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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

There's no denying that Windows 8 works best if you have a touch screen. Swiping across the Start screen, swiping in charms, pinching for semantic zoom, playing games; if you treat Windows 8 as a tablet OS, you get the fast and fluid experience Microsoft has been promising all along (even on older touchscreen tablet PCs, although they're not as smooth and often have bezels that get in the way).

This is something that has improved since we first tried Windows 8. Swiping the charm bar and app switcher in from the left edge of a touch screen with your finger is smoother and less fiddly than in the preview releases. Dragging apps to the bottom of the screen to close them is smooth and responsive but it's no longer easy to close an app by accident. Unlike the preview versions where you could accidentally close the picture password setup half way through by dragging down too far with a gesture, touch in the final version is smooth and fluid even on older touchscreens.

But Windows 8 isn't just the Start screen and 'modern' apps. Touch on the desktop is still a hybrid way to work. You can use gestures at the sides of the screen for task switching and working with charms, and you can swipe to switch to Metro apps.

You can even swipe down from the top of the screen and drag the thumbnail off screen to close the desktop like any other Metro app. You can also touch anything you'd click with a mouse.

This works extremely well with ribbon controls (and makes it initially annoying that Microsoft has bowed to complaints from people who've never used a ribbon interface with touch and made it minimised by default in tools like Windows Explorer).

Smaller controls work surprisingly well too, because Microsoft has used machine learning to predict where you're really trying to tap for the desktop and built-in apps. We found this made it easy to accurately selecting tiny drop-downs and menu items in Office 2010 and Office 2013, in Explorer and Paint and in third party applications (on a Samsung Slate 7, which has a good touchscreen to start with – slightly less so on an older HP 2730p).

It can get fiddly; multi-selecting files in Windows Explorer didn't always give us all the files we wanted, but Windows 8 does an excellent job of making an interface that was never designed for touch work with your fingers.

Scrawl with your finger on a tablet screen; Windows 8 reads it impressively well
Scrawl with your finger on a tablet screen; Windows 8 reads it impressively well

The four different onscreen keyboards (including handwriting recognition, which works well if slowly when you write with your finger rather than a pen) give you a reasonable way to enter text. If you're sitting down, the small keyboard layout lets you type quite fast and reasonably accurately, especially with a decent multitouch screen so you don't have to tap a key at a time. If you switch to the full layout to get function keys and the row of numbers always on screen, the keys are a little smaller and consequently less accurate.

If you're holding a tablet in both hands, the split keyboard is surprisingly useful, although the keys look too small to hit accurately, typing with both thumbs was faster and more accurate than we expected. The large numeric keypad in the centre is handy as well; although we could tap out sums on the Windows Calculator without making any mistakes, tapping the larger number keys on the keyboard just felt more comfortable.

The split keyboard looks tiny but works surprisingly well for thumb typing
The split keyboard looks tiny but works surprisingly well for thumb typing

One very handy feature; when you type in a password there's a 'peek' button you can press to check if you're typed it right.

If you're used to the excellent Windows Phone touch keyboard, Windows 8 doesn't match it. Leaving aside the problems that to be big enough to type on, the keyboard covers a lot of the screen and that in the desktop you have to open the keyboard yourself for most applications ('modern' applications and most of the Office 2013 applications open the keyboard when you tap anywhere you can type), the auto correction and suggestions just aren't as good.

You have to type a lot more of a word before you get a suggestion (usually right but by that time you're almost done) rather than seeing a list of multiple suggestions as you type. And when you tap a word to fix a typing error, you don't always see a suggestion at all.

That might be down to the fact that the press and hold right-click finger gesture, which significantly improved from preview releases, isn't 100% reliable on any touchscreen we tested; we suspect this is a driver issue as the improvement on Samsung Series 7 tablets is particularly marked. However it also seems that some applications get corrections when you tap and others don't.

The finger sliders that appear for selecting text and moving the cursor aren't quite as fluid as on Windows Phone either; they word best on web pages when you can zoom in to make them large enough to position accurately.

The touch keyboards in Windows 8 are better than anything we've seen in Windows before. They're fine for searching or tapping out a quick email, but as with Android tablets and the iPad, there's no substitute for a physical keyboard.

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.