Windows 8 has many interesting features, but the most important has to be the Windows Store.
It’s now easy to enhance your Windows 8 aptop 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.
Microsoft’s well-known note-taking application is available as a free Windows 8 app, and syncs all of your thoughts and ideas across multiple devices and platforms through the magic of SkyDrive.
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.
21. Reversi Free
This fun version of the classic strategy game Othello is simple, straightforward and easy to use, yet still has more than enough power to keep you entertained for many hours.
And so there are three difficulty levels, for instance. You can go first, or second. And while the AI won’t be too challenging if you’re skilled at Reversi, if you get tired of the computer then there’s an option to engage a human opponent, instead.
All this is presented in an appealing interface, nicely designed to look as though it’s pencil-drawn. And this even extends to the sound of a pencil shading in pieces as they change colour (surprisingly, we didn’t find this annoying, although if you do then you can turn it off). No bells and whistles, then – just the gaming basics done very well indeed, and that’s fine with us.
22. TuneIn Radio
Internet radio has always been a great way to keep yourself entertained, and TuneIn Radio shows off the technology with real style.
The app’s huge database (more than 70,000 stations) means you’re sure to find something you like, for instance. You can browse by music, sport, news, comedy, chat, language, country, or even just find a local station (assuming you’ve enabled the app to access to your location).
The program can also maintain a list of your favourite stations, for easy access later. Or you can even pin some to your Start Screen, so you can begin listening at any time with a click.
23. Fractal Photographer
If you’ve not come across the Mandelbrot Set before, then Fractal Photographer makes an excellent first guide, slowly revealing the fascinating infinity of gorgeous fractal patterns.
The app is perfect for tablets, its multi-touch support enabling you to zoom in or rotate to get the best possible view. But the authors haven’t forgotten mouse users, either: you can click to move focus, scroll the mouse wheel to zoom in and out, and everything works just as you’d expect.
The program can also use multiple colour schemes to create new effects. If you find a particularly interesting point then you can bookmark it for easy access later. And a Save option enables you to save HD versions of your best patterns, ready to be shared with others.
24. Multimedia 8
If you’re missing Windows Media Centre, then fear not, the Store does have some interesting alternatives – and Multimedia 8 is one of the best.
The program makes it easy to browse your music, video and playlists, for instance. In a click (or a touch) you can access files on a media server, or the web.
And a host of bonus features includes 3D video support; the ability to convert videos to MP4 or WMV; playlist creation, DLNA media streaming, subtitle support (SRT/ WebVTT), video stabilisation, video and audio capture, and more.
25. News Bento
Whatever your view on the introduction of the Windows 8 Modern interface is, there’s no doubt that its apps can look fantastic, and News Bento is a perfect example.
Launch the app and a group of tiles show you constantly-updating news photos and headlines from top US sites. A host of others are available via the “more news” link, and Google Reader support combined with RSS search provides easy access to your other online favourites.
Choose a source and story summaries are neatly displayed in various panels. And most conveniently, clicking any of these (for the sources bundled with the program, anyway) displays its content within the app, so there’s no irritating switching to and from an external browser.
26. Free Books
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, colours 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.
27. Dredd vs Zombies
Mega-City One is in terrible danger of a zombie invasion. And even though this game has been a hit with iOS and Android users, they still haven’t saved the day – which means that now it’s your turn.
After equipping yourself for the battle ahead (there’s your trusty Lawgiver pistol, assorted other weapons, body armour and more) this fast-paced top-down shooter throws you into 30 levels of hectic, challenging combat.
This isn’t really a game for PCs, unfortunately – the mouse interface is relatively poor, making it hard to recommend for a conventional desktop. But on a tablet (or anything else with a touch interface) Dredd vs Zombies proves to be an entertaining game that offers plenty of zombie-killing fun.
Launch this comprehensive weather app and you’ll immediately gain access to detailed information on your current weather conditions, as well as what’s coming your way in the next few days.
A powerful Maps module gives you the big picture, with satellite imagery, humidity, temperature, pressure, wind speed and more. Live Tile support keeps you informed about conditions from your very own Start Screen, and you can also have WeatherBug raise a custom notification to warn you about rain, snow, fog, freezing temperature and more.
On the down side, the ads can be annoying, and we had some issues animating the radar maps. But this is still a very powerful and configurable weather app.
29. Daily Wallpapers
Windows 8 comes with some attractive and eye-catching images for the lock screen, but let’s be realistic – you’ll be bored with them before long. And that’s where Daily Wallpapers comes in. This app can customise your system with images found in local folders, on Facebook, SkyDrive, or perhaps that you’ve just taken with the system’s camera (if you have one).
The real fun is to be had in the “Today’s Wall” and “Trending Images” sections, though, where you can browse a host of gorgeous images (with new examples added every day), and set up your favourite to be displayed on the lock screen.
And many of the images are so beautiful that you can waste plenty of time just browsing them in Slideshow mode (although the ads sometimes spoil the atmosphere, since they can be a little intrusive).
While it’s a fabulous website, packed with essential information, Wikipedia has never quite looked as glossy as the best print encyclopaedias. 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.
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.
