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Windows 8 (for tablets and touchscreen devices) review

Verdict

Windows 8 has seen Microsoft’s OS embrace touch in a big way, and it’s by and large a roaring success

Review Date: 23 Aug 2012

Reviewed By: PC Pro staff

Price when reviewed: Not yet confirmed

Buy it now for: £115
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

This is an abridged version of the full nine-page review of Windows 8 that will appear in issue 217 of PC Pro, on sale 13 September

It’s only three years since Windows 7 hit the scene – but a lot has changed in that time. Back in 2009, there was no such thing as an iPad. Today, Apple and Android tablets are everywhere – and they’re being used not merely as entertainment platforms, but increasingly as serious productivity tools. As hardware manufacturers and application developers throw their weight behind mobile devices, Microsoft needs to do something big, or it risks being left behind.

Windows 8 is that something: a new conception of the operating system that’s designed to make the most of tablets and multi-touch enabled laptops now, and pave the way for the future of touch-based form factors.

Gestures and Metro

The big question is: has Microsoft finally cracked it? Well, on first impressions, it certainly looks that way. It starts with the lock screen, which by default is dragged up with a finger to unlock. There’s nothing particularly exciting there, but Windows 8 takes advantage of touch to introduce a new kind of password technology – one that sees users drawing patterns on screen instead of typing. This works brilliantly, and provides a quick way to unlock the tablet that’s also highly secure.

Once you’re in, you’ll quickly find that Windows 8 isn’t like its rivals iOS and Android at all. There’s a continuous horizontal stream of Live Tiles, which can be navigated with a quick, single flick right or left. Tapping a tile launches an app, and a pinch zooms the view right out, allowing quick navigation of long start screens.

Windows 8 - Metro Start screen

This tile-based interface was originally codenamed “Metro” – something that’ll be entirely familiar to Windows Phone users - but following a trademark infringement complaint, Microsoft is set to rebrand the user interface. For now, however, we’ll continue to use “Metro” to refer to the OS and its various apps and features.

As ever with touch systems, there’s a host of core gestures you need to know to make the most of Windows 8’s touch experience. The OS supports up to ten simultaneous touch points, which opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, but despite this, there aren’t any four- and five-fingered gestures in the vein of OS X’s gesture controls.

Instead, Windows 8’s tertiary touch controls are launched by dragging a thumb or finger in from the area surrounding the screen towards its centre (or, in the case of laptops equipped with a multi-touch touchpad, dragging a finger in from the touchpad’s edges).

Windows 8 - Charms menu

Swiping in from the right edge launches the Charms menu. The Charms provide access to Windows 8’s search mechanism, its context-based Share facility, a Start button that takes you back to the Metro start screen, and Devices and Settings shortcuts.

Swiping a single finger from the top or bottom brings up app-specific context options, and on the Metro interface brings up a link to the All apps view, which lists every application on the system A-Z. Swiping in from the left, meanwhile, cycles through the currently running applications.

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User comments

Ehh?

"In short, using desktop applications on Windows 8 with a touchscreen involves far too much stopping, thinking and head-scratching to be even remotely practical right now, and we recommend you avoid it; at least until developers begin to update their applications with support for touch"

Seeing as your finger acts as a mouse pointer I've never actually experienced any issues using Windows 7 with a touch based device. It's absolute childs play. Oh well.

Thank you for a great review.

By rhythm on 23 Aug 2012

hmm

Heres hoping the Desktop version review will tear this new OS apart.

By X1982X on 23 Aug 2012

Touch is the new egg ring

We were using touch screens 20 years ago with Win 3.1 for industrial use. Great for poking at large buttons for non-precise commands. We quickly learned that you need a mouse/wacom/keyboard to achieve anything else. Looks like we're going to have to endure a few years of touch-screen daftness. Anyone remember egg-shaped chain rings on bikes?

By scoobie on 23 Aug 2012

Biopace indeed... ;-)

Yeah Scoobie I remember them well, I thought they were still around in a more subtle incarnation.

For Touch devices and many roles Windows 8 is superb, but I have to say I think it utterly fails to score a "touchdown" where the pro user is concerned.

In my mixed roles as Systems Admin, Repair shop and Graphic Designer accessing the gubbins behind the Top Level User interface has been made progressively more fiddly from Vista through & and even more clunky in 8.

This does nothing to encourage me to consider 8 as a serious contender for anything other than basic user work and play.

Microsoft seem intent to compound the insult of drive the wrong type of user towards this experience by withdrawing access to Windows 7 from subscriptions like Technet.

Letting 8 have a fully functional 7 style desktop and start menu mode would have been relatively easy, but clearly Mr Ballmer made a decision early on to avoid this at all costs.

I'm hoping that after time they will see the light and integrate the two working styles together agin, perhaps even as late as Windows 9.

By Gindylow on 23 Aug 2012

Touch screen?

Surely the issue for the desktop environment is not does it work by touch input but how viable is it without a touch screen at all? This is how the vast majority of corporate users will be for some time to come, passive screen, keyboard and mouse! The touch centric aspects of Win8 needs to disappear.

