Hands on: Windows 8 pre-beta tablet

The elephant in the room here at CES this year is truly Windows 8. Microsoft's talking about it, but not much. Manufacturers have hardware that should be running Windows 8, but has Windows 7 onboard instead and they aren't willing to say what their plans are. It's a shroud of mystery that Microsoft is trying to maintain until the public beta is out come late February.

However, some demonstrations of the pre-beta software are on the floor here, and today, we managed to corner a Microsoftie and get some actual hands on time with a Windows 8 tablet. It's truly exciting to see how far the device has come over the last few months. This is the same hardware that was given out at Microsoft BUILD back in September, just with updated bits inside. Here's what you'll see on an entirely stock Samsung Series 7 when it's booted and logged into for the first time;

What's the first thing you'll notice? The color is so much better. This blue is the default now but Microsoft actually finally has enabled the color picker in the beta (small things count) and you'll be able to actually choose your background type (the texture) through a simple menu in the metro control panel (pictured below).

Remember that the Metro control panel doesn't correspond to the original Windows control panel right now. Some options -- such as sync controls -- simply aren't configurable through the classic method. This might annoy a lot of users if it's not fixed, Microsoft wouldn't comment if this was the case, either.

While we're talking about the settings menu, there's some great new options buried in here. We weren't allowed to take pictures of most of them, but there are options to constrict applications to what data you wish to allow them to access, you can restrict the over the air syncing between devices to not happen over 3G now and there are deeper options to customize the on screen keyboard.

We were really impressed that Microsoft is trying really hard to get away from the concept of having to locate where files are with Windows 8. There have been countless situations where I've spent large amounts of time searching to find a picture, only to find it thirty minutes later in a folder I didn't know existed. Microsoft has solved this problem in this version of Windows and actually aggregates all of one type of file into one place, simply. 

The application that enables this is called "photo feedr" right now, and it really blurs the lines between where the files are on your hard drive, or if they're stored in the cloud. It's all the same. Naturally, you can drill down deeper than this and define which service or location you want to look at to narrow it down a bit more, which is especially useful if you have hundreds of pictures. This applies for other types of content, too, such as videos and (hopefully) documents.

What got us really excited is the messaging integration here. We spotted it on the home screen (pictured in the middle of the device screen below) and it appears to be properly integrated now. We can't show you any pictures of the actual application, but we can confirm it has deep integration with SMS, Facebook and Windows Live, just like Windows Phone. It even looks like you'll be able to pair your tablet PC with your Windows Phone 7 device, and send/receive SMS via the application, too, but we're yet to get formal confirmation on this one.

The framework is all there, though. You'll be able to receive notifications on the lock screen, just like you do on your Windows Phone, and you'll be able to reply to them through any channel you choose, be it SMS, Windows Live Messenger or Facebook Chat. This might make a lot more Windows Phones sell.

Other neat things we spotted? Evernote has a Metro based application already, as does Kobo (pictured above, complete with working live tile) you can now pin people via the people application to your device screen (and there's options here to call them now; it's not clear if that is on the device or via a paired phone), and Xbox Live support will be enabled in the beta. 

One last thing: It looks like Microsoft may be about to rebrand Zune as "Microsoft Music" come late February. We spotted multiple places throughout the OS with references to the product, with emails being able to source the currently playing information from Microsoft Music, and on the home screen there's a shiny new live tile that shows the branding of the new product as well as what's playing. 

It also could be Microsoft rebranding Windows Media player, as the "video player" has now been seperated out as well. At this point, only time will tell, but our gut feeling tells us that the Zune branding is going to disappear over the space of this year, considering the timing of a "end of 2012" release of Windows 8 and the next expected Windows Phone update; Apollo.

The best part is, this isn't even the tip of the surface. Small touches have been made, finally. The taskbar is now entirely styled in Metro black. Animations have slightly changed. Gestures and keyboard reconfigurations have been made. There's lots more we weren't allowed to look at, and we'll have to wait patiently until next month to try it out in depth. 

Indications from manufacturers with their "reference devices" for Windows 8 behind glass here at CES is that they'll be able to be more open about their devices once the beta is available, too, so expect a deluge of Windows 8 news soon enough.

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This UI is deplorable, it directly contributes to the dumbing down of America. The 'Everything must be idiot proof' concept is completely out of balance and breeds laziness and stupidity.

Marshall said,
This UI is deplorable, it directly contributes to the dumbing down of America. The 'Everything must be idiot proof' concept is completely out of balance and breeds laziness and stupidity.

Stick to linux and a command line bud. Wouldn't want you to feel "dumbed down" by a GUI right?

I really hope they do some work on the desktop interface as well, because this touch based crap UI just ****es me off. If I wanted a damn WP I would have gotten one! Leave it on the tablet, whatever, at least I can avoid that by not putting Windows on my tablet, but a computer?

