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?

SHARE:

Start screen update

The Start screen on Windows Phone is the first thing you see after unlocking your phone and is also where you will visit on a regular basis. One thing I really like about Windows Phone is that the Start screen is the ultimate in personalization and it seems highly unlikely that you will ever find any other Windows Phone that looks exactly like yours. This is in contrast to the iPhone where I have seen many people with the same home screen and some Android users with the same home screen, commonly the default. Even if every Windows Phone 8 buyer kept the default screen that launched on their phone, you would still see a completely unique Start screen because the dynamic nature of the Live Tiles mean that different people, different photos, and different status updates will appear because we all have different connections to people.

Resize Live Tiles

With Windows Phone 7/7.5 we were given Live Tiles in single wide and double wide format with the ability to simply drag and drop them around the display. In Windows Phone 8 we now have the ability to resize Live Tile in a 1x1 (small), 2x2 (old single wide and new medium), or 2x4 (old double wide and new large) form factor. Developers must provides support for small and medium Live Tile size while large is optional. If you go down to 1x1 then you can fit four of them in a 2x2 block. While this is a subtle change, it is HUGE for the way I use my Windows Phone as I can now have a 2x2 tile that has 1x1 small tiles of my four immediate family members rather than having a single family Group. There is also a cool new Rooms feature I will cover later in this article.

Lock screen improvements

The lock screen has always been a place where you could quickly see the date, time, upcoming events, and any notifications. Microsoft improved it with features such as more background options, detailed app status, and custom notification settings. I love that you can now select the Bing image of the day to appear each day on your lock screen since I really enjoy the images and like a lock screen that changes. By default, and with Windows Phone 7/7.5, we saw the next calendar appointment on the lock screen. You can now choose to have a detailed status update for calendar, Facebook, selected email inbox, messaging, or phone with the ability to always toggle this off. You can view quick status at the bottom for up to five apps, including Facebook, Games, selected email inbox, messaging, and phone.

Kid's Corner

I am wondering if Microsoft's marketing folks talked with parents because as a parent of three daughters I don't think kids associate the word "corner" with a good place to go. Maybe something like Kid's Zone (popular play places) or the Playground would have been a better choice for this functionality. I like the idea behind Kid's Corner and have seen lots of people handing over their smartphones to let kids play games or watch videos, but I am not sure how it will resonate with the market. According to Microsoft, 66 percent of parents allow their kids to use their phones for games, music, videos, and more. I think it is again one of those things you need to try out and live with to appreciate.

Within the Settings you can turn on Kid's Corner and are then walked through a wizard where you can choose from your installed games, music, videos, and apps. You select the things you wish to share with your child and then enable the functionality. By default, Microsoft locks out communications apps such as email, phone, xxx so that your child doesn't make calls to Japan or send spam texts while they are using their phone. The software prompts you to enter a password for your phone so that your child doesn't get into your stuff and for security purposes that's always a good idea anyway.

After setup the next time your display times out you will see you have to enter your security code to get into your phone (you may already have seen this previously if you setup security). To get to the Kid's Corner your child simply swipes from right to left to see their customized lock screen and then swipes up to get into the Kid's Corner. Here they will see album art for the selected music along with shortcut icons for the games and apps they have been given access to. In the upper left they will also find the Customize tile where they can customize the lock screen image and accent color of the Kid's Corner. You child can also tap and hold on the tiles and then resize them to 1x1 or 2x2 size and then drag and drop them around the Start screen. They cannot uninstall apps and games or remove content from within the Kid's Corner. If you have multiple children that want to customize the Kid's Corner you will have to work that out with them since there is only support for one "profile" in Kid's Corner.

People Hub

The People Hub has always been a great place to view the latest updates from your friends and quickly contact them via various forms of communication. In Windows Phone 8 Microsoft added a new panel called Together that gives you access to your Groups and Rooms. Groups was updated to support syncing to your Microsoft account so you will now see these Groups in your People list on Hotmail or Outlook.com.

How is Rooms different than Groups?

Rooms is a new feature of Windows Phone 8 that extends the idea of Groups beyond simple group communication. With Rooms you still have the ability to communicate, but within a private room chat space so that only Room members see communications and every one in the Room see messages and replies. The Room has a shared calendar that is synced to everyone's phones. A room photo album allows you to share photos within the room rather than out on your social network site where everyone can see them. You can also share notes via OneNote so a family grocery list can be manage by all. Only the person who creates the Room can invite or remove people from the Room.

Room invites are sent via SMS and if you have a Windows Phone 8 device then the Room will be setup after you tap on the link and accept the invite. Microsoft also designed Rooms to work outside of the Windows Phone 8 platform so iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7/7.5 users can follow the invite to a webpage that explains how to setup the shared calendar while messages within the group will be supplied via Live Messenger. Accepting an invite to the group helps you connect with the creator via Live Messenger.

Photos Hub and Camera

I always loved the ability to jump right in and take a photo with my Windows Phone by simply pressing and holding the camera button. Other operating systems have since tried to make it easier to take photos as well, but the simply press and hold of the button is still one of the easiest. Microsoft improved the viewfinder experience in Windows Phone 8 with the ability to zoom via pinch and stretch, easy flash toggle, and ability to switch to a different Lens. One Lens included by default is Bing Vision so from within the camera application you can jump to scanning QR or barcodes in Bing Vision. 3rd party developers can provide other lenses as well, and as of the time of writing this article the only other available is one from CNN.

The auto-fix editing feature was nice in Windows Phone 7.5 and now Microsoft has added crop and rotate options. There are plenty of sharing options available too, including via NFC and Bluetooth.

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.

Talkback

79 comments
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.
      gud2seau
    • 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.
      quasitraveler
      • 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!
          "
          ptyson@...
    • 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.
      paul2011
      • 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"

          Huh?

          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.

          Liar.
          Cayble
          • 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.
          petin_y@...
          • Really?

            "Your story of a cracked display is obviously a made up story."
            http://forums.wpcentral.com/lumia-900/193684.htm
            http://www.gadgetreview.com/2012/05/nokia-lumia-900-screen-potentially-weak-from-the-inside-cracks-from-slight-fall.html
            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.
      DontUseGoogleAtAll!
      • 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.
      Rob.sharp
      • 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.
          terrygore@...
        • Thanks to share youe experience

          there is a lot of misinformation running everywhere about the real story of WP7
          theo_durcan
        • 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.
          KBabcock75