UI Performance, Storage, and USB Compatibility

by Vivek Gowri and Anand Shimpi

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft did a great job of taking generation-old hardware and delivering a great user experience in spite of any silicon-level deficiencies. So naturally, with the new Windows UI, we were expecting a very smooth UI regardless of the underlying hardware. And they’ve most certainly delivered on that.

Animation frame rates are consistently good all the way through the UI, easily delivering what appears to be 60 fps for UI transitions. When pushed, Modern UI seems more likely to completely drop animations versus dropping frames, which eliminates the choppy experience you sometimes find in Android. It isn’t a common occurrence, the experience is generally very fluid. This kind of consistently smooth UI is what Google has been striving for in every recent release of Android, dedicating the release of 4.1 to eliminate the dropping of frames in even basic interactions. Scrolling, swiping, snapping, app switching - it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, RT is just really smooth. Combined with the fluidity of the gestures, the entire system just feels like liquid, there are just no real slowdowns even running on a no-longer impressive SoC like Tegra 3.

Application Launch Time Comparison
  Boot Web Browser Mail Maps Games Center / Xbox
Apple iPad (3rd gen) 32.0s 1.0s 2.4s 1.1s 1.9s
Microsoft Surface 27.7s 2.6s 7.1s 5.0s 5.0s

But there is one area that RT struggles in, and it’s something that was an issue in Windows Phone 7 too - application launch times. Anand included this table in his Surface review, and it shows that boot performance is decent, but the 3rd generation iPad just kills it in application loading. The new A6X-infused 4th gen iPad probably widens that gap too, so it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s something that Microsoft needs to really focus on when updating the OS, because it’s easily one of the most glaring flaws in an otherwise stellar interface.

From a storage standpoint, the OS takes up between 6.5 and 7.5GB of space (Anand measured 6.47GB on Surface, I measured 7.35GB on the VivoTab RT) and Office takes up another 750-850MB (830MB for Surface, 749MB for the ASUS), so you’re looking at 7.5-8GB of NAND dedicated to the OS. On my 32GB VivoTab RT, I had 25.3GB of storage to start with, so after Windows and Office, I was looking at 17GB left over for programs and documents. That’s....not a lot - a bit of music, a decent selection of applications, a couple of videos, and pretty soon I’m looking at less than 10GB of storage left over. Thankfully, we’re seeing microSD slots on a lot of the more prominent Windows RT slates, so if you run out of room, you could theoretically toss in a 32GB or 64GB microSDXC card. Depending on how much data you plan on storing, I think you can get away with the lesser internal NAND and some microSD cards.

It’s also pretty clear that there will not be a Windows RT slate shipped with less than 32GB of onboard NAND. If you’re holding out for a cheaper Windows RT device with less storage, like a 16GB tablet for $399, there’s almost no way that happens - it’s implausible to think that anyone would ship a tablet with less than 5GB of space left for data storage.

Another key detail in Windows RT is wide-ranging USB peripheral support. USB ports have been a common feature on 10” Android tablets, but device support was typically limited to flash drives and basic input devices. The goal with Windows RT was to bring the traditional Windows experience to tablets, so USB driver support is pretty important. It’s not as easy as on an x86 system, where most USB peripherals would just work, but even with more limited Windows-on-ARM drivers, it’s pretty decent overall.

USB drives obviously work as you’d expect them to. Even SATA to USB adapters worked fine when plugged into Surface. Other smartphones and tablets also worked, although their level of support varied. For example, you can plug in the iPhone 5 and have it come up as a supported device for moving pictures to/from. However USB tethering is not supported by the class driver included in Windows RT. You can even plug an iPad into Surface and get the same level of support. The few Android phones I tried to connect in MTP all worked as expected, though transfer rates off my Optimus 4X HD seemed on the slow side, likely a function of the phone’s internal eMMC.

