The holidays are here: if that means there's a new gadget running Windows 8 sitting under your tree, then you might find yourself looking for some apps to try. You're in luck! Here's a list.
We'll get started with Skype, one of the most well-known video chatting and messaging apps. The Windows 8 version takes full advantage of everything Windows 8 has to offer. Create a free account, and you can chat with friends and loved ones around the world, for free. And new things are afoot: Skype Translator, which is now available as a preview, aims to offer real-time language translation. As you chat, the conversation is transcribed and translated instantly. The feature is currently only available in Spanish and English, but promises to extend to more than 45 languages.
Microsoft's Bing-powered Translator app could prove to be an indispensable tool for travelers looking to overcome language barriers. Just pick one of the more than 40 languages the app supports and type in the phrase you'd like to translate, or the text you want translated. If you're on the go, you can also take a picture of some text, or speak directly to the app so it can attempt to parse what you're saying. Better still, you can download language packs for offline use, which will be very helpful when you're on the road.
On a tablet in particular, a news aggregation app is essential. And for an app experience, News Bento is tough to beat. Culled from an impressive variety of news sources, you can browse by the latest headlines or check your favorite categories and sites to get up-to-date info. Right when you launch the app, News Bento also runs through headlines so you can tap if you see a story that interests you.
If you like your news aggregation a bit more social, Flipboard is finally here, having arrived on Windows 8 back in November.
The popular social media app lets you browse Twitter, Facebook, and a number of curated feeds from a gorgeous, touch-friendly interface. The app offers a live tile, too, so you can always keep an eye on your feeds.
VLC has long been the gold standard in media playback on Windows and beyond, and is famous for being able to tackle just about any obscure media file you can hope to throw at it. The Windows 8 incarnation is still in beta and a bit rough around the edges, but remains a attractive option for organizing and playing your music and video files, for free. If you're a fan of the standard desktop version of VLC and want something that takes adavantage of Windows 8's Modern apps, this will definitely be one to watch.
There’s a reason this gorgeous game is never too far from any best games lists: Machinarium is simply brilliant. It harkens back to the days of point-and-click adventures -- you play a whimsical little robot journeying through a dilapidated world, solving puzzles and avoiding baddies. The game was originally designed for PCs and Macs, but it works just find on touchscreen devices, too.
Dropbox for Windows 8 isn't nearly as useful as its desktop incarnation, but if you're on a Web-connected Windows 8 device with limited storage space -- like the HP Stream 11 -- then it'll definitely be worth a look. The app lets you access and organize all of your Dropbox files, and allows you to upload things to your Dropbox storage, or share existing files with other apps. But it won't download and sync files on your device, which limits its usefulness when you're offline, but will save on storage space; that'll come in especially handy for those of us with massive Dropbox accounts.
Of course, you'll want to use your Surface to stream television programs and music. So download Hulu Plus and start watching. After signing in, you access your picks from the Start Screen with an interface that's similar to what you get on the Web. What's more, you can swipe to browse shows and movies before launching them full screen. If you don't have a Hulu account but use Netflix, the Netflix Windows 8 app is a good alternative.
Plex is one of the best personal media organizing and streaming apps available. It scans your hard drives for photos and media files and can stream them to just about any device connected to your home network, including video game consoles, Chromecasts, and mobile devices. But this isn't just a simple file browser: Plex will actively track down metadata for your files to offer synopses and beautiful artwork, and convert most media formats on the fly, to make playback on disparate devices simple. If you're streaming Plex to your television, connected tablets and smartphones can serve as remote controls -- and plenty of online media streaming services are available too, so you can watch online video with ease.
If you have time to kill but want a more relaxed pursuit than TV, download the Amazon Kindle app and get reading. You'll have complete access to Amazon's library without having to buy an actual Kindle device, and you can pick up your books on any device (even if it's not Windows) with a Kindle app.
While I’m not exactly a first-person shooter savant, I'll admit I've always have a soft spot for the incredulously popular space opera that is Halo. Halo: Spartan Assault is something entirely different -- the game is a top-down shooter released exclusively for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. While it lacks the immersive punch of the first-person perspective, the game is no less exciting, coupling the Halo series' frenetic pace with appealing visuals and plenty of familiar sights, sounds, and baddies.
There are still no official Spotify or Pandora apps on the Windows Store, which is a bummer. Fortunately, Slacker Radio is here to help. Sign up for a free account to get radio stations similar to Pandora's. But upgrade to a premium account and you'll also get a rich on-demand listening experience that could prove to be a fantastic alternative.
Sure, Wikipedia has a website, but this app puts that avalanche of information right on your home screen. Like on the website, the app's first page shows featured articles, "on this day" content, and recent news. When reading an article, you swipe to the left to read more, an action that worked great on the touchscreen. The app displays photos, media content, and everything else you'd expect, but you also get a button to view the same page on the actual site.
It’s Monday morning: are you in the mood for something gentle to nudge you out of bed? Or maybe you’re already hard at work and need something lively (but lacking lyrics) to keep you focused -- Songza has you covered. This music-streaming app generates playlists based on your mood -- instead of specific songs or artists, like "traditional" streaming apps. The list of playlists the app offers will (hopefully) be just right for your mood.
Painting programs have long been a part of computing life, but they really came into their own with touchscreen devices. So even if you don't need something to distract your kids, you should have one, too. Fresh Paint has a great-looking and intuitive palette with several tools and canvas types on which to paint your masterpiece. If you prefer kicking it old school, there's always MS Paint.
Like Halo: Spartan Assault, Skulls of the Shogun is available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone devices (as well as Xbox Live and iOS). Unlike Spartan Assault, Skulls of the Shogun is a turn-based strategy game that makes no pretense of being serious, or even logical. You play an undead samurai general who -- frustrated with the lack of deference he’s getting in the afterlife -- stages something like a coup, bringing war to the underworld.
Previously restricted to iOS and Android devices, Adobe Photoshop Express' Windows 8 incarnation brings the simple image-editing tools to Microsoft's touch-friendly OS. It's a bit basic -- you're given simple photo-editing tools, and a handful of filters if you’re feeling fancy. But it's free, and it can be useful in a pinch.
Mint has proven for years to be an excellent service for keeping an eye on your finances, and its dedicated apps are no different. Once you've linked all of your banking information, Mint will offer a concise view of where your money is and where it’s going. Spending can be divvied up into categories -- so you'll know exactly how much you spent on electronics last month -- and you can also configure alerts that'll send you alerts about any abnormal spending.