Best Windows 8 apps this week

Tenth in a series. Welcome to this year's first look at what's new and hot in Windows Store and the Windows 8 ecosystem. The week has been rather uneventful but that can easily be explained with the Holiday season, which is never the most productive time of the year when it comes to software. This week there are 23,788 apps in the U.S. Windows Store of which 4,439 are paid applications of which about half offer free trials, and 19,365 free apps. Some of the free apps may include advertisement or in-store purchases, but there is unfortunately no statistic available on that.

Here is a selection of 10 Windows 8 apps that released this week or were updated.

Active Note

This is basic note-taking application for Windows 8. You can add new notes in the interface and configure reminders that will be displayed on the desktop or Start page when they are due. The main issue that I have with this otherwise excellent application is that the notes are limited in size. If you think that Twitter's 140 character limit is low, wait until you find out that you can only write about 30 characters for each note. Options to raise the limit and to add files or links to it would be really handy.

Alaska Airlines

The official Alaska Airlines application for Windows 8 provides you with an easy to use interface to find flights that you are interested in. Once you have selected your location manually or by allowing the app to access your location-based information, you are taken to a page displaying possible destinations for you. The destinations are displayed on a map and in deals form. The map displays the destination cities that you can fly to, some with price information, while the deals listing displays a couple of highlights that not only display pricing and time-based information but also images of the destination. Next to that is another listing with deals for all airports.

Work Notes Pro

Another note taking application, this time with better capabilities. You can use Work Notes Pro not only for text notes but also for audio, video and photo notes. The application supports all of this natively provided that you have a microphone (for audio notes) or camera (for video notes) connected to the computer system. You can add contents and information to each note, regardless of type. It is for instance possible to add text to a video note, or additional data such as tags or priorities to notes. Other interesting features include text formatting options, integration of Bing Maps, reminders, and the option to create private notes.

Unpacker

If you are using Windows RT you may be interested in a program that supports archive formats besides zip, which the operating system supports itself. While you could unpack rar or 7z files on the Internet, it is not always an option depending on the size of the archive you want to unpack. The app description only mentions those three formats but indicates that additional formats are supported. You can use the application to unpack archives on your system. It is of no real use to Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro users on the other hand as desktop applications are more powerful and easier to handle than this.

Watchlist

Watchlist helps you keep track of your favorite TV shows such as Dr. Who, How I Met Your Mother or The Big Bang Theory. A click on a recommended show or the use of search to find TV shows not displayed on the apps' start page leads to the show's profile page where you find information about past, present and future episodes, tweets about the show and other related information. You can add any show to your favorites so that they are displayed on the apps front page. One interesting option here is the ability to mark episodes as seen, which may help you keep track of all the shows you are watching. A right-click on a show displays further options including the ability to browse artwork, the cast or to share the show or episode with others.

Steam Tile

There is no shortage of Steam apps in the store, last time I checked you have three apps at your disposal to pin your Steam games to the operating system's start screen. This one is free and requires you to enter your Steam ID on first launch. It displays all of your apps, installed and not-installed, afterwards so that you can pick those that you want added to the start page. Definitely an option for Steam users who would like to fast start their games from the start screen.

Nextgen Reader ($2.99, unlimited ad-free trial)

Read your Google Reader RSS feeds in Nextgen Reader for Windows 8. The application syncs with Google Reader and supports several of the features that Google's news reader supports, including starring items or keeping them unread.

All feeds are displayed on the left where they can be selected individually or as groups. The new posts are displayed on the right next to that with their title and time they have been published. The app uses Readability to display articles in optimized form on the screen. You can change that to display the original article instead, or open the article in the default system browser.

ComiXology

A comic book reader and shop that features a selection of free comic books, often issue #1 that you can read. Note that you do need to have an account with the service before you can read full comic books using the app. Each app, regardless of whether it is free or not, needs to be added to the cart and processed by checkout.

You can, however, preview the available selection of free comic books which seems to be quite extensive. I'd estimate there are hundreds of free comic book issues available that you can read for free using the application.

Smart Music

This is a music player app that picks songs automatically for you based on your mood. You can select a mood when you start the application, happy, crazy or sleepy for instance, and music that matches the mood will start playing right away.

The application will play music only if it is active, which is definitely something that the author needs to fix. While it may still work for some, for instance, if you just want to listen to music but not work on the computer, it is not practicable for users who want to listen to music while they are working on the system.

Win Maps

The application uses Bing Maps and Google Places to provide you with mapping functionality. You can use it to find a specific location anywhere in the world, get directions, display points of interest or simply browse around and zoom in or out of the map.

The app features three different view modes -- road, aerial and bird eye -- that you can switch between easily.

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