8 features I love about Windows 8

windows 8

Yup, I’ve installed Windows 8 to replace the Windows 7 Home Premium Edition I’m running on my main workhorse.

windows versions

I’ve upgraded my notebook several times in terms on hardware (RAM, HDD etc) and I’m always excited when a new OS comes out. Windows 8 Pro 64-bit (my notebook runs 64 bit natively, though there’s a 32-bit version of Windows 8) has a lot of things that I like and having spent a couple of weeks with it, I’ve managed to single out 8 features that I love.

windows 8 install

It’s hard to go with just 8 since there are a lot of new additions to enrich your experience. Some are essential and some are just stuff that are just plain fun.

I write a lot, love to travel and have been blogging since April 2002 so I’ll keep my experiences on that personal level.

1. Start Screen

This is the much anticipated feature (in addition to Live Tiles) of Windows 8 and it takes some getting used to, but there’s no going back after that.

windows 8 start

This displays my most commonly used apps and I can see various messages flood in via Live Tiles in the People and Messaging apps, which I use the most. This way, I just have to synchronize my email, Facebook, Twitter, IM clients and it’ll all be integrated into one place.

I like to travel pretty randomly (without any plans and flying by the seat of my pants) and this feature allows me to just see what’s going on in Travel, check the Wikipedia app (stating local customs and faux pas e.g. not eating the doughy tops of khinkali, a type of Georgian dumpling and also pronunciation), pull out Internet Explorer 10 for bus/train schedules and all that while talking to people who’re there so I can maybe couchsurf.

That’s taking “keeping in touch” to a whole new level.

2. Enhanced Search

I love this feature coz it’s perfect for lazy people like me. Heh.

windows 8 search

Just type anything directly from the Start Screen and it’ll appear. I typed “Sky” in this case and SkyDrive pops up as one of the features so I don’t have to go rooting about for it. It’s really a time saver.

I can also expand the search to various areas (which is customizable) for it to trawl anything from Windows Store to the entire Internet. Nifty, this one, and handy for finding facts online by just starting to type on the Start Screen.

3. Snap apps

This is a godsend for blogging!

windows 8 blogging

Just hover your mouse to the left and out pops a list of currently running apps. You can actually drag one of those apps out so you have two apps on your screen. This can be resized as you wish so I can dedicate 3/4 of my screen to Photoshop for photo editing and the other 1/4 to WordPress on IE 10 to add the photos to my blog or reply comments.

…and yes, both of the apps work at the same time. :D

4. Easy Screenshots

This is just amazing and it’s how I took most of the screenshots you see in this post. Windows 8 nullifies the need for external apps or the old method of Alt+Print Screen -> Open Paint -> Ctrl+V to take and paste a screenshot.

windows 8 pro

Now I just have to press Win+Print Screen.

It takes the entire screen and automatically saves it in the Pictures folder. You can also use Alt to take the current window but the shortcut where you can just automatically screenshot the entire screen is a lifesaver (or at least a time saver) to me – I do it a lot when blogging, writing and emailing someone about a travel deal. :)

5. Picture Password

This is one of the things which I’ll put under fun to use. Heh.

picturepassword

You can choose your best vacation/clubbing/adventure photos as a Picture Password and draw gestures around it to enter your computer. It not only acts as a password, it also shows my favorite photo while I’m logged out.

6. Windows Store

You can download a lot of free and paid games and apps in here – anything from Angry Birds to Wikipedia. I also found a fun and free game called Ball Strike when I was in Singapore courtesy of Jim Saret (of Biggest Loser Philippines fame).

windows store

It just requires a Windows 8 device with a camera – which is common enough, even my older notebook has a built-in webcam. This is an augmented reality game that gives me a bit of exercise while I’m at home.

I can see it being a hugely popular house party game too. Heh.

7. Charms Bar

This is the uber sidebar that allows you access to everything from the classic Desktop that traditional users would instantly recognize:

windows 8 charms

…to instant share which I use to quickly share travel itinerary PDFs, photos and such via Tweetro (a Twitter client) or email.

It’s awesome and you just have to go to the right of the screen to activate it.

8. SkyDrive

I have personal experience of having my camera stolen while travelling before – all my photos from the trip were lost! Integration with SkyDrive, especially for my photo backups, is essential to me.

The cloud-connectivity that Skydrive offers is wonderful because I like to travel in places that are not necessarily tourist friendly.

skydrive

I’ve also had my HDD crash two times before – and some of my precious photos were lost forever! Now with SkyDrive, I’ll make it a point to do auto backups when I’m done for the day and leave it uploading while I sleep.

It works beautifully for documents too e.g. the blog posts that I write every day.

You know how important photos are to travellers and bloggers – it’s a pictorial chronological memory for me and I can’t stand losing it.

Now I won’t have to. :)

Do I need Windows RT, Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro?

which windows 8
Here’s a chart to help you decide.

Windows RT
Windows RT is for people who wants a tablet-style easy to use OS where you don’t need new and existing Windows desktop software to work. It’s great with tablets and PCs where you want a user friendly experience – the new Start Screen is where you work from and all apps comes from Windows Store. As an added bonus, it comes with Office Home & Student 2013 Preview!

windows rt

Windows 8
Windows 8 is what most casual users will need – you’ll get all the new features in the Start Screen (actually all of the versions do) but you don’t have to work exclusively with Windows Store apps. The only thing you’ll miss out on is BitLocker. You can still use new and existing Windows desktop software as well as the apps from Windows Store – it’s the best of both worlds!

windows 8 versions

Windows 8 Pro
Windows 8 Pro is basically Windows 8 for power users or enterprise users. You get all the functionality in Windows 8 (like existing and new Windows Desktop software compatibility) and BitLocker for data protection as well as a host of networking features like Domain Join and Remote Desktop Connection.

windows 8 singapore

Windows 8 special promo info:
If you’ve bought Windows 7 PC from June 2 onwards, you can upgrade to Windows 8 for just USD 14.99 (RM 49.92). Login to www.windowsupgradeoffer.com (yes, this is a real Microsoft link, not some dodgy website) for more details.

