The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide

Two Keyboards: One Virtual, One Physical

The On-Screen Keyboard

While my Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310 test unit is equipped with a touchscreen, it's still a laptop with a physical keyboard and mousing surface. Many people looking to purchase Windows 8-based tablets and slates won't have a built-in keyboard to fall back on, though. This is where the operating system's on-screen keyboard comes in.

The Windows 8 on-screen keyboard is dark grey with white letters, and it defaults to a standard QWERTY layout, adding apostrophe, comma, period, and question mark punctuation keys. Backspace, enter, caps lock, space bar, and left and right cursor keys are also available. The remaining four keys change the keyboard's layout.

The &123 key changes a little over half the left side of the keyboard to general typography and punctuation keys, such as the explanation point, ampersand, and parenthesis. You also get a tab key, plus another set of keys that change the symbols yet again. The right side of the keyboard becomes a number pad. Backspace, enter, and the layout keys remain on-screen in this layout.

In the image above, the key with a right-facing arrow inside a circle switches to a view with less-often-used symbols like brackets, braces, and the tilde. Pressing the key above it, represented by a left-facing arrow inside of a circle, switches back to the original set of symbols. Flipping back and forth does not affect the number pad on the right side of the keyboard.

The Ctrl key also affects the keyboard. Pressing it changes the “a” key to Select all, the “z” key to Undo, the “x” key to Cut, the “c” key to Copy, and the “v” key to Paste. In other words, the Ctrl key brings up the very same options as the holding Ctrl and striking those same letters on a physical keyboard. Slick.

On to the smiley face. Pressing this key changes the entire keyboard to different emoticons. This time, the right- and left-facing arrows inside of the circles flip between pages of different faces (amazingly, there are four pages of emoticons).

Back to the standard keyboard layout. The last key able to alter the others is represented by a keyboard icon. Pressing this button on the bottom-right corner changes the on-screen keyboard's configuration. The options include a standard keyboard, a split-screen keyboard, and a handwriting strip. Sorry, Dvorak fans, you're out of luck on this one.

Picking the split-screen option breaks the keyboard in half, with everything left of “t”, “g”, and “b” crammed onto the left side of the screen. Everything from “y”, “h”, and “u” is shoved over to the right. Smartly, a number pad takes up the center, and the space bar is right where we expect to find it, on both sides of the keyboard.

Although our primary test platform is a laptop, we can tell this is going to be a killer feature for thumb typists (Windows 8 tablet/slate users) just by gripping both sides of the screen and using the on-screen keyboard. Because the keys are actually smaller in this configuration, a larger reverse-color (white, with black letters) pop-up appears directly over the keys you press. This lets you look at the keyboard and see what you're typing without your fingers getting in the way. Did you mean to press “d” instead of “c”? In split-screen mode, you'll know that you mis-typed right when it happens.

Another really cool aspect of the Windows 8 on-screen keyboard is the sound it makes. While other mobile operating systems implement a simple click or clack to indicate keystrokes, Windows 8's keyboard sound is pressure-sensitive. The harder you tap the keys, the louder the report you get back. So, you can quietly tap, making no sound at all, or you can bang away with vigor, generating a very satisfying cacophony of typing noises.

The final keyboard option is handwriting mode, which isn't a keyboard style at all. Instead, you get two large lines for hand-written input. To the right of the screen, you find backspace, tab, enter, left and right cursor keys, a space bar, and the &123 key.

In handwriting mode, the &123 key replaces the handwriting strips with a full set of symbols and the number pad.

Entering text is as easy as writing with you finger, and I found the engine's letter recognition to be pretty good (surprisingly so, given my heinous cursive). Beyond dragging your finger around the screen, there are also a few tricks you can use to edit text in handwriting mode.

Removing a word is as simple as crossing it out with a horizontal line. You can also edit words by tapping them, bringing up a typeface script with dots between each latter. Tap a letter to select it, and draw another letting to replace it or remove it altogether with a horizontal line. Words can also be split, and two words can be joined. Splitting a word is as simple as drawing a vertical line where the split should occur. Merging two words is a matter of drawing a large “U” from the last letter of the first word to the first letter of the second word, or vice versa.

