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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  • Sherlock - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    IMHO WIndows RT on ARM is an stop-gap solution till the x86 architecture becoms power efficient to give tablet like running times. I belive Microsoft began working on Surface about two years ago & at that point of time, there was no viable competitor to ARM, in terms of power efficiency. This is the primary reason I belive Microsoft had to create an ARM version.

    Several of the commentators on this site have mentioned that they see no reason to buy an ARM over x86...and it definitley makes sense. Why have an fragmented ecosystem?

    I believe that as time passes on & people get used to the Modern UI & the x86 architecture catches up, Microsft would phase out their support for the ARM version.

    Microsoft could have chosen to do away with the "Desktop" environment with Windows RT & created a Moder UI version of Office (I don't agree with the argument of they not having enough time...they have been at it for 2 years) but I guess they deliberately chose to retain it so that users experience the familiar environment while using their killer app in this war - Office. I think people have underestimated the importance of bundling Office with Windows RT which remediates the biggest shortcoming of Android/iOS tablets
    Reply
  • prdola0 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Hi, the article is nice, but I keep wondering about one thing. Why do Apple articles start with a nice and colorful image of the devices, and a lot of it's competition articles start with a smudgy ugly images or devices turned off? Maybe it's just accidental, but please give it a thought. It looks a bit like bias. Reply
  • B3an - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Lol i've said this before! They often put more effort in to images taken of Apple stuff, which i've never liked as it's bias in way.

    But to be fair, this time the image at the start of this article is old and to show the Win 7 tablet. It makes sense to have it with the opening of the article.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    ...but doubtful very usable in practice. I really like the thinking behind Surface with the touch keyboard cover and other things. According to this review Windows 8 isnt that bad on tablets. I'm just gonna believe that.

    However the Application load times are very, very bad. 7 sec for mail app? That is just frustrating. Just shows that ARM is still very much underpowered....Or that surface uses an extremely crappy flash storage.
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    @prdola0

    this site belongs to Anand a trully Apple fanboy plus there's no such thing as unbiased review, any review on any web is only as good/positive as much is reviewer/site owner getting pay
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Funny, I thought the review was rather in favor for Microsoft. This review, and the Microsoft surface review. Both.

    Anand is no dumbie.. I absolutely HATE anything Apple based on pure personal beliefs / reasoning. Yet, even I, can not deny that iOS as far as polish goes is second to none. Until now. And the hardware used is usually top quality.

    At a higher cost, with less freedom, and a strangle hold on their software regime. A lot of people claim these are all problems from Microsoft. Which may be true, but Apple trumps Microsoft in computer-land tyranny. Until now.

    It could be that 90% of the market will be driven to using Mint Linux x, in the not so distant future. We'll see if Microsoft gets another clue.
    Reply
  • GnillGnoll - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I very much like that the on-screen keyboard has cursor keys, even if it's just left/right. It's one of the main features missing from the iOS keyboard, as precisely positioning the cursor with your finger is a huge pain.

    I assume that Ctrl+Left/Right skips words, and that Shift+Left/Right can be used for selection. Does anyone know if there is a way to go up/down?

    I don't like that quick access to punctuation is so limited, though.
    Reply
  • bitbank - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    From your comments throughout the article, it's clear that you're a fan of Metro and you overlook many of the shortcomings of Windows Phone and Windows RT just because of the "smooth tiled interface". The truth is that the GUI isn't that important. It's not where you get your work done. Apps are where you work.

    As you said, an ARM version of Windows is good to wake Intel from their slumber and get some competition in the low cost/low power CPU market. Intel's Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors get decent battery life and run 3-5x faster than the best ARM offerings to date. I get 8-10 hours of battery life out of my 17" HP Sandy Bridge notebook with the medium capacity battery. I would much rather have an x86 slate running Windows 8 with support for legacy apps. Having a half-baked version of Office on an ARM based WinRT tablet isn't much incentive to be stuck with virtually no apps.

    WindowsRT feels a lot like the launch of Windows CE notebooks. Interesting form factors and improved battery life don't make up for lack of app compatibility. The value of Windows is in its huge selection of apps. Win8 Pro is taking the right approach. Similar to the transition from DOS and 16-bit to 32-bit apps with Windows 95, there needs to be a transition product (Win8 Pro) which bridges the gap between old and new. When presented with a completely new device with no legacy support and very little app support, it makes very little sense for the average user to buy it. Besides reviewers and people who have to buy the latest gadget, why should an average person want to buy WinRT? According to you, they should patiently wait for the app store to get some decent apps. That's asking too much. The smart move for the average consumer is to wait a year or so and see if developers have given any attention to Windows 8's "little brother" and published apps in both x86 and ARM versions.
    Reply
  • karocage - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    But the interface is how you navigate all those apps. It's legitimate to point out that WP7 and W8/RT have clearly surpassed iOS in terms of speed of navigation between things like the back button, hubs, task switcher, charms and so on. That's not a function of the tiles really - although of course the tiles are another place where MS has a much better implementation than Apple. Reply
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Completely disagree on speed of navigation. Are you familiar with the four-finger swipes on an iPad to switch apps, bring up the "task manager" tray, etc?

    I'll give you getting to the settings screen to find apps settings takes longer but thankfully on iOS apps launch lightning fast unlike on RT.
    Reply

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