It’s now easy to enhance your Windows 8 laptop or Windows 8 tablet with a host of powerful apps – games, multimedia, tools, productivity and more – and these can then automatically be installed on all your other Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 systems in a click or two.
You’ll have to find them first, of course, which is something of a challenge, since the Windows Store now has thousands of apps competing for your attention.
The new Windows 8.1 version, currently available as a preview, makes drastic improvements to the discoverability of apps, but in the meantime we’ve been scouring the latest releases for the hidden gems. Read on for our guide to the best Windows 8 apps currently available.
The OneNote app itself works well within the clean, tiled look of the Windows 8 start screen and there are plenty of features to explore, from the ability to annotate your notes with drawings and scribbles to the option of tagging your notes to make them easier to organise.
02. Violet Storm Lite
Violet Storm has been one of the best games on Windows 8 since the operating system’s launch, but it’s now available as both a free Lite version and a £2.79 Pro edition that you can upgrade to if you like what you see.
In both versions the aim is to blast your way through as many enemies as possible across a mesmerising, never-ending solar system backdrop. It’s easy enough to navigate your spaceship around the galaxy, and a lot of fun to play.
Channel 4 seemed to get its catch-up act together quicker than most of the commercial channels (putting much of its content on YouTube, for example), and its free Windows 8 4oD app is simple to use and packed with programmes old and new.
You’ll have to put up with a few adverts, but the full-screen mode makes sense for video, and you can browse by broadcast date, by category or through the full A-Z of available shows.
04. Official England Football
We may be a bit of a shambles on the pitch, but at least the FA’s free Windows 8 app, Official England Football, is slick and easy on the eye.
There’s plenty of material to work through, including news updates and video content (both official and behind-the-scenes), and if you have more than a passing interest in the fortunes of the national team then this is a worthwhile install. For the time being it looks like new content is added on a regular basis, too.
The official Twitter app for Windows 8 doesn’t do much beyond the basics of displaying your timeline and your mentions, and it could certainly use a fresh lick of paint in the interface department.
However, what it does do well is dock to the side of the screen – you can view your tweets while working on the desktop or running another Windows 8 app, and for this feature alone it’s worth installing on your Start screen.
06. Adobe Photoshop Express
It’s a little basic at the moment, but at least Adobe has got its foot in the Windows 8 door with the free Photoshop Express app – you can easily crop pictures, adjust brightness, contrast and colours via on-screen sliders, and add a range of instant filtered looks to your photos.
Everything is mapped out to make the most of a full-screen touch-enabled interface, though the reduce noise tool is a paid-for upgrade, which is a shame. You can import pictures from disc or sync them over the web.
07. Royal Revolt!
One of the very best Windows 8 games available at the moment, Royal Revolt! is a free tower defence title with some beautifully rendered 3D graphics, cartoon-ish sounds and a simple backstory.
The learning curve is just right, so you can pick up the game’s various features as you progress through increasingly difficult levels in an attempt to regain your kingdom. You can marshall your troops and plan your attacks using a mouse and keyboard or on a touchscreen.
08. Google Search
Not only does the Windows 8 Google Search app enable you to type (or speak) your queries, it includes a rudimentary web browser to enable you to see the results within the app, as well as access other Google tools such as Gmail and Maps.
Like many Start screen apps, it suffers from too much blank space, but it’s an intuitive tool that will be of particular interest if you’re heavily invested in the Google ecosystem (you can easily call up your Google search history, for example).
09. Spider Solitaire HD
Windows 8 no longer includes the old favourite Solitaire as a desktop app, so you’ll need to find a Start screen app to fill the void. Spider Solitaire HD is the best option we came across, enabling you to choose from several different card and table designs and providing full support for touchscreen users.
The app comes with an advertising banner at the top, but if you like the game you can upgrade to have this removed, which cost 99p at the time of writing.
10. Bing Translator
It’s in Microsoft’s best interests to get some good quality Windows 8 apps into the Store, and the free Bing Translator tool certainly fits that description.
As well as typing out your queries you can take a webcam shot of signs and documents for instant translations. 40 different languages are supported, including Spanish, French, German and… Klingon. The app also has an offline mode, enabling you to download language packs so you can get quick translations without an internet connection.
