Microsoft Windows Phone 8 guide: Are these improvements to a great OS enough?

Microsoft Windows Phone 8 guide: Are these improvements to a great OS enough?

Summary: Two years after launching Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is starting up again with a new core powering Windows Phone 8. Are there enough improvements and will there be enough marketing to bring the masses to the platform this time around?


Back in July 2010 I posted my extensive review of Windows Phone 7 Technical Preview and have been using Windows Phone devices every day since that time. Regular readers know I have grown into quite a fan of the platform, largely because it offers a unique experience and for the most part works well for ME. Windows Phone is also the most stabile mobile OS that I have used and that reliability counts for something.

Over two years have passed and we now see Microsoft starting over yet again with Windows Phone 8, but even though the core is different you will see that the look, feel, and performance is just about the same as it has been. That's not a bad thing if you have used Windows Phone and enjoy the "people-centric" experience, but so far the Windows Phone philosophy and UI hasn't seemed to attract the masses (they sit at about 3% market share) and I am not convinced this latest update is going to do much to change that. It is going to take wireless carriers, hardware manufacturers, and Microsoft's concerted efforts to get Windows Phone 8 devices into people's hands.

Check out my extensive screenshot gallery of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.

Although you will see that much of the look and feel of Windows Phone 8 is the same as Windows Phone 7 in my HTC Windows Phone 8X image gallery we see that hardware vendors are coming out with some new designs that are attractive and bold. You can check out my first impressions of the HTC Windows Phone 8X with a review of a Nokia Lumia device coming later this week. Samsung is also bringing the Ativ S to Windows Phone 8 by taking their popular Galaxy S III form factor and powering it with WP8. The hardware is now competitive with Android and iOS devices and we'll take a look at more of it this week, but for now let's take an in-depth look at the OS behind these new devices and see if you think it offers enough of a compelling experience for you to give it a try.

Quick history and current state of Windows Phone

Windows Phone launched at the end of 2010 and if you revisit reviews you will see that nearly every one of them gave Microsoft's new smartphone operating system high praise. I personally have four of five family members (I had five for a couple months) using and enjoying Windows Phone, primarily for the reason Microsoft gives for its compelling nature; it lets you focus more on the people in your life and those interactions rather than the spending all of your time interacting with apps and diving down into the OS. You may recall Microsoft had a commercial with the message that Windows Phone helps you spend less time with your phone. While I do think people should spend more time actually interacting with others in person, I don't think this message resonated with too many people. I understand the intent was to show that Windows Phone was a powerful personal assistant who was doing the work for you so you didn't have to, but it's going to take more to get people to try Windows Phone.

We never saw device sales reported after the release and over the last couple of years we saw studies and sales data from research firms and analysts show Windows Phone only grew to capture about 3% of the smartphone market share. The hardware was decent, but nothing amazing as most manufacturers took existing Android devices and slapped Windows Phone 7 inside. We saw Microsoft update devices to Windows Phone 7.5 that added things such as custom ringtones, threaded messaging, linked inboxes, groups, Twitter and LinkedIn integration, multitasking, Local Scout, and much more. Microsoft then stated that Windows Phone 8 was coming with a new shared core between Windows 8 and Windows RT. However, this meant that no existing devices were going to get updated and it appears that sales flatlined (looking at recent sales data from carriers) while loyal Windows Phone fans were a bit ticked, especially those that just purchased devices like the Nokia Lumia 900. Microsoft restarted with Windows Phone 7 and to then kill it off and restart again two years later with Windows Phone 8 may be a tough sell.

Nokia went all in with Windows Phone and NEEDS it to succeed to continue in the market. HTC's latest financial data is dismal, at best, and it now looks like they too need Windows Phone 8 to be a success to stay in business. Samsung is the only manufacturer to really excel in the Android market so they don't look to be making much of a play in the Windows Phone area. Thankfully, we see both HTC and Nokia actually launching with some pretty compelling products and I hope that consumers give them a try since Windows Phone MUST be experienced first hand to judge. I am not saying everyone will love it and switch, but you can't really judge it without trying it out.

Wide US carrier support has been tepid with AT&T being the primary Windows Phone advocate and T-Mobile providing some devices. Sprint and Verizon only ever offered a single device each and never seemed to care at all about Windows Phone. If Microsoft wants Windows Phone 8 to succeed they need to get at least the top four US carriers on board and supporting the platform. We have also seen a rather weak marketing strategy from Microsoft and they too need to promote the platform along with carriers and manufacturers. I do think the excitement around Windows 8 and Windows RT is going to help Windows Phone 8 since the UI across all three platforms is very similar and people may like the consistent UI.

