Windows 8 is now available for anyone to download, and it already shows a ton of potential. In fact, Microsoft’s bold new OS, which reminds us a lot of Windows Phone, outshines the iPad in some key areas. Granted, there were things we didn’t like in our Windows 8 Consumer Preview-- — and the iPad 3 or iPad HD is just around the corner-- — but there's no question that Apple will soon have a real fight on its hands. Here are the top 10 ways Windows 8 is better than the iPad right now.
1. Windows 8 is More Personal Than iOS
While iOS represents photos with a flower icon, Windows 8 lets you choose any photo you want to populate the live tile that lives on the Start screen. And that's just one of many ways you can customize the screen you'll see most. You can move items around, name groups of apps around and name them using the Semantic zoom feature, and pin everything from your favorite people and websites to the Start screen.
2. Faster Multitasking on Windows 8
No double- tapping a button to see your stuff here. Windows 8 lets you thumb through the applications you recently opened fast and fluidly just by swiping from the left edge of the screen. If you want to see all of your open apps at once, swipe from the left edge and then pull your finger back towards the edge to reveal a thumbnail view.
3. People App: Beyond the Address Book
One of our favorite features in Windows 8 is the People app. Why? Because it automatically links duplicate contacts so that there’s only one person for a given name. So, for example, if your friend is on Windows Live, Exchange, and Facebook, you’ll see all of those accounts listed. Plus, you can see your contacts’ latest updates on Facebook and Twitter.
4. Windows 8 Gives Swifter Access to Settings
Want to connect to a different Wi-Fi network or the settings for your app? On iOS you need to exit the app you’re using and open the Settings app. On Windows 8 you just swipe left from the right side of the screen and tap settings. There you’ll see network settings, shortcuts for adjusting everything from volume to brightness, and those settings related to the app you’re using. It’s just faster.
5. You Can Access and Attach Files in Windows 8
Yes, Android does this already, but Windows 8 does it better. Using the Mail, for example, you can easily attach photos or documents to outgoing emails using Windows 8's well-designed file picker. It's a cinch to select more than one file, whether it's stored on your PC or in the cloud on SkyDrive. The file picker is also open to third-party apps. With iOS, you can't attach anything to outgoing messages within the email app and the file system is hidden.
6. Windows 8 Lets You Snap Apps Next to Each Other
Say you want to work on a spreadsheet while rocking out to Slacker. Or you want to watch some videos while cleaning out your inbox. Windows 8 makes it easy with its Snap feature. Building on Windows 7, you can easily resize the window so it takes up one- third or two- thirds of the screen when you place it next to another open program, whether it's with your finger or a mouse. Plus, Microsoft is working with developers to enhance their apps so that you get all the functionality you need even in a smaller window.
7. IE10 Is a Superfast Browser
Internet Explorer 10 is one of the fastest browsers we've tested. Period. On our home network connection sites loaded almost as soon as we were done entering the URL in the address bar. In a side-by-side test with the iPad 2, our Samsung Ttablet loaded with Windows 8 narrowly beat Apple’s slate, loading seven popular sites in an average of 4.3 seconds, versus 4.8 seconds for the iPad. While we wish the tabs were always visible, we like how Windows 8 makes it easy to close all of the tabs you're not using with a single tap.
8. Windows 8 is Optimized for Keyboard Use
While you can add a keyboard case to an iPad, Windows 8 is optimized for mouse and keyboard use. Our favorite feature: the ability to search for an app just by tying on the Start screen. Windows 8 also has a ton of keyboard shortcuts, such as Win C for opening the Charm menu, Win D for showing the desktop, and Win Z for opening the app bar. We’re excited to see more designs like the IdeaPad Yoga that combine both touch and keyboard input.
9. Xbox is Built In
If you have an Xbox you’ll be glad to know that the Xbox Live Games app (currently in preview mode) presents your 3D Avatar and lets you keep track of your game activity. You can also download games from the app, since it has a built-in marketplace. For now the selection is very skimpy, but we anticipate the number of Xbox Live games to explode by the time Windows 8 launches. The separate Xbox Companion app lets you stream videos you’ve purchased from your Windows 8 PC or tablet to the console. It works, but right now the quality is only so-so.
10. Windows 8 Supports More Devices
Out of the box, Windows 8 will support lots more peripherals than the iPad or iOS because it’s built on Windows 7. If you have a USB drive, keyboard, printer, or camera, it should just work. Microsoft’s new OS makes it simple to access these add-ons via the Devices charm. Just swipe from the right side of the screen. And you can add devices from the PC settings menu.
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.