Windows Phone 8
By Steve Morris, 7 Nov 2012
Windows Phone 8 launched on 2nd November 2012, and brings many new features to Windows Phone. Some of the new features include:
- A new Start screen
- Updates on the Lock screen
- An upgraded keyboard
- Internet Explorer 10
- Backup to the cloud
- Improved Office support
- Xbox Music
- Kid's Corner
- Support for multicore processors
- Support for microSD memory cards
- Speech recognition
- Skype support
- NFC support
- Integration with Windows 8
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Windows Phone 8 puts Live Tiles at the heart of the user experience. We like tiles for three reasons.
First, because they're rectangular, so they stack together without wasting space. Secondly, we like the fact that when you touch them they leap into action, launching apps. And we also like them because even when you don't touch them, they're busy living out interesting and independent lives of their own, continually updating you with news and events. The mail tile displays new messages. The calendar tile shows you what's happening today. The people hub shows photos from your social networking contacts.
Who would have dreamed that something so square could be so cool?
You can customise the Start screen by choosing which tiles appear on it and where they appear. You can resize them and change their colour. Because the tiles are live, the Start screen isn't just a list of shortcuts to common apps - it's a constantly-changing message board of information.
Swipe left on the Start screen and you'll be able to see a list of all your installed apps. You can tap and hold any app to pin it to Start or to uninstall it.
The Lock Screen can be customised too, to show calls, texts, updates and appointments.
One of the things we like about Windows Phone 8 is the way it integrates social media into the heart of the interface. So the People Hub is no mere address book. Instead, it shows you all the latest tweets and status updates, and makes it easy to contact people by text, email, IM, Skype, or even an old-fashioned phone call. It's also easy to create groups of contacts.
Windows Phone 8 uses threaded messages, so you can follow a conversation even if it switches between email and text.
The Photos Hub keeps all your photos in one place, including online albums and even feeds of your friends' photos. Sharing is built into the camera app, so as soon as you've taken a picture you can share it on facebook or email it. It's also easy to share by NFC, if you have an NFC-enabled phone.
You can also set up the camera app to automatically backup your photos in the cloud on SkyDrive.
Music + Videos Hub
This is where you store and access music, video and podcasts. You can create playlists or use Smart DJ playlists from your collection. You can even sync your iTunes music collection with your phone. With an Xbox Music Pass you can get unlimited access to millions of tracks that you can download to your phone or stream from the cloud.
One of the things that sets Windows Phone apart from its competitors is Microsoft's heritage as a provider of office software. Microsoft Office comes pre-installed on every Windows Phone 8. Not only can you read documents from your Windows Phone smartphone, but you can even create new Word documents, PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets using Office. SkyDrive lets you store your documents in the cloud so you can pick up where you left off on your PC.
OneNote Mobile is a useful app for quick note taking, whether with the phone's virtual keyboard, or using voice recognition.
The operating system also benefits from being a part of the Windows family, so integrating your phone into your corporate infrastructure is straightforward.
Apps & games
The new Windows Phone Store has more than 10,000 apps. Windows Phone 8 may still lag behind iOS and Android, but it's heading in the right direction. Top apps include Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Free Ringtones.
There are plenty of pre-installed apps including Bing Vision, which lets you scan QR codes. Lots of others are available free to download.
The Games Hub is where you access your games (they don't appear under apps).
Internet Explorer 10
Windows Phone use Internet Explorer for web browsing. This is a fully featured browser with tabs for multiple windows and integration with Bing search.
It's a Microsoft product, so it uses Bing for search. But that's fine with us - Bing is getting better all the time. It's fully integrated with Bing Maps, so you can search for local restaurants and other locations. Bing has plenty of content available too, including film listings and news headlines.
If you really must use Google for search or maps, then just go to the Google website using the web browser.
If you're in the habit of letting your little darlings play with your phone to stop them getting bored, then you'll welcome Kid's Corner. This feature restricts the apps your kiddies can use, so there's no danger of them deleting your emails or buying a year's supply of ice cream on ebay.
Just tap your phone next to another Windows Phone 8 smartphone equipped with NFC to share data such as photos, music or contacts. Microsoft Office has "tap and send" built in, so you can easily share documents too.
