As Microsoft has made abundantly clear, apps are going to be a big part of the Windows 8 experience. If you have Windows 8 running on an older computer, that might not be true as much for you. But, if you have a shiny new Windows 8 Intel-inspired Ultrabook convertible – the device for which Windows 8 truly shines on – you’d do well to check out what Microsoft is offering. There is a whole spate of apps that will make your convertible even better when you’re on the go and in tablet mode. And, believe it or not, some of them will even be handy when you’re using your convertible as a PC.
We can lump all the stock Windows 8 apps that come with any Windows 8 device together, because they all essentially offer the same thing – quick, simplified, at-a-glance looks at your world. None of the apps listed above are feature-rich, but if you’re pressed for time and need to take a quick peek at any new e-mails or social network messages or notifications you might have received, or any headlines that might have popped up, these apps are terrific in a pinch. They’ll never be replacements for dedicated apps or the browser experience, if you’re using your convertible in desktop mode, but they’ll carve out a niche if you let them. If nothing else, they’re worth it for their Live Tiles, which present you with the latest updates when you take a look at your home screen. Some Live Tiles are a little slower to sync than others (notably Mail), but if you have an Ultrabook that updates those apps while the computer is in sleep mode (a feature most Windows 8 Ultrabooks have), you won’t have to worry about that lag time in syncing too much.
Yeah, you’re probably already up to your ears in cloud storage services. But, if you have a new Windows 8 ultrabook, you might as well use what you’re given. It helps that SkyDrive is a pretty good service in its own right, too – it’s simple, quick, and, most importantly, inexpensive. You can create shared folders, folders for yourself, and simultaneous collaboration is also possible. Files can be shared by sending web links, which don’t require the other person to have a SkyDrive account. SkyDrive apps are available for most of the mobile operating systems out there now, so you really can access all of your files from any device, Windows or otherwise. There’s also a dedicated folder for pictures. SkyDrive also provides the most free storage of any service right now – 7 GB. Paying for storage is also cheaper with SkyDrive – $10/year for 20 GB, $25/year for 50 GB, and $50/year for 100 GB, all of which are cheaper than Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud.
For those who have an Xbox 360, Xbox SmartGlass is the very definition of a must-have app. It’s not the most amazing thing ever, but if you use your Xbox 360 on a regular basis, there’s no reason not to have it. With SmartGlass, you can connect your new convertible Ultrabook to your Xbox 360, and use it as a remote control for the Xbox 360, with full access to all Xbox Live features. That by itself isn’t expecially exciting, but what makes this a must have is what third parties decide to use SmartGlass for. If you run SmartGlass in tandem with certain games, movies, or television shows, extra functions like social network connectivity are opened up, adding a little extra to the experience. The app is most intriguing for video games – a popular example thrown out is the Madden franchise, which will allow players to use SmartGlass as a touchscreen playbook, turning tablets into auxiliary controllers.
eBay is another Windows 8 app that you won’t get much use out of if you’re just using your Windows 8 in desktop mode. Once you switch to tablet computing, though, the Windows 8 eBay app provides you with a very clean interface that allows you to navigate through the basics – looking at your auctions, saved searches, and messages, as well as daily deals, which can be pinned to the Start screen, so you can view those deals on a separate Live Tile. Responding to messages and leaving feedback isn’t part of the app just yet, but look for those features to come with future updates.
Netflix follows the Windows 8 theme well – simplicity. Once you sign in with your account, you’ll have access to your Instant Queue, along with movies categorized by genre or by release date. You won’t be able to view any movies that are unavailable on Instant, so you won’t be able to tinker with your queue for physical discs, if you still use that service. If you’re just out to watch something on Instant, though, using the search feature is quick and efficient, and the video player on the app does its job. It’s a snappy enough process to where even those using their ultrabook convertible as a PC will probably want to get some mileage out of it.
If you have an Evernote account (which is necessary to use the app), the Windows 8 Evernote app is the perfect place to store your thoughts and ideas on the go. The Evernote app is a little more feature-rich than the average Windows 8 app, allowing you full access to your notebooks – viewing, editing, sharing and organizing. If you do tend to use Evernote even on your PC, this is a faster way to get things done than dealing with the web app. If you’re on the go in tablet mode, it’s a no-brainer – it’s a well developed app that’s ready to go whenever inspiration strikes.
This one comes with a caveat – if you’re in desktop mode, there’s virtually no reason to use the Windows 8 Skype app over the desktop version, which you can still download from the Skype website. The desktop application is much more convenient, especially if you need to switch accounts on the fly (with the Windows 8 app, you’ll need to tie your Skype account to your Windows account). That, and apps running in the background just isn’t as great on a PC as it is with a tablet. Having said all that, once you flip, fold, or twist your way into tablet mode, the Skype app offers exactly what you need – your contacts, favorites, your recent conversations, and the ability to make and receive calls. Once you’re in tablet mode, Skype running in the background becomes a boon, and the app becomes a true must-have.
Kindle is a useful Windows 8 app to have, no matter how you choose to use your ultrabook convertible. Progress on books on your Kindle will be synced to the app, and just about everything you can do on a Kindle you can do on the Windows 8 app – read, search the dictionary, take notes, make bookmarks, and highlight. The Windows 8 app does have one more cool feature in store – you can pin individual books to your Start screen as independent tiles, to get right back to reading while cutting out a few clicks in the process. Unfortunately, browsing the Kindle Store isn’t yet possible from within the app itself, but hopefully that’ll come with a future update.
If you’re looking for a good Google Reader app out of the gate, look for MyReader. You can access all of your subscribed feeds on the app, and you have the option to mark or unmark all as read. You can also add and remove feeds from folders, and you can subscribe and unsubscribe to feeds from within the app, although to subscribe, you’ll need to have the exact URL for the RSS feed, which makes things a little inconvenient. For now, you can’t browse for feeds from within the app. Other than that, it’s a nice app to have, thanks to Live Tile support and quick syncing.
These two are worth a mention because using them is ever so slightly faster than doing a Google search, if you’re starting the process on the Start screen. Both apps are, again, very simple in presentation, allowing you to access desired information quickly and painlessly. It would be nice to see Live Tile support for Currency, showing selected exchange rates, and it’s entirely possible that we will see that in the future. Conversion is one of life’s little necessities, especially in a more globalized economy where the prices of the things you want aren’t always presented in dollars anymore. These two apps, then, are indispensable.
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