Windows 8 - An In-Depth Expert Review (Part 1)

6/4/2013 11:51:23 AM

We’ve written thousands of words about Windows 8, starting with the first hands-on in September of 2011, followed by deep dives on the Developer Preview, Consumer Preview, Release Preview and RTM build. Even our readers have had ample time to get acquainted with the OS – it’s been available as a public download since February. We’ve never checked the final version of the software running on the new hardware built for Windows 8. With the OS is now on sale (alongside dozens of new PCs), it’s finally time for us to double back and revisit everything we’ve previously written in the form of a final, comprehensive review.

Windows 8’s display

Windows 8’s display

And this is a challenging task: it’s hard to give an OS the full review treatment without burying the reader in minute details. It’s even more difficult when the software is designed for so many kinds of hardware. Combining a traditional desktop with Windows Phone-inspired Live Tiles, Windows 8 was designed to be equally at home on traditional PCs and more finger-friendly devices, like tablet and hybrids. In addition to leading you through the operating system’s various gestures and built-in apps, then, we’ll spend more time talking about which form factors are best suited to this redesigned version of Windows. Read on to see what we found.

Getting started

It’s all about the cloud

Windows 8 cloud integration

Windows 8 cloud integration

We still remember when we first started using Windows 7; the start-up sequence wasn’t that different from Vista, which in turn wasn’t unlike versions of Windows that came before that. The chain of start-up screens could be long, sometimes taking more than one minute to complete. Depending on how slow the system was, it could have taken longer for the desktop to fully load. Here, booting Windows feels like starting on An Android tablet, or other mobile device. The entire process takes not 1 minute, but only 20 seconds in some cases – a short sequence marked by a brief splash screen and redesigned Windows logo. If this is the first time you start a Windows 8 machine, you’ll see a 30-second video tutorial explaining some of the controls that otherwise might not be so obvious – for example, what called Charms Bar which you pull out from the right side of the screen. (We’ll circle back and explain all those new user interface elements in just a moment.)

Since then, setting up is a quick and painless affair. When you first start up Windows 8, you’ll be prompted to log in to your Microsoft account. Yep, the same one you might already be using for Hotmail, SkyDrive and Xbox Live. This means that every time you log in to a Windows 8 PC, settings and customizations will follow you to your new device. Besides, as the Microsoft account is linked to your SkyDrive storage, you’ll be logged into SkyDrive on any Windows 8 device where you’ve logged in using your Microsoft ID. So, because Office 2013 backs up to SkyDrive by default, it means any document you edit on your Windows 8 device will upload to the cloud automatically.

Logging in Microsoft account

Logging in Microsoft account

If you didn’t have a Microsoft account, you can create one while you’re setting up your PC. You can link your account at any time, and you can also have the option of disconnecting it (in Microsoft’s words, “switching to a local account”). Naturally, you can add multiple user accounts, as you could on previous versions of Windows.

If you like, you can also choose which settings do and do not get synced across your various Windows 8 devices. For example, go into the settings menu, you can use on-off switches to sync your settings for desktop personalization, accessibility, language, app and browser settings. You also have the option of syncing your lock screen, account picture and other Windows settings, like those relating to File Explorer or the mouse. Note: to have your passwords follow you from PC to PC, you’ll need to “trust” the computer through an online verification process.

Security options

Obviously, if you log into Windows 8 for the first time by using your existing Microsoft account, you’ve already got a built-in password for your PC. But beside the standard password, you can use a four-digit numerical pin to unlock the device. Moreover, with Windows 8, Microsoft is also providing a new “Picture Password” option allows you to select any photo and make a series of gestures on it. You can make as many gestures as you want, but they do have to be taps, circles or swipes. However, apart from the order, you’ll have to remember where on the picture you’re supposed to make each gesture.

Windows 8 Picture Password

Windows 8 Picture Password

We had mixed success here. On the one hand, when we set our password to be one tap in each corner of the picture, we were able to replicate this pattern, even if we didn’t hit the exact same pixels each time. However, when our password was a diagonal slash across each corner, we struck out trying to draw the lines in the same spot we did initially. Fortunately, as you’re configuring your picture password, you’ll be asked to repeat the pattern, so if you can’t do it then, it might be a sign that you need to come up with something else.

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