I am an original user of the Windows Phone OS back when I got my first Windows Phone, the Samsung Omnia 7. It was all new and exciting, and was said to be easy to develop applications for which it was and still is! After going back to Android for a while with my Samsung Galaxy S3 running Jelly Bean, I missed out in that period where everyone was expecting Windows Phone 8 and my contract ran out so I thought I’d give Android another go. Inside I knew that I wanted a Windows Phone 8 device though and couldn’t help but purchase the Nokia Lumia 920 as soon as I saw how awesome Rob Miles‘ was. I’ve been using Windows Phone 8 for two months now and think I can honestly say it was worth the change back to.
New Home Screen
A lot has changed since Windows Phone 7. I think that Microsoft have near enough perfected the OS and have got the hardware to go with it to be competing in the mobile market. Although many would say the only change between the two Windows Phone OS’ is stylistic, there has been a lot added into the new OS which brings the phones to the playing field with iOS and Android. The main difference between Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8 is that Windows Phone 8 runs on the same kernel that is found in the new Windows 8 OS. This opened up the phone to developers from almost all backgrounds to develop applications as they are doing for Windows 8.
So here is the new Windows Phone 8 home screen. Previous users of Windows Phone 7 will know that they can only have tiles of one size (or a longer tile if the app supported it but wasn’t customisable). Microsoft finished what they started with their ideas for the home screen and have made it fully customisable with edge to edge tiles meaning that the black bar which took up a lot of screen space in Windows Phone 7 is gone, but you can still access your application list by swiping left.
The Live Tiles on Windows Phone OS are the main feature which stands out from other mobile OS’ such as iOS and Android. There are three sizes for Windows Phone tiles now which are small, medium and wide with each still able to be updated with live data with the Live Tile feature within the OS. The new customisation of the tiles has really given users the ability to have a unique phone. As Microsoft explained, no Windows Phone 8 device will look the same.
Another new addition to the OS to make it more customisable is the ability to pick more colour themes for the device. As of now you can pick from a list of 20 different colours, and although there isn’t any news from Microsoft to extend this list I’m sure that a future update could come to allow any colour theme for your Windows Phone.
Lock Screen Additions
More improvements to customisation have been added to the lock screen too. It is now possible to allow third-party applications to change your background wallpaper. For instance, Flixter has the option to set movie posters as your lock screen wallpaper.
There are also applications like Paper Shuffle which allow you to have cycled wallpapers by selecting a list of the wallpapers you want, and the application will cycle through them on a timer that you set in the application. You’ll find this feature built into many of your favourite photograph applications with Windows Phone 8. The other lock screen improvement to Windows Phone is the ability to choose what notifications you want to be displayed at the bottom of the screen. Again, third-party applications can tap into this feature to allow you to put notifications from Facebook, Baconit, Xbox Live notifications, e-mail, phone calls, and text messages.
A feature which I found out not too long ago has made Windows Phone that little bit cooler. The keyboard in the new Windows Phone 8 devices includes a feature that many Android users of the app SwiftKey will like. The keyboard has intelligence and will learn the sort of words that you write in sentences after using the phone for a while meaning that the keyboard will be able to write sentences word for word without you needing to type them. It will also automatically correct words that it thinks you were supposed to write in a sentence and like most features in Windows Phone, this is configurable so you don’t have to have this on.
Local Scout, Music Search and Bing Vision
Windows Phone has some pretty cool built-in features that aren’t available in other OS’ and normally require you to download an external application to use. These features include Local Scout, a helpful tool for finding nearby places to eat & drink, see & do, or shop.
It uses your phones GPS to locate where you are and will display places nearest to you on a map powered by Bing. Each section also has the ability to change the category you’re searching for. For example, you want to find somewhere to eat that is Italian. Another built-in feature is like the application Shazam.
From the search button, you can select your phone to listen for music. It doesn’t take long to discover the track and once it has, you have the option to download the song through Xbox Music.
The other main built-in feature that I want to talk about is Bing Vision. This application combines together a barcode scanner, QR code scanner, Microsoft Tag scanner, and text translator. The best part of the translator is that it displays the translation on the screen over the text you have scanned instantly. All of these features take advantage of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine which integrates perfectly into Windows Phone 8.
Let us move onto the new features integrated into the People Hub. For all non-Windows Phone users, People Hub is a central locations to combine your social media as well as your contacts. When you connect new social feeds to your Windows Live account, these become integrated into your People Hub showing up live information as well as connecting contacts together with their social accounts so not to have duplicate contact details for your family and friends. You can even connect Microsoft’s Skype application into the contact list allowing you to quickly get into a Skype phone call or video chat without even loading the application. The People Hub also has a built in news feed like you would find if you went onto Facebook or Twitter, although this combines everything into one. No need for a Facebook application or Twitter. You can even post an update to all of your accounts in one step. Not only that, you can check-in to places you’re at without having to load up the Facebook app. You are also able to pin your favourite contacts, groups or rooms to your home screen to provide you with live updating on those fantastic Live Tiles.
One of the coolest new features in the People Hub for Windows Phone 8 however is Rooms. Previously, it was only possible to create groups of users and pin them to your home screen. However, Microsoft have added the Rooms feature which allows you to create an area for you to completely connect with a group of people of your choice. You are able to send a message to the room’s board which will then delegate to all of the room’s members. You also have a room calendar which you can add specific events which will be shared across all of the room’s members. Photos and videos are also available to share with your room, and most importantly, built-in OneNote functionality so you can leave notes for your room members. All are synced into a SkyDrive folder which connects all of your members together.