The on-screen keyboard remains in whatever mode you used last, which we consider a great behavior. If you prefer the split-screen keyboard, choose it once and it'll always appear like that.

But the goodness doesn't stop with Microsoft's on-screen keyboard. A number of new shortcuts for physical keyboards were added to make controlling Windows 8 easier as well.

Keyboard Shortcuts

If you're using a keyboard and mouse, plan to make heavy use of the Windows key in Windows 8, since nearly every keyboard shortcut involves it. Even if you typically rely on your mouse for navigation, you'll want to at least get comfortable with the Windows key (especially if you're using a laptop, where the keyboard and trackpad are in the same vicinity anyway).

When used by itself, the Windows key still performs the same function as in Window 7, except that in Windows 8 it opens the Start screen since there is no more Start menu. If you press the Windows key while already on the Start screen, it takes you back the last open app you used.

Although the Windows key gets most of the attention in Windows 8, the relatively unused Application (or Menu) key can also help you get around the Windows 8 UI more efficiently.

What the heck is the Application key?

It's located next to the right-side Windows key, between Alt and Ctrl, and it is represented by a drop-down menu, sometimes with a mouse cursor highlighting the top item. We bet you can't even remember the last time you used it, though.

Of course, the Application key performs the same command as a mouse's right-click button in the Windows 8 UI. So, you can use it to bring up the App and Navigation bars of any Windows 8 app.

The table below lists all of the official Windows 8 UI keyboard shortcuts:

Keyboard Shortcut
Switches between Start screen and most recent app
Windows + C
Activates the Charms Bar
Windows + F
Open Search Charm
Windows + H
Opens Share Charm
Windows + K
Opens Devices Charm
Windows + I
Opens Setting Charm
Windows + Z
Activates the App and Navigation Bars
Windows + O
Locks current screen orientation
Windows + Period
Snaps current app to the right
Windows + Shift + Period
Snaps current app to the left
Windows + Page Up
Move Start screen and app to monitor on right
Windows + Page Down
Move Start screen and app to monitor on left

All of the regular Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts are still valid in the Windows 8 Desktop, too.

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    Top Comments
  • luke904
    Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
  • amuffin
    Too "blocky" for me. :P
  • tpi2007
    The interface in Windows 8 does not allow you to do the same things as in Windows 7.

    1. The Start screen does not place tiles of recently used applications first for your convenience;

    2. The Start screen does not allow for program tiles to display jump lists of recently opened files for your convenience;

    3. The search function does not display results from all categories in one go, meaning that if what you are looking for does not fall in the first category, you have to click on the right category, meaning more work than previously;

    4. The search function does not have a "See more results" option that opens a window with all search results so that you can browse at will whenever you want; useful for opening multiple files, for example, files that contain a specific text string like work files that have financial reports, or pictures that have a specific theme / keywords to them;

    5. The Start screen search function also has the following features missing:

    - delete some / all of those files; in the Start screen you can't perform file operations;

    - send those files to a zip folder, extract compressed files; or send files as e-mail attachements, with the Start screen you can't because it doesn't have context menus, because the interface was designed with tablets primarily in mind, with desktops as an afterthought, meaning they didn't have time to implement desktop features properly;

    6. When you are browsing the Start screen you are taken away from the desktop. This has several consequences:

    - any program that requires you attention does not show on the Start screen. Examples: a finished download, Steam notifications, Anti-virus / Internet Security packages notifications, a multiple file copy / transfer that just finished, etc;

    - you can't see programs or webpages that automatically refresh (Outlook, Thunderbird or any e-mail client that checks for messages periodically, certain news sites, facebook, your e-mail account), because you are on the Start screen.

    7. These annoyances do get in the way because they make the workflow feel clunky, it takes longer to achieve the same results, for crying out loud, they even managed to hide the Shut down, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, etc, options, making it take longer to get there, whichever way you want to get there: Charms menu, Ctrl+Alt+Del or Alt+F4 when you are on the Desktop with all programs minimized. How screwed up is that ? More, in the Charms Menu they are under Settings. Shutting down your PC isn't a setting LOL, it's a function. How can they screw up such basic things ? People have come to the ridicule of suggesting making our own options on the desktop or on the Start screen. I'm sorry, when people have to start making their own basic easy access to Windows features something is seriously wrong.