Windows Phone 8 has basic voice recognition built-in. By pressing and holding the Start button, you can activate the Speech facility and use it to dictate notes in OneNote Mobile or issue commands, like "Call [person]" or "Search for [search phrase]".
Conclusion - lots to like
I've a confession to make. I've always liked Microsoft products, even when that wasn't cool. I even liked the early versions of Windows Mobile, even when nobody else did. So you may think my judgement of Windows Phone 8 is over-enthusiastic.
Be that as it may, there's a lot to like here and few things not to like.
First up, it's simply a great operating system. It works; it's easy to use; it's logical; it's customisable; it's fun; it's fast. It makes iOS look dumb and Android boring.
Second, it's part of the Windows 8 family and shares its look and feel and much of its functionality. That can only be a good thing in this increasingly connected world.
Thirdly, there's some great hardware running Windows, such as the Lumia 920 from Nokia.
It may not have the wealth of apps available to Apple and Android users, but Windows Phone Store is growing, and the close integration of Windows Phone 8 with Windows 8 should enable developers to get more apps into the store quickly.
Some of the new developments for Windows 8 such as support for multicore processors, microSD memory cards, Skype and NFC move the platform forward significantly.
It may be far behind the two big boys in terms of market share, but it deserves a bigger slice of the pie, and is certainly worthy of serious consideration when you're choosing a new phone.
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Comment by George from UK on 10th Jan 2013
I took a risk and moved to WP8 and haven't regretted it. My only problem was when I tried to load my itunes music collection onto the phone, only to discover that half my tracks are "protected" and won't play. "Protected" is Apple's way of saying "restricted". It seems that music you buy from itunes is often restricted to play only on Apple products and not on other devices. I don't recall being told that when I bought them. Anyway, you can download DRM removal software that removes this restriction and lets you play the music you paid for on your choice of device. I have now dumped itunes and buy unrestricted music from Amazon and manage it with the free Music Bee software.
Getting back to the point, I am now a WP8 convert and can't see myself ever buying another Apple product again.
Comment by Tris from UK on 28th Dec 2012
My comments are for windows phone in general.windows phone 8 is an excellent os. Pair it with good hardware and I think it is unbeatable. With each update good sensible upgrades are made. It is a strong and stable os that makes the most of any hardware it is installed on. The main aim of any WP os is to do what matters to he user in the fastest and most simple way possible. Nothing is more then a few taps away. Wp8 has social features woven directly through its features. Simple user interface with real time info on each tile. Bright bold colours. Very simple navigation. As with any os there are weak areas. 1st is wp eco system . It makes it very hard for developers to put forward apps are match other on other os's. 2nd is the fact that wp is a very distict looking system. As a results this makes devices by different manufacturers look the same in general. Its hard to have a stand out feature on wp. 3rd is the app store. There's no getting away from it. A weak app store means limited attention from would be customers. To be fair, the quality of apps are very good for what there is. 4th is notifications. Appart from email,and unless you go to the app there's no real way of nowing if you've missed something. Facebook twitter or eBay. Problem is, if you miss the alert then you might not now its there as there are no notifications in the top info bar. A case of this is items ending on eBay are inbox messages on Facebook as people hub doesn't support it. If you are looking for a new crisp and fast is then this may well be for you. I love WP and the only real gripe I have is there are no iplayers at the moment. Truth is its here to stay. Its advancing at a good strong pace. I thing in the future it has the potential to at least match apple but I don't thing it will reach the nights of android. Give it a go. You will be supprised at how fun fast and fluid it is.
Comment by jack from uk on 11th Dec 2012
Ive got a htc 8x and it randomly reboots and i have heard many other storeys of windows phone 8 phones rebooting there is an update in December that is going to fix the reboot problem and there's a home screen bug i kept pressing the lock button but the screen kept flicking on and of i turned the phone of and it was okay don't get me wrong windows phone 8 is an amazing operating system but these are just teething problems like any new operating system and im sure Microsoft will fix these problems
Comment by Zippy from UK on 8th Nov 2012
This is an advert, not a review. For shame.
'If you really must use Google for search..'
Er, yes I really must. Me and everybody else on the planet, because Bing is [deleted - Ed].
How much did you get paid to print this?
Reply by S21 from UK on 8th Nov 2012
Sorry you feel that way, Zippy. How much did we get paid to write this? Nothing. We have never received any money or other incentive from companies to review products.