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Microsoft’s app marketplace may not be quite as flush as its competitors, but roughly 140,000 apps still reside in the Windows Store
Microsoft’s app marketplace may not be quite as flush as its competitors, but roughly 140,000 apps still reside in the Windows Store. And frankly, as with any app store, a lot of them are junk. How does a Windows tablet owner know which apps are worth installing?
Fresh Paint was a star at Windows 8’s 2012 launch, and it still shines brightly a year later. The free app comes chock-full of watercolors, oils, and pencil tools that will keep you doodling for hours in full multitouch glory. If that gets boring, try something else: Fresh Paint also allows you to paint over pictures stored on your PC, or to pull in “inspiration” from photos on Bing. You can purchase optional “packs” (read: coloring books) for your kids, including some starring Disney characters such as Mickey and Nemo. As simple as it sounds, Fresh Paint is a blast.
Don’t feel like finger painting? Xbox Smartglass lets you navigate and control your Xbox 360 or Xbox One console with your slate, and much more. Games with Smartglass support (such as Halo 4, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Dead Rising 3) offer unique gameplay capabilities in-app, and a number of movies provide supplemental content through Smartglass. You can also use Xbox Smartglass to buy videos from Xbox Video and shift them from your tablet to your TV and back again.
If you’d rather game on your tablet, check out Skulls of the Shogun or Halo: Spartan Assault. Skulls of the Shogun syncs your progress between the Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, and Xbox Live Arcade versions of the game (assuming you’ve bought more than one), and allows players on one platform to go head-to-head with users of other devices. “One Microsoft” indeed.
No Windows tablet is an island, given Windows 8’s cloud-centric nature. The Windows Store lacks apps for many social networks, but the big two—Facebook and Twitter—are available, along with a surprisingly awesome Foursquare app.
The two big-name apps each have some quirks: Twitter lacks in-stream retweet/favorite options, and you can’t share content to Facebook via the Share charm. Overall, however, the two apps are rock-solid. They deliver systemwide notifications, as well, and you can “snap” them to a portion of the screen for handy multitasking, just as you can any other proper Windows app—two highly useful additions.
Netflix and Hulu Plus subscribers will want to check out those respective apps post-haste.
YouTube, unfortunately, isn’t available as an app, but you won’t mourn its loss if you check out Hyper for YouTube, a slick YouTube viewer that includes video-quality options and full YouTube account support. (Most of the YouTube-related offerings in the Windows Store don’t.)
Or, if you’re just into YouTube for the free tunes, check out the free Vevo app.
If you’re looking to soothe your savage breast, install Slacker Radio. Sure, Windows 8 bakes in the Xbox Music service by default, but Xbox Music restricts your free listening after six months and has limited device support outside of Microsoft’s ecosystem. Slacker Radio offers free, unlimited listening to the service’s superb, 300-plus, DJ-curated radio stations, while subscribing for $10 per month unlocks on-demand music and playlist support.
Finally, if you have a large music and movie library of your own, grab Plex. This killer app lets you stream any of the media stored on your PC to your tablet on the fly, after some initial setup. It’s wonderful.
The Windows Store features both Kindle and Nook apps. Each serves as a gateway to the bounty of ebooks and magazines available in their respective digital bookstores.
If your tastes skew toward shorter forms, try the stellar Flipboard app, which finally touched down in the Windows Store this fall.
Comixology, meanwhile, has more than 40,000 digital comics available for purchase from top-name publishers such as Marvel, DC, and Image. Some people have run into minor bugs with the app, but nothing crippling, and its deep troves are a wonderful way to spend any day.
Bing Maps Preview is a version of Bing Maps that supports Google Earth–like 3D maps. It’s a big improvement over the basic Bing Maps, and with Google largely sitting on the Windows Store sidelines, it’s the marquee maps option available for Windows tablets.
If you go cuckoo for Coco Crisp or any other athlete or sports team, you’ve got to grab the ESPN Windows 8 app, which dishes out up-to-the-minute scores, analysis, and videos from the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Plus, you can pin live tiles for your favorite teams to the Windows 8 Start screen.
Music Maker Jam lets you make your own jams, man, complete with an orchestra’s worth of premade loops and a multitude of effects. It’s a blast.
If you’re over 21, Cocktail Flow is the personal bartender you’ve always wanted. The app packs alcoholic-drink recipes and recommendations by type, by spirit, by whatever you have in your liquor cabinet, or heck, even by color.
Grab the Allrecipes food app to go with it, and you’ll never have to think about dinner again.