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Windows 8 review

Our definitive look at the latest version of Windows

Our Verdict

For

  • On the right hardware, it's sleek, fast and fun
  • Huge security improvements
  • Better battery life, faster boot
  • Great for touch

Against

  • Start menu gone
  • Can't boot to the desktop
  • You'll want a touchscreen/trackpad gestures/Touch Mouse
  • Modern UI will annoy some
  • Some older CPUs won't run it

Media On the desktop

Games and media on the Windows 8 desktop are very much the poor relations. Windows Media Player has a slightly higher build number but no obvious changes beyond no longer playing DVDs. The Play To features in Media Player and on the Windows Explorer ribbon when you're in music folders that let you play music on third-party devices like a Sonos or on other PCs in your homegroup didn't show up on any of our test PCs, although we have seen it working on other Windows 8 systems. DLNA features like Play To weren't always reliable in Windows 7, but they worked on all our test systems before the Windows 8 upgrade and they didn't work any more afterwards.

Windows Media Player is almost exactly the same as in Windows 7
Windows Media Player is almost exactly the same as in Windows 7

Media Center is now something you have to install separately using the Add Features option (which replaces Windows Anytime Upgrade).

The Play To feature is still in Media Player but it currently works with fewer devices than in Windows 7
The Play To feature is still in Media Player but it currently works with fewer devices than in Windows 7

The small charge Microsoft will be making for Media Centre after the upgrade pricing feels like a direct response to the small but vocal group of users who contacted the Windows team offering to pay extra for the app; it's nice to see they get a new content source as well.

The familiar Windows games are gone completely; Windows Games no longer shows up in the list of Windows features at all. Get the versions of Minesweeper, Solitaire and FreeCell from the Windows Store and start building up your Xbox Live achievements instead. Third-party games run better than on Windows 7 thanks to the much improved multimedia handling. Even with the graphics card drivers available today, frame rate in games is as good or better than in Windows 7.

Modern media

Zune is dead at last; the 'modern' music and video apps you get with Windows 8 are xbox music and xbox video (yes, no capital X). When you first open these they feel like little more than storefronts; your own music and videos are tucked away on the left of the screen, out of sight, with no indication that you need to swipe or scroll in that direction. You can change that under Settings, at which point you get a rather monochromatic view of your media as thumbnails of individual videos or albums.

Stop your video and music being hidden away on the left by setting the Startup view
Stop your video and music being hidden away on the left by setting the Startup view

The only files that show up here are the ones in your Music and Video libraries, although you can open and play any media file on your system. The Music app quickly added all the files in our large test music library; for some reason the Video app got stuck after indexing a single folder inside the library for quite some time.

Buy or rent movies and TV shows in the Video app
Buy or rent movies and TV shows in the Video app

Music carries on playing in the background as you use other apps. The name of the current track shows up on the Music app tile on the Start screen – but not the album art (unlike Windows Phone). You can see that if you press your PCs volume keys, which also shows a handy playback control like the one on Windows Phone. Video stops as soon as you switch away from the app (so you can't listen to just the soundtrack unless you snap the video app to the side), but oddly you do see a thumbnail for the last video on the Start screen tile.

The in-app player controls in both Music and Videos are minimal and very much designed for touch; tap on screen for standard play, pause and a very finger-friendly bar for scrubbing through playback. Open the app bar and you get buttons to set repeat (and shuffle for music) or choose Play To or open a different video or song, as well as the playback controls.

Simple playback controls in the 'modern' Videos app
Simple playback controls in the 'modern' Videos app

Play To ought to find any DLNA-compatible devices on your network; a TV you can send videos to, a Sonos music streamer or Pure internet radio for music. Those all worked with the Play To feature in Windows Media Player in Windows 7, but the Music app told us we had no devices to send music or videos to. Hopefully this is a question of Microsoft certifying devices slowly and it will be fixed long before October.

The rather grey look of your content in the Videos app
The rather grey look of your content in the Videos app

As it stands though, this is a frustrating and confusing experience. Media purchase and playback is something Microsoft has to nail to stand a chance of competing with iPad and what we're seeing today simply isn't good enough. The Music and Video apps don't have enough features; there are no automatic playlists and no 'find me something else like this' tools.

Add your Xbox as a device in PC Settings so you can stream video and music to it; the app is Xbox SmartGlass
Add your Xbox as a device in PC Settings so you can stream video and music to it; the app is Xbox SmartGlass

The xbox media content has biographies and discographies for artists, and great reviews for videos you can buy but you don't see any of that for your own content It feels like the desktop media tools have been abandoned but the 'modern' style media tools aren't mature enough to replace them.

