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What is tablet mode in Windows 10?

Tablet mode in Windows 10 is best described as one half of Continuum, Microsoft's clever way of adapting the user interface of convertible and 2-in-1 laptops, Windows phones, and tablets to the situation at hand. Let's take a look at exactly why you need tablet mode and, when the time comes, how to use it.

Why do you need tablet mode?

Love it or hate it, anyone who used Windows 8 remembers the fullscreen Start Screen and large tiles that were optimized for touch devices with big touch targets and few icon lists. This was alright for tablets and 2-in-1s, but anyone not using a touchscreen soon realized what a pain this interface could be.

Windows 10 took care of the problem by introducing Continuum, a double-pronged adaptive feature that recognizes what type of hardware you have and changes the interface between desktop mode and tablet mode to best suit the situation.

The Surface example

If you have a Surface Book, removing the tablet portion from the keyboard will switch things over to tablet mode from desktop mode. When you reattach the two pieces of the Surface Book (or flip the screen on your convertible laptop back to a notebook setup), you'll be back in standard desktop mode complete with the iconic Windows Start Menu.

In tablet mode, all apps you open — plus the Start Screen — will automatically go fullscreen. For this reason, you can't see your usual desktop, but can access it through File Explorer.

You'll notice that your taskbar now has a back button on it next to the Cortana button, and you'll also notice your app icons are gone (they can be turned back on in Settings).

Just about all aspects of the user interface are better suited to touch when in tablet mode; this means that buttons are slightly larger, the back button in the taskbar sorts through your open apps, and an on-screen keyboard pops up whenever a text field is selected.

Tablet mode everywhere

Tablet mode isn't just for touchscreen devices. Any Windows 10 device can take advantage of tablet mode, as you can use a physical keyboard and mouse with it.

Why use tablet mode without a touchscreen? The larger tiles and buttons plus the simplified UI might make it easier for some people to navigate Windows, especially those just setting out on their computing journey.

Ready to get started with tablet mode? Below is a full list of tips and tricks for getting started with this awesome Windows 10 feature.

How to manually enable and disable tablet mode

You can switch to tablet mode at any time for any reason by using the action center. Here's how to do it.

  1. Click the action center button in the bottom-right corner of your desktop.
  2. Click Tablet mode.

To turn off tablet mode, just repeat the steps.

Don't see the tablet mode tile in the list of quick actions? Here's how to add it.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. It looks like a gear and is located above the power button.

  1. Click System.
  2. Click Notifications & actions.

  1. Click Add or remove quick actions.
  2. Click the switch next to Tablet mode so that it turns on (blue).

How to customize tablet mode sign-in options

Here's how to set tablet mode to be enabled by default.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. It looks like a gear and is located above the power button.

  1. Click System.
  2. Click Tablet mode.

  1. Click the dropdown arrow beneath When I sign in.
  2. Click an option. You can choose from:
    • Use tablet mode — Your PC will start in tablet mode.
    • Use desktop mode — Your PC will start in your standard desktop mode.
    • Use the appropriate mode for my hardware — Depending on your device, it will open with tablet mode or desktop mode.

How to customize automatic tablet mode settings

If you have, for example, a convertible laptop, you might notice Windows 10 switches to tablet mode automatically when you flip the lid around. Here's how to change automatic tablet mode settings.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. It looks like a gear and is located above the power button.

  1. Click System.
  2. Click Tablet mode.

  1. Click the dropdown arrow beneath When this device automatically switches tablet mode on or off.
  2. Click an option. You can choose from:
    • Don't ask me and don't switch — Nothing will happen and your PC will stay in desktop mode.
    • Always ask me before switching — You will be prompted before tablet mode is enabled.
    • Don't ask me and always switch — Your PC will automatically switch to tablet mode without asking.

How to customize the taskbar in tablet mode

There are a couple of options when it comes to the taskbar in tablet mode.

How to hide app icons in tablet mode

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. It looks like a gear and is located above the power button.
  3. Click System.

  1. Click Tablet mode.
  2. Click the switch beneath Hide app icons on the taskbar in tablet mode so that it turns on (blue).

When in tablet mode, you will only see the back button, the Cortana button, and the Task View button. Repeat the process to show app icons in tablet mode.

How to hide the taskbar in tablet mode

If you can't stand seeing the taskbar in tablet mode, you can make it automatically hide until you swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click the Settings button. It looks like a gear and is located above the power button.
  3. Click System.

  1. Click Tablet mode.
  2. Click the switch beneath Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode so that it turns on (blue).

You and tablet mode

Do you use tablet mode on your convertible laptop? What about on your desktop PC? Let us know in the comments section!

