Apps and, um, applications
Most of the time, I've been switching between the Metro version of Internet Explorer and other applications. IE works pretty well. The VivoTab RT's page load times feel snappy, and sites seem to render faster than on Android tablets with similar Tegra 3 guts. Like Safari for iOS, IE zooms in on text columns intelligently, a valuable trick Chrome has yet to master. I've gotta give it to Microsoft's ClearType HD team, too, because IE's text looks very crisp on the VivoTab's 10" display, despite the relatively low 1366x768 resolution.
That said, I miss Chrome for Android's ability to sync bookmarks and tabs with the desktop version, which is the main browser on my PC. I also miss its quick tab switching gesture. In IE, switching tabs requires swiping from the top or bottom edges of the screen and selecting one of the tab preview windows that pops up along the top edge. Reaching for that top edge is a little awkward when browsing in my preferred portrait orientation. IE already transitions between tabs quickly, but a two-finger swipe from the right or left edge would make the process much easier.
Incidentally, TR's content management system doesn't work right in the Metro version of Internet Explorer. Windows RT's desktop environment features its own, separate version of IE, which doesn't have any problems with our backend. I'd rather edit posts and articles with a keyboard and a precise pointer in desktop mode, anyway.
I'm still getting used to Metro's Mail app, which lacks a desktop counterpart. It does a serviceable job of managing multiple inboxes but comes with a few annoyances. There doesn't seem to be any way to flag messages, for example. The way the app deals with attachments is also a little cumbersome. Tapping to download puts files into an obscure AppData folder. After the file is downloaded, you have to tap it again to
move save the file to a specific location. The biggest benefit Windows 8 and RT bring on the email front is connected standby, which allows new messages to populate your inbox while the system remains in an ultra-low-power state.
For me, a good Remote Desktop client is essential for any mobile computer. The ones that come with Windows RT (both desktop and Metro versions are included) work as well as Win7's version but don't really compare to Jump Desktop of Android and iOS fame. The Windows RDC app is limited to the client's native resolution, but Jump isn't, allowing users to pan around larger desktops with the flick of a finger. Squishing my dual 1920x1200 desktop into 1366x768 means a lot of window re-arranging when I come back to my main PC, and I hate having everything mashed together in the first place.
As the creator of Windows, Microsoft controls the RDC experience from both the client and server sides, and it should be able to come up with a better touchscreen client. Heck, Jump even has the more finger-friendly mouse pointer. At this point, I'd pony up the $10-15 Jump Desktop costs on Android and iOS to get a version for Windows.
To be honest, I haven't spent nearly as much time with the other Metro apps. They all seem to work, but nothing has really stood out for me yet—well, other than the fact that I much prefer Google Maps to the Bing equivalent. I've yet to use a Bing service more attractive than its Google counterpart.
The selection of apps in the Microsoft Store is certainly more limited than what you'll find on Android or iOS. That's more of a problem for Windows RT than for Windows 8, which can already draw from a massive stockpile of x86 applications that should run perfectly in desktop mode. For me, that compatibility is a huge part of the appeal not only for productivity, but also for entertainment. The stack of casual games sitting in my Steam folder seems ripe for a Win8 tablet—especially one paired with a USB gamepad.
Even without the aid of x86 applications, Windows RT's desktop provides a comfortable, familiar fallback for basic tasks like file management, network sharing, and settings tweaks. All your favorite built-in Windows apps are there, including the Command Prompt, Task Manager, Control Panel, Event Viewer, and Resource Monitor. Even Paint makes an appearance. The desktop environment is surprisingly usable with touch input, and I love how pinch zooming in a File Explorer window slowly takes you from detailed views to massive thumbnails. The desktop really shines when combined with the precision of the VivoTab's keyboard and touchpad, though. No wonder it's where the Office apps reside.
Those apps are remarkably receptive to touch, even if it's not ideal for productivity. You wouldn't want to write anything of length with a touchscreen keyboard. Windows 8's on-screen input options at least provide plenty of variety. There are three distinctly different on-screen keyboards: a pared down QWERTY layout like most tablets have, a full-fledged notebook imitator complete with things like backslash and directional keys, and a thumb-friendly split layout with a numpad in the middle. The variety is nice, and it's easy to switch on the fly. However, I wish the auto-correct suggestions popped up just above the keyboard, easily within reach, instead of next to the word being typed.
I'll forgive that transgression because I rarely use auto-correct. Also, I want to move on to another input option: handwriting recognition. In addition to three keyboards, there's a pop-up stylus pad capable of transforming even my crude, finger-drawn letters into usable text with few errors. No wonder we've seen so many stylus-equipped Windows 8 convertibles announced already.