Snap the Video app to the side for a mini player
Snap the Video app to the side for a mini player

Search the Music apps from the Search charm
Search the Music apps from the Search charm

Modern games

We like the 'modern' replacements for the most popular Windows games in the Windows Store: Minesweeper and the Microsoft Solitaire Collection (which includes Klondike, FreeCell and Spider as well as two new versions, Pyramid and TriPeaks), plus Microsoft Mahjong.

See your achievements from all the Xbox Live platforms
See your achievements from all the Xbox Live platforms

The xbox Games app (again without the capital letter) looks reminiscent of the new Xbox interface but with fewer intrusive ads. As with the Music and Video apps, you have to swipe over to the left find your avatar and those of your Xbox Live friends and here there's no clue to suggest you do that. You can see your achievements from Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox games, and share them straight to social networks for bragging rights or see what games your Xbox friends play compared to you.

Are you beating your friends at Wordament or falling behind on Halo?
Are you beating your friends at Wordament or falling behind on Halo?

The most exciting Xbox integration might be Xbox SmartGlass. Like the previous Xbox Controller app this lets you control your Xbox from your PC or tablet. It's responsive enough to control a simple game or a video and it's a great way of getting to games you've been playing recently without going through the whole Xbox interface, or of searching in things like the Xbox YouTube app. You see what you can do on your screen and you touch or click things on the PC screen to open apps, although for controlling many apps you get a combination touchscreen plus labels for the key buttons on screen rather than seeing a replica of the Xbox controller the way you do on the similar Windows Phone app.

One problem is that if you do anything that causes you to be signed out of Xbox Live – like accepting an update to the YouTube app – then SmartGlass loses its connection to your Xbox, so you have to keep a physical controller handy.

At the moment it only seems to be possible to send video from your PC to an Xbox if you bought it from the Xbox video marketplace; we're hoping that changes. What you should be able to do is browse through your content on a PC or tablet where it's easy to search and then sit back and watch it on the big screen, where it looks good.

Tech Specs

Product TypeOperating System
Brand NameMicrosoft
Software Sub TypeClient
Distribution Media/MethodDVD-ROM
Licence TypeComplete Product
Platform SupportedPC
Features

Windows 7, only better:

  • Windows 8 is built on the rock-solid foundation of Windows 7, but it's been improved on all fronts.
  • You can install Windows 8 on the same hardware that powers Windows Vista and Windows 7, and you'll love how it works on new devices, too.
  • Windows 8 was designed with Windows 7 apps in mind, because you probably have older apps you need to use.
  • In addition to the new look of the Start Screen, Windows 8 incorporates the desktop that you're familiar with.
  • Think of the desktop as one of the many apps you can run in Windows 8.
  • In the desktop, you'll see all the settings, devices and features you used in Windows 7-and you can run the desktop apps you ran in Windows 7, too.

Cloud-connected with your Microsoft account:

  • Sign in to your Windows 8 device with your Microsoft account and you're immediately connected to the people, files and settings you care about.
  • Your PC comes to life with all the things that make Windows yours, including your Start page, themes, language preferences, browsing history and browser favourites.
  • You can connect your favourite services to your Microsoft account, too, like Hotmail, Messenger, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.
  • And you can immediately get to your photos, docs and other files, whether they're on SkyDrive, Facebook, Flickr or other services.

It's all about the apps:

  • In the Windows Store, you can search for or browse great apps, all grouped in easy-to-find categories.
  • We highlight great apps for you and provide quick access to frequently downloaded apps.
  • You can also see how other people have rated apps.
  • You'll always know what's interesting, new and popular.
  • You won't have to worry about buying something you don't want because you can try before you buy, if the app supports it.
  • If you try an app and like it, you can buy it and continue using the full app with no interruption.
  • You won't waste time or lose your place.
Language SupportedEnglish
Licence Quantity1 User
ManufacturerMicrosoft Corporation
Product NameWindows 8 Pro 64-bit
Software NameWindows 8 Pro 64-bit
Licence PricingOEM
Manufacturer Part NumberFQC-05955
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.microsoft.co.uk
Marketing Information

Windows has been reimagined to focus on your life. The beautiful, fast, and fluid design is perfect for a range of hardware: from compact, touch-enabled tablets and lightweight laptops, to PCs and large, powerful all-in-ones with high-definition screens.