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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  • othercents - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I really wish you could have looked closer at Live Messenger and specifically Video. My parents use Live Messenger since it is easy for them and so do most of the people I know internationally. Skype is a great application, however for them it isn't easy or familure. This is why I continue to need Live Messenger while still using Tango for most phone to phone calls. The best option would be to have Live Messenger Video available on my WP7, but it is just chat and even then some messages just don't get through. Reply
  • Alchemy69 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    If they were going to release on OS specifically for the tablet market why bother including Metro with Windows 8 when it is so obviously geared for touchscreens? Reply
  • Spivonious - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Honestly, the Metro UI is not that hard to use with a mouse. Reply
  • karasaj - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I don't know why people find metro so weird - instead of having a ~90*400 or whatever pixel menu that gives you 10 programs to select, you have all your programs, and you can STILL just type away and the search function works exactly as it does in win7, you don't actually have to type anything extra.

    Windows key + calc + enter would still bring up the calculator, for example.

    Vivek and Anand got it right imo - think of it as a glorified start menu.
    Reply
  • ludikraut - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    While it's not hard, per-se, to me it feels awkward with a mouse, but just about perfect on a touch screen. IMO the icons are way too large for desktop mouse use - especially when you're used to hitting 1/4" icons on a 40" screen. :-p

    l8r)
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You could always use a touch mouse like those from Microsoft, they are just not doing anything to promote it or it's usage scenarios i.e. gestures via mouse or trackpad. Capactive touch on a notebook-formfactor does nothing really so I don't get why they just don't turn to gestures, Apple handle that fine. With a touch mouse you can get all the Windows 8 functionality even if they assume you use fingers. Like charms, switching apps, app commands, scroll left to right and so on. But the MS Touch Mouse is also a 80 dollar device which ships with no systems.

    So sadly they fail to grasp how users will use these systems. Even though they do promote keyboard and multi-touch trackpad with the Surface. You really understand why major companies, component suppliers and OEM's are wary when it's an unpolished mess. I get why they try to target touch, just not why they try to just fill that space by putting an separate environment on top of the other and keeping them as separate ecosystems which are very hard to move between it's easier to port to an entirely different system which isn't an abstraction of Win32! If you don't innovate with gestures and new navigational features across the whole system it just seems stupid. You quickly get ten ways to do the same thing also. It would have made more sense if it didn't try to be Windows.
    Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    New Windows 8 machines have touchpad gestures that mirror the on-screen gestures. It's up to trackpad manufacturers to update their drivers to support gestures on older devices, but I assume many of them will. Reply
  • Da W - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I think people underestimate the numbers of apps we're likely to see in the future. Windows phone 7 library grew to over 100000 apps despite having miserable number of units sold in the market. We will see more surface tablets and Windows 8 computers sold in the next 3 month than Windows Phone 7 ever has. The market for developper is there.
    Consider also the languages being supported here. You know C#, VB.net, Java, HTML5, you can do a metro app. I guess many Windows software can be recorverted to metro relatively easily. I'm not a developper, i'm just a geek and an economist, but i think Microsoft has the most developper-friendly environment out there. And many, many webservices like netflix, facebook, pulse will have a metro app down the road. Many, many iOS / Android apps are little more than rebagadged web pages after all. So you will see them on Windows 8/RT, and even more, the existance of these apps, like netflix being i think more beautiful in Metro than in a web browser, will become a reason for people to upgrade to Windows 8.
    Sure the era of Microsoft monopoly over computing devices is over. But there are today some 1.3 billions PCs out there versus 100million iPads, the battle is not over by a wide margin.

    That being said, i'm still waiting for my Haswell tablet with a Wacom digitizer.
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You would want to redo the UI to work better with touch, but all of the backend code can stay exactly the same.

    I think we'll see the marketplace explode with Win8 apps, especially if sales continue to be good.
    Reply
  • ludikraut - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You're spot on. App development for Metro is about as easy as it gets. Much easier than IOS, IMO.

    Ditto for waiting on a Haswell tablet with Wacom digitizer.

    l8r)
    Reply

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