We take a look at the best the fledgling Windows 8 Store has to offer
Whether you love it or hate it, you’ve installed Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview to give it a whirl and see which side – light or dark – you fall into. While we’d normally use this space to feature all the various third-party apps and free software you should download and install on your brand-new operating system to make it more useful, more awesome, and more beautiful, it only makes sense that we instead turn our Eye of Sauron to Metro. Specifically, programs you can pick up right now, within Microsoft’s store, that install directly into Windows 8 like apps onto a smartphone.
With the caveat that many of these apps are still in a preview phase themselves, here are our top picks for the very best of the free Windows 8 downloads! Try saying that three times fast.
I had never heard of Cut the Rope until a friend whipped out her smartphone just a week or so ago and showed me what was up. As is the case with most apps or games, the name completely gives away what you're going to be doing. In Cut the Rope – which has a strikingly similarity to Angry Birds, just replace "catapult physics" with rope-cutting – your goal is to capture stars with a piece of candy. The candy dangles from a rope (or many ropes), and how and where you cut it affects its height and ability to sway into other objects (like stars. Or a frog's mouth).
Got it? You'll figure it out; trust us. And you won't stop playing, either. Cut all the ropes!
If you haven't heard of Evernote, do this: Grab a yellow sticky note pad, write yourself a little memo to install it on all of the devices you own, and then sticky that note on your monitor.
Don't do that. Because Evernote is designed to be the digital archive of your various "notes to self" – as well as any other documents, images, and other such attachments that you want to keep tabs on. The free Windows 8 download (in preview) only accepts text notes right now, but it does synchronize these with any other device you've installed Evernote on. And you can still view other elements (like pictures) that you've placed into notes using other devices; you just can’t put them there yourself on Windows 8.
Now this is what we're talking about. Cookbook is a perfectly designed application for Windows 8's Metro UI. Like a finely seasoned dish, Cookbook delivers just enough useful information (recipes and cooking instructions) without seeming sparse. It displays adequate illustrations of the food you're trying to make without turning the app into one giant picture and caption combination after another. In other words, the app is a mouthwatering mix of graphics and information.
Our only qualm is a big one: No search. While Cookbook make it easy to browse through different, categorized galleries of potential edibles depending on what you're interested in frying up, you can't just straight-up search for "Sloppy Joe" or "five-alarm chili," for example. Hopefully a big fat tie-in to Windows 8's type-anything-in-Metro search tool makes its way to this app – otherwise, it's just a tad under-flavored.
Like many free downloads gracing the Consumer Preview of Windows 8, News Republic shows a lot of promise, but it's not quite up to the standards that one can enjoy within other apps on, say, one's tablet PC – in other words, it’s no Pulse or Flipboard. But as a fairly nondescript news reader, News Republic performs well. Adding new topics you want to follow is as easy as searching for them using Metro's app-contextual search. And once you have your favorites set up, you need merely click into each category to see what the news of the hour happens to be.
Too bad there's no way to integrate News Republic with your lock screen. Or, for that matter, a way to see a single, up-to-the-minute feed of all of your favorite categories at once.
Although we're slightly annoyed that we have to first register for an account to use this stock market-watching application, it makes complete sense once you see the power of SigFig in action.
Connect up your brokerage account to the app and you'll get easy access to your portfolio via Windows’ Metro UI – and more importantly, statistics and graphics related to your portfolio’s performance. From quick snapshots of your investments’ daily gains and losses to an easy-to-understand tracker that compares the value of your holdings against the rise and fall of the Dow Jones over various time periods, this app is a nice cross between Bing and an absurdly complicated investment tool for the desktop trader.
While we'd love to also be able to research potential purchases via the app – or even make these sells and buys within the app itself – SigFig doesn't disappoint when it comes to presenting key financial information in a digestible (and pretty) fashion.
Sorry, Windows 8 desktop or laptop users, but we had to at least throw one bone in this brief app roundup for your touchscreen-happy counterparts. There are around 85,000 different apps on the various Smartphone markets that help you to make funny sounds with your device (a rough approximation). Not the sounds of cows mooing or people sneezing, we should note – rather, synthesized sounds that, if combined together, could get you one step closer to recreating your favorite Daft Punk jam.
We love the sheer number of settings you can play around with in Grantophone. To list them all out would take the rest of this article's space (and hack off the three of you who don't care about making fun jams with your touch-sensitive system). And, truly, it defeats the app's experimental ambitions.
We're not sure how or why this happens, but it's actually kind of fun to tweak the app’s settings – like the volume of the various octaves you're creating above your sounds, to the raw shape of the waveform that gets created, to the amount of noise or vibrato present in your notes. With 12 notes split across four octaves in a giant grid, you'll be tapping away a new dubstep version of Ode to Joy before you know it.
Don't let the name throw you. Every platform needs a tower defense game, and Windows 8's Consumer Preview is no exception. Since you know exactly what's in store the minute we said "Tower Defense game," we will instead use the rest of this paragraph to describe just when you might get sick of the genre for the 35th time in your gaming life.
First off, it's great to see that the game comes with three different modes – Normal, Sudden Death, and Epic, which helps cater to all different Tower Defense experience levels. Little is more boring than a Tower Defense game that's just that: One normal mode of defending, repeated until you throw whatever device you're using against the wall.
While we love the premise – Tower Defense pirates – the presentation of Pirate Love Daises caters more toward the genre newbie than those who have unlocked every Defense Grid achievement there is. Your "towers," or pirates, just stand and plant to attack anything traveling along a predestined path.
There aren't any special options to pick from (no pirate-themed ion cannon-like device to blast invaders once per map), no economy to speak of (since when did pirates care about interest?), and no health concerns you need worry about related to your invulnerable pirates – nor any way to see the health of the creatures you're fighting, we note.
Pirates Love Daises is still a fun respite from, say, solitaire. It's not the greatest Tower Defense game you'll play, but it does have its enjoyable, swashbuckling moments. Like all Tower Defense games, you'll have no choice but to continue playing once you've started to build up your mighty pirate defenses.
Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves when we assume that people listen to podcasts on their desktop or laptop PCs instead of, say, a portable music player of their choosing. But just in case we're dead wrong on this one, Slapdash Podcasts is to audio broadcasts as the aforementioned News Republic is to articles.
We enjoy the graphics-heavy treatment that Slapdash Podcasts brings to Windows 8, as it makes browsing for new shows both fun and easy. And we're especially grateful that the app comes with such a comprehensive library of potential podcasts to browse through.
You can pull up any podcast (new or archived) to listen to on a one-time basis or, if you feel yourself getting hooked, you can also subscribe to the 'cast directly within the app itself. Your subscribed-to podcasts take up prime location on Slapdash's main screen. However, the app doesn't automatically download new episodes on your behalf, nor does it come with finer controls to allow you to hide or otherwise mark up podcast episodes you've already listened to.
Slapdash Podcasts might not be for power podcast users, but it's still a pretty good app for tuning into your favorite shows within Windows 8's Metro UI.
Did we miss anything? Hit the comments below to share your favorite free Windows 8 downloads!