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Microsoft Windows 8.1 review

Verdict

A collection of improvements that add some welcome flexibility to Windows 8

Review Date: 22 Oct 2013

Reviewed By: Darien Graham Smith

Price when reviewed: Free to Windows 8 users (£0 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £70
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
4 stars out of 6

If you've been trying out the Windows 8.1 Preview, released in June, you'll find the interface and features effectively identical in this final release. The only surprise is that, contrary to earlier announcements, you can upgrade directly from the Preview to the final code – although you'll need a Windows 8 product key to activate the installation.

For those who've stuck with Windows 8 thus far, the update brings significant changes. The first one you'll notice is an updated Start screen, which now shares your desktop wallpaper. It also supports smaller tiles, to let you arrange more apps onto your Start screen – and larger ones, which can convey twice as much live information as before. On smaller screens, you can also activate a “show more tiles” option that shrinks the grid so you can see more tiles at once.

Microsoft Windows 8.1

All of this gives you more scope than before to set up your Start screen however you like it, and since apps are no longer installed here by default, it stays organised. To access the all-encompassing Apps menu, simply swipe upwards or click the down-arrow icon. If you prefer, you can also set Windows 8.1 to take you automatically to the Apps screen when you hit the Windows key: in this case you simply swipe down to get to the main Start view.

Microsoft Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 comes with an updated selection of tablet apps – see below – and multitasking works better, too. In Windows 8, split-screen mode supported only an off-kilter 80:20 layout, but you can now drag the divider to achieve a 50:50 balance, or anything between the two. On larger displays it's possible to divide the display into three or four segments.

A final bonus is the revamped Search interface. Rather than taking over the full screen, Search now occupies a much less intrusive panel at the right-hand side. If you invoke it via the Search charm menu, it slides in as an overlay on top of your active view, rather than sending you back to the Start screen. Even better, when you type, you now get results from “everywhere” – no more pedantic switching back and forth between Apps, Settings and Files. By default, online search content from Bing is filtered in too, below local results; and if you click on the Search icon you're taken to an encyclopedia-style results page that automatically brings together relevant text, graphics and links from around the web.

Microsoft Windows 8.1

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User comments

Prefer

I prefer the previous Search results layout. I usually know that I want settings when I do a search, so having just the settings displayed in a category to itself saves time.

That said, I was totally perplexed when I first used Search to get at Deinstall Programs, it only listed one result, a deinstaller for a specific application, with a web search as the alternative. I thought it was broken, but it was still busy in the background making the inital index...

Since then it is certainly useful, but I miss the categories.

What I really want to turn off is that darned white Windows flag in the left corner of the taskbar! I have a physical Windows button on the casing of the tablet, I have a Windows key on the keyboard and if I open the Charms, there is another one there. Why do I need it permanently displayed on the taskbar?

By big_D on 22 Oct 2013

I'm quite an undemanding user...

...of Windows these days. I only bought 8 for 2 reasons. First because it was offered for £24.99 which makes it worth a punt and second because i wanted to triple boot my PC with my existing Vista 32bit/Win7 64 bit.It's a strange transition from previous Windows offerings and you'd probably get more out of it on a tablet or touchscreen (of which i have neither). But it does boot up/shut down fast and i am trying to make use of a lot of it's features. I have to say though that i wouldn't pay full price for it as for the average desktop user Win 7 is perfectly ok.

By blueleader01 on 22 Oct 2013

Not sure of the point....

I upgraded to 8.1 as soon as it was released. I now wish I hadn't as it doesn't seem to offer me anything (I don't use Modern UI) and has broken several things.

After the install, during which I chose to keep my programs and settings, the following happened:
1. My antivirus product was uninstalled because it was incompatible. That would have been OK provided I had been told about it - of course I was not.
2. My desktop visualisation product was broken - its network bridging driver was removed with no notice and a reinstall was the only way to fix it.
3. I have had to hack the registry to stop the plethora of annoying popup tips telling where on the screen I should be clicking - it is poor that MS do not make switching off this kind of thing easy.

I have yet to discover a single change in 8.1 that is of benefit to me - hopefully there is some good stuff going on under the covers that I am not aware of. If not, this "upgrade" is a waste of time - less of a version upgrade and more a collection of bug fixes....

By barrettj on 23 Oct 2013

SkyDrive Save By Default

I'm alarmed by the line about saving to Skydrive by default which "makes sense, because Windows 8 is designed to be used with space-limited mobile hardware."
So is this a tablet OS, or a PC one?
I'm looking to replace my desktop PC (with another desktop PC - I'm so retro).
Where is the OS for desktops?

