, and others, all of which are Windows 8 Touch compliant.

The good news here—as numerous recent reviews attest—is that you can find any number of Windows 8 hardware-certified touchscreen monitors in a size range from 21" to 23" for $700 or less (careful shopping produces numerous options under $500, in fact).

Be aware that hooking up these monitors also means giving up a USB port for the human interface device, or HID, communication that touch itself requires, in addition to a VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort link for the video (and audio where applicable). But that's a modest additional resource requirement that these devices use to provide the OS and applications with touch data.

Overall, conventional wisdom remains that it costs about $100-200 more to add touch to a monitor of any given size (bigger monitors require larger touch surfaces, so cost differentials rise in tandem with display sizes).

Thus, that's the cost increment for replacing an existing monitor with a touch model instead of a non-touch screen of the same size (or for adding a touchscreen as an additional monitor, as many users choose to do instead).

Just Because You Can Add a Touchscreen, Should You Do It?

Now that there's no question that you can find a reasonably priced touchscreen for Windows 8 use (and double ditto for Windows 8 laptops or ultrabooks), the question still stands: "Do you really want to go the touchscreen route, or try a touch-friendly mouse or trackpad instead?"

Here's my suggestion: First, start with a touch mouse or trackpad and see whether you can live with it (I do every day). Only if one of those devices doesn't cut it for you should you spring for the added expense (and desktop real estate) of a Windows 8 hardware-certified touch monitor.

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