At its most basic, Xbox SmartGlass allows you to control your console from your PC or tablet, quickly launching apps and games much faster than you can with a controller. In a slightly more intriguing role, the app lets you push media you've bought through Microsoft's services from your PC to your Xbox and back again. At its best, Xbox SmartGlass serves as a full-blown second screen companion for your console experience, divvying up complementary maps, stats, and song queues for games as well as a dizzying array of video and stat-tracking features for the ESPN and NBA GameTime Xbox apps. Plus, you get full access to your Xbox Live profile and Friends list. Simply put: Xbox SmartGlass is awesome.
Some people would say that Microsoft made several miscues when it transitioned the Live Tile interface over to the desktop, but one omission in particular rubs me the wrong way: The modern Start Screen doesn't include any time or date information unless you pull up the Charm bar or desktop. Jujuba's free Clock app--which also includes a calendar--displays the current time and date in its Live Tile, making it a must-have download.
Microsoft whipped up the Fresh Paint app to show off the finger-friendly prowess of Windows 8. It worked! The various brush types and color options will have you losing yourself in doodles for hours even if you're not the artistic type. Pass on this if you're rocking a traditional desktop, but it's a shining star on touchscreen devices.
News Bento or Pulse News
Two great newsreaders make it easy to stay on top of your favorite online news sources in easy-to-read formats, but the specific one you should install depends on just how--and where--you hope to read.
Of the two, News Bento offers the better pure Windows 8 experience, with a slick white-and-blue look that blends right in with the modern UI and articles that expand in fill the screen in newspaper-like fashion. The app only has a modest selection of baked-in news sources, but it allows you to subscribe and News Bento-ify any RSS feed from the web, meaning its content reach is pretty much unlimited.