The Windows Store, Microsoft’s built-in app store for Windows 8 and Windows 10 devices, leaves a lot to be desired. Advanced desktop users tend to stick to standard browser downloads, and aside from the usual suspects like Netflix and Amazon Kindle, the selection is pretty poor. But there are a few that are worth investigating. Most of the following apps and tools are free and all of them should work on Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows RT.
Google doesn’t make a version of its Chrome browser for the Windows app (Metro) format, but this official tool is almost as good. It includes all of the standard Google web services, including Search, Maps, Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, and more. The interface is big and touch-friendly, and this app makes a great stand-alone version of Gmail and other Google tools. You’ll need to log in with your Google account to get the most of it.
While Microsoft offers its own cloud storage service, OneDrive, and integrates it with Windows, many people prefer Dropbox for its excellent speed and interface. This official app lets you access your Dropbox files and folders from any desktop or tablet, download them, and upload new files. The app also includes an auto-upload feature that will send any new photos you take to your account, which is handy for tablets. That said, if you already have the desktop version of Dropbox installed on your machine, you might want to skip this app to save on confusion.
Flipboard is a service that aggregates news from across the Internet and makes it easy to read in a magazine-style format. It’s not any more efficient than a standard news website, but it’s much better-looking than Microsoft’s basic news client that comes pre-installed with Windows. The Live Tile2 for your Start Menu or tablet home screen will also scroll through news stories, making it a great way to browse for interesting topics on your home screen. The touch interface works especially well on tablets.
VLC for Windows Store
Video LAN Client, better known by the abbreviation VLC, is a fantastic and free media player that’s been a favorite among power users for years. The developers have created a version that’s accessible from the Windows Store, and it’s a great way to watch video or listen to music in practically any format. If you’re looking for a touch-friendly media player that’s more powerful and flexible than Windows’ built-in tools, this is it.
There’s nothing stopping you from accessing the web’s favorite encyclopedia from Microsoft Edge or any other browser, but the interface isn’t ideally suited for viewing and navigating in tablets. This official app includes a main screen that emulates the Metro interface with big, finger-friendly tiles and photos, a pin feature that lets you save articles for later. It also has a comprehensive search tool.
Windows includes a built-in remote access system, but it’s not easy for novices and it isn’t included in all of the versions of each operating system. TeamViewer is a popular remote access program (including free versions!) that you can use to share your screen and controls with another user, or take over their computer to help them. This edition is designed to be used with touchscreens, but should work just fine with a mouse and keyboard. The computer that you’re connecting to (or that’s connection to you) needs to have TeamViewer installed as well.
Have you ever struggled to find something on Google, then jumped over to Bing to see if its results were better? This app does all of that at once. A single search bar will return from Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, YouTube, eBay, and Amazon. Results can be viewed inside the app itself, or in your default browser. Note: This app is “One Search,” with a space. “OneSearch” (no space) is a separate app, a search tool for OneDrive.
Photoshop Elements Express
This tool from Adobe isn’t anywhere near as powerful as the full version of Photoshop, but it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars a year, either. It’s a simple image editor that can handle cropping, basic color correction tools, red eye reduction, and a few other functions, plus Instagram-style photo filters. About 20 filters are included in the standard version of the app, and more are available with an in-app purchase.
The ESPN App
The ESPN app for Windows isn’t really any more serviceable than Microsoft’s built-in Sports app, with one exception: it allows you to select your favorite sports teams and then pin specific Live Tiles for scores and news updates to your Start Menu. It’s a great way to keep up with games if they’re going on while you have to work or study.
Windows 10’s Start Menu lets you pin apps, conventional desktop programs, and folders onto it, but this app expands on that capability. It allows you to pin specific files and full-picture live tiles from Steam, Origin, and uPlay as if they were Windows Store apps. Pin More is the only paid app on this list, but it’s well worth the $2.99 asking price, and you can give it a shot with the free trial feature.