Photos is a hub where you can view your photographs from multiple sources, such as SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr. Your local Pictures library will have a default Camera Roll folder that will contain any pictures or videos you take with the Surface tablet, and a Screenshots folder for any captured screens. To take a screenshot, hold down the Windows button and press the volume down button on the Surface.
The usual touch gestures, such swipe, pinch to zoom, etc, are available. Selecting a photo and bringing up the bottom menu will allow you to set the photo as your lock screen, app tile, or background screen. You may also crop the photo, rotate it 90 degrees, or delete it. If you select multiple photos, hold down a tile and slide up, then you can create a slide show or delete multiple photos.
An Import function lets you connect external devices such as cameras or cards to move photos into your Pictures library.
A Play button on the Photos app screen will create a mosaic of your stored photos, much like the Start screen tile, but full screen. This and the Slide Show function are handy if you wish to use your tablet as an expensive digital picture frame.
However, there is no method to create folders within the app, as each of its folders represents a different source or your local Pictures library. You may create folders in the Pictures library on the RT desktop, which will then be available in the Photos app.
Like Photos, Videos is also a hub and allows you view your local videos, (stored in the usual Windows Library-Videos folder) and rent videos and TV shows from the Xbox store. As any videos you shoot with the tablet will appear in the Camera Roll folder under the Pictures library, you will need to move them via the desktop to the Videos folder if you want to see them here. However, you are able to open and play any local or stored video from the Videos app.
Videos are played full screen with an overlayed UI that appears when you touch the screen. A bottom menu allows you to move to the previous or next video, play the video to a device, or set it to repeat.
As you'd expect, the Music app will play your local Music library files, as well as provide direct access to the Xbox Music Store. Selecting any music album will allow you to play samples, buy it, or explore the artist's other albums. You can also set up playlists, and repeat or shuffle your tunes to your heart's content.
Maps is essentially Bing Maps optimised for touch, and it's a familiar map application that will show you your location, road and aerial views, traffic, and step by step directions to any location. You may also find locations and add pins to the map. Adding a pin stumped me at first, until I realised you actually drag the Add a Pin button to a point on the screen.
The camera app lets you take still pictures or video with your Surface tablet from either the back or front facing camera. The bottom menu allows you to change between still and video mode, set camera options, such as resolution and audio device, brightness, contrast, and either auto or manual exposure. While the front facing camera will be mainly used with Skype calls, it does come in handy if you don't have access to a mirror.
Touching the screen will either take a still picture, or start and stop the video recording, and you may swipe to the right to view the last few pictures or videos to see if they were successful, swipe left again to return to the live camera. Still resolution ranges from .1MP (4:3) to 1.0MP (16:10), and video resolution from 240p (4:3) to 800p (16:10). Stills and videos will be automatically stored in the Camera Roll folder in your Pictures library.
With smartphones boasting 8MP cameras with Full HD video, the Surface RT cameras are well below par in terms of resolution, but if you just need some stills for web photos, then the still camera may be adequate. The 720p video mode gives you standard definition video, which is suitable for web distribution.
Taking pictures and videos with the Surface is easier than a phone, other tablet, or even a HD camera due to the 22 degree declination of the tablet camera and the large screen, which allows you to hold it comfortably and tilted for easy viewing. I recently used it during a wedding, and while the video quality didn't match my HD cameras, it was good enough to use in my video production.
The SkyDrive app on the Surface RT gives you direct access to your SkyDrive storage. You can upload any local files to your 7GB of free storage (20GB if you have an Office 365 sub). You may create new folders, import files, and view and edit any of your files. The Office apps will also allow you to open and save files directly to SkyDrive.
When I write a new column, I now save it directly to SkyDrive with any photos or screenshots I need. Starting Word on my desktop, tablet, or phone (or the Office web app version) will allow me to continue editing the same document, no matter where I am.
Selecting any file in SkyDrive will start the appropriate application to view or edit the files, and you can switch to a Details view that shows you the date and size of the file, and its share status. You can easily share your files by using the Charms menu and selecting Share with either Mail or People, which will give your recipients a direct link to the file and a thumbnail.
Unlike Windows 8 desktops or the Surface Pro, the Surface RT does not have a local SkyDrive folder that synchs with your cloud storage, so your files are not stored locally. However, when you create or update any SkyDrive file from the Surface RT, it will update the SkyDrive folder on your Windows 8 computer. If this isn't enough backup for you or you dont have a Windows 8 computer, then you can always use the Save As function in the Office apps to save a copy to the Surface RT or simply select files (press a file and slide up) in SkyDrive and download them to your tablet.
There are a number of apps I haven't covered, simply because I have little use for them and they function much like the other apps. However, the Sports, Finance, Travel, Reader (PDF), and Games apps are also available and may be useful depending on your interests or requirements.
The Bing app is almost redundant, as I simply type my search queries into the browser address field, which displays a Bing page with results. However, the Bing app shows trending topics and displays beautiful background pictures with hot spots for the curious. It's possible to lose hours browsing the links to fascinating bits of information. The Weather app is also worth mentioning, as its Start tile always displays the current temperature and weather forecast, and the app aggregates forecasts from a number of weather services.
Windows 8 Apps
The Surface RT comes with a varied collection of apps to cover most of the common PC uses. The apps are well laid out;, and the consistent Windows 8 UI means that there is little need for Help files and you can use the apps immediately. My Windows 8 account and SkyDrive allow me to seamlessly move between devices and automatically set up new PCs, tablets, and phones without worrying about moving contact lists, calendars, phone numbers, or files.
While the Windows 8 apps are for common tasks, I'm sure all of us have uncommon needs that may not be met with the Windows 8 installed apps.
Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.