By Tony_Yeah on 23 Oct 2013

disaster upgrading to 8.1 on my asus s200e

piece of cake to upgrade new netbook to 8.1...NOT.

after done uploading and i presume installing, my netbook is trash and only after due diligence searching on the www was i able to find a way to boot into safe mode through the run command...

two lengthy chats sessions w/asus technicians and accomplishing numerous 'try this' situations, it was decided my brand new toy needed to have the hdd reloaded.

back to safe mode to delete passwords per asus' guidance which meant setting up a dummy adm account and deleting my existing accounts on the netbook.

none of my third party pgms survived the 8.1 upgrade, malwarebytes, auslogic, office 365, nothing was there on the hdd under pgm directory...

including the OS 8 restore pgms...so the hdd couldn't be reimaged from the 'hidden' OEM partition...

it is now wing'g across the US to be looked at in California and then with a little luck reshipped back to me.

truly a horrific experience and no power on God's green earth am i dl'g 8.1 upgrade in the future!!

really

By Really on 23 Oct 2013

Desktop Skydrive doesn't work with 8.1

On installing 8.1 I also had my anti virus blocked despite no warning that it would be incompatible by the upgrade advisor.

A bigger problem was to find that the Desktop version of Skydrive no longer works and if I wanted to use the app version I would have to sign into to my computer using a microsoft ID instead of my usual login. Not going to happen.

Removed all files from skydrive and then removed skydrive from my win7 laptops and moved the files to another service.

Files can now be accessed by all machines with not an MS ID in sight

By dtpdesign on 24 Oct 2013

Is it worth me upgrading. I've got classic shell installed to make it more Windows 7 and I've heard little to make me want to upgrade to 8.1. What do you guys think?

By TimoGunt on 24 Oct 2013

Found Windows 8.1 To Be Slightly Unstable

I upgraded to windows 8.1 on my HP Pavilion G6 a few days ago and at first I thought excellent this is better then Windows 8 but that did not last long, firstly Internet explorer I found runs slow and tends to freeze at times and runs slower then it did last time,Plus it takes time to sort out documents on it. Then I have had where my whole Laptop becomes unresponsive with a total windows crash and Iv had to fully reset my lap top. Also another thing I hate Is that with 8.1 they have removed the shortcut to internet explorer of your desktop and you have to use the stupid app on the main start screen which is dreadful and I hate the look of the explorer like that, I had to pin the short cut to my task bar as you can not recreate the short cut to your desk top anymore. All in All I should of stayed on version 8 and left 8.1 alone, iv found it to be a poor update no wonder Microsoft made it free. May be some one should look at the bugs it has before launching it to the world.

By bill1234 on 24 Oct 2013

Found Windows 8.1 To Be Slightly Unstable

I upgraded to windows 8.1 on my HP Pavilion G6 a few days ago and at first I thought excellent this is better then Windows 8 but that did not last long, firstly Internet explorer I found runs slow and tends to freeze at times and runs slower then it did last time,Plus it takes time to sort out documents on it. Then I have had where my whole Laptop becomes unresponsive with a total windows crash and Iv had to fully reset my lap top. Also another thing I hate Is that with 8.1 they have removed the shortcut to internet explorer of your desktop and you have to use the stupid app on the main start screen which is dreadful and I hate the look of the explorer like that, I had to pin the short cut to my task bar as you can not recreate the short cut to your desk top anymore. All in All I should of stayed on version 8 and left 8.1 alone, iv found it to be a poor update no wonder Microsoft made it free. May be some one should look at the bugs it has before launching it to the world.

By bill1234 on 24 Oct 2013

Anit virus and dns problems 8.1 uprade

I found that my Comodo anti virus needed reinstalling (wish I had of been told)and here in Australia my isp Telstra uses the Technicolor ADSL modems and the 10.x software causes a race/timing issue with 8.1 so I had to set the dns on the adaptor manually.
Technicolor are working on a fix and are talking to Microsoft so hopefully it wont take to long.

Other than that 8.1 is working ok touch wood.

Kevin

By zoszos on 25 Oct 2013

Anit virus and dns problems 8.1 uprade

I found that my Comodo anti virus needed reinstalling (wish I had of been told)and here in Australia my isp Telstra uses the Technicolor ADSL modems and the 10.x software causes a race/timing issue with 8.1 so I had to set the dns on the adaptor manually.
Technicolor are working on a fix and are talking to Microsoft so hopefully it wont take to long.