Printer support is pretty decent, although the Epson Workforce 910 Anand tried didn’t actually have specific driver support under RT. Although development for the desktop side of Windows is limited, manufacturers can supply Windows RT drivers to enable support for some more obscure devices. Unfortunately when it comes to those devices you’ll have to play the waiting game as there’s simply not a lot of third party Windows RT drivers available for download today.

 

Windows Store and the 3rd Party App Situation Final Words
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  • taltamir - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Good observation.

    Being impartial I have to say I am applying the argument fairly to both sides.
    I held that Windows v Mac has windows as the clear winner due to sheer amount of software.

    And the iOS is clearly superior to Window (singular) Metro for the same reason.
    Reply
  • PeteH - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    No one's going to install 10s of thousands of apps, but if you want an app with a specific feature that doesn't have wide appeal you might not find it unless the ecosystem you're using has 10s of thousands of apps to choose from. Reply
  • StormyParis - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You're confusing depth and breadth. 10,000 fart apps does not mean there *has* to be 1 medical clinic management app, 100,000 10 .. etc etc. I would assume the vertical market devs that most probably already have Windows apps, maybe even XP for Tablet apps, will be rather quick to port them not only to Win8, but to Metro. It will certainly not take a month though, probably more like a year or two, and MS need to prove quickly they can sell their stuff. Reply
  • PeteH - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    No, I'm saying that the fewer apps a platform has, the less likely it is that the platform will have an app with a smaller target audience. It's the classic long tail argument, when there are only a small number of apps they will focus on the fatter head.

    Also, I'm not speaking of any platform specifically, just as a general rule.
    Reply
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    If you are making reference to the iOS App store, to say most of them are "fart and flashlight" apps is incredibly naive. Sure there are apps that are very basic and/or useless/pointless. But to say they are the majority is laughable.

    And does any one person install them all? Of course not. But not everybody has the same wants or needs. So it takes a large pool of apps to make everybody happy.

    It will be quite some time before the MS store gets enough apps to have the same coverage. I too think a month is being overly ambitious.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    There was that bit last moth about 75% of apps not having been downloaded even once ? Reply
  • PeteH - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I hadn't seen that story, so I looked it up. It was an estimate by an outside agency (not official numbers), and was 60%, but that's still eye opening.

    Although thinking about it, is it really surprising? The more apps available the more crappy apps (or crapps, if you will) available. I would assume such a relationship is common across platforms, at least once some threshold is reached.

    What would be really interesting would be a breakdown of those apps. How many were free vs. paid? Of the paid apps, what is the distribution across price?
    Reply
  • extra_medium - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Laughable? Are you serious? Of course the majority of apps are pointless / crap. Do you really think over 350k of the 700k plus apps available to iOS users are high quality?

    Also not surprised at the 60% - 75% of apps never being used estimates. With the sheer volume available I'm actually surprised that number isn't higher. The average user isn't going to dig to find undiscovered gems. They are going to look at top sellers, listen to Leo laporte, and see what their friends use.

    I do agree with the argument though that a huge marketplace is advantageous. Even if the vast majority is pointless, there are more of those gems out there.
    Reply
  • Dekker - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I think that the pricing of the apps is going to be crucial. If the Windows RT apps are all $10-20 (like the Mac AppStore) then that kills impulse buying and they are not going to be nearly as popular as the IOS apps (typically $1-3). Windows RT will then suffer as a consequence.
    As mentioned by others this is a platform war and starting a virtuous circle in software development is very tough at this stage of the Tablet market. That is particularly so if developers are targeting the corporate market, which is only a fraction of the consumer market for Tablets.
    Reply
  • a5cent - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    A good piece of software is certainly worth $10 - $20! People go to the cinema for that price too, right?

    A software title that is targeted at impulse buyers, isn't likely to be even worth $1. We don't need 100's of thousands of apps, we need a couple thousand really really good ones and if they cost a bit more that is absolutely fine by me. I'll take quality over quantity anytime.
    Reply

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