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Windows Phone grows up

"Killer hardware" is not a phrase that's been associated with Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) fledgling Windows Phone effort in the past.  Much like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android, Microsoft has chosen the low road try to court third-parties and differentiate itself on an interface level, rather than necessarily beat the top players hardware-wise.

I. New Features, New Apps

But much like Android evolved to sport some of the most bleeding edge hardware the industry has to offer, Windows Phone 8 represents Microsoft's own evolution; the chance for the mobile veteran to finally show off its decidedly different user interface on high-end hardware.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer describes, "[The Windows Phone 8 handsets are] new killer hardware. I would argue some of the best hardware you will find, if not the best hardware you'll find in any smartphone form factor."

While Microsoft's animated mostly two-tone "Live Tiles" interface (aka Metro UI) tended to draw strong reactions -- either admiration or disdain -- the operating system maker is offering arguably the most radical user interface in the business.  You can argue that's a good thing or a bad thing, but you can't fault Microsoft for not innovating; if anything its critics are compelled to argue it has over innovated.

Microsoft would surely disagree.

In the new operating system release Microsoft continues to push the boundary.  It now allows a mix of smaller and bigger Live Tiles.  Before the only option was to pin or unpin tiles; now you also get the option of growing small tiles to be big or shrinking big tiles to be small.
 

Customizable tiles in Windows Phone 8

The lock screen is now able to accept animations from apps (with permission from the user) open a world of new possibilities to Microsoft's growing legion of WinPhone app developers, who to date have produced 120,000 total apps.

Demoed examples included feeds from Group, the Picture Roll, or even Facebook, all on your lock screen.

Microsoft has also worked hard to woo high profile app developers, and announced that 46 of the top 50 titles in Android and iOS will now be on the Windows Phone.  Long missing new additions include Temple Run and The Walt Disney Comp. (DIS) hit "Where's My Water?".  At the start of 2013 Pandora Media Inc. (P) will be launching an exclusive Windows Phone app with a full year of ad-free music (Microsoft must have paid a pretty penny for that).  Skype is also built into the new operating system.

Given U.S. carriers’ shift to bandwidth-capped connections, another key Windows Phone 8 addition is Data Sense.  Microsoft brags that it compresses and decompresses its data traffic much more efficiently than its rivals Apple, Inc. (AAPL) and Google.  The net result is that Windows Phone will take longer to hit their data cap and be less likely to incur overages.  The built in monitoring will also give users peace of mind that they didn't "accidentally" exceed their allotment.

Data Sense
Data Sense helps Windows Phone users survive on metered connections.
[Image Source: The Verge]

With Data Sense, the phone even automatically crawls onto Wi-Fi networks you have access to, in essence making it sort of the war-driver of the smartphone world.  Microsoft estimates that with data sense you will get 45 percent more web browsing per unit of data.

Microsoft also has a brand new children-geared app called "Kid's Corner", which allows kids to play games or apps on their parent's smartphone with parental-imposed restrictions.  Microsoft invited Jessica Alba to give her thoughts on the app.  She comments, "I love kids corner, I think it's awesome.   I love that I can curate the content.  I don't have to worry about my kid going into my social media networks or emailing my partners or anything like that.  So my daughter who is four, when she was two she got my phone and typed away and it showed up on my Twitter feed."

Jessica Alba
Jessica Alba loves Windows Phone [Image Source: The Verge]

In other words, Microsoft hopes Kid's Corner will help stop the youngsters from sending embarrassing "tweets" on your behalf.

Microsoft has tied a new feature called "Rooms" into its people hub, which is equal parts an extension Google+ Hangout and an extension of the existing Groups People hub category system.

For fans of Apple's iTunes with a closet liking for Microsoft products, Microsoft also has created an app that allows your Windows Phone to connect with your iTunes library (no Zune Media Player necessary).  This means Mac OS X computer users could use Windows Phones, an unlikely, but amusing prospect.

