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Windows Phone 8 - Review



Windows Phone 8 - ReviewWindows Phone 8 is the successor to Windows Phone 7 and the second generation of Microsoft's modern mobile operating system. It was released on October 29, 2012, and like its predecessor, it features the interface known as Metro (or Modern UI).

This means you will have the same Live tiles which display dynamic information on your Start Screens. Microsoft has also made several improvements and enhancements to the platform, making it much more suitable to compete with the iOS and Android devices.


Windows Phone 8 - Review
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has replaced its CE-based architecture used on Windows Phone 7 devices with the Windows NT kernel found on many Windows 8 components. Because of this, current Windows Phone 7.x devices cannot run or update to Windows Phone 8 and new applications built specifically for Windows Phone 8 are not made available for Windows Phone 7.x devices.

Developers can make their apps available on both Windows Phone 7.x and Windows Phone 8

For this example of Windows Phone, we are using a Nokia Lumia 920, which is locked to the AT&T network. Other than for the Nokia Lumia and AT&T exclusive apps, the experience on Windows Phone 8 is consistent across all devices.

We are going to walk you through the steps which will be displayed to you as you first start up your Windows Phone.


The first few steps require you to select your region, agree to Microsoft's terms and conditions and select whether you want to go through the recommended settings or through the detailed 'custom' settings. If you select custom you will have more options to customize during the setup process.


After you make a few selections in the custom settings, you will be presented with an option to create or sign into a Microsoft account. The Microsoft account allows you to sync your information online and get connected to Microsoft's services like chat, Xbox, SkyDrive and more.


You are first presented with your lock screen which you can swipe up to access your Start Screen. Swiping to the left will take you into the apps list and you can always return to the Start screen by swiping back or pressing the touch enabled Windows logo.


Clicking the search button takes you to Bing Search, which includes Music, Vision and Microsoft's voice assistant.

Music – This is a great alternate to apps like Shazam and it will help identify the the music by listening to it.

Vision – Vision allows you to scan bar codes, QR codes, Microsoft Tags and others using the device camera. This is similar to Google Goggles and its great to have this feature integrated into Bing Search.


The Bing Search tool also includes voice recognition system which allows you to search the web, send emails and messages and perform some simple tasks using voice. The voice assistant is not as comprehensive as its competitors and isn't a great leap forward from WP7.5. You can initiate the voice assistant from the Search app or with a long press of the Windows logo.


The Start Screen is made up of a collection of live tiles which is a hybrid of icons and widgets. You can re-size these titles to three different sizes and move and arrange them in any order on the 'Modern UI'. You can even pin contacts or webpages to your Start Screen. The live tiles display information like current date, calendar events, missed calls, unread emails and other notifications.


While Windows Phones are criticized for the lack of a notification center, we feel that the live tiles are a perfect alternate and hope that Microsoft finds a way to enhance their tiles to show more information rather than copy what Android and iOS have already.

Microsoft has also enhanced the lockscreen which now allows apps to interact with it. You can setup a single app to display detailed notifications or up to five apps with limited information. Apps can even control the lockscreen wallpaper and great examples of this are the new Facebook app and the Bing app wallpapers.


Pressing the back arrow on your device initiates the multi-tasking on Windows Phone 8. The multi-tasking isn't as comprehensive as it is on Android and iOS but it works well enough. One you have pressed and held the back button, you will have a list of all the opened apps. You can swipe through them and open the app you want. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a method of closing one or multiple open apps and the only way to close your apps is by continuously pressing the back button until each one is closed.

The Kids Corner is another new feature of Windows Phone 8 which allows you to preselect apps and games which your kids can access. This will keep your own data safe while your kid can enjoy your phone safely. The Kids Corner can be activated through the Settings and accessed by swiping to the left from your lockscreen. Just make sure you set a password for your own account to make sure your content stays safe.

 

Microsoft has also built Windows Phone 8 for business users and you can get access to your company apps by signing into your company account.

Call Quality

The Lumia 920 offers 4G LTE connectivity through the AT&T network and we were impressed with our time using the handset. The call quality was reasonably good with no dropped calls or loss of signal. Nokia has always been one of the better manufacturer's when it comes to phone signals and that continues with the Lumia 920.

People Hub

The People Hub brings all your contacts together across various social networks. The first tab shows all your contacts (phone, email, social network) and you can either search through your contacts or add a new contact from this tab.


