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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  • faizoff - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I just got done fully reading the Surface review. This should be a good one as well. Reply
  • EnzoFX - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Sure was.

    Win RT is promising, it really is all about the tablet experience. Which is why I don't understand their decision to have the desktop and access to all the underpinnings. Surely a real power user won't limit themseles to RT, and simply go for the 8?

    Is it to have developers make desktop-centric arm based apps? That seems counter intuitive. They could have easily made Office into a Modern UI style app. What is the real point in the end? Maybe I missed something.

    My only other criticism is little things that sometimes show me lack of focus. 4 edge swipes? Couldn't they have streamlined that down to 2 max? and why must some things just be too hidden, or even not even accessible via the Modern UI?
    Reply
  • Leonick - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    "Is it to have developers make desktop-centric arm based apps? That seems counter intuitive. They could have easily made Office into a Modern UI style app. What is the real point in the end? Maybe I missed something."

    Considering developers can't make desktop apps for Windows RT that isnt it...
    I'm guessing MS was simply too lazy or "didn't have time" to build a metro equivalent for everything for Windows 8 and will likely continue the work for the next release, as long as the desktop is still there they could also put Office even on RT with minimal effort.

    But yea, it's odd.
    Reply
  • blanarahul - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I am really interested in seeing Windows RT with Quad Core Qualcomm S4 Pro. 40% faster CPU, 100% faster GPU than Tegra 3. Power friendly. It should make RT shine even more. In fact I believe that the APQ8064 was made for Windows RT. Reply
  • karasaj - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    This is exactly what I was thinking and hoping Surface would have come out with. Reply
  • Krysto - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    "The odds of that situation arising seem relatively low, so my bet is that the strength of the ecosystem will be a non-issue a month from now."

    Really? A month from now? Can I hold you to that? It will be at least a year before Metro store gets even tens of thousands of apps. I think you've been reading too many Microsoft PR statements ready, and it's starting to influence your objectivity, and now you're just using Microsoft's words as your own - while thinking to yourself that they are your own words.
    Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Right... Because you're really going to browse and install 10's of thousands of Apps. (With the majority being fart of flashlight apps anyway.) Reply
  • munsie - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    So when it was Windows vs Macs back in the 90s, the argument was always that there were more apps on Windows, why would you buy anything else? But now that there are more iOS apps vs Win RT apps, it's that most of them are "fart of flashflight apps"?

    More apps isn't just more junky apps -- it means that more experimentation/innovation is happening as well. It means that there are apps being built for the long tail, not just the mass market appeal. Think about apps targeting very specific users, like doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. These apps aren't the ones you see at the top of the charts, but are the ones that sell platforms.

    Microsoft more than any other company should understand what Apple has accomplished with the iOS App Store.
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yes and no though. Developer tools are much better than they were in the 90's.

    Many of these apps are already cross platform with ios and andriod, and many others already have windows versions or silverlight/wp8/xbox 360 versions that can be ported much easier.

    Many of the popular dev tools used by smaller/indie developers already support exporting to different platforms, so if they don't support windows 8 yet, they will soon enough.

    Plus Visual Studio is great.

    Not to say Apple's accomplishments aren't amazing, they are. Nobody could have envisioned the success they've had in such a short time.

    Apps will come. There's no money to be made right now anyways, nobody has devices, it'll all sort itself out in a few months. I think 1 month is optimistic, but within 6 months the apps will be there.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well, the 90's argument was "1- why pay more 2- for slower, less expandable hardware that 3- is missing some key apps or even whole categories of apps and 4- is fading", so really, a series of issues.
    In the present case we get , 1- why pay the same or less 2- for slower, but a lot more expendable hardware that 3- has a killer app, though it's missing many key apps and all of the non-key ones but 4- will probably surge.

    BTW... Google "75% Of Apple's App Store Is Ignored by Consumers" for a fun fact, if it is indeed true.
    Reply

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