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Windows Phone 8 is the ultimate 'charge it and get to work' device

Patrick Gray takes a look at the pros and cons of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. Find out why he was generally impressed with this device.

Much as my computing career started at the hands of Microsoft in the days of green screens and MS-DOS, my early mobile device experience was largely defined by the company. After seeing the power of mobile devices in the form of a Pilot 500 (before the company was sued into becoming Palm Pilot and later, Palm), I purchased one of the first Palm PCs, Microsoft's answer to the burgeoning PDA market, which eventually became Windows Mobile, the recent ancestor of today's Windows Phone.

A word about hardware

Verizon provided me with an HTC 8X, one of the recent flagship phones running Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 (WP8) mobile OS. While this is not meant to be a detailed hardware review, I'll give a brief word on the 8X specifically before diving into the details of Windows Phone. The HTC 8X quickly allayed any fears of hardware inferiority on the platform. There is little of the breathless anticipation that surrounds a new iPhone or flagship Android phone, but the 8X was a pleasure to pick up immediately after my usual phone, which is an iPhone 5.

Despite a budget price compared to the competition, the 8X had a great screen and was easier to grab and hold due to a grippy, matte plastic finish rather than the usual slippery plastic or aluminum. The only annoyance I found on the hardware side was that the power button was difficult to find and activated solely by touch, although this problem was largely mitigated through more time with the device. Much like the OS running the 8X, the device parted ways with current design trends and successfully executed an alternative to the mobile "super powers" Android and iOS.

The smartphone gets smarter

If you haven't spent more than a few moments with a recent Windows Phone, you're doing yourself a disservice. Someone who has never used a modern smartphone could be forgiven for thinking Android and iOS were essentially the same on first blush. Both offer a familiar grid of applications and similar navigation patterns. Obviously, there are major differences, but everything from the "grid of icons" motif to momentum scrolling is fairly similar.

Windows Phone abandons these conventions right from the start with its "Modern" (formally Metro) user interface. While I've been less than thrilled with that interface on a traditional computer, I found it intuitive and helpful on my phone, and I actually missed it when I switched back to my iPhone or Android devices. Microsoft has managed to combine navigation, status, and notification in an effective and intuitive way.

When you unlock the phone, you can quickly tell how many new emails you have, the current weather, and who has recently updated their status on various social media sites. I find Windows Phone presents just the right level of detail. iOS notifications are annoyingly distracting, flashing on the screen and then further bloating a nearly useless list. Android's ever-expanding notification "bar of stuff" is a bit more subtle but less informative, while WP8 strikes just the right balance. I don't particularly care about every post to my Facebook feed, but if a family member posts something, I'm likely to be interested. With Windows Phone, a tiny picture of each person who's posted to my social media accounts appears, and I can then decide -- a system that's far more effective than a notification ping or incremented counter with no further information.

Once you're accustomed to in-application navigation based on swiping to the left or right, it's similarly more effective than delving into a sub-screen, coming "up for air," and then going into another sub-screen, although some applications implement this more effectively than others.

The all-in-one phone

Whereas the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market by providing near-infinite expandability through additional applications, Microsoft packages most of the core functionality one would want into the OS. Social media mainstays Facebook and Twitter are integrated tightly into the OS, with your contact list and social media feed integrated as a core function, rather than an afterthought as with Android and iOS.

Mapping and search are on par with competitors, and location-aware functions provide restaurant ratings and even Wi-Fi hotspots, although voice-driven navigation is absent and only available as a paid add-on. WP8 also includes a "personal sharepoint" of sorts, called "Rooms," where a group can share a calendar, message board, photos, or chat. While some functionality is available on the iPhone, WP8 is required for all functions. Microsoft pitches this as an ad hoc way for families and friends to share information, but it would be a quick and dirty way for a business team or external partner to share project information without the cost or hassle of a dedicated service.

While my cloud storage provider of choice, Dropbox, is notably absent, Microsoft's cloud storage service, SkyDrive, is well integrated and serves a far more obvious role than something like iCloud, while remaining cross-platform.

In short, I was surprised by the out-of-the-box level of integration provided by Windows Phone. I did miss some of my standby applications like The Wall Street Journal, but web versions were generally sufficient. I could see handing this phone to someone unaccustomed to smartphones and having them immediately productive. WP8 is the ultimate "charge it and get to work" device which, as we'll see, serves as both a major benefit and potential Achilles' heel.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has...

