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Windows 8.1 review

Major update to Windows 8 goes a long way to solve some of its original shortcomings

Our Verdict

Windows 8.1 is definitely an evolution and - despite the fixes that make big-screen mouse and keyboard users happier - an evolution towards the touch and tablet future. What Windows 8.1 really needs now are the new PCs to make it shine.

For

  • Start button is back
  • Performance improved
  • Better SkyDrive integration
  • More ways to personalise your PC

Against

  • May take a while to get used to
  • Touch apps for Office yet to come
  • Not all sites support IE 11 yet
  • Hard to see progress of background updates for Windows Store apps and SkyDrive

We've updated our review with details about Windows 8.1 Update 1, and some hands on impressions with the refreshed operating system. Jump straight to Page 8 to check out the updates.

Windows 8.1 has now been out for a few months and is a freely downloadable update. Microsoft has already released what is the equivalent of a first Service Pack for it, Windows 8.1 Update 1.

The latter should already have landed automatically on Windows 8 systems via Windows Update; you need to have Windows 8.1 already installed beforehand.

So did Windows 8.1 fix what was wrong with Windows 8? And does it really required yet another update in the form of Windows 8.1 Update 1.

From Facebook to the full-featured Mail app and modern Outlook, a "peek" bar in the modern version of Internet Explorer 11 and the new Windows Scan app, you get all of the Windows 8.1 extras that were teased in early 2013.

We are still waiting for the proper touch versions of the Office apps but that's the way things work in Microsoft's new 'continuous development' world. And of course, you get the interface changes and SkyDrive integration we saw in the Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button is back and you can use the same image for your Start screen as your desktop background.

Ratings in depth

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

SkyDrive is built in to sync files - on both Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT - as well as settings and the layout for your Start screen and desktop taskbar.

But Microsoft's second bite at the convergence of PCs and tablets doesn't back away from what we still want to call Metro; in fact, there are more built-in modern apps than in Windows 8, more settings you can change without jumping to the desktop and more options for how you position modern apps on screen.

The question is how well these two platforms sit together, and how much of an improvement - if any - Microsoft has been able to deliver in a year.

Installing Windows 8.1

If you already have Windows 8, upgrading to Windows 8.1 is very simple. It will be the first app you see every time you open the Windows Store and the installation happens very quickly.

You don't have to reinstall your desktop applications or your Windows Store apps, and all your files are still there (as are libraries and the icons pinned to your taskbar).

Windows 8.1
Update Windows 8.1 Preview to RTM and you get your Start screen layout but you have to click the tiles to install apps

If you sign in with a Microsoft account you haven't used before, you might have to use a code that Microsoft emails or texts to you (if you've set that up in the past) to confirm it's you; that works like trusting a PC in Windows 8 but you don't have to do it as a separate step.

If you have Windows 7 (or earlier versions), you have to install Windows 8 (the same process as when Windows 8 first came out) and then upgrade to Windows 8.1.

If you've been trying the Windows 8.1 Preview, you can't upgrade directly to the RTM version (which Microsoft warned people about all along).

If you can't revert to Windows 8, you still do the update from the Windows Store and your files will stay on the system, but you'll have to reinstall your desktop programs.

If you've already upgraded another PC using the same Microsoft account, you'll see tiles for the Windows Store apps you have installed on that other PC (marked with a little download icon); tap on them to install the apps.

Tech Specs

Product TypeSoftware Licensing
Brand NameMicrosoft
Language SupportedInternational English
Licence PricingStandard
Licence TypeProduct Upgrade Licence
Platform SupportedPC
Licence Quantity1 PC
ManufacturerMicrosoft Corporation
Product NameWindows 8.1 Pro Pack 32/64-bit
Manufacturer Part Number5VR-00140
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.microsoft.co.uk