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Microsoft Windows 8.1

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Windows 8 Modern UI

Summary

Our Score:

8

Windows 8.1 – App changes

Microsoft may have added welcome spit and polish to the Modern UI, but it is also hoping to bolster the so far lukewarm support for the Windows Store apps that dominate it.

Windows 8 Windows Store

The first step is an overhaul of the Windows Store itself. Crucial new functionality is the automatic background updating of apps and the increase in maximum app sizes to a hefty 8GB, which should encourage much richer and more ambitious apps than the flimsy fodder which makes up most of the catalogue.

The Windows Store also gets a much needed redesign taking tips from the Windows Phone store and the categorisation of the Google Play and Apple App Stores. There are now featured, recommended, new and trending sections while the top paid and free charts are given less prominence. Search is also much improved with dynamic search results and category, price and relevance filters for results.

Windows 8 Windows Store empty

The Store still doesn’t multitask well enough, though, having to reload if not accessed for a few minutes and the app selection remains conspicuously threadbare. Third-party solutions for the likes of Google Maps, BBC iPlayer and headline hitting YouTube illustrate how the Store lacks momentum. Hopefully the recent addition of official Facebook and Flipboard apps will change that.

On the plus side, Microsoft is still fighting the good fight with its own apps. All have been updated ahead of the Windows 8.1 launch with Mail the standout addition. Now you can drag and drop messages, select multiple messages via checkboxes and the layout is far more useful with a multi-pane view. Naturally Outlook users benefit most with sync support for flagged emails and content filters, but it is no longer an infuriating experience for Gmail and Yahoo! users – though perhaps not enough to tempt them from their native clients.

Mail

The new People app also ties in nicely with Mail and the Calendar app can highlight new entries and upcoming events. Meanwhile the Photos app gets basic editing functionality, such as rotating and cropping and a wider variety of settings including tighter SkyDrive integration. We still don’t feel these apps are going to replace your favourite desktop clients, but for Windows RT users they are heaven sent.

Modern UI

Should I buy Windows 8.1?

Existing users have no choice and given the benefits 8.1 brings there is no reason for them not to welcome it with open arms. For those using Windows Vista and XP the answer is similarly straightforward: Windows 8.1 brings huge improvements over both operating systems and you really shouldn't be using either of these aging platforms anymore in any case.

For Windows 7 users, however, the answer is much harder. For a start the vast majority of Windows 7 users do not have touch enabled devices. This rules out some of Windows 8.1's best features, but we'd say overall the case is increasingly compelling. After all, those not interested in the Modern UI can now load straight to the desktop, if not avoid it entirely, and Windows 8.1 is every bit as fast and responsive as Windows 7 on the same hardware with hardware support and security.

For those interested in the Modern UI and the slowly maturing Windows Store plus the growing number of Windows Phone 8 users we'd say now is the time to jump. It still isn't a perfect OS and we doubt the feeling it is two separate OSes will ever be truly rectified, but it is a significant step in the right direction.

One caveat is price. Like Windows 8 before it, Windows 8.1 will retail for £99.99 with Windows 8 Pro coming in at £189.99, though students get a bargain with a £49.99 RRP. These remain a world away from the promotional offers Microsoft introduced when Windows 8 first launched, but then again Windows 8.1 is also now a much better operating system than it was for those who made the early jump.

Verdict

Windows 8 is never going to be a perfect operating system. Its lofty ambitions introduced so many new elements that it was unlikely they would all be perfectly implemented and they weren’t. Windows 8.1 can’t fix this, but it does bring a wealth of obvious and subtle improvements to enhance the overall experience without sacrificing the platform’s lithe performance. When it launches in 2015 Windows 9 should consolidate everything Microsoft has learnt and expectations will be high. But until then we’re happy to recommend Windows 8.1 to Windows 8 owners and potential upgraders alike. A job well done.

Next, read our round-up of the best Windows 8 laptops and tablets

Overall Score

8

Prem Desai

October 18, 2013, 5:05 pm

Always impossible to make everyone happy but kudos to Microsoft for stepping back and listening. Must be very hard for the software giant to do this.

Also, it's great news that it's free and that it hasn't become Windows 9.

Peter

October 18, 2013, 10:48 pm

The integration with Skydrive is all well and good especially those who are new to the service but those of us with existing Skydrive paid accounts whose logon credentials differ to their Microsoft user accounts seem to have been left up a creek without paddles. Windows 8.1 offers no way to reload Skydrive using different logon credentials. This leaves us without access to our files and backups.

Paul

October 19, 2013, 1:33 am

Boot times are NOT just as fast as in Windows 8.0. They're actually more than twice as slow for me. From 20 seconds with 8.0 to 45 seconds using 8.1.

Paul

October 19, 2013, 1:11 pm

Actually to be fair, my boot times do seem to be reducing. Last boot was about 30 seconds, so maybe I was jumping the gun with my criticism.

utg001

October 19, 2013, 2:12 pm

for me, with all the apps and desktop applications installed, the boot time is ~15 seconds.

Hugh Bear

October 20, 2013, 12:36 am

Longer boot times mean shorter boot times for everyone, thanks Microsoft!

Hugh Bear

October 20, 2013, 12:45 am

Exactly! Microsoft only released Windows 8.1 because they love their customers so goddamn much. We all know how Microsoft's big heart gets it into trouble sometimes, even so, they really went the extra mile for us here and they deserve our thanks, love, respect and admiration.