Other than that 8.1 is working ok touch wood.

Kevin

By zoszos on 25 Oct 2013

W8.1 messed up trackpad, Power Shell & User IDs

Most trackpad functions vanished when I upgraded my Dell XPS13 - leaving only pointer movement and left-click. W8.1 insisted that it had installed the latest driver, but I had to get the correct one from Dell's website.
You are right about Power Shell: I re-installed it straight away.
I hated the idea of using a Microsoft Identity as a log-in to the computer! To reduce vulnerability to viruses, etc.,I have one admin user (hardly ever used) and one limited user (for everyday use). I upgraded as Admin - who automatically became the Mircrosoft ID User, but then it would not let me use the same ID with my limited user. Worse, my log-in screen now reveals my e-mail address before anybody logs-in.
What happens when the coerced use of Sky Drive reaches 7 GB? I expect that one is asked to pay for renting more space.
W8 and W8.1 forces the user to adopt too many new ways of doing things, but none is better than W7's interface and all are confusing.

By dwrobinson on 25 Oct 2013

Keyboard Layout Changes

When I upgraded I could not log in to my account - the keyboard layout had reverted to English US! Clicking on the ENG tab in the right bottom corner resolved my fear that I could not log in. If you use characters in your password, be aware. I believe that if you use a Microsoft account as log in, you won't notice, as the log-in can't use characters.

By RichardKeys on 25 Oct 2013

Windows 8.1

Microsoft, you can'y polish a turd, and windows 8 is a TURD!!!!

By gmhunt on 25 Oct 2013

Nothing new

As a desktop user I have found absolutely nothing new. The main issue I've had with the upgrade is finding workarounds for the things Microsoft have decided I'm not allowed to do any more.

By MikeC2 on 27 Oct 2013

best browsers for android

http://techglen.com/2013/10/27/top-five-browsers-f
or-android/

By techglen on 28 Oct 2013

Top5 features of Windows 8.1

i have listed top 5 features of windows 8.1.. see here
http://techglen.com/2013/10/27/windows-8windows-8-
1-best-features/

By techglen on 28 Oct 2013

Better than windows 3.1

Ok I have used every version of Windows since 3.1 except ME and 2000.

Everyone said I will hate 8.1, just bought a new Laptop and gave the old Win 7 one to my son, looooove 8.1, NO problems, I also liked XP and Vista and 7, though Vista was the worst of the 3.

I don't like the childlike start screen that looks like it is aimed at teenagers, I prefer a desktop, but I can live with it for a while.

NO problems installing any of my photo software (I am a photographer, Elements, Sony and Pinnacle software installed problem free.

I would say 8.1 is fine

By skywatcher2 on 28 Oct 2013

WTH!!

OMG I have been trying to help Mom some tips and tricks on the new laptop with WIndows 8.

Well, lets just say it is a VALID reminder as to why I have walked away from windows and have fully embraced the world of APPLE!!!

Windows seems to continue to create more and more complicated OS's that for those who are very tech savy may be fine, but someone like mom who just uses the internet and email is more scared and less likely to use the computer.

again where I know I will continue to go for my own computer needs and wants, 1-800-my-apple or www.apple.com

By ProudofMAC on 28 Oct 2013

Totally unhelpful support

As with many other readers I also had an absolute nightmare attempting to upgrade to 8.1 and found the Windows support team totally unhelpful and rude - think my best option it to go back to 7! Think the money I paid to upgrade to 8 will be the last I spend with Microsoft!

By schinder on 31 Oct 2013

display issues with 8.1

hello,
i upgraded to 8.1 yesterday. today i am unable to go in. screen is black. i can go into safe mode. normal mode is a issue. can anyone help. i am running on a hp ultrabook

By mukund on 1 Nov 2013

We'll mind made up then

I will avoid 8.1 as I see no benefit and it appears lots of people are unhappy with it

By TimoGunt on 3 Nov 2013

From a high level...

I like it--it is buttery. I like my operating systems buttery, and this one is smooth. Like butter.

By J_Thomalla on 8 Nov 2013

butter...

---------- me, too . . .

By BigWayne19 on 9 Dec 2013

windows 8.1 sucks

sites only appears sometimes stuff pops up starts down loading on your computer go to sites just spins in a circle now computers slow now dos works better than this its the worst software I've ever used what a waste of $100 for something that operates so badly. internet explorer pops- up all the time.

By ftbgeorge on 11 May 2014

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