Hands-on Review

Review: Windows 8.1 Update 1, a godsend for non-touch consumers

Windows 8.1 Update 1

The first major update for Windows 8.1 is almost here, which means your computers are about to get a little bit better. Update 1 is the first step towards a unified experience between the Modern UI and Desktop environments, with little bits here and there which make Windows 8.1 far more easier to use, especially for mouse users. Let's get started, shall we?

Modern UI

The Modern UI in Windows 8.1 Update 1 has received a few new tweaks and additions which make the operating system a lot more easy to use for Desktop users. A new addition to the Modern UI is the new context menu, which is available for mouse users when right clicking. The context menu is designed to make it easier for mouse users to hit options and menus without too much mouse travel, and is also similar to the Desktop and it's context menus.

Context MenusThe context menus within the Modern UI works like you'd expect. Right clicking on a tile will bring up the context menu, allowing you to resize, unpin and pin apps among other contextualized options. However, there currently isn't a unified experience across the Modern UI for context menus. Within apps, the context menu's disappear and you're left with the old App Bar again. This can become frustrating at times, but isn't too confusing if you know the basics of Windows 8.

Speaking of Modern UI apps, Microsoft has tweaked the way Modern UI apps work slightly. With Update 1, Modern UI apps have a rather familiar title bar across the top. It's only visible when you mouse up to the top of the screen, but it allows you to close the app with a click of a button, much like Desktop apps. You can also minimize Modern UI apps with this title bar, they'll minimize directly to the taskbar just like you expect it to.

Title Bar

Interestingly, Update 1 adds the taskbar to the Modern UI too. Not permanently, but it's there. Much like how you activate the title bars, placing your mouse at the bottom of the screen will bring up the taskbar, which allows you to multitask between all your currently running/pinned Desktop and Modern UI apps. Both the title bar and taskbar do not show up on touch screen devices, so this update does not degrade your touch experience in any way.

We found that the taskbar sometimes doesn't popup straight away once your place your mouse at the bottom of the screen, it does take some wiggling to get it to display. Of course, you can always use the keyboard shortcut WIN+T to show the taskbar, but we find that a lot less intuitive than just flinging your cursor to the bottom of the screen. Perhaps we're just lazy.

Modern UI Taskbar

There are minor updates to Modern UI apps in Windows 8.1. The PC Settings app now has a few new options, including a direct link to the desktop Control Panel, and that SkyDrive has been renamed to OneDrive across all of the operating system. Otehr than that, it seems most Modern UI apps remain the same.

Power ButtonOn the Start Screen, you'll also see the addition of two (or one depending on your hardware) new buttons at the top right of the screen. These buttons offer power options and a quick way to search the entire system. Windows 8.1 users complained that there was no easy way to find the power options, as it was originally hidden in the Settings charm. Now, it's easily accessible directly from the Start Screen. The search button does what you might expect it to do, tapping on it will open the Search Charm. The power button will now show up on tablets, unlike the search button which is present on any machine.

Another addition to the Start Screen is the new notification you'll get when you install a new app. Windows will tell you that you've installed an X amount of apps down by the App List button. The notification will not go away unless you either open the newly installed apps or right click on them on the Apps List. We found this fairly annoying.

Apps List

The Apps List in Windows 8.1 Update 1 has too received an update. The apps are sorted alphabetically, with the ability to quickly tap on a letter to reveal all other letters in the alphabet. This allows for quick and easy access to all of your apps without having to scour the Apps List to find it. You can also turn on a more dense Apps List view, which shows more apps on the screen at one time. It's convenient for large desktop displays, however we assume touch users would prefer to keep that setting off.

Desktop

The Desktop

Taskbar PropertiesThe Desktop in Windows 8.1 Update 1 has received some changes too. Most changes are small and under the hood, however the make using the operating system a lot easier for the general consumer. We've already talked a bit about how the taskbar is available within the Modern UI, and that extends to the desktop too. You can launch any Modern UI app pinned to the taskbar directly from the desktop, and then alternate between both environments with ease. You can also show running Modern UI apps with the tick of a box.

Microsoft have made some changes to the underside of Windows 8.1 with Update 1 which makes setting up the OS a lot more simple. Windows will now detect your hardware and adjust settings automatically to suit your needs. Purchased a laptop with Windows 8.1 Update 1? Does it have a touch screen? No? Okay, we'll show you the desktop automatically and enable Modern UI switching with the taskbar. Just purchased a tablet with Windows 8.1 Update 1? Okay, we'll show you the Modern UI instead and disable any form of taskbar multitasking.

The Modern UI will also place tiles according to your hardware too. Devices which do not have a touch screen will see different Modern UI tiles on the Start Screen, for example desktop users will get shortcuts to Documents, Pictures, This PC and PC settings. Of course, you'll also get the Desktop tile. On touch screen devices you will not get these tiles on the Start Screen by default, however they can be pinned if you'd like.

It's super convenient that Windows now automatically adjusts itself to fit your needs. Of course, you can go in and change all these settings yourself. You may like the Modern UI on a non-touch screen device, which is fine. You can still enable it as default as the feature has not been removed.

OneDrive Tray IconOneDrive is also integrated into the File Explorer, much like SkyDrive was. The only real change here is the fact that Update 1 now as a little tray icon in the bottom right which allows you to see errors or open your OneDrive files. This feature was originally part of the SkyDrive application, but was removed when SkyDrive was integrated into Windows 8. A recent update brought back the feature in Windows 8.1, and is now an integrated feature with Windows 8.1 Update 1.

The Desktop has also been given more DPI settings. You can now increase the DPI to up to 500%, which will only ever really need to be used on huge displays that we doubt normal consumers would own.

The Final Word

Windows 8.1 is one of Microsoft's strongest and productive operating systems to date. It packs everything you need to get work done whilst also being able to have fun. Windows 8.1 with Update 1 makes the operating system easier to use on desktops and laptops, which means work can be done faster and fun can happen more often.

Tablets will also benefit from Update 1 too, as the operating systems footprint has been minimized yet again. All hardware will run faster with Update 1, and newer, cheaper tablets will be able to run Windows 8.1 Update 1 with ease. Everybody wins.

If you're running Windows 8.1, we advise you go and update to Windows 8.1 Update 1 when it's available. You can do so from Windows Update on April 8, which can be accessed by searching for 'Windows Update' from the Search charm.