    8. Along wit the problems above, Microsoft brought back the "Up" button in the File Explorer, when it is plainly redundant now. Had they made a better job of explaining how beautifully simple Windows 7's address bar works, the "Up" button wouldn't be needed again. The address bar lets you explore all the directory tree that is above the directory you're in, you just have to click the folder you want to go to, it is not only faster in the sense you only have to click once to go, for example, two directory levels up, because you just click on the directory name you want to go to, as it is also much clearer, as the directory name is plainly written for you to know where you're going.

    The only reason they put the Start screen as the first screen you see is because they want you to look at all those apps and the app store, hoping you'll buy some apps. I have nothing against them wanting to make money, but Windows has lost functionality and ease of use the way they implemented it, and it honestly feels insulting that they sacrificed desktop usage just so they could show you how nice their tablets work. People haven't had any difficulties in adapting to using mobile OSes. People use Nokia's Symbian, iOS and Android, and have no difficulty in using desktop OSes; having the same user interface for devices with different input methods, which has been shown on several reviews to be a compromise, serves no useful purpose other than to promote their hopeful money making machine.

    Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini is right, Windows 8 was launched without being ready. I bet they are going to be adding features very soon. They didn't even manage to ship the Windows RT tablets with the final version of Office 2013 Home and Student - it's not even the full suite, so it should take less time to get it ready on time, talk about praise for Steven Sinofsky's ability to release software on schedule, he did it in the past, he failed this time, according to reports the final version will only be made available in January.
  • Other Comments
  • deftonian
    decisions, decisions... part of me wants to upgrade, the other part is afraid there's no turning back. I'll keep reading reviews and eventually make the decision. However, thanks Tom's, and not for posting the review, but for not posting another apple article.... :)
  • mayankleoboy1
    Adam, where are the UI performance improvement benchmarks ?

    Win8 is supposed to have everything GPU accelerated, to "better handle big texts" like MS-Word.
    So how will you measure FPS in MS-Word ?
    Plus, how do you measure the 2D performance improvements, the much touted smoothness of win8 ?
  • amuffin
    Too "blocky" for me. :P
  • Anonymous
    Upgraded to Windows 8 Pro yesterday for $15 on a brand new all in one computer I bought the same day and already, have lots of problems. A lot of my the software I had running on Windows 7 Ultimate worked fine and now don't work at all. The brand new computer I bought with the touch screen... well the touch screen doesn't work and the manufacturer has not driver update to fix it. I'm hoping this will change in time.
  • jasonw223
    Just bought 3 copies for my desktop / HTPC / wife's PC. There are quite a few haters out there - but I quite like it. I think if more people gave it a try (like the reviewer) that it would grow on them.

    Also, if anyone wants to buy my Transformer Prime, let me know lol.
  • DjEaZy
    ... classic shell FTW!!!
  • agnickolov
    I'm getting an upgrade copy for my wife's computer. She's struggling with Vista, so this should help I hope... (It better, she's getting a 128GB Samsung 830 as well.) For myself I'll likely stick with Windows 7 Ultimate.
  • DjEaZy
    agnickolovI'm getting an upgrade copy for my wife's computer. She's struggling with Vista, so this should help I hope... (It better, she's getting a 128GB Samsung 830 as well.) For myself I'll likely stick with Windows 7 Ultimate.

    ... why you are torturing your wife... it's hardly an update from vista to 8... the one is slow but windows, the other is quick, but nothing like windows... be a good husband and get her Win7 too...
  • SteelCity1981
    Without Aero the Windows in Windows 8 looks like something you would see in Windows Windows 9x which makes Windows 7 with Aero look more modern then Windows 8 without Aero. I would even say Windows XP's Luna Windows looks more modern then Windows 8 Windows.

    I gave Windows 8 a chance for months in its preview version and not much has changed since the preview version went to the RTM version and always found myself navigating back to Windows 7. I mean Windows 8 felt like an OS that had things i didn't want then an OS that had things I did want. I didn't want a Modern UI as my main screen. I didn't want MS to get rid of the start menu, I didn't want Aeroless Windows that looks like something you would see on Windows 9x. Sure there are programs like classic shell the helps ease the pain of not having a start menu, but that won't be a gurantee to always work esp if MS tries to block it from working with future update patches to Windows 8. And even if they don't patch it all i'm doing is trying to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 so why don't just stick with Windows 7 instead if that's the case.