The Comixology mobile apps are joined by this impressive Windows 8 version called Comics, which syncs all of your digital comics to the Start screen, as well as enabling you to browse for and purchase new ones with a few mouse clicks or finger taps.
The useful guided view option, which automatically navigates from pane to pane rather than showing the whole page, is carried over from the mobile apps, making it much easier to work your way through the pages.
12. AutoDesk SketchBook Express
Get creative with this stripped-down free version of the full AutoDesk SketchBook, SketchBook Express. There are plenty of brushes and effects to play around with, and this being Windows 8 you can easily operate the app with a touchscreen as well as a keyboard and mouse.
The tutorial will get you up and running with the app’s interface within a minute, and then it’s down to your drawing and painting abilities. Make use of the symmetry effects and you can create some impressive abstract designs.
The official app from Cineworld provides a decent front-end for finding currently playing films and local cinemas – you can browse by movie or by location, see information about films and view trailers where available, though if you actually want to book tickets you’ll get kicked out to your default web browser to complete the process.
Even with that annoyance, the ease of use offered by the Cineworld app makes it worth an install for movie lovers, and you can get discounts on tickets if you register for free.
14. My History Digest
My History Digest makes good use of the Windows 8 Start screen format and is simple to browse around. A wealth of historical and scientific information is available through the app and the subsequent issues of MyHistoryDigest.
And while you’ll have to pay for much of the content, there are some extensive and well-written free articles that should be enough to give you a taste of the material on offer. The content itself is also well set out and designed to take advantage of widescreen, touch-enabled displays.
15. Sidebar Dictionary
Like the official Twitter app, this is an app that’s not just notable for what it does, but by how well it works when docked to the side of the screen. As you’ve probably surmised, Sidebar Dictionary provides quick definitions pulled from the web, and you can browse back through previous searches and save favourite words for later use.
For £1.79 you can upgrade to the Pro edition, which offers built-in translations and an offline mode, alongside some other extra features.
16. TeamViewer Touch
TeamViewer has long been one of the best and most straightforward remote desktop apps, and free for personal use to boot. The Windows 8 TeamViewer Touch app brings all of that TeamViewer goodness to your Start screen environment, enabling you to access your other computers over the web through a pared-down, touch-friendly interface that’s a breeze to use and includes all of the key features you’ll need.
If you don’t already have a TeamViewer account, you can sign up from within the app itself.
17. Toolbox for Windows 8
A collection of smaller tools for those of you looking for Start screen equivalents for the desktop utilities such as Calculator. Toolbox for Windows 8 includes a clock, calculator, notifier tool, weather badge, stopwatch, notes app, widgets for Facebook and Twitter and more besides (though the Twitter one is a paid-for add-on).
And you can run up to six different tools on screen at once. We were also impressed by the simple animated tutorial that gets you up and running quickly.
The Windows 8 app for eBay is improving all the time – the ability to leave feedback from within the app was included in the latest release – and it’s a refreshing way to browse items and auctions when compared with the rather old-fashioned and creaky website at eBay.co.uk.
You can access most of your account functions from within the app, place bids, read messages, monitor your watched items, see daily deals and offers from the site.
19. Metro Commander
One immediate advantage of the Store is it makes it very easy for developers to plug whatever gaps Microsoft might leave. So don’t waste time wondering why Microsoft hasn’t provided a file manager for the Start Screen, for instance – just install Metro Commander, instead.
The program provides a dual-pane interface on your files and folders, provides easy access to all the usual core functions – View, Rename, Copy, More, New Folder, New File and more – and offers integrated SkyDrive support, too.
Explorer remains far more powerful, of course, but if you need something simple and more touch-friendly, then Metro Commander should do the job.
20. musiXmatch Lyrics
Another advantage of the Store is it means PC software isn’t isolated any more, somehow apart from your other devices. If you use the musiXmatch Lyrics app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device, for instance, then good news: it’s now free to use on your Windows 8 system, too.
If you’re new to musiXmatch, the app makes it easy to locate the lyrics for just about anything in your music collection. And we really do mean anything – the database now holds lyrics for around 6 million songs.
But if you’re just feeling bored, you can alternatively browse the latest US and UK hits, listen to them, and watch the videos via YouTube.
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