Survival tips for Google Apps users with a Windows 8 tablet

Andy Wolber highlights five things you need to know to use Google Apps on a Windows 8 tablet.


Google Apps

Google Apps work well on most platforms, thanks to the Chrome browser, Android and iOS mobile apps, and sync support (for Google Apps for Business accounts). Google Apps also works on Windows 8 tablets. Notice I said it works, but it doesn't work very well.

The Google Apps experience on a Windows 8 tablet is much like the Microsoft Office experience on a Windows 8 tablet. As of March 2014, I think both suites work better with a keyboard and mouse; neither is yet a pleasure to work with on a Windows 8 touch tablet. The apps aren’t well adapted to tablets, and the touch targets are often tricky to tap.

Recently, I spent several days using Google Apps on a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. If you want to use Google Apps and have a Windows 8 tablet, here are five things you should consider.

1. Install two apps

As of March 2014, Google offers these two apps in the Microsoft Store:

  • Google Search, a Modern UI app, and
  • The Chrome app for the legacy Windows desktop

I suggest you install both (follow the link above to Google’s installation instructions).

Here’s the twist: you’ll use the Search app to access Gmail, Calendar, and Drive, and the Chrome desktop app for Hangouts.

2. Use Chrome (desktop mode) for Hangouts

Google offers an option from the Chrome menu (the three horizontal lines in the upper right corner) to “Relaunch Chrome in Windows 8 mode.” When this is selected, you can choose Google Chrome as your default browser. If you do, Chrome will launch in full-screen mode. You navigate the standard Chrome browser interface using touch.

But there’s a problem: Hangouts doesn’t work in Windows 8 mode.

When you start or join a Hangout, you’ll need to install a plugin. To install the plugin, you’ll have to switch Chrome back to desktop mode (three line menu, “Relaunch Chrome in desktop mode”). After you’re done with your Hangout, you can switch Chrome back to Windows 8 mode (Figure A).

I suggest you avoid the switching: leave the Chrome desktop application in desktop mode. That way, you can use Hangouts without hassle.

Figure A


Figure A

Keep Chrome in “Desktop mode” to use Hangouts; don’t use “Windows 8 mode.”

(Note: I recommend you login to the Chrome desktop app and use Chrome Sync, which keeps your preference, history, bookmarks, and passwords in sync across Chrome on all platforms. If you’re not already using this feature, see my article “Chrome Sync: configure once, work everywhere” for details.)

3. Use Google Search to access applications

The Google Search app lets you do exactly that: search Google on your Windows 8 tablet from a Modern UI interface. However, I suggest you use the Search app to access Google Apps. Simply tap the Applications icon below the search box (Figure B).

Figure B


Figure B

Access Google Apps from the Google Search app on your Windows 8 tablet.

Open Apps

The first time you tap the Applications icon, you’ll need to login to your Google Apps account. After you're logged in, you’ll see several Google Apps listed, including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Google+, Maps, Voice, and more. Tap to open an app. Unlike with the Chrome desktop app, the Google Search box remains at the top of the screen (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C
Access Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and more within the Search app.

Switch Apps

While you're in Google Apps, you can tap the App Switcher, which is the icon composed of nine small boxes in the upper right navigation area. This will bring up your usual Google Apps menu options. From here, you can navigate to any of your apps.


The back button does exactly that: takes you back to the prior page. There’s also a home button -- simply tap the “g” icon in the left of the search box to go back to the main Google Search app screen (Figure D). Finally, because you’re using the Google Search app while logged in, you have access to your full search history.

Figure D


Figure D

Navigate between apps, go back, or return to the Google Search home screen.

I found this “split” method of using Chrome and Google Apps to work fairly well. The Modern UI search apps provides a better interface to access most Google Apps, yet I still have access to the full desktop version of Chrome for Hangouts, without having to constantly reconfigure settings.

4. Activate the on-screen keyboard

You can even edit Google Docs within the Google Search app. However, I found the on-screen keyboard didn’t always automatically appear. This is easy to fix. Here's how:

  1. Swipe your finger in from the right edge of the screen
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Select Keyboard 
  4. Tap Touch keyboard and handwriting panel (Figure E)

That's it! You can now type away on-screen.

Figure E


Figure E

It's easy to activate the on-screen keyboard.

5. Optional: Sync Mail and Contacts

You may also choose to sync your Gmail with the native Windows 8 Mail app or sync your Contacts with the People app. Again, this is a simple process. For example, open the Windows 8 Mail app, and then follow these steps:

  1.   Swipe your finger in from the right edge of the screen
  2.   Tap Settings
  3.   Click Accounts
  4.   Select Add an account
  5.   Tap Google and login to your Google Account

Once the account is added, you can use the Windows 8 Mail app for your Gmail. Your mail appears in a single stream of email, as the Mail app doesn’t support Google’s Inbox tabs. If you’re accustomed seeing your mail sorted in the standard filters (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums), be prepared to see an “old-school” single stream of mail. I prefer to use the Google Search app to access Gmail because of this.

Google Apps on a Windows 8 tablet

Google Apps does work on Windows 8 tablets. You just have to know how to:

  • Access Applications in the Windows 8 Google Search app
  • Keep Chrome in desktop mode to use Hangouts, and
  • Activate the on-screen keyboard on demand

Once you learn those things, you’ll be well on your way to “Going Google” on a Windows 8 tablet.

What apps or tips have you’ve learned about that help Google Apps work on your Windows 8 tablet? Please share your experience in the discussion thread below.