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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  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    It's not just the number where Windows Phones is lacking, but the quality and functionality. Where are the Garageband clones for WP? Where is the full touch-based office suite you get with iWork? Reply
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Huge Failure. Sorry.

    I go to the Windows Store.. I see the Surface RT Advertisement.
    In 2 seconds I should be able to determine from that page what Applications are available for the Surface RT, before I agree to Pre-Order one for $699 (64GB version). I should be just that easy...it should be more consumer oriented. But it's not.

    Huge Failure. Sorry.

    So, I click software... I click finance... Is there anyway to quickly determine which one of these is available for Windows8RT? Quicken, Quickbooks, Sage? No... there isn't. So, I have to waste allot of time....

    Who's going to pay $699 for a device when they can't easily check which applications are available. This is a huge failure and AnandTech has really glossed over it.... Disappointed in you guys!
    Reply
  • faizoff - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well all you have to do is click on any app and then select the details section. Each app has 3 sections, the details app tells you where it runs on.

    Ta da.
    Reply
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    yeah...
    let me click on this one...select details... whoops not for RT..
    ta da..

    let me click on this one.. select details.... whoops snot for RT...
    tada...

    let me click on this other one... select details... whoops not for RT...
    tada...

    Your right.. this is so easy... I love this hunt and peck method of finding apps for Windows RT... this is the most amazing applications store I've ever seen... and I'm so glad that I don't have anyother means of purchasing apps for RT..
    Reply
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I don't want 10's of apps.. I want basic browsing, messaging (that means FB, Twtr, etc..), accounting, productivity (had by office...awesome!), maps (google, street, ). I want like 8 apps. BUt I can't easily and quickly determine if they are available.

    Now, I wouldn't care if the apps could be purchased other places... but it's a closed eco system and I have to buy them from the Microsoft Store... SO it should be easier to see what's available.... for Surface with Win8RT... And it's not easy!
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the windows 8 store needs work. As Anand said, it's hard to find the good stuff unless you specifically search for it. Also the updates section doesn't tell you anything about the update before installing it (not that I could tell anyways). And I didn't see any way to keep you're apps up to date automatically, or roll back to previous versions if you had a problem etc.

    The store is usable, but probably the weakest of the built in apps.

    Another thing about the store that bugs me is that when you look through a list of apps it doesn't indicate which ones you have installed already or provide a way to filter out ones you've already got. Why would I want to see the ones I've already got?
    Reply
  • ratte - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Maybe I missed this in the review but isn't Office on RT "not for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities".

    I of course assume that Anand has paid for a commercial licence before he wrote the Surface piece ;-).
    Reply
  • glynor - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    In the review, you basically dismiss the serious problem they have with app selection by saying "it'll come soon", and point to all the millions of Windows 8 PCs their going to sell over the next year or so as the reason.

    I understand that, but I'm still VERY skeptical.

    The problem isn't that they're going to sell Windows 8 PCs. The problem is this:

    If you are an existing Windows developer, what is going to motivate you to completely throw away your existing products and start over again to develop against the WinRT APIs in order to release a Modern UI style application that will run on Windows 8/RT and be sold through the app store?

    * You're still going to have to continue to sell and develop your existing applications, for everyone who DOESN'T upgrade to Windows 8. It isn't like those shiny new Modern UI apps are going to run on my Windows 7 PC at home, no anyone else's.

    * All of the Windows 8 systems sold will still run your desktop application fine, so then you get the benefit of the massive pre-existing installed base of Windows users.

    * The ONLY people "left out" if you don't develop a WinRT-based Modern UI application will be owners of Windows RT devices.

    So... If you're Adobe, or any other big development house, what do you do?

    You wait and see. Re-writing Photoshop or AutoCAD, if it is even possible in the Modern UI, is no small challenge. Expecting these companies to drop everything and start over from scratch, and do it quickly, seems... Naive.

    I expect we'll see a lot of developers of existing cross-platform apps (iOS and Android developers) adopt Modern UI. Everything else? I wouldn't expect an RT-friendly version of Photoshop, Lightroom, or Quicken anytime soon, if ever. It'll all depend on sales of Windows RT devices.
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well the trend has been that mobile devices like smart phones and pad has become much, much more important. It is not hard to see that they will be more important and that there will be much more mobile devices than normal desktops in the future...

    What Joe average do with their computers? They read mail, they read some web pages and show and watch pictures from their children chindrens... What is the best device for that... Mobile computer. It is pity, but hard working picture editors, writers and gamers are tiny minority.
    Summasummarum, there will be a lot of Modern UI aplications, much more that there will be normal desktop applications.
    Reply
  • glynor - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Generally, I agree.

    However, the argument seems to be:

    There will be plenty of Windows RT capable apps soon because Microsoft is going to sell a bunch of Windows 8 desktop PCs, so there will be a huge built-in ecosystem. And look at all these existing Windows developers we already have.

    My answer is:

    Maybe.

    But all those Windows 8 desktop PCs will not run the Modern UI style apps optimally, and they will also run "normal" Windows applications. You can't port desktop apps to WinRT (the API), and they won't work on Windows RT devices. And, a huge portion of those new Windows 8 boxes are going to go to businesses (like mine) where they're immediately going to be re-imaged to Windows 7.

    If you are a current Windows developer, what is your motivation to do all the work to "start over" with a brand new product, if most of your CURRENT customers can't use it at all (they're on XP or Windows 7), or won't use them much because they're on traditional desktops and laptops?

    The path of least resistance is to just keep developing your traditional Windows desktop application and wait and see what happens.

    Is Microsoft in a better position than RIM or Palm was to expand their new ecosystem? Sure. But it is a few years later too. And they're competing with an established, massive ecosystem on two fronts (iOS and Android).

    I'm not saying "it will never happen." But I don't think it is a sure thing. And I don't think the "they'll run on Windows 8 too" is as big of an ace-in-the-hole as Anand and Vivek seem to think. It'll help, but I think they'll need a LOT of help and some luck.

    If Windows 8 gets a bad rep (deserved or not) like Vista from consumers on desktop and laptop machines, and OEMs keep selling lots of Windows 7 machines, they could be in for a world of hurt.
    Reply

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