Windows 8 has many interesting new features, but the most important has to be the Store. It’s now easy to enhance your PC 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 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.
But don’t worry, we’ve been scouring the latest releases for the hidden gems, so if you’d like to save time and jump straight to the Store highlights then read on for our guide to the best Windows 8 apps currently available.
IM+ for Windows 8
Everyone needs a good instant messaging client, and although the Windows 8 Messaging app is functional enough, as of publication it supports only the Windows Messenger and Facebook Chat services. That may change in the future, but if you want to chat with all your friends right now across disparate networks (including AIM, Facebook, GChat, ICQ, and Jabber) Shape’s IM+ app has you covered. It’s free, it supports a wide variety of chat networks, and it lets you enable push notifications so that you can stay on top of your social life no matter what app you’re using.
Netflix for Windows 8
The Netflix app for Windows 8 is free to download and easy to use, with an attractive tile-based interface that’s intuitive to navigate on a touchscreen. Streaming movies through the app also seems smoother than streaming them through your browser, which is reason enough to launch Netflix right from your Start screen.
Over 14,000 radio stations exist in the United States, and TuneIn Radio will let you listen to almost all of them, plus a bunch more from across the world, for free. While you could always stream your favorite radio station from your browser, TuneIn does a fantastic job of presenting a huge assortment of AM/FM radio streams and podcasts in one slick app that’s simple to navigate. The sound quality is great, playback rarely stutters, and the TuneIn live tile displays information on what’s currently playing. You can choose from over 70,000 talk shows, sports broadcasts, news programs, local radio broadcasts, and podcasts.
eBay for Windows 8
The eBay app is beautiful, free and easy to use, but most importantly it takes advantage of the Windows 8 Start screen in ways that make it more useful to savvy shoppers than the standard eBay website. You can use the app to quickly and efficiently sort through your tracked auctions and saved eBay searches, and you can pin the Daily Deals tracker to your Start screen to stay abreast of savings opportunities at a glance.
Jujuba Software’s app does what it says on the tin, placing a live tile on your Start screen that shows the time. You might be wondering why you’d need an app to do such a simple thing; surprisingly, in Windows 8, Microsoft actually failed to include an option for users to see what time it is without pulling up the Charms bar to display the system clock. The Clock app is a free, simple alternative for anyone who wants the convenience of being able to check the time at a glance without pulling up a menu, and you can also use it to set a timer, run a stopwatch, or set alarms for yourself.
StumbleUpon for Windows 8
Whether you’re an avid Stumbler or a first-time user, consider adding the StumbleUpon app to your new Start screen. StumbleUpon is a fantastic way to discover new and interesting things online, and the Windows 8 app makes it even easier to stumble upon your next favorite video or article by updating the live tile with websites tailored to match your tastes. Installing the Windows 8 StumbleUpon app will also allow you to share websites, audio, and video with StumbleUpon via the Share Charm. It’s a great tool for injecting a little serendipity into your online existence, and it’s completely free to use.
HowStuffWorks for Windows 8
The HowStuffWorks Windows 8 app basically bundles all the excellent articles, videos and podcasts from the HowStuffWorks website into a package and plops it down on your Start screen with a live tile that updates you whenever there’s something new to check out. The app itself has a few peccadilloes (the tiles look cramped together and the podcasts don’t keep playing when you switch to another app) that suggest it was rushed out to hit the Windows 8 launch date, but HowStuffWorks is still a fantastic free app that deserves a permanent spot on your Start screen.
SnagFilms for Windows 8
There’s nothing on TV. Again. Annoying, but it doesn’t have to be a problem – not if you’ve installed the SnagFilms app. This simple tool provides on-demand access to thousands of independent films, for free, whenever and wherever you want (as long as your internet connection is up to it, anyway). Start by browsing the site’s categories – Thriller, Comedy, Drama, Family Friendly, Science and Nature and more – and you’ll find all kinds of offerings, from obscure shorts to major pictures with big Hollywood names. And you can then read more details about the movie, add it to your own movie library, or start watching in just a click or two.
Wikipedia for Windows 8
While it’s a fabulous website, packed with essential information, Wikipedia has never quite looked as glossy as the best print encyclopedias. But the Windows 8 app changes all that. Launch it and gorgeous “featured pictures” catch your eye immediately, for instance. Clicking any of these drills down to the relevant article, carefully formatted for better display on mobile devices. Scroll to the right and you’ll find a similar set of “featured articles”, a collection of events that happened “on this day” and links to recently changed pages, all useful as starting points for browsing. But best of all, once the app is installed, you can search Wikipedia at any time from the regular Windows 8 Search tool. And you just know that’s going to be very useful indeed.
FreeBooks for Windows 8
There’s more to ebooks than Amazon and Kindle: no, really. And by way of evidence, look no further than Free Books. This attractive app offers more than 23,000 free books (mostly old classics), neatly organised by category and author, with an interesting selection of “Featured” books if you just want to browse. Double-click any book to download it to your library. Double-click again to read it; tap right or left to turn the appropriate page; and of course the app remembers your current page, so if you leave it and come back later then you’ll be able to carry on where you left off. Some people may feel the app is a little too basic, and it would certainly benefit from settings to adjust text size, colors and so on. The simplicity does mean Free Books is very simple to use, though, and on balance it’ll be a great addition to most systems.