Notebookcheck

Windows 8 Consumer Preview as Tablet OS in Review

Jonas Adams, 03/28/2012

Touch me. Windows 8 comes with a few profound modifications compared to its precursor. The operating system has been particularly optimized for touch inputs as Microsoft also wants a significant say in tablets in future. We will take a look at what's new in this regard by means of a consumer preview.

The new Windows 8 logo doesn't have much in common with its predecessors. It has a very clear-cut, one-color design. The four wavy, colored boxes are a thing of the past. They have been replaced by a stylized window with four same-colored fields. Thus, the new design of Windows 8, called Metro, presents itself with right-angled tiles and only few, select colors.

Windows 8 will from now on be split in two groups: The apps, which have been adapted to the Metro desktop, and the known Windows Explorer with the "normal" programs. Windows Explorer hasn't been left untouched either and the functions are now found in contextual tabs. However, the biggest change is seen in the method of how programs are opened.

All apps and programs can be accessed via the start screen that can always be reached by swiping from the right edge. You can place your programs according to personal preferences here. The mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, obviously served as the model in this case. Consequently, the classic start menu, including the start button on the desktop, has been omitted.

Installation and Test Device

We used Samsung's XE700T1A Slate PC as the test unit. This device has an Ultrabook-CPU and thus enough power for the new operating system. How Windows 8 on ARM will run on tablets with an ARM CPU remains to be seen when this version of the operating system becomes available.

The installation on our test device proved to be a bit tricky because the online installation, which is allegedly very easy and fast, didn't work and crashed with a useless error report. Microsoft quite evidently still has room to improve something here.

The operating system was alternatively downloaded as an ISO image and copied on a USB flash drive with help from a Microsoft tool.

Design

The clear, homogeneous design of the Metro desktop was sacrificed in favor of personal adaptability. The background can't be selected freely anymore and you have to choose among nine dark colors. Although you can decide whether an app is to take up one or two columns, the number of rows is fixed. It was set to three in our device. The apps add a bit of color since almost every app has its own color.

Start screen in Metro design.
Start screen in Metro design.
The design can be changed slightly with a right click on settings.
The design can be changed slightly with a right click on settings.
There are six background patterns and nine colors to choose from.
There are six background patterns and nine colors to choose from.
The start screen can't be changed apart from these parameters.
The start screen can't be changed apart from these parameters.
All color options can be seen below.
All color options can be seen below.
 
 

Handling

Operation has been completely optimized for inputting via touchscreen. All actions and menus are started via swiping or with a tap of a finger. Even navigating between fingers is performed with little gestures. For this, all surfaces have a big size so that they can be easily hit with a finger.

We will now explain the functions of the universal gestures. You will always come back to the same menu with the start button, the general and program-related settings, the management of connected devices, a search function and the possibility to share the content from the app with others by swiping from the right edge to the center.

Swiping from the upper or lower left to the center will bring you to the program-related menu, when available. You can switch to the next opened app by swiping from the left edge to the center. An overview of all opened programs appears when the finger is moved from the left corner to the center and back again. To close the displayed app, the finger is moved in one action from the upper edge down over the screen and out of the picture.

The screen can be split into two parts in a ratio of one to three. To do this, the app is dragged from the upper edge into the center and then to the left or right edge until the divider appears. When the app is released, its size is reduced and only takes up a quarter of the room.

The screen can be split into two unequal parts.
The screen can be split into two unequal parts.
The divider can be easily dragged to the other side.
The divider can be easily dragged to the other side.
The start screen can also be displayed this way.
The start screen can also be displayed this way.
You can switch to the next window by swiping the finger from the left screen edge to the center.
You can switch to the next window by swiping the finger from the left screen edge to the center.
Not every app is suitable for all views. The store can't be used in the small view.
Not every app is suitable for all views. The store can't be used in the small view.
Black bars are added in Cut the Rope.
Black bars are added in Cut the Rope.
Moving the finger from the left screen edge to the center and back to the left edge shows an overview of all opened apps.
Moving the finger from the left screen edge to the center and back to the left edge shows an overview of all opened apps.
It's also possible to search in almost every app.
It's also possible to search in almost every app.
Here, searching the store.
Here, searching the store.