By MIssingLink on 23 Aug 2012

@Gindylow

"accessing the gubbins behind the Top Level User interface has been made progressively more fiddly "

I'm not really seeing that myself. Sure, obviously, I know what you're getting at but as a pro user you're/we're aware of how to get to the gubbins via alternative routes. Heck Control panel is literally a few letters away on the keyboard

By rhythm on 23 Aug 2012

It does work without a touchscreen

Perfectly viable with just a keyboard and a mouse - different, no denying that but more than just a bit viable.

Switching full screen apps with the mouse is easy - top right and just click through.

The split screen thing has serious potential (for example I use messenger a lot for work) and I'm hoping that I can set the start menu/screen up to be helpful as a dashboard.

But you do need to be prepared to learn some keyboard shortcuts and to lean on "type to search" to be effective and I still haven't got to multiscreen to see how that works.

The only thing that I really don't like (because I haven't learnt the right key combination yet) is that the full screen version of IE could be better if you like running lots of tabs and don't use google/bing to find every website (I actually type URLs more often than not). I love the experience on a per page basis, its bringing up the address bar and the "tab" list that's not wired in yet.

I also remember that WinXP had a lot of critics (windows for teletubies) and so did 95 (click start to shutdown) and heck, why do we even need all this WIMP stuff when clearly DesqView is vastly superior and we can get so much more done so much faster with the keyboard...

By Murph on 23 Aug 2012

@Rhythm

Yes either through main.cpl or win key + shortcut.

What I'm driving at is that anything remotely technical, such as getting to the TCP/IP settings of each adapter, or adding and removing protocols all the way through to managing files en-masse etc. have all become more elusive, moved around or hidden or in some case simply spread across more than one dialogue.

In terms of Touch on a desktop screen over the mouse or a wacom tablet, my arm would be dropping off constantly groping skywards at my twin 20" 4:3 screens, and the method simply does not have the precision to do the work I need a mouse or wacom tablet to do.

It would take me to a whole new level of Carpal Syndrome.

By Gindylow on 23 Aug 2012

Microsoft Windows 8

The bottom lines are:-
1. How well does the software handle.
2. How well do the devices work (singularly, together,) and inter-operability with other notebooks computers internet wifi
3. Cost of the venture to consumers.

Why pay more than the £69 for a fully functioning PC Tablet if it does everything an owner requires on Android 4.0.?
Microsoft (allegedly) also has plans to increase the cost of the O.S.
Quote:
According to sources, Microsoft will price Windows 8 retail copies at $69.99. That price will increase to $199 on Jan. 31, 2013.
[Unquote].

Let us wait and see.

By lenmontieth on 23 Aug 2012

Question:

What exactly is missing from Windows 8 compared to Windows 7? Answer: Nothing. In honesty the start menu has moved and that's it.

As it stands you gain more from having Windows 8 than Windows 7. Think about it...

By rhythm on 24 Aug 2012

So, what about touch?

Well I read this review about touch, and it seems positively glowing. I read the comments and you'd think many were about a different O\S. Oh I SEE - they mainly are.

Kiddies, kiddies, you can gripe about 'Corporate' Windows 8 and use with WIMPS in the OTHER review, which, you'll be pleased to hear, slates Windows 8.

OK?

By wittgenfrog on 24 Aug 2012

Got it, Love it.

I've got Win 8 Evaluation on my Laptop and Main PC, Its amazing. So much better and faster than Win 7 and i like 7 as well but this is a massive improvement on it.

By Mik29 on 6 Sep 2012

you'll get used to it... eventually

The thing i keep reminding myself is how difficult everything seemed when I moved from 3.1 to 95.
Without File Explorer I was lost (until I found it in 95)

However, in time everything was fine.
And i'm sure that's the way it'll be in Windows 8.

The more you try to make Win8 like Win7, the slower you'll be to adapt to it.

By SteveSmith on 26 Oct 2012

Windows 8 £25 upgrade

Just installed this on a lovely but old Sony Vaio VGN-TZ11XN laptop. This had Vista Business edition, an 85Gb drive, and only 2GB of memory. With Vista it was really too slow to be used much, but I didn't want to pay for a Windows 7 upgrade. What a revelation. After upgrading to Windows 8 the boot is really quick (before I used to go make coffee and a sandwich while it booted!), and it is pretty smooth to use. The interface took a bit of getting used to, but now I have the hang of it, it was well worth the £25! And I can get Media Centre on it for free at the moment. So if you're not sure about Windows 8 maybe it is a way to revitalise one of your older laptops

By DJ2003 on 27 Oct 2012

Back in 2009, there was no such thing as an iPad

Well, technically yes, but as the iPad is really nothing more than an iPod Touch with a bigger screen, it's not like the technology wasn't around already.

(Sorry if I'm spoiling the magic for some of you with the above "revelation", but yes, the iPad is really just a big old iPod Touch.)

By Alfresco on 27 Oct 2012

Isn't the reason for the high pixel density's so that regular applications will work ok without any changes. I.e it's for backward compatibility (Not something Apple are known for, I know). Also, if your using this mac for screen real estate your bonkers, and you'll be bind soon. 1920x1200 @96dpi on a 17" mbp is only just bearable (120dpi is ok)

By NJKA001 on 1 Nov 2012

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