What I Use: Universal Windows Apps

Posted on February 14, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 0 Comments

What I Use: Universal Windows Apps

Following up on yesterday’s post, In Search of Good Universal Apps, I’ve been evaluating a number of in-box and Store-based universal Windows apps and plan to expand my use of such apps going forward. But I’m already using, and can recommend, some universal Windows apps today.

To be clear, this isn’t about platform sycophancy. My decision to use or not use a particular universal app comes down to quality and suitability. By which I mean, if a desktop application or web app is a better solution that a corresponding universal app, I’ll use what’s best for me, not what’s best for Microsoft.

That said, universal apps—what Microsoft now calls Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps—have their advantages. They’re provided only via Windows Store, which is a single, known-good place to acquire apps and games, and the apps themselves are battery-friendly and secure. They can work cross-platform (meaning phone today, but more devices in the future), and can offer cross-device licensing, meaning you (usually) only pay once for paid apps. They scale according to the device (screen size and so on) and are accommodating of modern input techniques like touch and pen.

And while many won’t see this as an advantage, universal apps, which are essentially mobile apps, tend to be simpler than desktop and even web apps. That doesn’t mean they can’t be sophisticated—Microsoft’s mobile Office solutions are a nice hint at the possibilities—though cartoonish and unprofessional examples from the days of Windows 8 are still a bit too common. The goal, again, is quality.

The apps

Here are the universal apps I consider “pin-worthy” today, meaning I use them regularly enough that they warrant a spot on my taskbar.

Mail and Calendar

Type: (in-box, part of Windows 10)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

While I’ve obviously spent a bunch of time with Mail and Calendar, and use the associated apps in Windows 10 Mobile even more regularly, I feel like these apps have perhaps matured to the point where I can actually used them day-to-day.

The only issue is that my primary email (thurrott.com) is Google Apps/Gmail-based, and while Microsoft’s clients are compatible, they’re not always ideal. The biggest issue is archiving/deleting email: When I move through the inbox in a Microsoft client and archive or delete messages, those changes are not immediate. So some amount of time has to pass before they’re reflected in the cloud. The web-based Gmail and Inbox apps are of course a more native experience, and changes are immediate.

We’ll see how this goes.

Edge

Type: (in-box, part of Windows 10)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

Like Mail/Calendar, this is a bit of an experiment. Edge obviously doesn’t offer any ad-blocking or other types of extensibility, but this browser has some major advantages over the alternatives: It renders text wonderfully, and it handles the now-common high DPI displays much more seamlessly. It also looks better in Windows 10, in my opinion. So I’m going to give it a go.

What Edge lacks, besides extensibility, is a good mobile sync story. Yes, Edge is available on Windows 10 Mobile, but it’s not on Android or iOS and probably never will be. And … that’s OK for me. It’s not hard duplicating my truly-necessary bookmarks/favorites and site log-ins across platforms.

Groove

Type: (in-box, part of Windows 10)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

This is the easiest one for me: I use Groove with Groove Music Pass, and while it works great across all platforms, the Windows 10 client is among the best out there.

That said, I do think most music fans would be better served by a more “complete” music service that offers true radio functionality—Google Play Music, perhaps, or Spotify, though neither offers universal apps—or by augmenting Groove with another (radio) service. Perhaps Pandora (which has a great universal app) or MixRadio (which does not, on PC).

MSN News and Weather

Type: (in-box, part of Windows 10)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

These (and the other MSN apps, like Money and Sports) and wonderful content apps, and while the Start menu in Windows 10 for PCs isn’t ideal for this, they offer great live tile content too. I use both apps across platforms where possible (MSN News is on Android and iOS too, and Weather is also on Android), and in fact use MSN News as my primary news aggregation app.

