In my last post I looked at the HTC Windows Phone 8X hardware but what really makes the difference with a smartphone is the operating system. The 8X runs Windows Phone 8 Microsoft’s latest phone OS, so how does it fair against Android and iOS?
At first glance Windows Phone 8 doesn’t look that different to Windows Phone 7 but under the hood it’s all change as Windows CE is swapped out for Windows 8 kernel. So what does the new OS bring you? One of the things I always loved in Windows Phone 7 was the live tiles, I love them in Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone 8 puts them to good use as well.
The change from Windows Phone 7 to 8 is the ability to change the size of the tiles, you can go from the wide double tile to a small tile so you can fit more live tiles on the screen at once. The wider the tile the more information it can deliver, for example the email app can tell you the number of unread emails and when you expand it out to a wide tile it previews the unread email. The system works very well giving you important information at a glance, it has to be my favourite of Windows Phone and Windows 8 and it certainly puts iOS to shame. The only downside is that there is no central point for notifications like on iOS and Android, hopefully Microsoft can address this in the future.
Windows Phone 8 like Windows Phone 7 has hubs, so there is a music hub, picture hub and the people hub. The people hub brings Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, so when you go into the people hub you get a nice timeline of Facebook and Twitter. You can group contacts together, so you could have a family group and a co-worker group and then see the status of the members of the group or send chat/email with them. It’s a nice way of organising your address book. New to Windows Phone 8 are Rooms where you can share pictures, chat and calendar items with selected contacts, we have started using it for scheduling the recording of the TDL Show and could be very handy for working on projects.
The email app is great, it’s way more advanced that the new app in Windows and personally I prefer it to the iOS and Android email clients. I hope the Windows team are taking notes.
Internet browsing is handled by Internet Explorer 10 which seems a pretty solid browser, pages seemed to render the same as Chrome on Android, like iOS and Android plugins are not supported so there is no Flash or Silverlight. One thing I do miss from Chrome is the shared tabs, I can have a page open on my desktop and then pickup that open tab on my phone. Microsoft need to add that feature and come up with a shared favourites feature.
Bing is built into the OS which has local search as well as web searching, there is voice search as well as image search and music search. I have no real complaints about the search, it works.
Having been a Zune user for years the Music section of Windows Phone feels very familiar, the music experience makes great use of the metro design style and is way better than the iOS music player and any of the Android apps I have tried. It’s difficult to explain it in a blog post and it really needs trying to see how good it is. I love how the artist artwork can be displayed on the lock screen.
In Windows Phone there is Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Office can integrate with Office 365 and SkyDrive. I remember Office on Windows Mobile and it was ok for viewing documents if you attempted to save one with a bit of formatting the mobile version of Office did it’s best to mangle the document up. I was able to create an Excel document on my Surface, save it to SkyDrive and then open it on the phone. I could then save it back to SkyDrive and re-open it on my Surface with out loosing any data or formatting, I put a chart on the original document and it worked fine on both devices. I have seen some people dismiss Office on Windows Phone after experiencing Office on Windows Mobile and this is not the same thing at all. This works great.
Mapping in Windows Phone 8 is handled by Bing Maps which uses Nokia data. The maps app is a little basic compared to Android but its functional, the layout is clean and you can overlay traffic data. You can also also download maps so you can use them offline.
Navigation is very basic, there are walking and driving directions but no turn by turn navigation, this is one feature I am going to miss from Android and if I am going to stick with Windows Phone I will have to find a 3rd party app. I thought that a basic version of Nokia Drive was going to be included in Windows Phone 8 but it’s not at the moment and that is a big gap in functionality. There is also Local Scout which lists local places of interest like Cafes and shops which is a nice feature but I would rather have a navigation app.
Gaming is handled by the Xbox gaming app which has a decent selection of games, I bought Angry Birds Star Wars which worked very well and my kids loved it, also integrated is your Xbox Live gamer profile where you can see your friends profiles and view your achievements. Xbox SmartGlass app is also part of the app, it works like the Windows versions where you can interact with your Xbox.
Another new feature is Kid’s Corner. This is a way of letting your kids play with your phone without them playing with things you don’t want them to mess with. You can setup which apps, music and video are available in kids corner and they are locked out of everything else. So they can play Angry Birds but not delete all your emails, its a great idea and something I will be using.
With Windows Phone 7 to sync content with a PC you needed to use the Zune desktop client which doesn’t work with WP8. There is a Windows Phone app in the Windows Store and there is a desktop app (in beta) available. You actually don’t need any app to copy music, pictures and videos just connect over USB and you can use Explorer to drag and drop files to the phone. The Windows Phone app enables syncing and management of the phone, you can see what space is available and setup automatic syncing of content including iTunes sync. Personally I would rather use drag and drop from Explorer and it’s good that Microsoft have both options available.
So overall I really like Windows Phone 8, the live tiles are great and I love being able to pin things like contacts and artist to the start page. Apps can also pin parts of their functionality to the start page, an example is Evernote which has shortcuts to creating new notes and search. With Windows Phone 8 apps can have background notifications so at last apps like the new Skype client can receive calls and messages when the app isn’t open, something Android has done from day one.
Before I can switch full time to Windows Phone there area few areas I need to sort out. Turn by Turn navigation is a big feature that is missing, I am going to have to investigate 3rd party apps for that. I also need to find a podcast app, there are a few in the store but I haven’t found one that will just download them overnight.
I have noticed that the battery performance on the phone could be an issue, yesterday evening the battery was down to 15% which was a surprise. I thought Windows Phone would be better than Android after having issues with apps draining the battery. Also I have noticed that the 8X reboots it’s self for no reason every now and then and I have seen others reporting the same problem.
Windows Phone has a ton of potential and I love the UI and the whole concept of Windows Phone but Microsoft need to keep delivering updates to keep it fresh and on a par with Android and iOS. Microsoft need to get developers onboard to get the apps out there. If they can do this then Microsoft are in with a real chance with Windows Phone, I am going to stick with it for a while.