Windows 8 (for tablets and touchscreen devices) review

23 Aug 2012

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

Buy it now for 
5

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.

Details

Price inc VAT Not yet confirmed
Overall rating 5
Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement 1GHz or higher

Operating system support

Other operating system support N/A

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