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?

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Music & Videos

I already wrote about my excitement in finally finding the ultimate music service in Xbox Music and am glad I will soon have a phone that supports all the features. One feature of Windows Phone 8 that I did not know about is the "buzz" panel. When viewing an artist in Xbox Music Store or in your collection you can see Twitter feeds, images, and news feeds for that artist. Playlists are also now cloud-enabled so you can sync them across multiple devices, including Windows 8 and your Xbox 360.

Games

Microsoft continues to integrate the Xbox experience into Windows Phone 8 with features such as SmartGlass that turns your WP8 device into a remote for your Xbox 360. It is a fun companion too so when you are watching content you can view info on your phone about the cast and crew. In-game purchases are supported on WP8 so we may see more freemium games come to the platform. Unfortunately, I still cannot see my Han Solo outfit on my avatar on my Windows Phone :(

Windows Phone Store

The Windows Phone Marketplace has been renamed to the WP Store and along with that comes a few tweaks to help make discovery a bit better. This is important with over 100,000 apps in the Store now too. There is a new discover panel with tiles for the following:

  • Top free
  • New + Rising
  • Top paid
  • Best-rated
  • Collections
  • Picks

Wallet

The new Wallet hub lets you store your debit, credit, PayPal, reward, and loyalty cards and information in one location and eventually will let you tap and pay for transactions with your phone. You can use cards stored in your Wallet for app purchases. You can manually enter data if it doesn't fit into one of the categories, an MVP flyer card, or other secure data. You can setup a PIN just for Wallet, on top of the PIN you have for your device itself. I really want to see support for things such as movie theater reward cards, Starbucks, and other venues where I can save space in my physical wallet. Apple is competing well with Passbook and I think there is the potential for Microsoft to do even better with Wallet.

The deals panel looks helpful and so far I have seen deals from LivingSocial, Yelp, and MSN. I want to see Groupon and Amazon Local added since those are services I actually do use quite a bit.

Office and OneNote Mobile

Having a native Office app on Windows Phone has always been something that set Windows Phone apart from others and Microsoft took some time in WP8 to clean up the experience and accessibility. OneNote was pulled out of the Office Hub, which makes sense since I tend to see people using OneNote that don't really care to use Office on their phone and to use OneNote as a daily app I think it helps to get out from the Office Hub. Now that I have a Windows RT tablet too I imagine the easy sync of the recent document list will become very handy and I will be using it more.

In addition to the updated user interface of Office Mobile you will find updates to Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and PowerPoint Mobile. Office Mobile will actually now pick up right where you left things when you work with Word 2013 on a PC. This is fantastic and exactly the way cloud services like this should work. There is also a new full-screen reading mode. I use Excel Mobile more than the other two modules and we see the same syncing between last saved locations here with support for charts, smoother navigation, and improved cell selection.PowerPoint Mobile now lets you view slide decks in portrait or landscape mode. Editable speaker notes are also now available below the slide on one display.

In addition to OneNote Mobile moving out from the Office Hub we also see improvements like voice recording capture, ability to send photos capture right into OneNote, and the ability to quickly search through your notes.

Email and Messaging

Email has always been one of the best features of Windows Phone and with Windows Phone 8 Microsoft tweaked things to make email and messaging even better. One new change that should both help make battery life better and give you a look that matches your selected theme is dark mode for inbox. With Windows Phone 7/7.5 you only had a white background with black text and now you can switch that to a black background with white and themed color text. Another nice update is that you can pin individual email folders directly to the Start screen which can be very handy for folders of projects and other specific folders you have set up.

Email has always supported attachments, but you always had to go back to the email that contained the attachment to reopen the attachment. In Windows Phone 8 Microsoft places the downloaded attachments directly into the Office Hub after you download and open them. You can also access documents stored on SharePoint Server by tapping a link in an email. I have used voice-to-text in the past to listen to and respond to text messaging via a Bluetooth headset and now you can do the same thing within email.

You could always delete multiple email conversations and in WP8 you can also do the same for messaging threads. Messaging also gains support for sharing contacts, videos, voice notes, contact cards, and your location. Emoticons are also now provided within the Word Flow Keyboard found in Messaging.

Internet Explorer 10

Given the good applications on Windows Phone I don't spend a ton of time browsing the web and was always satisfied with IE Mobile, which was based on IE9. Microsoft continues to improve their products and WP10 adds hardware accelerated graphics, a faster javascript engine, improved support for HTML5 and W3C web standards, protected mode, and tab isolation. You can also now share web pages through more ways, such as tap+send, Xbox, and social networks. Xbox selection opens up SmartGlass as the conduit. You can also receive links from other WP8 and Android users via NFC. I tested the ability to send and receive web pages with my Samsung Galaxy Note II and it worked fine.