What are the major new features in Windows Phone 8?

OK, so now let's get into Windows Phone 8 and see what Microsoft did to improve on Windows Phone 7/7.5. Keep in mind that some of these new features may also be manufacturer specific and I'll try to point that out.

  • Shared Windows core: Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8 share core components that should give you a consistent experience, help developers write code once and use it on multiple platforms, and help hardware manufacturers get products to market faster.
  • Advanced hardware support: Windows Phone 8 now supports multicore processors, three screen resolutions (800x480, 1280x768, and 1280x720), and removable storage.
  • Revamped Start screen: You now have the ability to resize Live Tiles, see more interactive Live Tiles and Live Apps, display more information on your lock screen, and let you children use your phone safely in the Kid's Corner.
  • People Hub improvements: You will now find Rooms along with Groups and the ability to use NFC to quickly add and share contacts.
  • Photos Hub and Camera improvements: The camera software has been updated with a viewfinder, lenses, and integrated editing tools. You will also find the ability to store, sync, and share improved in Windows Phone 8.
  • Music & Videos Hub improvements: Xbox Music is now fully supported and microSD support is provided for this hub. You can actually even connect to a Windows computer and browse internal and microSD card storage directly with the File Explorer now, which will please many people.
  • Games Hub improvements: There is a new notifications panel, in-game purchase support, and Xbox SmartGlass support.
  • Windows Phone Store: The Marketplace has been replaced with the Store with new ways to browse for apps, new payment options, cloud backup and reinstall support, and lots of developer improvements.
  • Wallet: This new application lets you carry your phone as your wallet with support for storing debit, credit, loyalty, and membership card info, NFC payments (vendor system not yet in place while WP8 internals support it now), deals, and apps that integrate with Wallet.
  • Office Hub and OneNote Mobile: You should find it easier to find documents in Office Hub while each of the apps has improvements as well. OneNote Mobile is now separate from Office Mobile on your Start screen with an option to share photos to OneNote, enter voice notes, and search your notes.
  • Email and Messaging improvements: White or dark inbox view is now supported, you can send and reply to email via voice, more support for attachments in SMS/MMS are inside, and new emoticons appear in the Word Flow keyboard.
  • Internet Explorer 10: IE 10 is onboard and adds features such as smart address bar, find on page, better touch optimization, and better speeds.
  • Search: There is a cool new ability to swipe left and right from within Bing to see local events, local deals, movies that are in local theaters, and top headlines. Local Scout has also been updated and new search categories are present.
  • Maps: Maps have been improved thanks in large part to the partnership with Nokia that include offline maps. Turn-by-turn voice guided directions are only present on smartphones that have partnerships in place and this is a good reason to pick up a Nokia Lumia if voice guided navigation is important to you.
  • Cloud and over-the-air support: There is now the ability to backup and restore your phone to the cloud. We will also finally see OTA updates so a computer will no longer be required to get an updated device.
  • Skype integration and improved Phone app: After downloading the free Skype app you will find Skype can be setup to keep you signed in and reachable even when the app is closed. Skype contacts are integrated into the People Hub and Skype Chat is fully functional.

Continue reading...

Topics: Mobility, HTC, Microsoft, Nokia, Reviews, Samsung, Smartphones, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Being both WP7, and the Lumia 900

    Stunk (In my opinion). I'm not interested in paying hundreds of dollars for another junk phone. Going through TWO phones in 6 days was enough for me. I will not be making the same mistake again. Microsoft doesn't understand what a Mobile OS is.
    Troll Hunter J
    • @trollhunter

      How can anyone take you serious? You will have to provide a receipt or make a video to have anyone believe you have ever owned a windows phone. I actually went through 2 phones with my last iphone between the screen not being glued correctly to the antennae not working consistently.

      I switch to a windows phone in April and haven't looked back.
    • What does hardware...

      What does hardware going bad have to do with software??? That is of course, if this actually even happened to you! What are the chances of two phones in a row malfunctioning?

