When I got my new touch laptop for work, I was expecting an adjustment period while I learned to use touch gestures alongside the mouse and keyboard I’m more familiar with. I was a little worried that it would make using my PC awkward, or that I’d have a hard time getting used to new ways of doing things.
What I found was that touch with Windows 8.1 became second nature to me very quickly. I think most people have a unique “system” when it comes to their PCs and devices. They stay organized in a certain way, keep track of what they’re doing in a certain way, and navigate however feels comfortable. My favorite thing about Windows 8.1 is that I can choose how to do all these things. I found that touch became part of my mouse and keyboard “system” pretty seamlessly.
For example, I often go back and forth between the Start screen and the desktop in Windows 8.1. I like how there are several ways to get to and from the Start screen. When I’m writing a blog post, my hands are typically on the keyboard already, so I press the Windows logo key on my keyboard to get to the Start screen.
But later, when I’m using a mouse to drag some photos into an album, I’ll click the Windows logo in the lower-left corner with my mouse.
If I’m sitting on the couch and using my laptop like a tablet to search the web or watch movies, I’ll swipe in from the right with my thumb to open the charms and tap the Start charm.
I’ve found adding touch brings a whole new dimension to how comfortable I am when using my laptop. I’m usually lying around being lazy when I use it like a tablet, so it feels very natural to just reach out and touch the screen to scroll through a webpage or thumb through a document I’m reading. I also really enjoy the touch keyboard for dashing off a quick message to a friend when I’m in tablet mode. You can choose whatever touch keyboard works best for you—there are three different configurations—but I like the thumb keyboard, which has the keys within each hand’s thumb reach. I can easily reach all the keys while I’m holding the screen in both hands.
On the other hand, the familiar keyboard shortcuts I’ve come to rely on still work with Windows 8.1, and I’ve been getting used to some of the newer ones that came along with Windows 8, like Windows logo key + C to open the charms, or Windows logo key + Z to show all the commands available within an app. If you’re a keyboard shortcut enthusiast, be sure to check out the list of keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8.1.
Touch also makes multitasking (one of my favorite parts of Windows 8.1), feel tactile and natural. With Windows 8 you could have two apps share the screen at a time—now in Windows 8.1, depending on your screen resolution, you can have up to 4 apps on one screen at a time. You can also adjust the amount of space each app takes up on the screen. When I use it, I just drag each app with my finger to where I want it, and then drag the divider between the apps to resize them.
Multitasking has some great shortcuts for when I’m using a mouse and keyboard, too. If I want to maximize one of the apps that I have sharing the screen for a moment, I just double-click it at the top. If I want to go back to having it share the screen, I double-click the top once again. I find I often do this when I’m answering emails and putting things on my calendar—while I want them side-by-side for most of the time, sometimes I want a larger focus on one particular email or day in my calendar. When I open a third app, if I want it to take the place of one of the first two, I can use the arrow keys on the keyboard to place or insert it. Also, when I’m looking at the list of recently used apps, if I right-click any of them, I can choose from a list of options—I can choose to replace the app I’m using, or use it next to the app I’m using.
I can also use the Windows logo key + arrow keys to change the order of apps on the screen fast. I LOVE keyboard shortcuts. There’s a few more that I’ve found come in really handy—if I hold down the Ctrl key while I’m dragging the divider around, I can place it more precisely. Also, if I double-click the divider between two apps, it automatically divides the screen evenly between them.
Windows 8.1 is great for touch screens, but it still feels totally natural to use a mouse and keyboard, too. They all work in harmony to make using my PC feel more effortless than ever before. Do you use a Windows 8.1 device? How do you interact with it? Do you use touch, a keyboard and mouse, or even a stylus? Some combination of them all? Let me know in the comments!
Updated November 7, 2014 6:48 pm