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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  • tipoo - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I'd like to know that as well. But if it kills even my Core 2 Duo, I don't expect current ARM chips to fare well with that many tabs, but I'd still like to know how it handles background tab loading. Reply
  • Mahadragon - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Thanks Anand for the best review of RT I've seen yet. Gives me better idea of what's to come, however it doesn't address the question should I buy Win8 for desktop? The upgrade offer ($40) is out now but I don't seen compelling reason to buy it. You mentioned in your review that Apple has their desktop computer and mobile offerings separate, but the way Win8 is being implemented it sounds like maybe they should have kept it that way.

    In your review you said it was jarring how it would revert back to the desktop environment when you touched on a desktop app. It's comments like this that make me wonder why upgrade from Win 7? Are the apps that will eventually come to the desktop be all that useful? I suppose if there were a handy Calendar App that could auto-sync with my mobile device that would be nice, but there are already many apps (like Google Calendar) that I can already use to sync between mobile devices.

    Your review has given a great many reasons to purchase a Surface tablet, but that's not the decision many of us are facing right now. $500 is not chump change and that doesn't even include the keyboard which is another $100. I just bought a new iPod Touch and will be using that for mobile computing since my Windows Phone 7 device is not nearly as user friendly.

    I think MSFT could have kept Win8 same as Win7 with an option to run ARM apps built-in. I think this would have made more sense since they don't have too many apps to begin with. Also, I don't think these little apps, which are optimized for tablet, will necessarily give a great experience on a desktop monitor that you won't be touching.

    It almost seems like MSFT is trying to encourage people to buy the tablet by frustrating them with a rough desktop experience and making it smooth on the Surface. Thank you for going over the history of MSFT's initial forays into the tablet space. It's something very few people realize. Yes, MSFT, always the innovator was the first to come out with a tablet over 10 years ago, but nobody even knew about it.

    Fortunately for MSFT, there is a god (or rather, Apple) who has always been there to show them the light. Apple: "Use a touchscreen, not a stylus!" MSFT: "Ok, sorry, we thought everyone would cherish the thought of using a digital pen to interact with their tablets. Apple: "Make an App Store and sell software programs through it so people can add functionality to their devices!" MSFT: "Ok, that's a great idea, wish we thought of that." Apple: "Add a camera! People like to take photos." MSFT: "Done." Apple: "Come out with your own retail stores so you can sell to people directly!" MSFT: "Ok, we can do that." Apple: "Always remember to copy us verbatim but not too much. We don't want to have to sue you (again)." MSFT: "Ok, we'll make our products geeky instead of dead sexy how about that?"
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    If you're already using Windows 7, chances are pretty good that you'd just be wasting money.

    Windows 8 obviously was made for mobile devices. Then perhaps it will perform somewhat faster on the same hardware. But if you're looking for better gaming performance you probably will not see much of a difference there.

    The app store is a terrible idea in its current incarnation. I do not know many ( any ) software developers who would be happy about paying a 30% forced fee for any software platform. These same developers who draw users en mass to an operating system by creating many, useful applications. Or, I should say *did*.
    Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    "Apple: "Add a camera! People like to take photos.""

    Uh, the Surface doesn't have a rear camera. Rear cameras on tablets are freaking stupid.

    Anyway, if you care about such things, Windows 8 has much faster performance than Windows 7. Well worth $40 bucks to me.
    Reply
  • shermanx - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    where's the Wacom digitizer/pen/stylus? while so many tablets are trying to be different from others, I am surprised how few have included a functional pen for taking notes. that is really important feature for education business, and there's nothing that's really working well now. I just need Wacom Bamboo level of experience with a screen on it at a reasonable price. Reply
  • darkcrayon - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    There will be a digitizer on the Surface Pro, though I think the pro will be even more of a different market than the RT, considering it will be even larger and heavier. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    "The only applications that are allowed to run in desktop mode under Windows RT are Explorer, IE10, Office 2013 and the command prompt "

    This will either make or break Windows RT. Also, I bet this is a form of DRM imposed by Microsoft. While not DRM per se, they get to say which application we can install on our systems. Good, or bad ? I really do not know. It really depends on how they implement their online store. As I have not used windows 8, or Win RT. However, if it is similar to the google app store. Developers are required to pay an annual $25 USD fee. Which if you ask me, is slightly detrimental to the given community. In that people will be more inclined to charge for their applications, instead of providing FOSS( free open source software ). $25 USD though, really is not all that much.

    One thing I can say however. Is that Microsoft sure is pushing their latest mobile software development kits through their mailing lists. Good or bad ? Again, I do not know. I am currently with android development, and unless I see something inspirational from Microsoft. That will likely not change soon. If ever. That is, for mobile devices. On the desktop I still prefer to develop with / on Windows using the .NET base class library.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Also Anand,

    I really do not think third party apps will be a problem. At least where the browser applications are concerned. With all the javascript libraries that abound now days, coupled with HTML5 and CSS3. "Offline webapps" will be easy to make, and provide a lot of possibilities. These apps, should work the same on any OS.

    Native apps . . .is where Microsoft excels on the desktop At least from a developers standpoint. The .NET base class library takes a lot of work out of software development, and provides many, many useful classes. How this works, or will work cross platform from x86 to ARM I am not exactly sure. But I suspect Microsoft has it covered. As always. Having done a lot of research lately on mobile device development, I know that Microsoft is providing a lot of software development kits. Some that look extremely attractive at first look.

    From a software developers standpoint. Windows 8 / Windows RT looks really attractive right now. Since the market is virtually wide open for software developers to make themselves a name.

    Now do keep in mind that everything mentioned above is from a developers mindset. As a user . . . yours truly really likes to keep as much freedom as possible. How that works out again is based on how Microsoft implements their app store. Also, if Microsoft can somehow remove the mobile device from the stigma of being a toy. I think they'll have it nailed. We know the OS polish is going to be there for anything Windows lately. So it basically boils down to ( again ) good software availability.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Yeah, disregard what I said above.

    According to what I have just read. Microsoft wants a 30% fee for using their app store. From the developer . . . so yeah Microsoft can kiss my ass as far as Windows RT is concerned.

    If they keep on like this, personally I do not care how much work the .NET framework saves me. I will move to another platform and write off their operating systems al together. And I know im not alone.
    Reply
  • ~joe - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    I have one question to anybody owning Windows RT device (particualry Surface). I'm writting from Poland, and so far there is no plans for selling this device here. So I want to buy my in USA. My intention of use is 70% content consumption and 30% content creation using Office. But I need for my work Polish language. The question is - can I switch language to Polish (or ownload Polish language pack)? Reply

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