Sharky66

October 21, 2013, 7:33 am

:-) nice one.

Gordon Kelly

October 21, 2013, 11:15 am

First few boots normally involve a lot of configuration. I've seen no decrease on the 2 laptops and 1 desktop I installed 8.1 onto.

Gordon Kelly

October 21, 2013, 11:17 am

It is a big step in the right direction. I don't think Windows 8 can ever truly be the OS some people imagined, but I think history will show it to have been a bold, ambitious bridging platform to later and greater versions.

mothergoose85

October 21, 2013, 3:12 pm

The fundemental issue about users getting blank screens (nothing but the cursor flickering) when they have the latest version of the Intel graphics drivers is an absolute pain in the ass though - I've had to format via recovery media to get back to 8.

danielfrisbee

October 21, 2013, 6:39 pm

my vaio boots from cold to the start screen in under 4 seconds.. now that that is the new normal I suspect 8 seconds will drive me insane, which looked at objectively is just ridiculous, but I really hope it doesn't get longer..

MikeX

October 30, 2013, 9:12 am

I am surprised the review fails to mention the lack of two finger tapping (not click) for right click function being missing from most touch-pads since the 8.1 update. The forums are full of users complaining about this removed feature. Someone in the press needs to get onto Microsoft and ask why this has been removed, as clearly the different touchpad manufacturers did not all drop support for this at once unless directed.

Valma

January 5, 2014, 2:28 pm

8.1 adds the worst of the Windows button (the button itself), but the most time-losing change is that it now leads you to save to skydrive by default, and you can't change that. More steps for a very frequent activity for desktop users....

Have installed windows 8 again... And may change to windows 7 as it still gives more errors when copying and moving folders...

Steve Stunning

February 26, 2015, 1:12 am

​Anyone who claims that Windows 8 is anything but a Microsoft disaster is as much of a techno-fool as the geeks who designed this disaster with 10 million 500 thousand and counting complaints about Windows 8 on Google alone! So who's wrong, 10,500,000
customers who hate it, can't understand it, can't navigate it, etc. or Microsoft?
It was created by techno geeks as a Frankenstein mesh of iPhone android
operating systems that have totally left the world of PC computing. Millions of people who were forced into this "no alternative" disaster have spent whatever money it took to purchase a copy of Windows 7 and pay another geek to wipe their hard drives of this horrific mistake called Windows 8 and reinstall Windows 7 to salvage their investment in their new PC or Laptop. Microsoft will be very fortunate indeed if it doesn't face a multimillion dollar class action suit for ruining the ability for people to use their brand
new PC's and Laptops with this blight on the Microsoft name. Computing operating systems should be designed for users, and user friendly, not just by and for techno geeks, or people you think should be forced to learn a new difficult skill just to use another company's device that Microsoft didn't build, and doesn't own or manufacture. Computing was supposed to save time, and not require ordinary users to spend most of their valuable time trying to figure out how to work it! Especially when people in
businesses completely unrelated to the computer tech industry with no background in it have wasted their valuable time and money only to end up aggravated, stressed, disappointed, and stuck with a useless and expensive piece of equipment that they used to be able to use, but no longer can because of Microsoft, and the blunder they forced on us called Windows 8. I would ad that given the unreasonable multimillion number of complaints and damage cause by Microsoft, they should at the very least be made to give a FREE copy of Windows 7 to anyone stuck with the "no alternative" Windows 8, along with the cost of replacing the operating system preventing the use of a newly purchased computer. When a car manufacturer makes a mistake in their product, the government makes them replace and repair it at their cost. It's called a "recall" This is the only corrupt industry where it happens regularly, and the "fix" is called an "upgrade" and the consumer is stuck with the bill. In this case, Microsoft will do what they did with "Millennium" and "Vista", and make call the fix, a new and improved operating system and make the consumer pay again. I suggest everyone disappointed with Windows 8 contact your local or State District Attorney, and bring small claims law suits all over the country against Microsoft. I did exactly that years ago when Microsoft sent out a virus security update that infected computers with a virus. They settled with me for $2,000. Which was more than my HP computer cost.

OmikronWeapon

May 6, 2015, 3:30 pm

Wow. Animated tiles. and up to THREE weather forecast days. being able to search on the internet from another place. Either windows 8.1 has some very minor points very hyped up, or this review is sorely under-appreciative. Are we really in an age where the selling point of a OS is how many apps I can download in its store?
It feels so underwhelming that I can hardly think of any else to say about it.
And personally, I prefer skype desktop over that other piece of junk. Sure, it looks sleeker, but if I can no longer distinguish online contacts from offline ones, screw it then.
Finding a desktop version of skype was the first thing I did when I got my new laptop.

DardaniaLion

January 8, 2016, 12:13 pm

Windows 8.1 interface is hard to get use to but it is more stable than Windows 7. I formate and reinstall many computers. I can confirm that Windows 8.1 it more enjoyable to use. When I install it, it simply detects the hardware better. No need for extra drivers for usb 3.0. People who think Windows 8.1 is bad, do not like changes. I have installed Windows 8.1 over 100 times within two months and can confirm that I have not faced any errors. Simple, Windows 8.1 works better with hardware. The only thing that is bad is about the name. It should have been called different. Maybe something like Windows 8 Star.

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