Otherwise, if you have a PC and would like to install or upgrade to Windows 8, you can purchase it at USD 39.99 (RM 122). Login to windows.my for more details.

The offers end on 31st January 2013 so get your upgrade today to take advantage of the promo prices! :D

Panasonic Lumix LX7 review

julie woon

Yes, this is the latest incarnation of the wildly popular LX3/LX5! I managed to get hold of the new Panasonic Lumix LX7 – it’s a super premium compact camera that has a lot of features that even professional photographers would appreciate.

lumix lx7

BTW, that’s Julie Woon, the 8TV host that also had the LX7 and showed her photos during the event.

lumix showcase

I was at the Panasonic Lumix Photonista campaign cum launch on the 19th November which unveiled several of their new cameras and lenses. There’s the two high end Lumix G series – GH3 and G5 which uses the relatively new dSLM (nope, not a typo, it stands for digital single lens mirrorless) cameras.

fuzion
Lunch @ Fuzion before the event

Lumix came out with the world’s first dSLM cameras in 2008 – the technology which allows for a more compact body and lens while still producing the high image quality of dSLRs. The flagship GH3 is even splash and dust proof. There’s also the accompanying 12-35mm, 45-150mm and 35-100mm lens.

panasonic lumix lx7

The new Lumix range was also unveiled – with the ultra high zoom “prosumer” FZ60 and FZ200 leading the pack to bridge the high end G series with the compact and new LX7. That leaves the lifestyle targeted SZ5 which has WiFi that allows you to use a smartphone to connect with it to shoot remotely and upload direct to social media avenues.

professional photographers

That’s a total of 6 new cameras and 3 lenses announced that day and there were also two female professional photographers who used the newly launched Lumix G cameras to take photos and record videos. I found the one which featured the capoeira video to be quite intriguing – the quality was so good I though it was taken with a dedicated camcorder.

lumix tx7 top

Anyway, back to the Lumix LX7 review, it’s a 10.1 MP high end compact camera that you can just point and shoot with it’s Intelligent Auto Plus with a full range of manual shooting modes and RAW file support. The body is made of metal, which gives it a premium feel and a nice solid weight. I really like the feel of it.

creative control

There’s also a bright 3 inch LCD screen with a 920,000 dot resolution which provides a really clear view of what you’re about to shoot. The ISO goes from 80-6400 (there’s also an option for ISO 12800 but that results in a lowered resolution) and it’s a lot like a dSLR with all its features.

defocus

I like the option of going all the way to the fastest f/1.4 maximum aperture which is essential for shooting in low-light conditions and producing that signature dSLR depth-of-field effect with out of focus backgrounds.

depth field

It’s very friendly for beginners but the best part about the LX7 is the toggle switch at the side that allows you to switch from manual to auto-focus (with the addition of macro thrown in).

food

It’s these little manual controls that makes it simple enough for photography enthusiasts to use yet allows full manual flexibility for more advanced users.

lumix tx7 back

Shooting in manual mode is surprisingly easy with the 3-step ND/Focus lever (very nifty, this one) that allows you full control over shutter speed. Focusing, exposure, bracketing area and all the essentials are ready at hand when used with the buttons and jog dial.

lumix lx7 front

There’s also a manually adjustable aperture ring that allows direct control over the light source to the sensors as well as a switch to change aspect ratios from 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 to 1:1. You can even shoot in ALL the aspect ratios at once!

level gauge

The MF Assist feature helps enthusiast photographers to understand how things work too. There’s also useful features like Level Gauge which helps you align your shots – the horizontal/vertical lines are yellow until they register as level with the accelerometer, at which point they turn green.

lunch

The remarkable Leica lens on the LX7 more than makes up for the relatively small sensor – it takes impressively sharp photos.

panorama
Panorama shot that allows all four directions!

The other strong point of the LX7 is in the video recording – it allows for full HD video at 1,920 x 1,080 60p at 120 frames per second for NTSC (50p / 100 fps for PAL). That produces extremely smooth and detailed videos. The microphone is placed on top and there’s an Auto Wind Cut function to block out noise. Best of all it records in stereo from it’s two mics!

Personally, the best feature is the ability to take a still image while you record a video. I’ve often struggled with two cameras while recording a video in case there’s a scene where I want a photo too. Now I can do both with a single camera. Heh.

quick af

The most amazing thing I’ve realized about this camera is the super fast AF – it can even shoot at 4 fps with full AF tracking!

glass through
Glass Through scene

through glass
Resulting photo

1 aspect ratio
1:1 aspect ratio

sepia
Sepia

cakes
Creative Control

desserts
Food

expressive
Expressive

miniature effect
Miniature Effect (love the irony ;))

Things I like:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Insanely fast burst mode at 11 fps full resolution
  • Speedy auto-focus
  • Plethora of Instagram-like digital filters (called Creative Control)
  • Amazing HD video

chocolate fountain

The LX7 is a very good compact camera that has a lot of professional features you’ll be hard pressed to find in other compact digicams. It’s a perfect backup camera pros shooting with a dSLR – it’s portable enough and has stellar quality for a point and shoot, which also makes it an ideal choice for enthusiast photographers who wants a compact digicam.

hdr

It’s been called a “real photographer’s compact camera” – the Lumix LX7 is not an entry level camera but one with a lot of features. I loved playing around with it and I imagine I’ll be carrying this instead of my bulky dSLR around from now. :)

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