Microsoft has beefed up its Office apps as well.  There's superior SkyDrive syncing across the cloud of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 devices.  And OneNote now supports speech to text notes.

Lastly, Microsoft is offering up Xbox Music in finished form.  The 30 million track catalog is available for both ad-supported (free) and ad-free ($9.99 USD per month) streaming.

II. Hot Hardware

The remaining piece of the puzzle is hardware.

With Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has pulled abreast of Android and iOS in terms of having fast, multi-core processors, large amounts of RAM, better GPUs, larger screens, etc.  The perfect example of that is HTC Corp.'s (TPE:24988X, which features a 4.3-inch 1280 x 720 Super LCD 2 display, Gorilla Glass 2 protective coating, a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB DRAM, 16GB internal NAND Flash, LTE, and a 1,800 mAh Li-ion battery.  

The phone also sports two chips -- a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for better headphone sound quality and HTC's exclusive pictures-from-video chip technology.  Only a couple Android smartphone and the new Windows Phone will have those features; the iPhone is left behind without the ability to capture photos from video and with inferior sound quality.
HTC Windows Phone 8X
The HTC Windows Phone 8X

Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) brings some compelling features of its own with its PureView optical image stabilization -- a smartphone industry first.  Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930) Windows Phone also made a brief appearance, although it looked a bit anemic, compared to its high-end brethren.  Ballmer praised its strengths primarily by saying that it was "unbelievably thin, incredibly light" -- the handset is arguably less compelling than the actual additional hardware muscle offered by Nokia and HTC.

III. Now on Three of the Top Four U.S. Carriers

The other big news is that, as rumored, Verizon Communications -- the joint subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD) -- is diving into Windows Phone.  It will be the exclusive carrier, for now, to carry the Samsung Ativ in the U.S.  The Ativ will launch on Big Red, the largest U.S. network, in December.

AT&T, Inc. (T) -- the initial U.S. adopter of Windows Phone -- is rewarded with the high-end Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC 8X, arguably the most compelling launch Windows Phone 8 handsets.

T-Mobile USA, the fourth place American carrier and subsidiary of German telecommunications giant Deustsche Telecom AG (ETR:DTE) is finally getting in on the Windows Phone action, as well, as announced.  It will be getting the powerful HTC 8X, in addition to the budget-minded Nokia Lumia 822.  Thanks to its recent merger with MetroPCS Communications, Inc. (PCS) T-Mobile could be the carrier to beat for customers who want an 8X.

Verizon LTE
Windows Phone is finally coming to Verizon's high-speed LTE network.
[Image Source: Android Spin]

That leaves floundering Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), as the odd man out; the only major U.S. carrier not to adopt Windows Phone.  Sprint has increasingly turned its back on Windows Phone, and -- to an extent -- Android.  It is today pinning most of its sales hopes on Apple; on the prospect of luring in iPhone 5 customers to its "unlimited" data plan.  Sprint recently took out a $7B USD loan to fund a lump sum payment to Apple to convince it to let it carry the iPhone

Windows Phone 8, like Windows 8, will certainly endure its fair share of criticism.  But it deserves credit for not shying away from pushing the bounds of user interfaces.  And its moves to finally reach parity on certain popular apps, high end hardware, and carrier selection make it much more of a real competitor to Android and Apple, the current kings of the market.

Expect big things from Windows Phone 8.

Sources: Microsoft, The Verge



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LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By randygrenier on 10/29/2012 5:05:35 PM , Rating: 5
I installed Windows 8 on my ASUS ultrabook. Doesn't have a touch screen, but I'm seeing the light. It makes headway into a new way of doing things while giving you an umbilical chord to Windows 7. After a little time with it, it's not only a new way but maybe a better way. The new stuff will grow.

Consequently, I'd like to try Windows 8 phone. Like millions, I'm on a contract, and that will be a while. Android is useful, but I will give Windows a try when it's time.