41 comments
FORYAN
FORYAN

As a new user of a smart phone and a long time user of windows products I am thoroughly dissappointed in the HTC Windows 8x phone. Main complaints include the failure of microsoft to support Adobe flash player for the mobile phone.The result, is the inability to view simple video .I say simple only because every other platform can view it. When I discovered this fact my thought went to the phrase "What the hell are they thinking.?.. does anyone remember Beta video recorders? Other issues, they should provide a stylus in order to be accurate in the use of the keyboard.; the keys are the smallest of any phone, leading to extremely slow or rapidly incorrect texting. Messaging print is very small. Readability is compounded by the less than adequate combinations of background and text colors. Sad to see a leader in so many good products and systems drop the ball on this venue.

ggarland
ggarland

I am on my first WP8. My device of choice is the Nokia 920. I like it much better than my previous Android phone. My only complaint is the lack of things that I became accustomed to with the Android. Things like no true hands free answering with a blue tooth device, and only one volume for EVERYTHING. Turn down your game or music so as not to bother anyone else and you can't hear the ringer. When it gets upgraded to provide these items, an a few more apps become available, then this will be a truly incredible device (it does too much to just be called a phone).

konamobilepc
konamobilepc

Did the author go from a Palm Pilot to a Windows 8 phone? That would imply he's never used an android or iPhone. That might explain why Win 8 phone is 'the ultimate'. I remain skeptical

mhennekam
mhennekam

Although I like the Windows 8 phone, one thing is really missing: VPN functionality. When using the phone to connect to the workplace you will need this!

sdowd1
sdowd1

Hi I'm really interested in Windows phones,but I have one major concern. Windows on a PC does not clean up after itself and just takes up more and more disk space. It is like a gorging pig that becomes so bloated that the PC soon suffers major performance issues, not because of the hardware, but because of the ever-growing size of the Windows OS. What will happen to a Windows phone, with very limited storage capacity, after 12 months of use? Shane

steve1084
steve1084

What’s missing is that you cannot locally sync with outlook, none of your contacts or numbers can be synced without routing all email and contacts via the Microsoft cloud. It’s a nightmare to make it work and there are major security issues for business that make the Microsoft windows Phone 8 a complete waste of time for anyone seriously thinking of using a smart phone for their business. I don’t understand why nobody reviewing this phone platform ever mentions the elephant in the room. This is a deal breaker that Microsoft in there wisdom wants to completely own all your data and contact information. What happens when you tell your clients that every bit of there information is owned by a third party and nothing is private, and there is no confidentiality for your business. The phone hardware might be ok but the setup and utilisation sucks. No business in there right mind will use this phone platform.

carpetking
carpetking

As family members flutter between iPhone and Android platforms, I'm very happy to say, I just upgraded to my second Windows Phone. I loved my windows 7 phone and am even more thrilled with my Windows 8 phone and the off the shelf Office integration that it offers. So, from a work perspective, it is a great phone. On the personal side, it takes great pictures and videos, so it does everything I need. Thanks Microsoft and your partners, for providing a wonderful device and experience!

simonschilder
simonschilder

I've been the owner of a Nokia Lumia 610 for about a year now. It's a budget phone with perhaps a too small amount of ram, but I knew that when I bought it. I've upgraded it to WP 7.8 and I liked it from the start. Maybe the app store doesn't have the amount of apps as android or iOS, but the ones which are there do the job just fine. I use it as my corporate phone and it integrates seamlessly with our Windows and Office environment. And Nokia did deliver Nokia drive and Nokia maps for free :) Voice driven menu's did not work in Dutch though, only in English

dwheins
dwheins

iOS will setup an Exchange client rather easily...WP8 struggles...(if you can even get that to work at all good luck). So a Microsoft product doesn't play well with another Microsoft product and yet Apple does. Go figure!

knightd_kit
knightd_kit

Whilst I agree Microsoft has produced a smartphone, that is far more tangible that its leading competitors, it lacks the tyres (Apps) to make it a leading contender around the various tracks demanded by the modern day phone user. Microsoft need to either internally develop more apps or motivate third parties to develop to their platform, only then will Microsoft have a real chance to regain its lost momentum in this market. In my opinion

