Microsoft has made a big deal about its new Universal Apps for Windows 10. While some developers are slow to jump on the bandwagon, a few have developed new versions of their apps just for Windows 10, and they're worth taking a look at.
The new Universal style apps you can find in the Windows Store are still pretty new, and not all of them are as powerful as their traditional counterparts. However, Windows 10 apps have a few key advantages built in:
- They can be updated through the Windows Store. One of the biggest pains with Windows is there's no central way to update apps. With Windows 10 apps, you can update them through Microsoft's store, which is not only easier, but safer.
- They work well with the built-in media controls. Windows 10 has improved the way its on-screen media controls work. Any time you adjust the volume, or use a media button on your keyboard, you'll see an overlay popup that shows you what's playing, and gives you a volume meter, play/pause, next, and back buttons. This automatically gives apps like Netflix and Plex an edge over their browser-based counterparts.
- Interfaces support touch input by default. Most Windows machines aren't touch-enabled, but there are a lot more available in recent years. Some of them are pretty nice, even. If you're using Windows on a touch-enabled device, you'll appreciate these apps.
- They look great. This may be a bit superficial, but even as Windows 10 starts to look way better than its predecessors, older apps still use outdated and difficult designs. Some apps may be easier or nicer to use in the new Windows 10 style, even if their older counterparts have more features.
Of course, the big disadvantage for Windows 10 apps is that Microsoft's design language still isn't exactly perfect for every app. While some have made good use of what Microsoft has to offer, there are many that feel forced or constrained by the style Microsoft is going for. That being said, here are some of the best ones we've found that have a pretty awesome experience on Windows 10.
Netflix tends to have its own style of interface across all platforms, so its Windows 10 app likely looks the least out of place. It has big, touch-friendly buttons that also look great on a home theatre PC or a second monitor. You can also use keyboard media controls, so it's easier to pause, skip ahead, or turn down the volume in the middle of a show. Of course, if you'd prefer to stick with the browser, you can also tweak that with our Flix Plus extension.
Plex is one of our favourite apps for streaming your own media and it fits right in as a Windows 10 app. The big poster art and thumbnails makes it look great as a home theatre PC app, or for just browsing your library. Media controls also work natively with the app, which makes it stand out from the Plex web interface. The design is also pretty consistent with Plex on other platforms, so it should be easy to navigate for Plex veterans.
VLC has always been known for being able to play anything you can throw at it, but not for its interface. However, it has a slick app designed for Windows 10 that, frankly, looks way better than the normal VLC Windows app. Unlike the basic VLC app, you can use this to manage your media library, complete with album art, thumbnails, and cover photos. It's not quite as feature rich as the regular app, but for most basic tasks, it doesn't really need to be. It just needs to play back video and audio files, which this one does wonderfully.
Smartphones get all the fun when it comes to free photo editors. Adobe Photoshop Express finally shares the love with desktop users. This free app can do basic fixes like crop, colour correct, add filters, and reduce noise in a super-simple interface. It's not going to replace the more professional Photoshop CS6 or anything, but if you need basic photo edits, this'll get the job done.
Wunderlist has been one of our favourite to-do list apps on Windows for a while. Few developers have taken up Microsoft on its promise of Universal apps quite like Wunderlist. Not only does the app look gorgeous, but it automatically adjusts to your window size, optimising on the fly for the space you have available. Shrink the window and you'll get a more compact interface. Use a bigger window and you'll have more buttons and space to work with. While the normal Windows 7-style app works similarly, it also lacks some features like signing in with Google, or the benefits of being a Universal app (like updating through the Windows Store), which makes this version to clear choice for Wunderlist users.
Dropbox doesn't normally have an app in the traditional sense. It's just a syncing service that runs in the background. The Windows 10 Dropbox app, however, is a full file manager and browser. You can explore your folders, see previews of your files, and manage your Dropbox settings like camera upload and account security.
Calendar (Stock app)
The built-in Microsoft Calendar app (simply called Calendar) is one of the best stock apps around. You can use this app to manage your Outlook, Exchange, Google, or iCloud calendars. It also looks great, which isn't easy for a calendar application. It also works with Windows 10's new notification center, so you can get alerts on your desktop when an important meeting is coming up. It even plays nice with Cortana on the desktop.
OneNote has a different approach to notes than our usual note-taking favourite Evernote, but it's still pretty powerful. The OneNote Windows 10 app is also a nice look into what Windows 10 apps could be like in the future. It uses a ribbon-style menu, but without the clutter and confusion of all the tiny icons jammed into a small space that usually ruins the ribbon interface. If you're already a OneNote user, or just want something nicer than WordPad to jot stuff down, OneNote is pretty stellar.
If you're an Xbox owner (and even if you're not), the Windows 10 Xbox app is pretty incredible. You can check out your profile, chat with friends, start voice chat, and even record your games with this app that's already built in to Windows. The game recording features aren't limited to Xbox games or even games at all, really. So it's even handy if you just need a basic screen recording app.