One more thing, for me it's not about toys--it's about function. That's what makes MS so much better than Apple.




RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By Florinator on 10/29/2012 5:30:37 PM , Rating: 4
One of my co-workers is a hardcore gamer and he installed Windows 8 on one of his PC's the day after it came out. He was surprised to notice that his games run faster and at a higher frame rate. He also thinks the rendering libraries were improved to produce crisper images and the games feel a lot more fluid.

These are improvements that are actually noticeable with human senses, which, to me, shows that they are non-trivial.


RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By Smilin on 10/29/2012 6:00:11 PM , Rating: 2
Dang, wish I had benchmarked some stuff before the ugprade. My hope in the upgrade was "everything continues to run" (it does) and runs fast enough I don't notice (I don't).

Borderlands does seem to run faster but that's really subjective as I never benched it.

Whole ugprade took 30min. Not a single problem. Multimon (I run 3x) rocks now but I think they picked a goofy default for it.. show everything on all taskbars. I hit the dropdown to just show whats running on a given monitor on it's taskbar.

I digress. ...some more... I'm getting a f'n Surface next!


RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By ShaolinSoccer on 10/30/2012 12:30:00 AM , Rating: 3
By FITCamaro on 10/30/2012 8:35:36 AM , Rating: 2
Looks pretty much even. Not to say that's bad though.

Yesterday two big Mac lovers at work who've used Windows came over to say they installed Windows 8 with Boot Camp on their Macbook Pros (like I have with Windows 7) and love it.


By someguy123 on 10/30/2012 9:52:09 PM , Rating: 3
That's surprising. I expected pretty much nothing considering those games aren't made for DX11 and microsoft has only claimed to really improve the CPU scheduler. Looks like around 5% boost in framerate from just switching to w8 in most games. Not worth buying an OS over but not bad at all.


By Florinator on 10/30/2012 12:05:42 PM , Rating: 3
That's the spirit!

We got two f'in Surfaces (one for me, one for my wife) and they are f'in great! We love 'em :-)

I already upgraded my laptop to Windows 8 Pro and my wife is asking for it too.

And my 3 year old is constantly on my back: "dada, I wanna play you Suhhfass".


RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By SKiddywinks on 10/29/2012 7:07:40 PM , Rating: 2
I'd love to see his specs and scientific method for that comparison, because generally speaking I have only seen equal to lesser performance across everything I have read about W7 and W8 comparisons. At least when it comes to games.

I would post a link, but see that some others have been removed so instead just suggest you check out bit-tech's article. It's only one of the latest few so should still be on the front page.


By inighthawki on 10/29/2012 9:24:39 PM , Rating: 3
The real problem is that the benchmarks that exist today on websites are incredibly skewed because they're all using the equivalent of beta drivers. I would be more interested in seeing the difference between 7 and 8 in say, 6 months. Then we'll know if there's really much of an improvement or not.


RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By Beavermatic on 10/30/2012 8:23:14 AM , Rating: 3
Here's a nifty trick noone really knows... your start button list isn't gone from Windows 8. You have to rigght click on the start button itself.

Left-click takes you to the tile start screen, right click gives you a windows 7/xp-like list of all the old options from the start menu

Move your mouse to the bottom left on the screen and hover over the start box that appears, and right-click.

see? now that wasn't so bad, was it?

:)


By NellyFromMA on 10/30/2012 2:40:51 PM , Rating: 2
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. I'm trying that when I get home, could be useful


RE: LIke Windows 8--Would like to try W8 phone
By Argon18 on 10/30/12, Rating: 0
By NellyFromMA on 10/30/2012 3:02:47 PM , Rating: 3
Microsoft has enabled functionality for the vast majority of businesses to even provide you anything even close to tech or internet based solutions or services.

Microsoft has practically defined function for the passed 20 years without any substantial challenger and those that do pose a challenge do so on the consumer level, not business.

So, how is Microsoft NOT about function?


“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads














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