Following Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, it’s a bit of a no brainer that the world’s leading internet calling software would arrive on Windows 8 sporting a new interface that compliments Windows 8’s distinctive look.
Skype’s integration with Windows 8 isn’t just cosmetic though, as a lot of effort has been put into making sure that the app takes full advantage of Windows 8’s new features. One of the most useful features is that Skype will run in the background, even if the PC is locked or the app has been closed down. This means that you don’t have to worry about missing important calls. Microsoft has also worked hard on minimising the Skype app’s impact on battery life, especially when running in the background, making this easily one of the most useful apps for Windows 8.
33. Norton Studio
Norton Studio is a free app that’s been created to make protecting your Windows 8 device as quick and easy as possible. Of course, there’s one proviso; you need to be running Norton AntiVirus or Norton 360 as your primary antivirus protection software. That’s not particularly a bad thing though, as Symantec has worked hard on making sure that its Norton products and Windows 8 work brilliantly together. In third-party tests Norton products on Windows 8 perform 50 per cent faster than the built in Windows Defender software. It has also been able to pick up threats and viruses that Windows Defender has missed.
Norton Studio fits into Windows 8 very well, with at a glance security status updates and quick access to additional features, all from within Windows 8’s modern user interface. If you have other devices that are covered by your Norton subscription then you can easily update, renew and check on their protection status as well.
If you’ve ever wanted to know the name of a song when it’s played over the radio or during an advert, then you’ll love the Shazam service, which has just launched a Windows 8 app. It uses some pretty clever technology to record and analyse the song that’s playing (via your device’s microphone) and then searches for a match. You can then explore more music by the artist, as well as buy and download tracks straight to your device. The Shazam Windows 8 app includes social sharing features that let you share music you’ve found with friends over Facebook and Twitter. You can also bring up lyrics to a song with a simple touch of a button, as well as view music reviews and biographies. The app looks great in Windows 8 and is easy to use, and there are hints of close integration with Windows Phone 8 in the near future as well.
The Netflix app for Windows 8 is one of those apps that’s going to turn your Windows 8 device from a gadget you occasionally play around with to one that is barely ever out of your hands. It brings Netflix’s huge library of movies and TV shows on demand to Windows 8 in an elegant and attractive interface that has been purposely designed for touch interfaces. For example you can get a better view of Netflix’s catalogue by ‘pinching’ your fingers on the screen to zoom out. It’s a little feature but it adds a lot to the overall feel of Netflix on a touchscreen device.
A more crucial feature of the Netflix app is that it has been made as efficient as possible in order to get the best battery life possible from your device, so hopefully you won’t have to pause for a recharge during an epic movie or Breaking Bad marathon.
The 7digital app was one of the first apps to go live in Windows 8, appearing in the preview version of the new operating system a couple of months before Windows 8 even launched, and it fitted in well from the start. With a store that contains around 20 million songs, it’s a music service that has something for everyone. If you’re already a customer with 7digital you can import your collection to your Windows 8 device with ease. All tracks are DRM free, which means you can easily copy your purchased music to any of your devices without any problems, as well as using the cloud to synchronise your library. Before you buy you can preview 30 seconds of any track to make sure you get the song you’re after. It’s a versatile music service with a huge amount of variety, all wrapped up in a great Windows 8 app.
37. National Rail Enquiries
You can avoid a lot of the stress of travelling by train with this great Windows 8 app. You can quickly use the National Rail Enquiries app to find out when the next train home is with a single touch of a button, as well as booking tickets and getting the best fares. This app integrates with your device’s location services so it can locate the closest station to where you are, without you needing to type in anything. When the app is pinned to your Start screen it’s live tile will update with any service announcements as well. If you travel a lot by train, then this is an essential app.
38. Sky News
The Sky News app brings breaking news to your Windows 8 device. While the bulk of the news is text-based, embedded video helps to bring more background details and analysis to the stories. There are various categories, including breaking news, making it easy to navigate the app and find the news stories that you want. You can also watch live streaming video from the Sky News channel straight from the app, as well as videos for the weather and a three-minute catch-up video that brings you the latest headlines. Overall this is an excellent app, which gives you the latest news from a well trusted source.
39. Star Chart
Star Chart is a fantastic education and reference app that lets you explore the night sky and our solar system with your Windows 8 device. Whilst you can use it on a desktop PC or all-in-one, a Windows 8 tablet is preferable. The Star Chart uses the tablet’s GPS to pin point your position, so you can point your tablet towards a part of the sky you want to find out about and the Star Chart will name everything that’s above you. If you don’t have a tablet or GPS, never fear, as you can navigate around the sky by touch or using your mouse and keyboard.
Exploring the sky is incredibly simple, and if you select a star, constellation, satellite or planet you’ll be given even more in depth information, as well as photographs from telescopes.
40. MTV News
News doesn’t always have to be all doom and gloom. Sometimes we just want to know which superstar is dating another mega famous celebrity, or who’s got a new film out. The MTV News app is a great place to get all the celebrity gossip, along with photos and videos of the biggest entertainment stories of the moment.
MTV is well known in the entertainment industry, so you can expect excellent exclusives that you won’t get anywhere else, as well as interviews with some of the most famous people in the world. Make sure you’re kept in the loop with this great app.