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

  • tbutler - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Except that, at least as I read it, Metro vs desktop divides more along 'touch vs keyboard/mouse', not consumer vs power user.

    Or to put it another way - while the simplicity of Metro apps might appeal to consumers, that is trumped by the issues trying to use them with a keyboard/mouse. In fact, I'd argue that the Metro environment is *worse* for a keyboard/mouse using consumer, given how so many operations are hidden/not obvious/best used with shortcuts. Windows-C to get the Charms bar is a learned power user trick, not an average user thing.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Nailed it. The "x86 userbase will ensure a massive market for Metro apps" angle is *anything* but a sure thing. Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    "Except that, at least as I read it, Metro vs desktop divides more along 'touch vs keyboard/mouse', not consumer vs power user."

    Having used Metro apps with a mouse and keyboard, I don't see any problems. They work well on a laptop and on a desktop. I never had any problems.
  • designerfx - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    exactly. People aren't willing to buy a windows tablet and not a windows OS. It's not like buying android or ios here.

    It's simply not the same environment, the reason for android/ios is because of the app market - that is literally the singular reason to not need a windows device.
  • khanikun - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Have you even looked in the Apple's app store or Google's Play store? It's just tens of thousands of apps that do the same like 10 things and a lot of flash games converted for their respective OS. Majority of them being for non-productive uses.

    On my two Android tablets and my Android smartphone, I have like one productive app. Some free office like app, that allows me to open Office docs, but I can't edit them in any way. The rest? Games and photobooks.

    Windows RT will definitely be a big step towards making tablets more productive than a big toy. I won't bother. I'm waiting for Windows 8 Pro.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    iPad has had the iWork suite since 2010. While that may not matter to businesses entrenched in Microsoft Office, it sure is enough for students that can easily convert anything to PDF and avoid all compatibility issues. Reply
  • strangis - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    "Really? A month from now? Can I hold you to that? It will be at least a year before Metro store gets even tens of thousands of apps"

    Just as a barometer, WP7 hit the 10,000 apps mark in under 6 months. Do you really think that it's going to take Windows 8 longer?

    And you accuse someone else of lacking objectivitiy...
  • GuardianAngel470 - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    You've completely missed the reason for the statement.

    iOS, Android, Windows Phone, WebOS, and every other OS had to build a consumer base from scratch. By extension they had to build a developer base from scratch.

    Windows RT doesn't need to do the former and by extension doesn't need to to do the latter. There are guaranteed to be millions of people running Windows 8 in a few month's time. Because Windows 8 didn't divorce Metro from its desktop and because Visual Studio 2012 Express intentionally hobbles the development of desktop applications, the developers that are guaranteed to develop for Windows 8 will be there to fill the App Store.

    It can be argued that they'll focus on the development of desktop apps sure but you're basing your opinion on OS's that were never in the same situation as Windows RT.
  • trip1ex - Monday, October 29, 2012 - link

    Gotta agree. I just don't see a huge ramp in 3rd party apps in 1 month. And I fail to what the power of Windows desktop is when RT will be running on ARM.

    For the problems MS will have look no further than the Zune except now you are also at an apps/developer support disadvantage.

    And it doesn't just matter if RT gets apps but how those apps compare to apps on the other systems. I remember using the Mac 5 years ago when many programs were also on the Mac, but were behind the Windows versions in features and worked worse in general.

    That being said I doubt most people use that many apps. We mostly surf and check email on our IPad.
  • guidryp - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Both of these reviews feel like a whitewash to me.

    No mention of how buggy software is, or slowdowns and crashes that many others are reporting.

    It says others are making snap judgements, but this is sweeping the defects under the rug.

    Not what I expect from Anandtech.

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