That’s all there is to Windows Phone 8 as far as the major changes and additions are concerned. So all that leaves is the litany of tweaks that Microsoft has made to the OS, all of which are for the better. They’re small changes, but the sort of changes that are welcome in those moments when you find yourself thinking, “You know, I wish I could do X or Y.” Well, good news: Windows Phone 8 can do X, Y, and Z.
The camera now has different “lenses”, which are essentially apps that utilize the camera in different ways. Take the “Bing Vision” lens, for instance, which is actually currently available on all Windows Phone 7.5 devices: it’s basically just a bar code/QR code scanner. But that’s what all the camera lenses are like: clever uses for the camera.
As another example, the Lumia models have the City Lens, which is an augmented reality app that lets the user hold up the camera at the surrounding area, which is then tagged on the phone with various POIs. Unfortunately, that’s proprietary software and as such was not available on my particular unit, but it’s a great idea that shows what kind of potential is here. The lens menu has a “Find more lenses” option, but unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any available for download at the moment.
Voice recognition, while not a new addition to Windows Phone in and of itself, now has wider support across the platform and can be used for a number of new tasks (as well as the old ones), including Bing searches, Local Scout for nearby POIs, and other app interactions (though not all apps are compatible with the voice recognition). You can even create OneNote documents or texts and dictate their content to the phone. It’s a two-way street, too; there’s also text to voice translation, with the phone able to read incoming texts to you if you’re driving or in a similar no-hands-free situation.
For the frazzled types, there have been tweaks made to the Calendar app, allowing users to hit a single “Late” button when running late for a meeting, which automatically notifies the other attendees of the event that you won’t be there on time. Leave your phone behind somewhere in your rush to get to your meeting? There’s now also a Find My Phone feature, which users can activate online via the Windows Phone website to track down their missing handset.
Should end up losing your phone for good though, you can take solace in the fact that, through SkyDrive, Windows Phone 8 can easily backup most of your phone’s content, including your apps, settings, text messages, and photos.
If you find that you are using your Windows Phone a lot for work, the platform now has support for what it calls “Company Apps,” which is more or less a means for your company to add security measures to your handset, allowing them to remotely disable, encrypt, or delete content and settings found anywhere on your phone, even its SD card.
And the rest is just miscellaneous stuff, like the ability to take screenshots (finally!), keyboard improvements, and being able to share one’s location via the attachment button in texts. There are also ease of access features (including larger text and sound levels for hearing aids), and tweaks to the Bing search page; instead of merely having a search bar, there are now multiple pages available when you hit the search button, including those for news, local deals, movies, and top videos. They’re all relatively minor changes, the sort that you may not even initially notice are there, but they’re tweaks that make for a more convenient, seamless experience.
Let’s face it: Microsoft was severely lagging with the dated software that was Windows Phone 7. But with Windows Phone 8, the company has taken a solid core concept and built upon it. Microsoft has breathed new life into its mobile platform and given it an opportunity to succeed by not only adding new features and addressing shortcomings, but also by outfitting it so it can be matched with outstanding hardware. Sure, it’s a little buggy and the Store selection is still a little thin (especially as far as “optimized” apps are concerned; it’s a shame that Skype isn’t here yet), but I don’t think those are really going to be lasting issues with Windows Phone 8. It hasn’t even technically been released to the public yet, so I’m sure it will be spruced up in no time.
With support for cutting-edge technology like multi-core processors and NFC chips and bolstered by some great software additions and app integration, Windows Phone 8 can now hang with the competition. I’m not going to say that Windows Phone 8 reigns supreme, because what we’re seeing now is only its potential. But as long as developers continue to take advantage of what the operating system has to offer and OEMs capitalize on the improved hardware support, it has more than a chance to succeed.
- Support for current-gen hardware, like multi-core chips, expandable memory, and NFC
- Fantastic app integration, especially with improved live tiles
- A wealth of customization options
- Problems with threads in the email app still unaddressed
- Rooms and Kid’s Corner features stumble in execution
Windows Phone 8 operates like a much more efficient, app-friendly, and customizable version of its predecessor. It’s — almost — everything Windows Phone 7 should have been.