Windows Explorer

The desktop is also found on the start screen as a Metro tile. Except for the omitted start button, not much has changed in the task bar. On the other hand, Explorer has been completely revamped. As known from Microsoft Office, the Ribbon interface has been introduced in Explorer. It bundles the features in contextual tabs.

This Ribbon interface makes the context menu superfluous and can be controlled very comfortably via the touchscreen. However, there are more novelties to be found. Shortcuts for "Create new folder", "Properties", "Rename" and "Delete" can be displayed in the title bar. Apart from that, the function "Undo" and "Redo" can also be used when a document has been deleted unintentionally. The "next level" arrow is used again besides the address bar. It was removed with Windows Vista, but is now reinstated due to high demand.

The desktop is started like every other app. Thus, there is no start button in the lower left.
The desktop is started like every other app. Thus, there is no start button in the lower left.
The familiar system control is also found under the desktop settings.
The familiar system control is also found under the desktop settings.
Deleting is now possible without prompting. The deleted items can be restored via CRTL+Z.
Deleting is now possible without prompting. The deleted items can be restored via CRTL+Z.
Not everything is yet perfect in the consumer preview, as this dialog shows.
Not everything is yet perfect in the consumer preview, as this dialog shows.
Copying is now more comfortable. You can monitor every process and pause it.
Copying is now more comfortable. You can monitor every process and pause it.
Even content-related tabs can appear.
Even content-related tabs can appear.
…that partly isn't used.
…that partly isn't used.
Consequently, every category has a lot of room…
Consequently, every category has a lot of room…
The most important functions have been placed on several tabs, which would have only been available with a right click otherwise.
The most important functions have been placed on several tabs, which would have only been available with a right click otherwise.
Explorer has changed and now displays a Ribbon interface, known from Microsoft Office.
Explorer has changed and now displays a Ribbon interface, known from Microsoft Office.
Explorer only shows the opened windows in the narrow mode.
Explorer only shows the opened windows in the narrow mode.
 

Task Manager

The new task manager is more clearly arranged.
The new task manager is more clearly arranged.
Besides that, the design of diagrams has been updated.
Besides that, the design of diagrams has been updated.
History keeps statistics of the performance of all apps.
History keeps statistics of the performance of all apps.

Store

The integrated store gives app developers a convenient possibility to spread their apps among the users. Alike Apple or Android, there are free and fee-based apps. However, unlike Apple, the apps aren't only tied to the store, but can also be distributed conventionally. The store also searches for updates automatically and offers to install them.

New apps can be acquired in the store.
New apps can be acquired in the store.
Not only the Metro apps,…
Not only the Metro apps,…
All other apps are found by dragging the finger from the lower screen edge to the top.
All other apps are found by dragging the finger from the lower screen edge to the top.
…and is now offered in the Windows 8 store.
…and is now offered in the Windows 8 store.
The game is known from the iOS and Android platforms…
The game is known from the iOS and Android platforms…
Cut the Rope was installed and is now on the start screen.
Cut the Rope was installed and is now on the start screen.
Downloading and installing can also be monitored in the store.
Downloading and installing can also be monitored in the store.
To download an app, you have to log-in with a Microsoft account.
To download an app, you have to log-in with a Microsoft account.
Every app has a detail page that gives an in-depth description of the offer.
Every app has a detail page that gives an in-depth description of the offer.
It's possible to navigate very comfortably via the touchscreen here.
It's possible to navigate very comfortably via the touchscreen here.
…but also the default programs are displayed here.
…but also the default programs are displayed here.
 