    Now I think Windows 8 is great on touch screen devices, but for pc's it's another story. Which is why I always thought that MS should have made two diff versions of Windows 8 one for touch screens and one for non touch screens without the Modern UI and with a start menu. Those two simple changes would have made a lot more people that use anon touch screen pc more satisfied with Windows 8.

    I read people on here saying people are haters of Windows 8, but those so called haters of Windows 8 reflect on reality off the frustration that most consumers will feel the first time they try to use Windows 8. I think what some of you are missing is the avg consumer that aren't tech savvy doesn't like a lot of change presented to them at once, because it took them a while to understand the Windows that they are using now and making a big change to that will generate almost instant frustration and this is where I feel MS is at a big disconnect with Windows 8 and the avg consumer who are vastly makeup the computer market and when you impose something that seems radical to them and what they have been soo used to for years, it's going to have a big negative effect on that product.
    Now that I think about it, I don't even use my Start Button. Everything I need, I have tucked away in quick launch. Very rarely do I find myself looking at my Start Button, unless I need the Control Panel.
  • Axelion
    I just upgraded to Windows 8 and love it so far. I rarely even use the start button on Windows 7 so it doesn't bother me that Microsoft removed the button from Windows 8. Also Windows 8 boots up and shuts down lot quicker than Windows 7. My only complain is that they removed Windows Aero which is one feature that I like in Windows 7.
  • SteelCity1981
    AxelionI just upgraded to Windows 8 and love it so far. I rarely even use the start button on Windows 7 so it doesn't bother me that Microsoft removed the button from Windows 8. Also Windows 8 boots up and shuts down lot quicker than Windows 7. My only complain is that they removed Windows Aero which is one feature that I like in Windows 7.

    That's because Windows 8 doesn't actually shutdown or go into a full boot because, it uses a hybrid boot and Shutdow methods by defualt which is why the boot time and shutdown time are faster. If you turn off the hybred mode in the power settings it will boot and shutdown normally like Windows 7 and won't boot any faster or any quicker on shutdown.
  • killerclick
    Last time I rebooted my computer was 7 days and 22 hours ago, according to Rainmeter, so faster boot time doesn't mean anything to me.
    As for this review, nice job of pacing and leading, right out of the textbook. I understand that lots of hardware vendors advertise on Tom's hardware and that their fortunes are tied to Windows 8 generating more sales, but I'll sit this one out. Windows 7 until 2020 for me.
  • luke904
    Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
  • brandonvi
    man i hope microsoft makes a PC verson of windows 8 eather in SP1 or when they put out windows 9 because what they have there is a OS for a smartphone or tablet

    just got to pray i am not going to be stuck with windows 7 for the next 8-10 years
  • Super_Nova
    Is it me or does the new Windows logo look a bit (much) like the Swedish flag?
  • Sensi23
    A few missing details: when you move your mouse pointer on the lower left corner to make the "start screen" preview appears (page:"The Windows 8 Desktop And Task Manager") you can right click the preview which will show you some utilities links (task manager, control panel, run, command prompt, etc), you should also mention the convenient "alt+tab" to switch between opened apps/windows and which is may be more convenient than the "switcher" for keyboard users, also the mandatory "ctrl+alt+del" to reach the logout/shutdown screen.

    To give hesitant people my useless opinion as a decade old IT pro working all the day long on the desktop : I don't miss windows 7 at all and I don't think that my desktop productivity has taken an hit: as far as you learn the few mandatory shortcuts you will be more than fine, with the best Microsoft OS to date.
  • Sensi23
    luke904Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
    Maybe people not too obtuse and who we will use the touch functionality whereas it is the most convenient : on the go, wherever your keyboard and mouse are of no use...
  • rdc85
    My Impression....

    Lots of thing need to be learned......
  • abbadon_34
    i love microsoft, but hate apple, and thus since windows 8 is a step toward apple (from microsoft) i hate win8 . why did you have to screw with a good thing? XP was awesome for a decade. win7 could be too. come onnnnnnnnn....