I'm getting really discouraged with Windows 8 and I've never felt that way about a new version of Windows before... Please, Microsoft, show us some desktop updates that the rest of us can enjoy and get excited for before I just give up on this all together. I just keep getting the feeling they're going to sell us a marginally updated Windows 7 but with the inclusion of a touch based UI and that sucks. I don't want Windows 8 to be the equivalent of a Service Pack with an additional UI.

/rant

jeston said,
I really hope they do some work on the desktop interface as well, because this touch based crap UI just ****es me off. If I wanted a damn WP I would have gotten one! Leave it on the tablet, whatever, at least I can avoid that by not putting Windows on my tablet, but a computer?

I'm getting really discouraged with Windows 8 and I've never felt that way about a new version of Windows before... Please, Microsoft, show us some desktop updates that the rest of us can enjoy and get excited for before I just give up on this all together. I just keep getting the feeling they're going to sell us a marginally updated Windows 7 but with the inclusion of a touch based UI and that sucks. I don't want Windows 8 to be the equivalent of a Service Pack with an additional UI.

/rant

There's a stack of great stuff for the desktop - see http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/
Yes the focus is on the "big UI change" for metro (and MS sorely need to get into the tablet market which is why they're showing it a lot) but there's plenty coming for the desktop that will make my working and home life that bit better

jeston said,
I really hope they do some work on the desktop interface as well, because this touch based crap UI just ****es me off. If I wanted a damn WP I would have gotten one! Leave it on the tablet, whatever, at least I can avoid that by not putting Windows on my tablet, but a computer?

I'm getting really discouraged with Windows 8 and I've never felt that way about a new version of Windows before... Please, Microsoft, show us some desktop updates that the rest of us can enjoy and get excited for before I just give up on this all together. I just keep getting the feeling they're going to sell us a marginally updated Windows 7 but with the inclusion of a touch based UI and that sucks. I don't want Windows 8 to be the equivalent of a Service Pack with an additional UI.

/rant

Jeston - the folks that are ranting about Metro don't want a UI change at all. They want some of Windows 8's features - however, they want them along with Windows 7's UI.

Thing is, a lot of the features that have been highlighted in Windows 8 are, in fact, UI-neutral (the improved Task Manager, Disk Optimizer, etc.). While *some* of the new functionality is Metro-specific, a whole lot of it isn't.

The other thing that folks aren't realizing about Metro as a UI is that it's a *superset* - not a subset - of the Windows 7 UI as we've known it. That is exactly the reverse of the default XP TabletPC Edition UI (in fact, most tablet/slate UIs). Other than what doesn't fit Metro's UI, everything in Windows 7 remains accessible - even from Metro. (Or have we forgotten that non-Metro Windows applications, games, etc., all still work, and pretty much unchanged, from how they do in Windows 7 today?)

The real issue - from what I've been seeing so far - is that we've gotten used to niche operating systems, environments, UIs, etc. - and the resultant fracturization of the computing space into little boxes. There has been pushback against any attempt to unify computing across devices, and it's not just with Microsoft and Windows 8/Phone/XB360 - how is it going on the Android front with Ice Cream Sandwich, for example? With Apple and OS X/iOS? Will the fracturization finally stop - or will it instead get worse?

im getting concerned about how people will deal with "swipe from the side of the screen" to reveal essential controlls. that will confuse A LOT of people

KingCrimson said,
So how does multitasking work on Windows 8? Alt-tab on a touch screen - OOPS!!!!

uh, no, you swipe apps in from the left side of the screen using your thumb/finger. Much better than alt+tab.

FalseAgent said,

uh, no, you swipe apps in from the left side of the screen using your thumb/finger. Much better than alt+tab.

Wow, didn't they show a gesture where you take 3-4 fingers and swipe up to see a palm like cards view and then swripe up to remove them?

Has microsoft stated what new the plan to bring to the desktop enviro yet? All I have really seen is the ribbon interface and metro as the new aero lite. I plan on getting Windows 8 for tablet purposes. For my desktops though I think Windows 7 will stay since I don't plan to use the metro start screen on those. To be honest I really don't see what else Microsoft can bring new to the desktop environment of Windows. Windows 7 is solid at the moment, and I can see it being a stable long term release for Microsoft.

As much as I love the iPad, and iOS in general, this looks really compelling. I've always loved the Metro interface and it really shines in Windows 8. When comparing the standard Android home screen (for tablets) to this, it's laughable. What was Google thinking.. Microsoft finally got it right, let's hope it lives up to expectations.