App: Music

The music app looks a lot like the Xbox interface.
The music app looks a lot like the Xbox interface.
Music can be downloaded from Cloud when you log-in on the tablet with a Microsoft account.
Music can be downloaded from Cloud when you log-in on the tablet with a Microsoft account.
More details about every album can be attained with a click.
More details about every album can be attained with a click.
The player has been revised and can be used well with a finger.
The player has been revised and can be used well with a finger.
However, there is a lot of unused room.
However, there is a lot of unused room.
The screen can be split in two if the player is to be used at the side.
The screen can be split in two if the player is to be used at the side.

App: Video

The app for movies and videos also has a strong resemblance to the Xbox.
The app for movies and videos also has a strong resemblance to the Xbox.
Here, you can buy or rent the latest movies.
Here, you can buy or rent the latest movies.
Or you can buy the game based on the movie for the Xbox.
Or you can buy the game based on the movie for the Xbox.

Internet Explorer 10

Internet Explorer 10 is now preinstalled as two alternatives: The classic user interface available via the desktop and as an app in Metro-style. The latter can be controlled well with a finger, but numerous functions, such as favorites or print page, are missing in the consumer version.

Internet Explorer 10 is available in two versions: As an app or via the desktop, as usual.
Internet Explorer 10 is available in two versions: As an app or via the desktop, as usual.
The desktop version still resembles the older version quite a lot,…
The desktop version still resembles the older version quite a lot,…
…in return, there's nothing from the browser to be seen on the app. The website exploits the entire room.
…in return, there's nothing from the browser to be seen on the app. The website exploits the entire room.
When you place your finger in the center and drag the opened page out of the picture to the right, you will come to the previously opened page.
When you place your finger in the center and drag the opened page out of the picture to the right, you will come to the previously opened page.
The opened windows and the address bar appear when the finger swipes from the upper or lower screen corner to the center.
The opened windows and the address bar appear when the finger swipes from the upper or lower screen corner to the center.
Previously opened sites are suggested while typing the address.
Previously opened sites are suggested while typing the address.
Of course you can also download files with the app version.
Of course you can also download files with the app version.
But you have to switch to the desktop to install them.
But you have to switch to the desktop to install them.
 

Profile Mode

Most current tablets have a sensor that detects when the tablet is being held in profile mode. Windows 8 can also be operated in this view. However, a few compromises have to be made in functions.

Windows 8 can also be used in profile mode.
Windows 8 can also be used in profile mode.
Microsoft also installs a proprietary PDF Reader as an app.
Microsoft also installs a proprietary PDF Reader as an app.
This view is also better suited for PDFs.
This view is also better suited for PDFs.
Websites are displayed well in this format.
Websites are displayed well in this format.
The video app can't deal with this view.
The video app can't deal with this view.
A lot of room isn't used in the playback view.
A lot of room isn't used in the playback view.
The room is used a bit better in the album view.
The room is used a bit better in the album view.
The content also only uses the upper half when playing music.
The content also only uses the upper half when playing music.
You see more black than content in Cut the Rope.
You see more black than content in Cut the Rope.
The apps support this more or less well.
The apps support this more or less well.
It's not particularly comfortable to use with the finger.
It's not particularly comfortable to use with the finger.
 

Verdict

Windows 8 is definitely a big step forward for tablets. While Windows 7 almost didn't harmonize at all with tablets, Windows 8 is sooner designed for use on a tablet than on a conventional PC. On a system with an Ultrabook CPU from Intel, in our case Samsung's XE700T1A, everything runs very smoothly. We'll have to wait and see how this looks with Windows 8 on ARM.

However, the competition with Apple and Android is also enormous. Microsoft still only has a small range in its store. iOS and Android have a lot more apps to offer here. And exactly this is the key to success because the operating system is only as good as the apps that are available for it. Microsoft will still likely invest more heavily to make developers keen on the new operating system. Thus, the chance for Windows 8's success on tablets looks very promising. The inhibition threshold of first relearning on a pure tablet OS could vanish especially among Windows users since Windows will merge desktop use and touch operation with each other in future.

Read all 6 comments / answer
static version load dynamic
Loading comments

Comment this article:

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Windows 8 Consumer Preview as Tablet OS in Review
Author: Jonas Adams, 2012-03-28 (Update: 2012-05-26)