Microsoft Windows 8.1 review

22 Oct 2013

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

Buy it now for 
5

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

Details

Price ex VAT Free to Windows 8 users
Price inc VAT £0
Overall rating 5
Ease of Use rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 6
Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement 1GHz with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2

Operating system support

Other operating system support N/A

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