The contacts are ordered and indexed alphabetically. You can tap the letters to filter through your contacts alphabetically. You can also filter contacts through the various services (Facebook, Twitter) or sort them by first or last name.


Once you click on a particular contact you can correspond with that contact directly from the People Hub. If you have connected your Twitter or Facebook service you can even Tweet or write on that contact's Wall directly through the Hub. A single swipe from within the contact will show you information on that particular contact, while a second swipe will show you that contacts photo albums. Keep in mind that the more services you connect the more information you will be able to see. The final swipe to the left will show you all the recent correspondences you have had with that particular contact.

Swiping to the left displays the What's New tab which shows all the new events from all your contacts from their social networks. One more swipe to the left brings you to the recent tab, which shows all the contacts you have been in touch with recently.

The next tab is the Rooms and Groups. Groups allows you to organize your contacts and quickly text or email a group of individuals. You can view status updates and photos from these groups in one place, making it easy to catch up on a recent reunion for example. You can even pin groups to your Start Screen for easy access.

Meanwhile Rooms is somewhat similar to groups but with more features and added privacy. You can initiate group chats, share a private calendar, notes with to-do lists, photos and videos with individuals in your Rooms. The default room is the Family Room, but you can add more as you please.


The other advantage with Rooms is that you can add Windows Phone 7 users and even iPhone users to it, though they only get the shared calendar. Android users are unfortunately left out, as are most Google services.

The Me Tile is your personal profile, which allows you to post status updates, set chat status and check into locations. You can also change your profile picture (on Facebook and Microsoft) from this tile.


One of the tabs within the Me tile allows you to view all your notifications and What's New allows you to view your own status updates.

Phone App

You can get access to your voicemail, dialer and phonebook through the Phone app or search through your call history to quickly find the people you have been in touch with recently.


When you receive an incoming call your lockscreen will indicate that you have to slide up. At this point you are asked to either answer or reject the incoming call.

Messaging

Windows Phones feature a messaging hub which combines all the texts, IMs and social messages which arrive on your device. You can view all your messages in threads of go to the online tab and view all your friends who are available on chat.


You can delete or forward individual messages in a thread and easily switch conversations between Facebook chat and SMS within the same thread.

Windows Phone offers a standard QWERTY keyboard, which works pretty well. There is no haptic or vibration feedback, but the audio feedback is clear enough.


You can select a word by pressing on it. Once the word is selected you can expand or reduce the selection and copy the word to the clipboard to be used in a different app or message.

Your Microsoft account includes a Hotmail (Outlook) email address but you can also add a Nokia, Google, Yahoo  or other email account to your Windows Phone. Various email accounts can either be linked together or viewed individually.


The email app is not the best in the market, but very user friendly. You can select individual email and mark them as read/unread or set a flag.

Browsing the web with Internet Explorer mobile



Internet Explorer 10 is the default browsing option on the Lumia 920. It's fast fluid and easy to use. Microsoft hasn't changed much visually in their Windows Phone browser since Windows Phone 7 but we definitely notice that a lot of work has taken place under its hood. The HD+ display on the Lumia 920 makes the viewing experience pleasant and sharp and a welcome improvement over the  WVGA which was a standard on Windows Phone 7 devices.


The URL bar appears in the bottom of the screen allowing you to input the addresses you want to visit. It is also accompanied by a refresh button and an options button which can be expanded to view the settings.

Settings include features like tabbed browsing, recently visited pages, favorites, sharing pages, pinning a page to start screen, find on page and advanced Settings.


The tabbed browsing allows you to open more than six tabs at a time, which was previously restricted for Windows Phone 7 users. The Share option allows you to share a web page using NFC, Messaging, Social networks or even with your Xbox if you have it setup.

The advanced settings allow you to choose your search engine, share your location, manage cookies, manage browsing history and choose if you want to view mobile or desktop versions of a website.

Searches are managed by the Bing app by default, but users have the option of choosing Google if they prefer.

Microsoft Office Mobile and other Organizer apps

Microsoft Office has always been one of the key selling points of the Windows operating system and it looks like that has even transitioned to Windows Phone. Microsoft has included Office 15 absolutely free on Windows Phone 8 allowing users to view or edit all of their documents. Documents can automatically be synced between your phone or computer using the SkyDrive.


The Office for Windows Phone app includes Word and Excel are easy to use and allow viewing or editing Microsoft Office files. Microsoft has even included some templates to get you started.

