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

  • Flemo86 - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    With WindowsRT (oh God what an awful name) they're now competing with Apple on Apple's terms, and Apple have had a 5 year head start with iOS. It's just ridiculous that they have .NET, XNA, DirectX etc at such a sweet spot right now, with so many developers on board and able to program whatever the hell they want for the OS (complete with file system!), and then they just change the game entirely by tearing x86 out and putting in what may as well be an Apple chip.

    They should have come up with a better solution to use ALL existing software and their architectures with every device, not just the "Pro" version. That would've been real competition with the iPad. Imagine being able to port all Xbox live arcade games and every .NET application to the "Windows App Store"/Marketplace (whatever they're calling it). All Microsoft would have to do is verify each piece of software and then bada-bing bada-boom, you've got yourself tens of thousands of apps within the month, and an extremely easy set of tools for devs to use.

    Of course, this would've required more effort on the hardware side. Maybe less battery life? A lower screen resolution? More effort on Intel's part? I really hope Windows RT falls by the wayside and Windows 8 Pro tablets become the de facto standard. I hate the idea of them throwing a decade worth of development tools out on one of their operating systems.

    Sorry for the rant, just an XNA fan!
  • stimudent - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Since this system uses Windows and an ARM processor instead of an Intel processor, that makes it 50% respectable. To achieve the other 50%, it would have to have Linux installed. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Ok, I'll bite.

    Whats so good about Linux ?

    Polish ? Security ? painless upgrade path ? The majority of modern games played on the PC are written for this software platform ?

    Or is it that you can feel good about your own self using it for free. Without having to use pirates bay ?

    Seriously. Grow up.

    Also, please tell me you use Ubuntu. So the rest of us can have a good laugh, and totally disregard what you have to say in the future.
  • B3an - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    That made me laugh, because it's true. Reply
  • foolsgambit11 - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    that points out that the autumn of 2000 is just before the turn of the new millenium, not just after.... Reply
  • milkod2001 - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link


    what's good about Linux?
    lol u gotta be kidding

    Android is based on Linux so iOS . That covers all Apple platform and the rest of all smartphones and tablets. Most servers are running on Linux. Not enough?

    The majority of modern games played on the PC are written for this software platform ?
    The majority of modern games are coded for console kids(Xbox and PS3), then ported to PC.PC games market is only the niche part of games market anyway.

    Ubuntu is for geeks/scientisc/developers and not for average uneduceted joes

  • solipsism - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    "Android is based on Linux so [is] iOS."

    Um... double no.

    Android uses the Linux kernel and some underlying code but it is not Linux in the way stimudent is talking about which is why we call it Android and not Linux or Android Linux.

    iOS uses Darwin OS and foundations and frameworks found in Mac OS X. "Darwin is built around XNU, a hybrid kernel that combines the Mach 3 microkernel, various elements of BSD (including the process model, network stack, and virtual file system), and an object-oriented device driver API called I/O Kit.[6] The hybrid kernel design compromises between the flexibility of a microkernel and the performance of a monolithic kernel." All this came from NeXTSTEP and BSD before that. There is no Linux in iOS.
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Yeah notable features at least in my mind is that Android uses ( as standard ) A virtual machine to run each application. Kind of, but not the same as JRE..

    Big difference from Linux just in that. The architecture is really interesting. Despite the fact that java is the primary development language used for creating apps. Unless you choose to write native C/C++, or use a third party "scripting language". Passed that I'm sure you'd be able to write standard kernel level drivers, but yeah . . .

    Mono for android is particularly interesting to me, but a bit pricey.
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Ubuntu is garbage.

    Architecturally it can be unstable, it has a very poor upgrade path track record, and they want to put google search on your desktop.

    All that despite the fact that is based on one of the better distro's around IMHO. Debian.
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    Oh and yeah to follow up on what was left out of the comments to your post.

    Most network admins I know that want the least bit of hassle when dealing with servers do not always opt for Linux. Just for the sake of using Linux. These people realize that an operating system is a tool, all of which have their strong and weak points. With OSX being somewhere in the middle. My post above down to the first four lines of text were pure sarcasm. With the fifth and sixth lines being tongue in cheek.

    Any operating system is only as good as the user using it. It does not matter what it is. IF the user is a dumbshit, or does not care .The given OS will probably not work optimally (ever). With varying degrees of optimal operation in between, based on how well the user understands his/her operating system.

    Also, we're talking computers here, not gaming consoles. With *ALL* PC games being written on some form of a PC. For the PC. Some being Linux dev machines for cross platform development, but most being Windows / visual studio developers. Ask around the game development community sometime, and ask who uses Windows / visual studio versus Linux / eclipse or some other IDE. You'll find out for yourself. This is for a good reason too. Windows / directx being the prevalent software gaming platform. For the PC. Not to mention the fact that porting games to the xbox is fairly trivial now days. Depending on the tool set you use.

    "Ubuntu is for geeks/scientisc/developers and not for average uneduceted joes"

    Uh yeah . . . I think this "sentence" speaks for its self.

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