      Everyone I know who has tried the WP7 has loved it. Even Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, wrote rave reviews about the WP7 and owns one himself. I have used the others and they were great...but WP is the easiest to navigate, the speed is phenomenal, and live tiles are the best!!! I am looking forward to my new HTC 8 Global from Verizon.
      • The first one

        Had a serious hardware failure, the screen cracked falling over on my Kitchen table, the replacement (it was within the first 24 hours) had the purple hue to the screen at anything less than full brightness. So the first was cheap Junk made in India, the second was a software issue, the fixed it several months later, but by then it was too late for me. No more cheap Nokia Junk (Designed in China, and Made in slave shops in India). I'm trying to inform people of the poor quality of Windows Moblie (WP 7) and the crap Nokia is pumping out.
        Troll Hunter J
        • .

          Nah, you're just trolling.
          Thomas Bundgaard
        • Doubt it ..... Windows Haters Backoff!

          Troll Hunter - your comments don't sound believable. I know a handful of Nokia Lumia Windows Phone users that have owned them over a year and they love it. Also - as far as your "display cracking when it hit the floor" - doubt that too. You can see people pounding nails into the Nokia Lumia 900 glass display on YouTube - and it didn't phase the phone's operation one bit. Nor did it "crack the display". Windows Haters Backoff!
    • Huh?

      So, you bought a phone without a contract ("paying hundreds of dollars"), then replaced it with another one in 6 days and in the end decided that Microsoft does not know what a mobile OS is. Mmmmm... It does not make any sense.
      • No, but for the slow minded I will give a condensed version again.

        I bought a black Nokia Lumia 900 from AT&T. took it home and was trying a few things with it. It fell over on its display, and the display cracked, this is different from the claim the display was strong enough to pound nails into a 2 by 4. AT&T replaced the phone due t it being less than 24 hours, the second one has the purple hue to it, and rather than keep going through phones trying to find a good one, I got something different. Turns out the purple hue was software issue. So in short the Lumia is not a well made phone, and it has software issues. To get a new Lumia, I would ether have to buy one unsubsidized, or pay a $350 ETF, neither is going to happen based on the 6 day experience I had
        Troll Hunter J
        • Dont bother with any of your bogus explainations.

          "It fell over on its display, and the display cracked, this is different from the claim the display was strong enough to pound nails into a 2 by 4"


          You need to get a real life.

          Its way way too late for your sad and sorry attempts to diffuse the interest in WIndows phone.

          GO away and stick to what you know.

          Which appears to be little to nothing.

          • TRhe truth is

            Nokia phones are crap, and Windows phone (Windows mobile), is junk. You can lie, and preach the party line all you want. The truth is, the so-called "God-phone" is junk.
            Troll Hunter J
        • What a BS story!

          Your story of a cracked display is obviously a made up story.
          • Really?

            "Your story of a cracked display is obviously a made up story."
            Let me guess those are "made up stories" too?
            Maybe the slaves in the factory in Bombay, didn't make some of the as well as the others
            Troll Hunter J
          • Oh yeah

            I bet you'd vote for 0bama too, based on his fulfilling all the promises he made?
            Troll Hunter J
    • You seem to have a lot of problems with MS stuff

      Everything I've read from you, anything you bought from MS breaks well above the norm for everyone else. Like 100% of the time. It might be the spirit of Steve Jobs haunting your house. I would call a priest.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
      • LOL!

        "It might be the spirit of Steve Jobs haunting your house. I would call a priest."
        William Farrel
    • oh boy

      I'm thinking it's the other way around. Maybe you don't know what a mobile OS is. It sounds like you had a bad experience with a lemon. It happens but its no reason to dog on MS and Windows Phone 8. WP7 was/is a great OS for mobile and I think the sky's the limit for WP8. These new features and great hardware will allow them to infiltrate the market. With Xbox and Windows 8 it only makes the experience better.
      • Widows 8

        Is not a great OS. forcing the Phone UI on the desktop, is being done to hide low demand for the phone, and tablet OS. Microsoft is going to rely on Forced sales to artificially pump up the numbers. They have a long history of doing just that.
        Troll Hunter J
        • Just leave already - go back to your Apple land

          Your comments are getting tiring. Don't you have school tomorrow? Seriously, get back in your Prius with the three Apple stickers and drive somewhere else.
        • Thanks to share youe experience

          there is a lot of misinformation running everywhere about the real story of WP7
        • Does have a point here

          He does have a point here, MS has played games in the past to make sales look better then they really are. For the most part the W7 phone has been irreverent in the market, low penetration, limited software and solid yet uninspired hardware. This may work for an Apple or Android but if MS hopes to get into the market so late in the game they need to do it with superior products or low prices, neither of which they have.