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Hands on with Twitter for Windows 8

It's not a perfect official Twitter client, but it plays to Windows 8 strengths. Better late than never, right?

It's hard to believe that Windows 8 has gone this long--139 days--without an official Twitter app. The social network's steady stream of bite-sized updates are tailor-made for the snapping and sharing features of Windows 8. Yet since Oct. 26 of last year, users have been forced to seek out unofficial solutions, even as Twitter does its best to hamstring these alternatives.

But the wait is over. On Wednesday evening, Twitter released an official app for Windows 8. The new app embraces the new modern user interface of Windows, and supports Windows-specific features like snapping and sharing. Is it really the Twitter app we've been waiting for, though? Let's take a closer look.

This looks familiar

If you've ever used Twitter's iPad app, the Windows 8 app should look familiar. It has practically the same sparse layout, with a single strip of tweets over a gray background, along with a left-hand sidebar to access your mentions, the "discover" section, and your own profile. At a glance, the only big difference is the use of Windows 8's modern-style font. The app even supports swipe to refresh, so you can easily see new tweets by swiping down from the top of your timeline.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find a few stylistic differences. The discover section on Windows 8 scrolls horizontally instead of vertically when in landscape mode, and overall it's more inviting than its iPad counterpart. The images displayed in this section are larger, and options to reply, retweet and favorite appear directly on each featured tweet. When you tap on one of these tweets, it immediately opens whatever Web link is inside. Profile pages are equally sharp in Twitter's Windows 8 app, with Modern-style tiles for tweets and photos.

Modern-style touches

Twitter has done a good job of supporting the unique features of Windows 8. You can search for people or updates through the Windows 8 Search charm, accessed by dragging your cursor (or swiping from) the right edge of the screen. Sharing from the charms bar is also supported, so you can e-mail a Tweet or send it to another app without leaving Twitter.

But the most useful modern-style feature, without question, is snapping. If you're using another app, such as Internet Explorer, and you've opened Twitter recently, you can snap your timeline by swiping in from the left edge of the screen until a sidebar appears. The snapped view of Twitter still includes icons for mentions, discover, profile, compose and search, so you still get most of the app's functionality.

Missing features and other woes

Not everything's peachy about Twitter's Windows 8 app, however.

The biggest problem is the lack of Twitter lists anywhere in the app. Power users rely on lists to follow their favorite news sources or specific groups of people. The fact that Twitter continues to shun this feature--often seen as an alternative to RSS feeds--is deeply troubling, especially in light of Google Reader's impending demise.

Twitter's Windows 8 app also lacks the basic ability to post a quote tweet instead of a proper retweet. That means there's no way to add your own comments as part of a retweet. You can't even manually copy and paste text within the app.

I also ran into a few bugs that crashed the app. It happened once while opening a Web page and opening the share charm, and again while trying to reply to someone else's tweet. Hopefully these are version 1.0 bugs that can be fixed quickly.

If only for its snap feature, Twitter for Windows 8 is worth using, because the app handles this feature better than alternative clients such as MetroTwit and Rovi. Unfortunately, the app is missing some basic functionality found on the iPad version, and it's a little rocky on the stability front. In the end, it's still not the official Twitter app we've been dreaming about, but it's a solid start--and it gives the Microsoft Store a crucial, big-name product it's been missing for almost five months.


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