With $25, an iPad and a bit of curiosity, you can try Windows 8 on a tablet right now.
Splashtop, a maker of remote desktop software, has released a $25 iPad app called Win8 Metro Testbed. If you’ve got Windows 8 Consumer Preview running on a PC, Splashtop’s app will stream it to your iPad, while allowing for all the same touch gestures you’d get on a proper Windows 8 tablet. For example, you can switch apps by swiping from the left side of the screen or bring up a list of options–the “Charms” bar, as Microsoft calls it–by swiping from the right.
On tech blogs like GigaOM, Splashtop is marketing Win8 Metro Testbed to Windows 8 app developers who don’t want to buy a Windows 7 tablet for testing. Chances are, a lot of those app developers have iPads, so a $25 app is an affordable workaround. (The app’s iTunes listing doesn’t mention the developer angle, probably because Splashtop doesn’t want to be seen promoting Apple’s competition.)
For tech geeks, this is the cheapest way to try out Windows 8 on a tablet, and it works pretty well. Scrolling and touch response isn’t flawless–the data is streaming between your PC and iPad over a Wi-Fi network, after all–but it’s good enough for browsing the web, watching video and checking out some apps. It has some other nice touches, like the ability to use the iPad’s built-in keyboard and send audio through the iPad’s speakers. When you fire up the app, it automatically resizes your Windows desktop to iPad proportions, then resizes it back when you exit.
Not all’s perfect, though. By default, the Metro Testbed sets a resolution of 1024-by-768. Windows 8’s Snap feature, which lets you run two apps side-by-side, requires at least 1366-by-768, which on the iPad creates big black bars along the top and bottom of the screen. The app also doesn’t support the iPad’s cameras.
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My other gripe can’t be fixed by Splashtop: I often reached instinctively for the iPad’s home button to exit an app, which of course would dump me out of Testbed completely. Proper Windows 8 tablets will have home buttons that take you back to the Start screen, but in TestBed you must use the Charms bar or multitasking to return home.
Still, I’m satisfied with the app, which provides a good sense of what it feels like to use a Windows 8 tablet. And it has a side benefit: You can use it to access your desktop while connected to the same Wi-Fi network, so you can access Flash video sites such as Hulu on the iPad.
Again, if you’re thinking about trying Win8 Metro Testbed, make sure to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview on your PC before plunking down $25. Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows has good instructions for dual-booting Windows 8 on a separate partition, which allows you to switch back and forth from Windows 7. Once Windows 8 is installed, head to SplashTop’s website to get the Testbed desktop software, follow the setup instructions, then run the iPad app to be transported to the magical world of Metro. Grumbling about the superiority of Windows XP, like a true PC veteran, is optional.