Microsoft Office has also had a fresh update for Windows Phone 8. There are a lot more features built in with the Windows Phone version of Microsoft Office than you would see in Google Docs for Android. Do you remember that e-mail that had that important document that you needed but can’t find the e-mail? No problem. Office will automatically synchronise all of your e-mail documents into the Office Hub and you can even save them to your SkyDrive to take on the go! Probably one of the most useful of the Office applications is OneNote. I assume that most people will have used OneNote on a Windows PC, and many mobile users will be familiar with an application called EverNote. Although there is the option for you to install an EverNote application for Windows Phone, I advise that you use OneNote. Its quick and easy to use allowing you to write a little something for you to remember later, or even leave a voice note.
As a student, I have used OneNote to keep all of my university course notes kept up-to-date using SkyDrive so I can synchronise my notes while I’m writing them in class with my Windows PC to my Windows PC at my home PC, and even my phone! You can even synchronise your PowerPoint presentations for accessing your notes when giving the presentation, as well as quickly editing anything before and synchronising it with SkyDrive.
Windows Phone Store
Although not having the largest of the application marketplaces, Windows Phone’s has grown a lot faster than many with a reported 150,000+ applications in December 2012. Microsoft also have a web interface for users to download applications which in Windows Phone will then automatically start downloading using background tasks built into the OS. Phone manufacturers have the option to include exclusive apps into the phone’s app store, such as Nokia’s collection of applications including Maps, Drive+, Transport, City Lens, and their additional camera lens applications which is a new feature in the camera application for Windows Phone.
There are a few features that I’ve not seen in Windows Phone previously, but users of other mobile OS’ may be familiar with. One of these is “Picks for you” which will find applications that relate to apps you’ve previously downloaded that you might like.
Wallet and NFC
Something entirely new to Windows Phone is the Wallet feature and NFC (near-field communication). The Wallet combines your connected payment details from your Windows Live account into this application automatically so don’t get scared when you first load the Wallet and realise there is your bank information like I did. You can add other bank details also if you have multiple accounts and these can tie into the OS so you can purchase apps from the marketplace using these accounts, including PayPal. When bank applications start appearing in the Windows Phone store you will be able to connect these into Wallet, and with the help of NFC, be able to make direct payments in shops using your phone. There is also an option for getting deals in your Wallet. This grabs information using location services to determine your location and will use services such as Groupon to find deals for you. Also you can set up a separate pin for accessing your Wallet from the pin for locking your phone so don’t worry about people accessing your Wallet details. With NFC also, it can be used to share information across devices. Not only with Windows Phone devices but it has been tested and works with Android NFC enabled devices too.
New Kid’s Corner
Kid’s Corner. I’m sure many will have heard of this from the Windows Phone adverts and from users of the OS too. Although I don’t use this feature in the phone as I don’t have any kids who will mess around with my phone, this is useful for parents who want to let their children play games on their device without them being able to access any other information that they aren’t allowed such as pictures, texts, and e-mails. You have complete control over what applications, games, music and videos that are allowed to be used in Kid’s Corner.
Don’t think of Kid’s Corner as just for children however. It is also a good way to let people have a play around with Windows Phone without them having access to all of your personal information. Like the main OS area of Windows Phone, the Kid’s Corner is fully customisable with all of the range of tiles, colour themes and lock-screen picture.
To access Kid’s Corner, from the lock screen you swipe to the left and there it is (as long as it is enabled in settings). Once in Kid’s Corner, to return to your side of the phone just lock the device and unlock it.
New Internet Explorer 10
Internet Explorer 10 is also a new addition to Windows Phone 8. For users of Windows 8 and IE10, you will be very familiar with the phone’s version of the popular internet browser. It has had some serious upgrading from the IE available on previous Windows Phone devices. One of the best features that has been added into IE is the ‘Find on page’ feature. When you search for a word or phrase on the page, it will automatically zoom onto the section you were searching for if it exists on the page. This is a feature that I am sure many previous Windows Phone users were after in IE9.
Windows Phone for Business
One of the last features that I’d like to talk about is company apps. This is something that will be great for businesses using Windows Phone devices as a business phone. You can securely add your company account in your phone which will then be able to be encrypted by your company’s policies so your data is safe. As I don’t have a company that uses the features possible with Windows Phone 8, I haven’t been able to test the feature fully myself, but there is a hub for users to download apps that the company allows the user to have on their devices. There is also integrated into the Company Hub, news, alerts, your profile and the apps which you are allowed to downloaded based on your company settings. I hope to use this feature in the future when I join the software development industry.
TL;DR Windows Phone 8 is a great OS and is something new and different. I would definitely suggest having a play with the OS and at least try it before you say you don’t like it.
To answer the question in the blog title, you should choose Windows Phone for all of these new features and a lot more. Windows Phone is an OS that is growing and is something new and innovative. Overall, I think that Microsoft has done a great job with Windows Phone. Like I said, I was an original Windows Phone 7 user with the initial OS, followed by 7.5 (Mango) and now 8. I am glad that I went back to Windows Phone as it is one of the most amazing mobile OS’ that I’ve used.
Please feel free to ask me anything you want to know about Windows Phone 8 whether it be about the OS, the Nokia Lumia 920, or developing for the platform. I am always happy to help out!