There has to be a more efficient way to see all the apps you have running instead of "flick, flick, flick, flick." I know you can pinch to zoom out so you can see all the icons on the Start screen, but they need to make it easier for a person to find the apps they already have running. If they have this, let me know.

srprimeaux said,
There has to be a more efficient way to see all the apps you have running instead of "flick, flick, flick, flick." I know you can pinch to zoom out so you can see all the icons on the Start screen, but they need to make it easier for a person to find the apps they already have running. If they have this, let me know.

1)just type the name it will feed u by it
2)pinch out
3)manage ur tiles so that important ones occur first

You can not do 1 or 2 and even 3 with as much ease in iOS

bogas04 said,

1)just type the name it will feed u by it
2)pinch out
3)manage ur tiles so that important ones occur first

You can not do 1 or 2 and even 3 with as much ease in iOS

1. Not that intuitive. If it's written to where I can zoom out to see all my app icons on the Start screen, why can't I do that when I'm in an app to see all of the apps I have open in a grid of some sort so I can just tap it to go to it instead of swiping through all of them to get to the one I want?

2. Pinch out? That will show me all the apps I have running in expended mode?

3. I'm aware of managing tiles, but I am talking about opened/suspended applications.

I didn't mention iOS once. But if you want to bring that up, simply double-clicking the home button shows me an icon list of all apps I have up and running. What does Windows 8 have that's equivalent? Swipe, swipe, swipe?

srprimeaux said,

1. Not that intuitive. If it's written to where I can zoom out to see all my app icons on the Start screen, why can't I do that when I'm in an app to see all of the apps I have open in a grid of some sort so I can just tap it to go to it instead of swiping through all of them to get to the one I want?

2. Pinch out? That will show me all the apps I have running in expended mode?

3. I'm aware of managing tiles, but I am talking about opened/suspended applications.

I didn't mention iOS once. But if you want to bring that up, simply double-clicking the home button shows me an icon list of all apps I have up and running. What does Windows 8 have that's equivalent? Swipe, swipe, swipe?

Yeah that's a killer weakness.

srprimeaux said,
There has to be a more efficient way to see all the apps you have running instead of "flick, flick, flick, flick." I know you can pinch to zoom out so you can see all the icons on the Start screen, but they need to make it easier for a person to find the apps they already have running. If they have this, let me know.

1. Point mouse to left edge of screen
2. Scroll

The thumbnail of what you're about to switch to will scroll through the open applications. It's like a fast Alt-Tab

Windows 8 will be my first tablet. If it impresses, may even switch to WP7(or 8 by then) if its got all the jazz and customization android has, oh and the hardware.

lunarworks said,
I'll admit, it looks GREAT. For a tablet.

Still shouldn't be anywhere near a desktop or notebook.

You are so right. There is little in Windows-8 for desktops or notebooks. Basically a new OS for an expensive personal assistant type device--certainly not a serious computer.

lunarworks said,
I'll admit, it looks GREAT. For a tablet.

Still shouldn't be anywhere near a desktop or notebook.

im really confused to what the metro/desktop switch will be like on the actual device. For me its more of a wait and see, in terms of desktop at least. It definately looks wonderful on tablet (im finally up to buying a tablet)

TsarNikky said,

You are so right. There is little in Windows-8 for desktops or notebooks. Basically a new OS for an expensive personal assistant type device--certainly not a serious computer.

Probably a good idea to read up on the team's blog on the myriad of great features coming for the desktop too - just because Metro is a UI change doesn't mean you should focus all your attention on that (and nothing else). If you really don't think some of the (great) stuff in Win8 is useful for the desktop then i'm afraid you're not a serious computer user


It even looks like you'll be able to pair your tablet PC with your Windows Phone 7 device, and send/receive SMS via the application, too, but we're yet to get formal confirmation on this one.

FINALLY, a SMS framework for developers to use (It seems)

Besides WP7, Android will problably get it and of course it will be a "magic feature" in iPhone 5/iOS6

Bern@rd said,
I am not so sure about the Zune rebranding thing. What will they name Zune Pass?

windows music pass XD

i seriously dont think they would get rid of zune... i hope haha
i mean... why would they?

Bern@rd said,
I am not so sure about the Zune rebranding thing. What will they name Zune Pass?

Microsoft Music One-Year Pass Home Premium Edition Plus 2011, Service Pack 1.

SharpGreen said,
Glad you change the color. I quite liked DP's green.

It's the one thing I didn't personally - but now we all get to choose
They should ship it by default in blue though - most punters will prefer it.

Wow, I actually really like the look of this... The design for the control panel is sweet (I never thought I'd say that, well, about a control panel!)

Less is more! Anyone can through shiny effects, shadows and such to make it look good, but if you bring things down to the basic, making things which are simple look polished is tricky, so kudos to micrsoft!

This can finally shut the people up that said "It's ugly and not functional". I can't wait to use the updated UI on a desktop.

