Whenever a major version of Windows Phone is released, we like to give you a unique overview about what's new and what's different. But instead of offering you the run-of-the-mill OS review, which can get a little boring if you ask us, we've revived our dormant Top Five feature!
This article is part one of our look at Windows Phone 8, and it's all about the good things in life. The software is such a milestone release it requires new hardware, and as such there's a lot to gush about especially if you've been a longtime Windows Phone fan.
So without further ado, here are the Top Five Things We Love about Windows Phone 8...
Everything is faster
Windows Phone was already fast, but somehow Windows Phone 8 is faster. Native apps, such as the People Hub, are essentially the same in terms of speed, which is to say they are still blazing fast. However, the real difference can be felt in third-party apps, and trust me — it's a huge improvement. Take Rowi for example, an app which has not yet been updated with support for Windows Phone 8. On my Lumia 900, the Twitter client would take about 25 seconds or so before the Timeline had finished loaded and there was a notification of new tweets. But on my Lumia 920, Rowi would complete the same boot-up task in under 15 seconds, and that was with a subpar "4G" HSPA connection too.
Another example is the camera, which has always felt a little too slow for our tastes in Windows Phone 7.5; there was just enough of a delay while capturing the photo that your hand might twitch and the end result went from precious memory to blurry mess. In Windows Phone 8, taking a photo is so fast you might not even realize you've taken one without the OS showing off that minor animation as your result slides to the left. Since dual-core processors were introduced in smartphones, I never believed the hype as I saw mediocre performance still existed. In the case of Windows Phone, I don't think we could have received dual-core any sooner.
Kid's Corner is truly unique
The fact that it took a smartphone operating system this long to create Kid's Corner is baffling. It's almost as if Microsoft got away with one and if Scott Forestall were still in charge of Apple's iOS, he might have been diagnosed with a chronic self-kicking condition after seeing the feature in action. Kid's Corner essentially lets you create a second Start screen, and it puts you in control of what your visitor gets to see — apps, videos, and music can all be selected/unselected to your heart's content.
While Microsoft is smart to market this to parents, don't let the Kid's Corner name fool you. You may not think you'd want a second Start screen, but sometimes it can be quite handy. For example, while traveling recently I used it to pin a few apps I would be needing more on the road like Nokia Drive+, Nokia City Lens, Yelp, and more. It was beneficial because I didn't necessarily want to mess with my own Start layout but I still wanted to prioritize these apps, so in the end arranging my Corner saved me some time and frustration.
Apps finally feel 'modern'
Developers now have the tools necessary to create truly incredible apps, unlike what we've seen in the past. Mango was a step in the right direction to open more hooks into the operating system, but Windows Phone 8 takes that about twelve steps further.
There are three examples of Windows Phone 8 apps finally feeling modern, enough to compare to and possibly even exceed iOS or Android apps. First of all is Fast App Resume, which is the ability to continue an instance of an app by tapping on the Start screen tile or the app list instead of backtracking through the multitasking cards. Unfortunately I only know of one app to test the feature — the Facebook app — but despite my limited experience, it has turned into a must-have feature.
The second example are Lens apps. For a long time, third-party camera apps have felt a little silly to use on Windows Phone since none would offer much benefit over the default camera but more importantly because it was inconvenient. However, WP8 integrates third-party apps directly into the camera's interface which means creating unique photos is that much faster and easier. The third shining example are all of the small hooks Microsoft has added for developers to tap into. Things like the Live Lockscreen, lockscreen notifications, the auto-uploading photos service, the Wallet app (more on that below), and more. All of these open up some big opportunities for developers, and we can't wait to see their potential unlocked as new apps are released over the following months.
Wallet is the future
I would argue that Windows Phone 8's Wallet app is the most underrated feature of the operating system, which is a little worrying since it could also turn out to be the most influential. When someone realizes for the first time that they have to pay to get an app, there's a brief sense of hesitation as they fumble with their credit card and begin tapping in those precious numbers. They instantly wonder what mysterious server their credit card number will soon call home, and unfortunately with any smartphone OS you just have to suck it up and trust that nothing will go awry.
In other words, Wallet is to third-party apps what Paypal is to the internet — a proxy defense that you can trust.Windows Phone is still taking your credit card number somewhere you may not want it to be held, but the Wallet app gives the user the illusion of control. As you launch the app, you can immediately see all of the credit cards and bank accounts you have linked up to your Microsoft Account. Don't want one of them in there? Hold while tapping, and then delete it. In every other operating system I've dealt with, credit card management has never been that easy (including Windows Phone 7.5).
I also think Wallet could be the template competing mobile operating systems model their own software after in the future, since it makes so much sense to manage all of your payment-related items in one place. Even better, the presence of the Wallet app enables a huge opportunity for developers since consumers can now buy things from third-party apps without having to enter in their credit card info each time. In other words, Wallet is to third-party apps what Paypal is to the internet — a proxy defense that you can trust. The fact that it also bakes in NFC payments and integrated Deals all in the same interface makes the Wallet app a perfect homerun in my opinion.
Personalization is king
The potential Windows Phone 8's new Start Screen holds is almost limitless. Really, the only restriction now is that live tiles are not interactive like widgets, but even that is less true now.
Windows Phone has always been an operating system that has prided itself upon its unique interface, but the Start screen always belonged to the software. As much as I loved the old Start screen, it never truly felt customizable. Heck, until 7.5 live tiles couldn't even flip, a small little feature that I definitely take for granted now in 2012 compared to 2010. But since Mango, the Start screen has grown closer and closer to realizing its vision. Capabilities like pinning secondary tiles dramatically changed the way I used live tiles, but that seems like whitewashing compared to what Microsoft has brought to the table with Windows Phone 8.
Pictured to the right is my Start screen, and odds are that your Start screen will look completely different. You might even think my setup is ugly, pondering to yourself 'Who would ever need a TV app at the very top of the screen?' or 'Why is the Games tile small and next to Baconit, Pictures, and ESPN?'. Fortunately for me, it doesn't matter what you think. This Start screen is mine; it is wholly my own and I could not love it more.
While the Start screen may be the most direct example of personalization in Windows Phone, the ideology has quietly crept its way into other areas of the software too. From little things like choosing the light/dark theme for email to major headlining features like the Live Lockscreen, Windows Phone has become the champion of both stringent design and flexible expression. It is their greatest asset, and it has not been squandered here.
As much as we like Windows Phone 8, it isn't perfect. Read part two of this special edition of Top Five: Things We Hate about Windows Phone 8.