Xbox (Beta)

Type: Universal app (Store)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

A key component of Microsoft’s strategy of extending Xbox One capabilities to PCs and other devices, the Xbox (Beta) app is a peek a the future of the in-box Xbox app that ships with Windows 10. It provides a number of nice features related to your Xbox Live account, and I especially like that you can browse and buy Xbox One games from within this app and have them install remotely to your console. (On a related note, it’s weird to me that Xbox Beta brings the store in-app, whereas Groove and Movies & TV do not.)

Movies & TV

Type: (in-box, part of Windows 10)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free

While I don’t recommending buying content from Microsoft’s online movies and TV shows store, there’s no reason you can’t rent movies from this service. In fact, there’s a great reason to use Movies & TV specifically for this purpose (and for local video file playback too): It delivers much better battery life than desktop apps like VLC Media Player (which, yes, I always install too, just in case). This is key for portable computers.

Netflix and Hulu

Type: Universal apps (Store)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free (with subscription fees for each)

Speaking of portable computers, I don’t use the Netflix or Hulu apps on my desktop PC at home, but I do use them on the go, and as with Movies & TV, you get a better experience—and better battery life—with the native apps. Netflix has been our go-to video service for years, and we dip in and out of Hulu from time to time for specific reasons. (Current reason: Stephen King’s 11.22.63 debuts on Hulu tomorrow.)

Audible

Type: Universal app (Store)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Free (with in-app book purchases)

Audible has been a long-time favorite of mine on phones—I listen to Audible books virtually every single day—but thanks to two recent changes I now use it (albeit less frequently) on the PC too. First, Audible converted its app to be a universal app, meaning it runs across PC, tablet and phone now. And second, Audible added book streaming to the app, so you no longer need to download a book before you can listen. Awesomeness.

Games (various)

Type: Universal apps (Store)
Where: PC/tablet, Mobile
Cost: Varies by game

Until recently, I’d kind of flitted around with various mobile games on Windows 10—Minecraft for Windows 10 (Beta), which is excellent, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Halo: Spartan Assault, Halo: Spartan Strike, and others—but that’s all changing. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the first-ever AAA game title for Windows 10 that you can get through the Store, and Quantum Break, available for pre-order now, will offer cross-buy with Xbox One. This is fascinating to me, because it helps Microsoft bring the simplicity of console gaming to the PC, where those games can offer better graphics capabilities. This is, ahem, game changing.

A few apps I’m experimenting with

A few readers recommended PDF apps, and because Adobe is so aggressively pushing Adobe Reader users away from the clean X1 version and towards the busier, cloud-connected newer app versions, I’m in the mood for a change. So far, I like Foxit MobilePDF the best, thanks to its clean design. But I will keep looking. (Regardless, PDF viewing in Edge is not acceptable.)

I’m also interested in a universal app replacement for VLC, mostly because Movies & TV is so basic and the VLC desktop app is tough on the battery. The obvious choice is the VLC for Windows Store app, which I’m currently examining. (It’s not a universal app, at least not yet, but there is a version for phones too.)

Where universal apps don’t meet my needs

As I noted in In Search of Good Universal Apps, I still use a variety of desktop apps for various reasons. The two biggest, literally, are Office 2016 (which I get with my Office 365 subscriptions) and Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Both are arguably complex apps, though I feel in each case I could get long with a simpler solution.

With Office, I could probably use the more basic Office Mobile apps for the most part, and since I’m using MarkdownPad 2 for text editing now, my non-OneNote needs have dropped. (I still very much prefer the desktop version of OneNote to the one bundled with Windows 10, and since it’s free, everyone should use that version instead.)

I use Adobe Photoshop Elements for some very specific image resizing needs related to my web site. That is, I need to crop by a specific ratio (16:9) and to a specific size (850 pixels wide). The ability to clean up images with automatic tools is nice, too, but that kind of thing is common. Anyway, I’m looking for a simpler, smaller universal app that will let me do this efficiently, as even the Elements version of Photoshop is a big install (and the application only allows a few installs at a time, which is tough for someone like me who moves from PC to PC a lot).

 

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