Anthonyd said,

Probably XNA appz, like on WP

Nope, no XNA support in the Metro environment. Either C++ & DirectX, XAML & C# or HTML & JS (keep in mind, Windows Phone and Windows are designed largely be separate teams with different ideals)

~Johnny said,

Nope, no XNA support in the Metro environment. Either C++ & DirectX, XAML & C# or HTML & JS (keep in mind, Windows Phone and Windows are designed largely be separate teams with different ideals)


XNA is C# .... and you can use DirectX, so yeah, your argument SEEMS to be invalid.

Anthonyd said,

XNA is C# .... and you can use DirectX, so yeah, your argument SEEMS to be invalid.

You can't use any XNA libraries. It might seem invalid, but that's the way it is. If you want any direct DirectX access in WinRT, you have to use C++. There's no C# with DirectX. And for HTML & XAML based apps, even though they run on DirectX underneath, they can't directly call any DirectX methods. Everything's neatly sandboxed.

~Johnny said,

You can't use any XNA libraries. It might seem invalid, but that's the way it is. If you want any direct DirectX access in WinRT, you have to use C++. There's no C# with DirectX. And for HTML & XAML based apps, even though they run on DirectX underneath, they can't directly call any DirectX methods. Everything's neatly sandboxed.

Ok

~Johnny said,

Nope, no XNA support in the Metro environment. Either C++ & DirectX, XAML & C# or HTML & JS (keep in mind, Windows Phone and Windows are designed largely be separate teams with different ideals)

...yet

Looks nice, can't wait for the beta to be out and the Windows Store to open.
So we can actually really start to play around in the metro start screen

MS Lose32 said,
Anything more and MS fanboys would start getting confused. Heck, Ballmer thinks only computer scientists can use Android.

...

I guess flat monochrome squares could be considered sleek to some...

You aren't really adding much to this thread. Someone says something positive, you say something negative.

I see MS really working hard to create a universal interface for touch and non-touch applications.

MS Lose32 said,
I guess flat monochrome squares could be considered sleek to some...

yeh your right, personally i wont buy a tablet with a flat screen, oh wait......

Yeah im stoked on February and Windows Phone! It's going to be a good year for Microsoft I think and I really really hope WP picks up!

This is where Microsoft is doing it right... When it does Windows and Office.
They should not use Windows' names for phones. Phones are more than tools: today they're toys for most people. Windows is too serious.
Microsoft should hire me.

Luis Mazza said,
This is where Microsoft is doing it right... When it does Windows and Office.
They should not use Windows' names for phones. Phones are more than tools: today they're toys for most people. Windows is too serious.
Microsoft should hire me.

No... they shouldn't.

Microsoft are going to have a very busy February.
Windows team rolling B1 out
Mediaroom team holding conference
Phone team at MWC

February is gonna rock!

nekrosoft13 said,

very true, and horrible for desktops.

Windows 8 appears to be highly oriented toward the tablet market. It's possible we will only see it on tablet pcs and touchscreen all in ones.

shinji257 said,

Windows 8 appears to be highly oriented toward the tablet market. It's possible we will only see it on tablet pcs and touchscreen all in ones.

Do what? No, it's not "possible" don't be silly.

shinji257 said,

Windows 8 appears to be highly oriented toward the tablet market. It's possible we will only see it on tablet pcs and touchscreen all in ones.

Come on. How many times do you need to be told that Metro will be the default interface for tablets, but the superbar and desktop will be the default interface for laptop and desktop form factors? It's still there underneath.

DrakeN2k said,

First bit of metro i like

It may be a strange thing to say, but it is really pleasant to look at.

Co_Co said,
it looks very simple...
Anything more and MS fanboys would start getting confused. Heck, Ballmer thinks only computer scientists can use Android.

Co_Co said,
it looks very simple...

A bit too simple.

I like it on my ZuneHD and that's where it should have stayed.

That's really slick. My interest and anticipation about Windows 8 had wavered a bit. But this article brought it back.

yeoo_andy_ni said,
Roll on February.
Only I just don't have a tablet to play with it on!

You, me, and a whole lot of other people.

We'll have to wait till it RTMs.

yeoo_andy_ni said,
Roll on February.
Only I just don't have a tablet to play with it on!

Just got myself an Acer W500 just for the beta, can be had cheap on Cheetahdeals and from vids on youtube runs Windows 8 very well. Then move on to a sexy new device later this year and keep or gift the Acer, thats my plan.

yeoo_andy_ni said,
Roll on February.
Only I just don't have a tablet to play with it on!

I have the Asus EP121. It is a little big, the battery is not great, and of course Win8 is still in beta so there are many rough edges with the software, but I have been developing Metro apps for a while and I enjoy it a lot.

yeoo_andy_ni said,
Roll on February.
Only I just don't have a tablet to play with it on!

I predict Windows 8 Beta build 8300 by Feb