Search

One of the main reasons I use Bing on my Windows Phone devices is to check out the cool daily photos, which is why I like that I can now use these as my default lock screen image. With the updated version of Bing you will see Voice has been removed from the bottom row of icons with the mic icon right up there within the search box, which makes a LOT more sense.

You can now swipe right and left from the main Bing panel and swipe through to see local movies, local videos, headlines, local deals, and local events. I like the use of panorama mode here within Bing. A new search category was added, shopping, while images was changed to media to support both images and videos. The Quick Cards relevant information from your search results has been updated to include places, products, movies, events, news, deal, and videos. These Quick Cards can also show likes from friends that appear in a "buzz" panel, similar to the buzz panel found in Music.

Maps

Maps is now powered by Nokia map technology and along with this new backed comes support for offline maps that is included with all Windows Phone 8 devices. You will NOT get turn-by-turn voice navigation by default as that is tied to manufacturer deals. Nokia Lumia devices will include this. Traffic has been improved so that more secondary streets and coverage of 26 new countries is supported.

Skype

Microsoft now owns Skype so support for this VoIP service is prominent in Windows Phone 8. Unfortunately, I was unable to download and test it out on my pre-release device so can only tell you a bit about what is planned for this service. VoIP services like Skype, Tango, and Qik can now be integrated into your phone dialer, contact list, and more. Skype supports video and voice calls with instant messaging and now runs in the background if you are using other apps so it truly can be used as your preferred phone service if you desire. Pieces of Skype can be shown in Live Tiles and on your lock screen too.

Other Windows Phone 8 improvements

While there are many major improvements in Windows Phone 8, like other mobile operating system updates, there are also a ton of things that get updated behind the scenes and aren't necessarily headliners. In Windows Phone 8 we see the following additional improvements:

  • Screenshots!: I put this addition down here since I doubt many readers care much about this capability, but everyone who writes about Windows Phone can finally test apps and create reviews with real screenshots that look great rather than crappy photos of the screen we have had to post over the last two years. To capture a screenshot you press the start button and power button at the same time.
  • Multitasking improved: Apps are paused when you switch to another app with some, such as navigation and VoIP apps, executing in the background. Windows Phone 8 improves on the multitasking experience while minimizing impact on your phone's performance and battery life. Apps do need to be updated to at least WP 7.5 compliance or even WP8 for full support of multitasking.
  • Word Flow keyboard: The software keyboard has been improved with things such as emoticons for texting and chatting, improved word prediction, and custom dictionary support. You will also find the amazing ability we saw in later Windows Mobile devices where words are actually predicted BEFORE you even type a letter. For example, if you are writing a quick note to someone and enter "happy" you may see the next word appear as "birthday" before you even enter it. I used to be able to type full sentences in Windows Mobile by entering just a few letters.
  • Deeper Voice capability: The voice support in Windows Phone 7.5 is great and I have had text conversations back and forth while mowing the lawn without ever touching my phone or Bluetooth headset. In Windows Phone 8 Microsoft takes that deeper, if developers take advantage of the capability. For example, if Amazon updates the Kindle app there is the potential to say, "Open Kindle Game of Thrones", to then have the app open up and then that book within the app open up.
  • Updated and new Settings: You will find a few new Settings in Windows Phone 8, including cloud backup, tap+send, Kid's Corner, and company apps. Within the Settings you will also find things such as microSD card storage support, more lock screen settings, and Wallet settings.

As you can see, Windows Phone 8 may appear visually as a minor update, but there are lots of fairly significant improvements that make a great OS even better.

Summary thoughts

I have a Nokia Lumia 900 with Windows Phone 7.5 that I use every day and it is still a functional device that does nearly everything I need. Windows Phone 8 improves on that experience in many ways so there is no reason I will not buy a new WP8 device. Microsoft is providing a different user experience than what people see on iOS (app shortcut driven) and Android (widgets and customization) and I think it appeals to the new smartphone buyer. I think most people using iOS or Android are well integrated with those ecosystems and are unlikely to switch for Windows Phone 8. However, with the core of Windows 8 being the same and the UI familiar we may see more people finally giving Windows Phone 8 a chance. I find myself moving more and more into the Windows ecosystem with Xbox Music and Skydrive while also really enjoying my new Microsoft Surface experience.

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

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79 comments
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  • 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