Sensors Built into Your Windows 8 Tablet

Your Windows 8 tablet’s built-in sensors constantly measure the world around them, translating those measurements into numbers, and feeding them to Windows 8’s various programs. Fortunately, many sensors can be safely ignored.

But if you’re holding your thumb over the light sensor, for example, the tablet thinks it’s in a dark room and quickly brightens the screen.

Your Windows 8 tablet's ambient light sensor

This sensor, located as a faint dot along the front panel, constantly checks the available light around you. As the ambient light fades or brightens, Windows subsequently dims or brightens the screen. When you’re in a dark room, for example, the screen dims to save your eyes, as well as the tablet’s battery.

Step into the sunshine, and the screen brightens to stay visible.

Unfortunately, some light sensors are overly sensitive, and your tablet’s constant screen changes can become a distraction.

Rotation/accelerometer sensor on your Windows 8 tablet

These sensors live deep inside your tablet’s case. The rotation sensor lets the tablet know how it’s being held — portrait or landscape mode, for example — so it can rotate the screen accordingly.

The accelerometer, by contrast, detects changes in physical speed. Some apps tap into the accelerometer to detect when two devices bump together. When each device detects a quick simultaneous stop, they know you’ve bumped them together, and your app is ready to exchange business cards, for example.

GPS sensor on your Windows 8 tablet

Found mostly on tablets that offer cellular Internet access, a Global Positioning System (GPS) sensor lets the tablet know your exact location to within about 30 feet. With your permission, your tablet gives this information to apps, which can then find your location on a map or locate the closest coffee shop.

If your tablet doesn’t include cellular access, you can plug a GPS into your tablet’s USB port. Before buying one, though, make sure it’s listed as compatible with the app that needs to use it.

Note: Even if your tablet lacks a GPS, it can usually narrow down your location to within several hundred feet by using your wireless Internet connection.

Your Windows 8 tablet's cameras

Most tablets come with two separate cameras: one on the front, the other on the back. You’ll notice them as small round holes beneath the glass, usually about 1/8-inch in diameter.

The front-facing camera works best for taking photos of yourself, mainly to create profile photos: your user account photo, for example, or photos to represent you on websites. It works best when shooting fairly close-up — about two or three feet away.

Treat the rear-facing camera like a “real” camera. Use it for shooting panoramic landscapes, for example, groups of friends, or party pictures.

Most tablets place their highest-quality camera facing rear; the lousy camera, unfortunately, faces you. But since you’re usually shooting close-up portraits that end up as tiny Facebook profiles, you probably don’t need much resolution, anyway.

Wi-Fi (Wireless Internet access) on your Windows 8 tablet

Standard on most tablets, Wi-Fi lets you connect with wireless networks, either your own or those you find in public at coffee shops, airports, and hotels. When you’re within range, which is usually within 200 feet of a transmitter, you can access the Internet.

When you’re out of range, however, you’re also out of luck.

3G/4G cellular access for your Windows 8 tablet

Some tablets include a data plan from a cellphone provider – at an extra cost, of course, usually through a monthly fee. You’re usually locked into the contract for about two years. After that, you can cancel and stick with Wi-Fi. When traveling, however, you may miss your “always on” Internet access.

Connections using 3G aren’t as fast, but also don’t drain the battery as rapidly. The 4G connections, by contrast, are speedy when within range, but suck the power from your battery more quickly.

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