A Smarter Touch Keyboard
The touch keyboard on Windows 8 looks and sounds like a supersized version of what you’ll find on Windows Phone devices, but it adds extra features. First, you can select a split layout so you can more easily peck away with your thumbs on a wider display. And Windows 8 automatically suggests words as you type, presenting a large Insert key right on the keyboard so you don’t have to reach up and touch the selected word (though you can).
However, we have some issues with the keyboard. There’s no dedicated number row, as there is on the HP TouchPad, and sometimes we had to minimize the keyboard manually because it was obscuring a button we needed to press to move to the next screen.
The Five Charms: Search, Sharing, and More
Swipe in from the right side of the screen on a Windows 8 device and you’ll see five menu options that Microsoft calls Charms. Search lets you search an app contextually, such as IE 10, or you can launch search from the Home Screen and perform a search for apps, settings, or files. You can also extend your search through apps, such as IE or Socialite (if you’re looking up a trending topic).
Next up is Share, which enables you to share items with your social networking friends or followers. We tried this in Explorer by opening a web article, touching Share, then selecting Tweet@rama. Windows 8 will make its sharing APIs available to developers of all sorts of apps. We also like how the OS remembers the people with whom you share the most, listing them as shortcuts.
Start is as simple as it sounds. Pressing this icon will bring you back to the Start screen at any time. In addition, the Windows 8 tablets (such as the Samsung Windows Developer Preview PC) have a dedicated Start button. Laptop and desktop owners will be able to press the Windows button on the keyboard to activate the Start menu. The Devices option will show you the devices that are available to you at any given time, such as an external display to which you can extend your desktop.
Last but not least is Settings, which will show settings related to the app you have open but also provide one-touch access to network settings, volume, brightness, notifications, power, and even changing the language (though we expect that to go away). This setup works fine, but we prefer how Android Honeycomb lets you drill deeper and access all of the settings from the notification area. On Windows 8 you need to use the separate Control Panel.