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • I use tablet mode 99.9% of the time on my desktop.
  • "clever way" ?
  • I found desktop mode much better for me. The fact that they let us choose is great. We both can enjoy the same windows 10 in very different ways. It's for everyone.
  • It's not really a choice if I can't choose what I really want.  Which I can't in W10.
  • Not really.  I can't configure W10 to be enough like W8 to make it enjoyable for me, period.
  • Good article
  • Since I seitched to a Lenovo Miix 310, I use tablet mode almost everytime, even when the keyboard is attached. I only use desktop mode when I connect my wireless USB mouse, but that only happens very rarely. Btw, if you buy a Lenovo PC, make sure you delete all the OEM crap that comes with it, or at least if you want to free up some space and use f.lux. The Night Mode built in Lenovo Settings likes to interfer with f.lux, resulting in your screen to flash in blue / yellow shades. And while f.lux can automatically adjust bluelight based on your location, Lenovo Settings can only do it in a predifined time interval. And btw those Lenovo apps run a dozen of processes in the background all time eating up resources.
  • Tipp: Pin the taskbar on the left side.
  • I don't use the taskbar at all.  It's a useless pain in the rear, as far as I'm concerned.
  • well it's pretty handy to switch between apps quickly and how should I come back to the startscreen without the windows button? But I never get why most people use it on the bottom. It makes much more sense on the side. Especially for normal 4:2, 16:9, 16:10 or 3:2 monitors.
  • but a simple touch on an app icon on the taskbar is much faster and more precise than swiping from the left corner and than search for the open application.
  • I bought one of the 8 inch tablets from the Microsoft Store when it was on sale for $59 last month. It was a pain to use out of the box because it was in desktop mode. I could see new users hating the device when they first buy it because the out of box experience was horrible. Tablet manufacturers should make tablet mode the default. Once I switched to tablet mode I realized how nice the tablet was. I use it as a Kodi remote or a run Kodi directly on it. Also the sports app is great in tablet mode.
  • I realize this is off-topic, but I'm assuming you bought the NuVision tablet? Have you had an issue with the screen not coming on when you press the power button occasionally?
  • Yes, that is the device. I've had that issue a few times. Generally a second tap works, but a couple of times I had to press and hold to force a reboot.
  • Yeah same here. I had that issue with my first-gen dell venue pro 8 when I first got it, but it went away after a while, I'm guessing through some kind of firmware update. So I'm hoping that will be the case with this one.
  • I have this problem with my much beloved (but slow) RT
  • Just wish they did a proper tablet mode.
    1. Bring back swipe from left to go back, so we no longer need an archaic back button.
    2. Actually let us hide the taskbar completely (it can't be hidden while on the start screen, where it ironically is also the most useless).
    3. Increase size of buttons to the far left (shutdown, all apps, etc). They are too small to comfortably touch with fingers, even on a 12" screen.
    Win 8.1 had a much better touch experience, this is more like "we can't bother to do it properly, so will just blow up the start menu to full screen.
  • this +1
  • At least they brought back swipe to go back and forth on Edge.
  • +2
  • The entire idiotic move to wireframe buttons/icons is one of the most frustrating things for me.  YOU CAN'T SEE SQUAT in W10, unlike W8, which made it easy to see and use almost everything.  Almost everything but the live tiles requires you to have perfect vision and fingers as thin as pencils to tap on anything. 
  • The new Macbook with the touch band looks ridiculous in this regard. You can see how hard it is to touch those tiny emojis, etc. I agree that touch mode on surface still need lots of work.
  • I never use tablet mode on my tablet because I find desktop mode easier and more intuitive, strangely enough. If I do use tablet mode, it's because I'm just messing around with it for a few minutes.
  • I use my Surface Pro 4 in tablet mode almost exclusively. And when I don't, I still have the full screen Start Screen. Long live glorious Windows 8.1.
  • This +1. Windows 8 got so many things right but people hated it for being too different
  • It got hate because it was way too far ahead for its time. Tablet form factor was still a niche when Windows 8 was released, so practically no one used it for its touch-screen friendliness. Even the flagship device for Windows 8 (the Surface pro) didn't come out until 3 months after.
  • it sure was better (for tablet use) and more colorful
  • I use my SP 3 almost never in tablet mode (not even when the type cover is detached), but I do use the full screen start menu on my Surface all the time while on my desktop I prefer the smaller start menu.
  • We should get rid of these modal notions. It should be possible to mix input types at all time. The only usefull distiction is screen size.  
  • Says you.  I want all tablet mode, all of the time, period. W10 will not let you do that if you have a second monitor attached. Epic Fail.
  • I actually never use the tablet mode. I do however have it set so, that if I use touch on a text field, the touch keyboard pops up. This gives me all the flexibility I need when I have my Surface Pro 4 completely undocked using only the pen and touch as input :) I find a lot of 3rd party UIs are not very touch-friendly, but that is another story.
  • I use tablet mode 99% of the time on my Surface pro 4 even when using the type keyboard. In tablet mode you can also enable/disable app icons & notification icons and set the "auto hide" by right-clicking in the taskbar.