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

1/. To me a phone is a voice communication device, and a mobile one is for either constant voice communication contact ot for urgent voice communication contact. A phone is not an e-mail service or a web browser or a games platform, so why should I waste money, pocket space, and trouble on one that is? If I want those extras, then I'll buy them separately so I don't get screwed up by mixing up which is which. 2/. In my country, like many outside the USA we pay for every damn MB of upload and download (except for some dial-up service and very expensive Unlimited accounts), and cell costs are about triple that of ADSL or more. Thus for the average person to use their cell phone to check e-mail and do their web browsing they end up paying a small fortune in data fees for doing so. Another cost I and many others can't afford, and many young yuppies are just learning as they get their first bills they have to pay for such things. Re costs: I have an ADSL that has 1,000 GB download / upload at 20 Mbps / 1 Mbps and landline phone service for $150.00 per month, plus about $50.00 per year for my prepaid cell phone. The same as a mobile service would cost in the range of $2,000 per month. But closer personal usage accounts are: 20 GB per month with phone - ADSL $39.95, Mobile $79.95 (20GB is the max data size for a personal a/c) - - ($69.95 on ADSL gives you 200 GB per month - no direct dollar equivalent) - - - - mobile plans of most providers top out at 100 ro 200 GB and you pay $0.05 per MB after that, while the ADSL goes up to 1,000 GB and then your service just slows down and you have no extra charges. I find that 99.999% of blog articles on TR and ZDNET always assume the rest of the world gets the exact same services and costs as the US, either that or they're ignoring the rest of the world.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

The default search engine on the Windows phone is Bing and it's not just on par, it's better...at returning spam and Malware in 65% of the searches compared to Google. So don't be shy about that. ;-)

brian
brian

Download Nokia's Test Drive beta, and you'll have a pretty nice turn by turn nav system, with downloadable maps so it will still be able to re-route in the case that you are out of signal's range. Also, the article did not mention the big ticket item missing from the Windows 8 smartphone. VPN! Yes, you heard that correctly. The Windows 8 smartphone does not have any sort of VPN. Yikes. I cannot even buy a Windows 8 phone until this basic feature has been added because of my remote responsibilities.

Sarel Theron
Sarel Theron

wrong article ... multi-tasking scrambled .. lol

Sarel Theron
Sarel Theron

When I click Download a new tab opens then bombs out on server at forge cannot be found

ben@channells
ben@channells

I had a HTC Windows 8 phone, it never worked. It took 9 hours to charge, Camera resolution was VGA i.e less than 1Mb should have been 5Mpixel SMS text app was missing. 3G data connections was non-existent only Wi-Fi, phone calls were every poor compared to the the Nokia E5 was was going to replace.Maps would not work due to failed (missing) data modem. could not connect to my Hotmail via 3G, but skydriver did work but very slowly my new Asus Windows 8 laptop could not recognise the HTC the HTC could not recognise the Asus the biggest problem was the sync of contacts I tried 6 times and each time I got some else Hotmail contracts, over 300 to 600+ people I had never heard of !! local over USB from Win 8 laptop to Win 8 phone would take over 1.5 hrs to update, this was set to 15 mins even with the Outlook and Hotmail connectors installed at both ends the good side: playing music was good, screen good for images copied over but not from the cameras the end result: I sent the HTC back as faulty I got a Sony Experia T none of the above problems, everything works the Nokia Suite software still has many features I wish Sony or Samsung had on there Androids

brupub
brupub

Bing Maps is also a free turn by turn navigation system that offers a simple NAV not up to par with the absolutely superb Nokia Apps but it works. The only caveat is you need to tap the screen to move on to the next stage of the drive. The system also tells you if you went the wrong way and allows you to correct. But Nokia's Ap, especially on Lumia phones (free) is marvelous!

kateatkinsonvk
kateatkinsonvk

Windows OS is a great craze in mobile world there days.. here is a new introduction in the row again Windows 8 OS is involved in mobile phones operating systems. HTC 8X is the new creation in mobile market using Windows 8(WP8) mobile OS and it consist a very heavy hardware backup and support

j-mccurdy
j-mccurdy

You're wrong about not having free turn by turn voice guided navigation. I have an HTC 8X and all you have to do is install the Nokia navigation app, it works just fine and it announces the street names too.

Ricky Tandiono
Ricky Tandiono

Android with widget in their screen already able to provides you with the information that you required, the emails, feed from you family etc.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

An honest, non biased personal opinion based on initial user experience. The world could use more opinions like yours, as opposed to the one sided fanboy BS found all over the Interweb.

durocshark
durocshark

Happily, Dropbox is available for the WP8. I have it on my own 8x.

gadgets
gadgets

Hi Patrick, Great article! However, some of the missing apps you listed are actually available. For instance: HERE Maps/Drive/Transit (free): comes installed on Nokia devices, installable on all Windows Phone 8 devices. It has voice turn-by-turn directions. There are also some great paid navigational apps. http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=efa4b4a7-7499-46ce-aa95-3e4ab3b39313 WSJ Live: http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=3f78de06-621f-45a2-b149-b177eeda4e87 While DropBox has yet to create an app, there are several great alternatives, some free and some paid. For instance, you could try BoxFiles for Dropbox: http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=5d7f992b-ee03-e011-9264-00237de2db9e Thanks, David

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Just because he didn't list every intervening piece of hardware doesn't mean they didn't exist.