Editing it quite straightforward and easy on the Windows Phone platform. You can type in text or change the format. You can even insert comments for collaboration. Formatting options include bold, italic and underline as well as changing the size of text, highlighting and font color. Highlighting and font colors are limited to three options, But these should be enough in most cases.

You can attach the files you edit to an email, but currently this is only possible thorough the Office Hub as these files are not visible to attach through your email client.


PowerPoint unfortunately only allows viewing. You cannot edit or create new PowerPoint files. Microsoft OneNote is also available for Windows Phone 8.

While it is not a part of the core Office 15 suite, it is as easy to use if not easier. You get support for lists of multiple levels, attach photos or voice memos to your notes and send them though email or sync them on your SkyDrive.

The Calendar app can view multiple calendars for each account you have and they are in different colors so you can tell your appointments apart. You can choose which calendars you want displayed.

 You calendars can be viewed by month, day and agenda based on the detail you want to view.


You can also create to-dos which will be synced with your Microsoft account. The To-Dos can have a priority reminder, due date and notes attached to them.

The Calculator app offers basic functionality which is similar to what you will find on other handsets. The portrait method offers the basic calculator while the landscape calculator offers the scientific mode.


The Alarm is another app which offers the basic functionality which we love about Windows Phones. You can set the alarm with the ON/OFF switch and modify settings like Time, Repeat, Sound and Alarm Name. With the iOS and the  clocks extending their functionality with features like a Stopwatch and Timer, we were disappointed that Microsoft decided to leave their app unchanged, but we are hopeful that they will catch up in their next update to Windows Phone.


The Wallet app for Windows Phone 8 allows you to collect coupons, credit cards, memberships, loyalty cards and more in one place. You can also manage the payments that you use in the app and music stores.



With NFC (Near Field Communication) on Windows Phone 8 devices, users can make contactless transactions between supported devices in select markets.

Xbox Live Integration



One of our favorite features on Windows Phone is the Xbox Live Integration. This allows you to import your Xbox Avatar into your Windows Phone and track all your scores and achievements. It also tracks Xbox your achievements from Xbox games on your Windows Phone.



In fact your entire Windows Phone game collection is grouped into the Xbox Games app without cluttering your app list. The games are sorted into those with Xbox Live connectivity and those which don't. You also have a Spotlight feature which shows you information on new content and Requests which shows you game invitations from your friends.

Xbox Music is Microsoft's brand new all-in-one music service that enables users to listen to music how, when, where and on what device they want. The service combines the best aspects of free-streaming radio, music subscription services and music purchasing options, all in one elegant package.


Purchasing an Xbox Music Pass for US$9.99 a month will allow users to take that music to the cloud, letting them enjoy the collection they've curated on other devices such as Windows Phone 8 and Xbox 360.

The Windows Phone Store

The Windows Phone Store contains all the apps and games you will need to make your Windows Phone experience great. Since Windows Phone shares its core with Windows Microsoft hopes that developers will be able to quickly port apps between both Microsoft platforms quickly and are initial reactions shows that it is working.


Unlike T-Mobile which offers some free apps with their Lumia 810, AT&T has chosen to allow their users to purchase any apps they need themselves. No freebies here folks.

The store has over 100,000 apps which may not be comparable to iOS or Android, but Microsoft claims that their store provides quality over quantity and that seems to be true in most cases.

You will have access to general apps like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Angry Birds etc. But companies like Google have not brought their apps to the Windows Phone platform claiming that the platform doesn't have enough users to justify porting their apps.


Another issue with Windows Phone apps in the past has been affordability. With Windows Phone variants costing $3.00 compared to the $1.00 cost on Android and iOS. We were happy to see this has been (in the process of being) rectified in Windows Phone 8 as popular games like Angry Birds Star Wars is being offered at $0.99 with Xbox Live integration included.

However in terms of personal app availability, the Windows Phone platform was above satisfactory. At least in our opinion.

Generally manufacturers do not make customizations on the Windows Phone platform, which means you will generally have the same Windows Phone experience across all devices. However Nokia users have a huge advantage as the company brings features like its HERE navigation suite and several camera lenses and enhancements to their devices.

Samsung and HTC have also included their own custom software to their WIndows Phones, but it is nowhere as near as comprehensive as what is offered on Nokia Windows Phones.
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