I went through this mental exercise when I was a webOS fan back in the day: what apps must webOS have available to make it a viable near-term platform for me? I thought I’d do the same today for Windows RT/8 tablets. And so, here are the X apps that Windows RT/8 tablets must have before I could even consider making the switch from my Nexus 10 (or future Android tablet).
Note that I’m specifically considering only “modern” UI, or Win 8 touch-based apps, not anything that runs in desktop mode on either Windows RT (which would only be Office 2013 and the various built-in Windows legacy apps) or Windows 8/8.1. I’m doing so because desktop mode is great when you’re using a mouse and keyboard, but it’s not so great when you’re only using touch——which is precisely how a tablet has to be evaluated.
So, when I say “Win 8” app, I’m only talking here about apps from the Windows 8 store. Even as I write this, I should also concede: much of the following will run as legacy apps, or via Chrome on the desktop, as long as you’re willing to struggle with using desktop mode with your finger. I should also add that I’m testing these apps in 64-bit Windows 8.1, not RT, and so if you know of any differences between the platforms that I’m missing here, let me know in the comments.
- Google Services (Gmail, Google Calendar, Maps, Search, Now, Google+, Hangouts)
Obviously, Android wins out when it comes to Google’s basic services, and in a big way. So far, the only official Win 8 app from Google seems to be Google Search, and it’s relatively limited. Gmail is supported in the Windows 8 Mail app, but Google Calendar is not supported in the Windows 8 Calendar app. Maps is nowhere to be found, meaning that you’re limited to Bing Maps or third-party Google Maps apps, and there’s no Google+ app. Not only is there no Google Now functionality, but the Google Search app doesn’t seem to send updates to Google Now, e.g., offering directions to recently searched locations. Finally, I can’t find any way to access Google Hangouts from the Win 8 UI.
The short answer is: if you want to use the official Google apps, across the board, then you’ll want to stick with Android.
- Google Music: There’s no official Google Music app for Win 8, but I’ve been using the gMusicW app. It’s fine for accessing your Google Music library, but it doesn’t yet support Google’s All Access subscription service. According to the developers, though, that’s coming soon.
- HBO Go: There’s no HBO Go app for Win 8. However, HBO Go runs just fine in Internet Explorer 11, and so that’s a workable solution.
- Netflix: The Netflix Win 8 app was just updated to include profiles, and works perfectly.
- Hulu Plus: There’s a Hulu Plus app for Win 8, and it seems to work well enough.
- DirecTV: There’s no DirecTV app for Win 8, and 64-bit Internet Explorer 11 isn’t compatible with DirecTV’s online video. And so, I can only say that I can’t watch DirecTV video on my current machine. Google searches seem to indicate that Windows RT doesn’t play DirecTV video either due to an upper limit of Internet Explorer 9, but that’s not something I can test at the moment. Note that both iOS and Android have very robust DirecTV apps that also support controlling DVRs and receivers. So, Win 8 tablets aren’t good choices for DirecTV users who want to use the service on the go.
- NFL Sunday Ticket: Strangely enough, NFL Ticket streaming seems to work just fine in full-screen Internet Explorer 11. And, the experience is quite nice, rivaling the dedicated apps on Android and iOS. NFL fans seem to be fairly well served by Win RT and 8/8.1.
- Facebook: There’s no official Facebook app for Win 8, but given how poor Facebook’s apps have been for iOS and Android, I’m not sure that’s a great loss. There are some decent third-party apps, but using Facebook in Internet Explorer 11 is probably good enough.
- Twitter: Twitter has an official Win 8 app, but it seems pretty basic. MetroTwit is a good alternative, not as powerful as its desktop equivalent but still quite serviceable. I prefer Plume on Android, but I could get by with MetroTwit on a Win 8 tablet in a pinch. I haven’t explored all the Win 8 Twitter options, however, so there might be better apps available.
- LinkedIn: The official LinkedIn Win 8 app seems as functional and easy to use as its iOS and Android counterparts. So, Win 8 has heavy LinkedIn users covered.
- Tapatalk: Tapatalk is a platform that allows forums to support apps rather than relying exclusively on the browser for access. I extensively use the official Tapatalk app on both iOS and Android, and love it. I haven’t yet found a stable Tapatalk alternative on Win 8, so that’s a pretty significant failing.
