Saturday, 21 December 2013

Windows 8.1 Review

Windows 8.1, the latest version of Windows following the controversial and confusing Windows 8, started rolling out to customers worldwide earlier this year. The update is being called by many 'what the original Windows 8 should have been' because it includes lots of tweaks and improvements rather than new features.

The iconic Windows 'Start' button has returned in Windows 8.1!  The button is the new Windows logo and is located at the bottom right of the screen in Desktop mode (like where it has always been).

The 'Start' screen has remained the same though with only some small changes. You can now swipe down to see all of your apps and programs, plus you now have more choice with the background. 

New features don't go completely absent though, Bing is now built into 'Search' and the search results are extremely impressive as they scan the web and everything on your PC. The results are then displayed in a beautiful page of links, embedded images and inline information. However, since this is triggered by anything you type into the search charm this means that you can no longer search through an app using the search charm; instead, a separate search box is now in Windows 8.1 apps. I often find this annoying and confusing, for example when searching for a TV Show in the Netflix app I will open the search charm instead of using the app search box. It will just take a while to get used to.

New Apps

There a verity of new Bing apps including Bing 'Food and Drink' and Bing 'Health and Fitness', and a handful of new Microsoft apps which really should have been in the original Windows 8.

Bing 'Food and Drink' has recipes built in from a verity of sources (including 'Great British Chefs') which you can follow step by step whilst you cook and operate the app by simply making gestures with your hand in front of the screen. This means when your fingertips are covered in egg yolk, flower and other ingredients you are not wiping it on your computer screen.
The app also helps you create meal plans, write shopping lists and it even offers tips for techniques you will use when cooking.
When using the app I've found the 'hands-free' mode is temperamental and often doesn't work properly however apart from that, the app is pretty good: they have thousands of recipes which all have easy to follow thanks to step-by-step instructions.  

Bing 'Health and Fitness' allows users to track how many calories they have ate and then sync the information to 'Health Vault', track how much exercise they are doing (so the app can then recommend workouts for you) and it even has a symptom checker because everybody loves the outcomes of being diagnosed by the internet.
The app has many useful features, admittedly some are hidden under various menus, however if you are calorie conscious or enjoy to tone your body I would definitely recommend you use this app.

The new calculator app has a scientific calculator built in and even a converter which puts on par, if not better than most other native calender apps on other platforms however it puzzles me why Microsoft has also left the calculator program in desktop mode. It is outdated and doesn't have as many features as the 'metro' calculator so it seems a bit pointless it being there.

The alarms app is also new, it has a funky design which makes it easy to set alarms, start a timer or use the stopwatch. I feel like there is a lot of wasted space in the apps though as the functions only take up one half of the screen.

'Movie Moments' is an interesting new app built by Microsoft which in the future will probably be a 'Metro' replacement to Windows Movie Maker (last seen in Windows 7) however at the moment it is nowhere near that standard. It allows you to shorten video clips, add a soundtrack and add funky titles however that is as far as functionality goes for the time being. We will probably see some major updates to this app in the near future.

Microsoft has also added apps named 'Sound Recorder' and 'Scan' which basically do exactly what they say on the tin.

Updated Apps
Almost 100% of the apps build by Microsoft have had a redesign for Windows 8.1, they're now cleaner, faster and have more features. Some apps such as the 'App Marketplace' have a completely new look and feel however other apps such as the 'People' app have only had a minor design change.

Desktop Mode
After many Windows 8 RT users complained about the absence of Microsoft Outlook 2013 in Windows 8 RT Microsoft has responded and added it in Windows 8.1. The program is simple to use and is extremely similar to previous versions and is available to use in Desktop mode.

Most of the settings from the 'Control Panel' have now migrated to the PC Settings menu found under the charms bar however there are still some options and features that you still need to access through 'Control Panel' in Desktop Mode.

I've been using Windows 8.1 since it's launch in October now and I love it, the only drawback is that not all apps have been updated to Windows 8.1 which means stuff like Twitter and Sky News won't snap together with a 50/50 view. This, however, can not be blamed on Microsoft - it is the developers fault. So overall, Windows 8.1 is a well built, stable, reliable operating system with a developing app store so I can't wait what Microsoft is going to do next with it.