DukeCylk
DukeCylk

He says his regular phone is an iPhone 5. He is demonstrating his experience and qualifications to be a reviewer by giving a nod to the early handheld developers of Palm, and Pocket PC which were around way before even the iPod. I remain skepticle of Apple purveyors, as they are blinded by the marketing genius of Jobs, and refuse to take in anything but revisionist history.

tomtomk
tomtomk

"the 8X was a pleasure to pick up immediately after my usual phone, which is an iPhone 5."

simonschilder
simonschilder

with 256 mb Ram and 8 Gb memory which I use for about a year now, I still have no problems what so ever, except that some apps do not run due to the limited amount of ram (which I knew from the start)

DukeCylk
DukeCylk

That's what Android does. The hardware of a Windows Phone 8 is completely different than a PC (and very different than WP7 too). The nature of PC web browsing and Java scripts, and Adobe flash, etc is what you are referring too. Even Macs are not immune to this. WP8 allows you to see everything running in background, and even the protected stuff. Unfortunately you have to install the protected stuff if you don't want it running in the background. The bad part is that WP8 wants to run everything in the cloud, your games, your pictures, your music, and so this causes a cost for carrier data traffic, which can easily blow up the 300MB AT&T gives me, so I am manually moving things on and off my phone instead of using the luxury of the cloud. I discovered that when I tied doing anything in airplane mode. When I tried to listen to music al I got was a series of abrupt errors. The phone should be smart enough to say "can't access the cloud while in airplane mode". All in all love the phone so far.

simonschilder
simonschilder

I do not understand your issue. On my wP7.8 I sync my mail, my contacts, even my tasks without any problem. When I reply an email on my phone it show directly in outlook that I read, replied or forwarded the mail. I can even set my out-of-office from my phone! Of course that only works for an Exchange environment. But you can of course connect your phone to your email account in stead of your local Outlook installation.

perrya
perrya

i found the same. i'm the exchange administrator. you have to avoid using most of the security features that other phones (such as apples, androids and older nokias) do support

simonschilder
simonschilder

I own a WP7.8 and all I had to do waas fill in the appropriate server address and user details and that was that.. I've had many iOS users at my desk who couldn't get it (exchange sync) to work and even I couldn't get it running. And I am the admin of this setup :)

excelkmc
excelkmc

that you have clearly never used Windows Phone or added it to an Exchange infrastructure... Mine has worked flawlessly since the 1st release and across different Exchange versions... Absolutely funny :-)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I agree that calling these devices 'phones' is outdated or misleading. Perhaps the term 'communicator' would be better. But neither the name nor Aussie data rates are relevant to the operating system itself.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

Why not change it to Google for a default then? There are plenty of how to's for it, the settings are buried but can still easily be changed.

Trentski
Trentski

Although we could probably do more than most, a phone is not a computer and really there is no point in a vpn. You would need a big ass phablet to even make use of it and when everything is web based nowadays, that's questionable

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

It's the phone, not the OS. I have many mobile dealers for customers and the feedback I'be been getting to that the HTC fell flat on its face. In the past HTC has had some of the best smart phones I've used. WAY better than iPhone and even better than other smart phones I've had, I was pretty disappointed to find out that they had so many hardware issues with HTC. I don't think it's all of them but they sure as hell had a big bad batch!

Trentski
Trentski

But the guy at the store talking me into a lumia 920, they were the same price after all at the time, which probably would have annoyed me after the 8x has been discounted heavily after only a few months Its the only time I really have cared about my phone, makes my galaxy s2 look ancient

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

As Bing maps are pretty much garbage, the app has another major limitation.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

hanging a ton of bling and air horns on a pushbike - for the majority of people it is NOT needed at all. Most people I know who use the Internet on their smartphone only do so until they see their first data download bill, or are the type that don't care a thing about costs. And this OS will only work on the more expensive touch screen phones, so that stuff is relevant. If you want something with all that, well and good and go buy it; but the annoying things is the companies are using adding all that stuff in to increase their profits as the dearer costs allow for a higher profit off the same profit margin and many don't offer the basic phones at all. It's kind of like wanting to buy a littl economy car to get about the city and finidng the only things the companies are making are giant pick-ups with huge towbars, rifle racks, a string of lights across the roof, and a fully kitted out canopy on the back - and no other options at all.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

I would not use Bing to find those how too's either.

Duke E Love
Duke E Love

As he yelled at the kids to "get off my damn lawn!"...... "And don't get me started on those infernal horseless carriages. They will never replace the horse. And what is with these "telephones? What happened to sitting down and writing a letter? It is the work of the devil I tell you!".