- Google Tasks: I use the Android app Ultimate To-Do List on my tablets and smartphone. It’s a decent enough app, with tons of functionality but a very utilitarian UI. There are a number of Google Tasks apps for Win 8, but I’ve yet to find one that works reliably and accurately when it comes to syncing. Also, there’s the inherent issue that Win 8 has with notifications—they show up but then disappear, with no notification center to allow for reminders to be dealt with later. At this point, I think I’d find a Win 8 tablet less productive in terms of managing my tasks.
- Office Editing: If there’s a Win 8 app for editing Microsoft Office documents, I haven’t found it. Meanwhile, numerous Office editing apps of excellent quality exist on both iOS and Android. And so, oddly enough, if you need to edit an Office document using a standalone tablet, then your worst choice is Microsoft’s own Windows RT and Windows 8/8.1.
Again I need to stress that I’m talking specifically about using a tablet without a keyboard and mouse, and some folks might be just fine running apps in desktop mode using only touch. For them, using Office 2013 on the desktop might be a perfectly workable solution. At this point, given so many other compromises, I’m just not one of them.
- Big Ten Network: Come college basketball season, this is one of my most important apps. Very few things get in the way of my missing an Indiana University basketball game, and so the complete lack of any Big Ten Network Win 8 app is a disappointment. It’s not a complete loss, however, because Internet Explorer 11 runs the BTN site just fine, including live video. I do prefer a full-featured app, but when it comes to basketball I’m mostly worried about simply watching the games—and so I could live with a Windows tablet during basketball season.
- DropBox: There’s an official DropBox Win 8 app, but it wouldn’t run on my system and so I can’t comment on it’s quality.
- IMDb: Win RT and 8/8.1 are limited to accessing IMDb via Internet Explorer 11, which is a disappointment given the quality dedicated apps on Android and iOS.
- Shazam: The official Win 8 Shazam app works perfectly and looks good.
- Flipboard: My favorite digital magazine app, Flipboard, isn’t available as a Win 8 app, but News360 and a few other equivalents are there. Microsoft’s own News app is a decent alternative as well, and so the lack of an official Win 8 Flipboard app isn’t terribly important.
- Stumbleupon: The official Win8 StumbleUpon app isn’t as attractive or user-friendly as the Android and iOS versions (e.g., there’s no swipe-to-Stumble gesture), but it works. One flaw is that YouTube videos are tiny and placed into the upper left-hand corner of the window. And, the app is relatively slow. But overall, it would work in a pinch.
- ASTRO File Manager: File management in iOS is pretty much non-existent, of course, but a huge advantage of Android. My favorite Android file manager is ASTRO, but of course Win 8 provides the same level of access to files as Windows in general. Interestingly, the SkyDrive app is used to access files in the “modern” UI, demonstrating Microsoft’s push to use their cloud service, and selecting “This PC” navigates local files. The view is also very different from the usual Windows Explorer view (which of course is available in desktop mode), but usable. Managing files should theoretically be at least as easy as in Android, and perhaps easier.
- Evernote: The official Win 8 Evernote app is functional, but not nearly as feature-rich or efficient as the iOS and Android apps. Again, this is one that works, but it’s nothing to write home about.
- Feedly: There’s no official Feedly app for Win 8, which for me is a major omission. I now rely on Feedly for reading RSS feeds since Google shut down their Google Reader service. The third-party app Modern Reader seems decent enough, but I still prefer Feedly and would miss it.
I mentioned that using Internet Explorer 11 for some functionality is acceptable, but there are some limitations to keep in mind. Perhaps the most important is the lack of notifications, live Tiles, and integration into the system (e.g., add Facebook contacts to the contacts database). Also, there may be multitasking gotchas that I didn’t run into in my testing (Win 8 apps don’t act exactly like desktop/legacy apps), so your mileage might vary.
The bottom line for me is that, for pure tablets, Windows RT/8.1 is still lacking. I’d need to make too many compromises to give up my Android tablet (or even the iPad) and use a Windows tablet exclusively. If someone put a gun to my head, I could make do with Windows 8.1—as I’ve said, desktop mode is uncomfortable to use with touch, but not impossible—but some things I need to do seem impossible on RT at this point.
Let me know in the comments which iOS or Android apps you can’t live without, and whether or not you could live with a Windows RT/8.1 tablet.