  • I switch depending what I'm doing, but at a desk, definitely desktop mode. My parents use my old Lenovo x200t and I have that on tablet mode just because it's better for them and they only have a few things to look at
  • Call me old fashioned, but as much as I appreciate tablet mode for what's it's intended for on the Surface, I'm still a "WindowS" user by habit...I keep my Task Manager in a small window running, File Explorer about 80% of the desktop size, Skype is docked to the right side...basically I like seeing multiple apps in different areas of the screen running simultaneously. I also prefer to use Outlook 2016 over any other mail app (PSTs and all) and that interface, while somewhat customizable for touch, still isn't quite "tablet" ready. The wife uses tablet mode exclusively on her Surface looks like either way can work for anybody...
  • They need to work on tablet mode more. Give me horizontal scrolling and ill be happy.
  • I would much rather have a Windows 8.1 style tablet mode in Windows 10. Horizontal scrolling and the All Apps view filling up the entire screen instead of wasted space currently. I use tablet mode all the time on my SP3 even with Type Keyboard but cannot stand the way the Start Screen and All Apps view is. All we can really do at the moment is submit feedback about it. I am only annoyed with the Start Screen and All Apps view in Tablet Mode. Everything else so far is fine. Once those have been changed, I can nitpick some more.
  • Can you go horizontally with the tiles anymore like 8.1, is it at least an option you can enable? Picking up a Surface this year, so just curious. In landscape mode, vertical swipes up and down just don't seem right, as they do say in potrait mode, or on a phone.    
  • If you mean if you hold the device in portrait, will it orientate the tiles, then yes it will automatically.
  • The tiles fill the width of the screen and then go vertically. So if you fill your Start Screen with tiles, you can only go vertical, no horizontal scrolling like in 8.1.
  • Hmm, that's a pity. Be nice to at least have the option. Thanks Jackie, appreciate the info :)  
  • No landscape scrolling.
  • I presume this is so that it operates like a phone. Vertical scrolling for the start menu.
  • I love how it automatically changes on my SP4!!
  • The tablet mode has really evolved into something nice. Its actually great to use on the Surface Book
  • I have been running Windows Preview and Insider on my Lenovo Tablet this entire time. The experience has been good and a little rough. Couple of times in the beginning, it felt like MS forgot all about tablets. Things have gotten better though.
  • I use tablet mode solely on my Lenovo 2 in 1 but use desktop mode only on my laptop and desktops.
  • Tablet Mode in W10 is horrible compared to Windows 8.  I much prefer the Start Screen over the Start Menu.  I have my test W10 devices configured so that all the default settings mimic, as much as possible, the way W8 operates. But it's not even close. NOR is it consistent.  One of the WORST aspects is that YOU CANNOT GO INO TABLET MODE IF YOU HAVE A SECOND MONITOR.  This is just STUPID.
  • That's dumb since Win 8 had that. What's also dumb is you can only have 2 apps on the screen vs 3 for Windows 8.1
  • W10 has ported over a lot of Windows Start Screen functions but only just recently and it still lacks the fluidity that Windows 8 was. Comparing the 2 operating systems, it seems that Microsoft was originally going to slowly transtion from W8's UI and just bring back some of the legacy UI of desktop similar to what they did to DOS command line (which ironically use to be a full screen OS). All the complaints from the desktop users forced MS to scrap this route and to instead build the tablet UI from the legacy desktop which gave us Windows 10 and it's tablet mode. The peculiar thing is, judging by the pace MS is improving tablet mode, 2018 will basically bring back Windows 8's "evolved" version of the Start Screen and I won't be surprised less people will be using the desktop UI by then. If Windows on Arm works the way a Win x86 tablet does now? Most windows users will eventually be carrying a Windows PC in their pocket and likely will never see a desktop UI ever. It's already happening now to Apple users who prefer iOS on iPhone and iPads over Mac OS computers as the PC of choice.
  • Tablet mode is still lacking compared to Windows 8's Start Screen and modern UI. Switching from desktop to tablet was what made Windows 8 fail as a desktop OS. Windows 10 is great as a hybrid tablet/desktop but still has a long way to go to catch up to the touch aspirations that Windows 8 was.
  • Windows 10 has gotten a lot of things right.But as far as tablet mode they should have left the horizontal scrolling.It's more natural & intuitive. I fought for a long time to put win 10 on my win 8.1 tablet.But now that it has been on there for quite a while I find myself always switching it to desktop mode.Tablet mode just does not feel right.  
  • Win8.1 still did it better
  • I'll be happy that the hardware and UI is 'right' when I can easily work on an Excel spreadsheet on a tablet.  It's getting there but still some way to go.
  • I use tablet mode by default exclusively. I think it works best on convertibles and windows tablet devices, especially with a digital stylus. Not sure how I would use it on a laptop with no touchscreen or a desktop. I am so used to live tiles I think I would still use tablet mode by default. But looking at my dekstop pc with windows 7 I could also imagine trying to revert back many UI elements of windows 10 to windows 7, because the mouse and keyboard dominate more on a desktop. But I think I would then simply use windows 7 on a non-touchscreen windows pc device.
  • I am just happy they have swipe back/forward webpages again. That was terrible they took that out of windows 10 at first.
  • I use Tablet Mode all the time on my Surface 3. I have the Taskbar on the right hand side, not hidden. that way it's easier to get to when holding the tablet.