Several months ago, I made the leap to Windows 8. Having heard so many contradictory opinions, I didn’t know what to expect from this new Modern interface. I don’t own a Windows 8 tablet, which means I’m not limited to Modern UI, but my laptop is touch enabled, so I can make the most of it, if I want. Whether you’re limited to Modern UI or just contemplating its general usefulness, you need really good apps to help you take advantage of it.
The Windows 8 Store has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s now possible to find a great selection of Modern Windows 8 apps. From news apps to email apps, there’s almost nothing that isn’t available for the Modern UI. But how do these apps compare to their desktop predecessors? Are they really worth the trouble? Turns out they are.
Fhotoroom [Free, $1.49]
Fhotoroom is a combination between an Instagram-like social network (and it can in fact serve as an Instagram alternative for Windows Phone) annd a basic photo editor, all wrapped up in a beautiful, touch-friendly interface that will have you coming back for more. Fhotoroom is flexible enough to be used only as an editor (doesn’t require sign in), only as a social network, or both. You can set the app’s homescreen to be the editor, or opt for a more social start screen.
When it comes to editing, the app offers 24 filters, popular effects such as blur, vignette, and leaks, a wide selection of frames, an edit brush, basic photo corrections, and more. Some editing features, such as color splash, denoise, and redeye fix, are not available in the free version of the app, but can be yours if you go for the Pro version ($1.49). Pro features are clearly marked, so there’s no confusion or disappointment.
Once you’re done editing, you can either download the photo to your computer, or upload it to Fhotoroom’s network, providing you have an account.
Bottom line: Beautiful photo-editing app that’s very easy to use with touch or with a mouse. It’s not a fully-fledged editing app, but can yield great results quickly. The social platform is a nice touch, and is easy to opt in and out of.
According to Metrotube’s website, the app is still in beta, but you’ll find that hard to believe once you actually use it. If you think YouTube is frustrating to use on Modern UI, look no further than Metrotube. Sign in with your Google account to access all the usual YouTube features, as well as your subscriptions and uploads. Metrotube is extremely easy to navigate with touch, but preserves enough of YouTube’s original interface to make it intuitive to use.
While watching a video, swipe your finger up from the bottom or down from the top of the screen to reveal the quality toggle, the Watch Later and Favorite markers, and the volume controller. The app is capable of showing videos in full HD, and on the right monitor, the results are stunning.
Accessing your watch later and favorite lists, uploads, recently played videos, subscriptions and video categories is all done through one convenient menu. If you own a Windows 8 desktop device, Metrotube works perfectly in snapped mode as well.
Bottom line: A perfect way to enjoy YouTube on your Modern device. The app combines a familiar interface with Microsoft’s Modern guidelines, creating a touch-friendly and easy to use interface, with all options included.
MetroTwit [Free, $4.99]
MetroTwit has been my go-to Twitter client for well over a year now, long before Windows 8 was officially launched to the public. The app’s Modern version is very similar to its desktop counterpart, with the omission of many of its customization options. Despite that, MetroTwit for Modern UI is very well suited to touch interface, making even the more complicated tasks such as setting up columns a breeze.
All the usual Twitter actions such as following, favoriting and re-tweeting (both methods) are easily available either by tapping a tweet in your timeline or by viewing the tweet on your entire screen.
When it comes to sending out tweets, MetroTwit supports photo attachments from your computer or camera, as well as geotagging, but doesn’t have a built-in link shortener or a scheduling feature. In fact, if you’ve been using MetroTwit for desktop with your own bitly account, you’re sorely going to miss this feature on the Modern MetroTwit.
The free version of MetroTwit supports only one Twitter account, and features a small ad in the bottom left corner of the screen. $4.99 will get rid of the ad and add multi-user support. MetroTwit+ users on desktop can use the same unlock code for the Modern version.
Bottom line: A great take on Twitter for Modern, but might not suit power users who need customized shortened links and other advanced settings. Individual users, however, will enjoy a free, touch-friendly Twitter experience they won’t easily give up on after trying.
NextGen Reader [$2.99]
NextGen Reader is an amazing RSS client for Windows 8 that currently has only one problem: it only supports Google Reader syncing. So why did I choose to include such an app in this list? NextGen Reader will truly make you love Modern UI, and if true to its promise, will also feature options other than Google Reader before July 1st. There’s not much time left, so I’m putting my faith in the developers, trusting them to not let this gorgeous app go to waste.
Despite syncing its feeds from Google Reader, NextGen Reader is as different from Google Reader as night from day. Almost every aspect of the app is customizable, from the general color scheme to the way individual articles appear in each subscription. Keyboard shortcuts are fully supported, as well as touch gestures for easy navigation between articles and feeds. In fact, everything is easily done using touch alone, and that includes marking posts as read, customizing filters, etc.
Do you want things to be even more touch friendly? NextGen Reader has a Modern view, presenting your feeds in easy to browse tiles. It also integrates with Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability, for a better reading experience and easy article saving.
Bottom line: NextGen Reader is such a comprehensive RSS solution, I’m almost tempted to use it as my go-to Google Reader replacement. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled and hope a new version comes out soon; one that doesn’t require the defunct Google Reader in order to work.
Toolbox For Windows 8 [Free]
Answer quickly, what’s the most frustrating thing about Modern UI? If you answered “lack of multitasking,” you’re not alone. Forcing Modern apps to run in full-screen mode is one of Microsoft’s most debatable decisions to date, taking Windows 8 Modern users back to a technological stone age. So is there a solution?
If you don’t mind spending $4.99 on the matter, you could go for ModernMix — a Stardock app that lets you run any Modern app in a window — but if you’re hunting for a free solution, you’re going to love Toolbox for Windows 8.
Toolbox does the impossible: it lets you run as many as six Modern apps simultaneously on the same screen. Don’t get to giddy, though; Toolbox is limited to a number of apps, including clock, stop watch, doodle, voice notes, calculator, Facebook, and a browser. Within the confines of these apps, however, you can create as many layouts as you wish, and save them for easy access later on. You can also use one of the pre-made layouts that come with the app.
Toolbox for Windows 8 is easy to set up, touch friendly, and very useful when you need to run several apps at the same time. New apps are added to the collection from time to time, so there’s always something to look forward to.
Bottom line: Toolbox is the missing piece for Modern UI. If the lack of multitasking drives you nuts, this app can alleviate your pain.
Modern UI is slowly growing on me, and writing this post made me even more fond of it. It’s never going to be as useful as desktop mode, perhaps, but if you own a Windows 8 tablet, you still have a great OS to work with. Getting the right app is a huge step towards falling in love with Modern UI, and with these five, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will.
Not hooked yet? Here are 5 more Modern apps that can help you use Windows 8 with style.
Do you have a favorite Modern app? Is there an obvious choice I missed? Add your favorites below!