A touch of business
Windows RT sales may be underwhelming, but the operating system is surprisingly capable. For many businesses and users, a Windows RT–based tablet can even serve as a relatively inexpensive replacement for a traditional Windows PC.
Whether your tablet uses RT or full Windows 8, you'll get more out of your device by using apps specifically designed to work with its touch-centric interface.
Taking notes, tracking receipts, finding a hotel on the fly...these ten apps from the Windows Store will make your tablet thoroughly business-ready.
Dragon Notes ($20)
If you have a Surface tablet, you probably also have a Touch or Type keyboard cover to go with it. But many Windows 8 tablets aren’t similarly equipped, and nothing neutralizes the convenience of a tablet like having to carry around a Bluetooth keyboard.
Nuance’s Dragon Notes, which uses the same voice-recognition engine as its Dragon Naturally Speaking cousin, transforms your dictated reminders, ideas, lists, and other ephemera into date- and time-stamped notes. Later, you can use your voice to transfer them to email messages, social network accounts, and other applications.
Skype or Lync (free)
Skype is the established name in consumer VoIP and video chat services, and Microsoft is working to extend its value by tying it to Lync, its unified communications platform. Through this integration, Skype users gain access to a broad range of professional contacts via the Lync network, while Lync users can take advantage of Skype’s global reach. Everybody wins!
It's not strictly a business tool, but Twitter is invaluable for staying on top of current events and breaking news, and it lets you communicate with other Twitter users publicly or through direct messages. Though using Twitter on your Web browser is simple enough, nothing beats working with a native app designed for a touchscreen interface.
The Windows 8 Twitter app makes it easy to read tweets from people you follow in the Home feed, see who’s mentioning you in @Connect, or view trending topics and search for specific information under Discover. Tap Me on the home screen to see your direct messages, or tap Lists or Favorites to review or edit those items.
The Kindle app won’t help your productivity, but it’s essential for business travel.
As long as you have in-flight Wi-Fi, this app will give you access to your complete Kindle library on long trips. And unlike its iOS counterpart, the Windows RT app lets you purchase new books from Amazon directly—no more grabbing a dubious paperback during a time-crunched preboarding stop at the airport gift shop.
And if you absolutely must get some work done, you can use the app with PDF files and other documents.
OneNote MX (free)
OneNote is a great tool for capturing thoughts, maintaining to-do lists, and otherwise organizing your life. OneNote MX smoothly integrates that capability into Windows 8’s touch interface.
The app connects to your SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro account to give you access to OneNote notebooks stored there. Any new notes or updates you make from the OneNote MX app are automatically synced back to the cloud and reflected on other systems when you sign in to OneNote.
Sure, you can use it to watch TED Talks presentations or documentaries relevant to your business, but the real value of the Netflix app comes to the fore after the business portion of your trip is done and you’re back in your hotel room. Why rack up another pay-per-view expense when you have instant access to an extensive library of flicks simply by logging in to your Netflix streaming-account app?
If your hotel provides a TV with HDMI input, you can even connect your Windows 8 tablet to the television for big-screen viewing.
The Windows 8 Expedia app books hotels only (not flights), but it’s still worth grabbing in case your business trip veers off itinerary. It hunts for hotels either based on using your location data or by search, and then it filters the results by name, price, or average user rating. It’s almost as good as having a personal travel agent.
Mileage and Receipt System ($2)
The IRS lets you deduct various mileage and vehicle-maintenance expenses, but you have to keep accurate records (and the receipts). The Mileage and Receipt System (M.A.R.S.) app makes it easier to stay organized and generate the appropriate reports for tax time.
You can track mileage incurred for business, charity, medical, moving, and personal driving. M.A.R.S. creates a yearly deduction and expense summary for each vehicle you track. Data is exportable in CSV format for use with other accounting or tax preparation tools. The data you enter in the app is stored in the cloud, so you can access it from any device or PC.
Network Speed Test (free)
Whether you’re working at the office, working at home, or trying to connect from a coffee shop on the corner, it helps to know how much bandwidth you have available.
Network Speed Test uses your location data (if you authorize it) to find a server in your area; then it sends data to and from that server to determine your connection's download and upload speeds. The radial representation of the results includes labels for different common activities, such as email, voice calls, or streaming video.
Toolbox for Windows 8 (free)
Toolbox for Windows is a virtual Swiss Army knife of useful utilities. In addition to a calculator, a clock, a weather tracker, and a conversion tool, it contains a Twitter app and voice notes (and could replace some of the other apps mentioned here).
The app and its basic collection of utilities is free, and a Tool Depot offers additional modules that you can install. Many of those are free as well, but some (like Notes, Tasks, and RSS) cost a dollar or two.