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


View All Comments

  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Yes, agreed 100%. This review seems to be by far the most certain the *metro* apps are going to grow by leaps and bounds than any other review I've read. I think there's definitely a chance RT and thus metro apps aren't going to take off at all. Reply
  • karasaj - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Forgot to say thanks, great review! I was wondering about the smoothness of Surface etc - it doesn't seem like there will be much to worry about. Thanks again! Reply
  • nedjinski - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Thanks for yet another sane and unbiased review. I find this approach the most helpful when considering a new purchase. You guys continue to have clear vision when it comes to the big picture and you don't get distracted by small details that will probably get ironed out in future iterations of the device.
    It looks like MS has a winner here.
  • Netscorer - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    While this is an overall very good and comprehensive review, I am still confused by two separate Windows 8 OS (with Windows Mobile 8 may be third). I just don't see how they are going to coexist long term. And if there will be convergence, which OS will be left out.
    I was hoping review would touch on those issues a bit more then spending page after page describing various apps that come built in and will undergo a significant change/enhancement shortly anyway.
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well the Metro UI aplication will be very popular in Mobile platforms. Because both windows 8 versions can run those, there is no problem in there. If you want to run normal desktop application, video editing, AAA games, the normal 86 version of win8 is for you.
    If you have to chose between normal win8 and win8 RT pad, or tablet there is not very big difference. In most cases it is better for programmers to make Moder UI version of their program than to make only Intel CPU based version that runs only in normal win8 version. Thre will be more customers in Modern UI platform than normal. So instead of having bottle neck with old gaming consoles, the new botleneck will be the slovest win8 RT pad in most cases.
    If you are serious gamer the normal win8 is for you. If you are interested in just getting pad for playing casual games like Angry bird, and reading www-pages, listening music, looking viodeos, etc, it does not matter what you get, if the price is good and ahrdware desent.
  • AmdInside - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Waiting for MAME to be available for either Windows RT or Windows 8 before I buy a tablet. Reply
  • ludikraut - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Oh yeah, MAME on a tablet will rock.

  • jecastejon - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I am interested, reading and taking notes but is this Windows RT a netbook-nettop OS at a higher price point?

    I think I will wait at least 2-4 years to consider an ARM-Atom based computer to produce even some light work, as for a device to have fun there are tablets, Nintendo, PSP, iDevices with thousands of apps or games. WRT is not that cool, it does nothing better as an entertaining system but it may be great to produce very light or limited work on the office and just probably on the go but even for that it will need to compete with entry-laptops and ultralight machines.

    Right now this is a very hybrid concept targeting for a broad marked but I just can see a niche market I am sure it will reach. I think in part the price is to high and it will be kind of a business ultra light high end system.
  • diamondsw2 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    "85% (or more) of computers being sold worldwide"

    I assume you're not including iPad sales - which is very misleading for a tablet OS review. And if you're more broadly talking Windows 8 all of a sudden (RT != 8), the overwhelming majority of Windows sales are to businesses - and those businesses are going to exercise their downgrade rights and not touch Windows 8 with a ten-foot pole. There's no business case for it over Windows 7, and the training is far from insignificant. It's not going to get any headway there for years.

    Consider be very skeptical on actual uptake of Windows 8 or its supposed marketshare. I'll bet it's six months to a year before I see the first person using it (which may say more about how many of my PC-using friends have converted to iPads and Macs). I fully expect every Windows PC I see to be on 7 for a long time to come).
  • PsychoPif - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Just from a quick search, I've found that Apple sold 15.4m IPad vs 49.8m for the top 4 OEM. It does'nt include the other manufacturer and it's still 70% marketshare.

    85% might be high, but don't make it sound like Windows won't be on the vast majority of computer sold this year.

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