Windows Phone 8 landed with a bang on 29 October, hot on the heels of the Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems for PCs, laptops and tablets which were launched the previous Friday. So what’s new and how does it compare to the Windows Phone (WP) 7.5 operating system that came before it and the yet-to-be-launched Windows Phone 7.8 which will replace the current iteration?
Windows Phone 8 brings support for HD displays, multi-core system-on-chips, microSD card readers, enhanced background multi-tasking, support for NFC, 128-bit Bitlocker encryption, VoIP and voice chat integration, native Skydrive integration and Nokia Maps technology.
Integration across devices is a key shout for Microsoft and Windows Phone 8, as Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.5 are not quite as cohesive. Visually, the newer operating systems look and feel the same whether you’re using it on a tablet or PC or in the case of Windows Phone 8, on a smartphone. Windows 8 allows you to sync all your devices using Microsoft’s cloud storage solution, SkyDrive, providing a unified user experience, so you can access all your stuff no matter which bit of kit you’re using. This could make the Microsoft ecosystem a lot more appealing to consumers, and give the likes of Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems a run for their money.
The Homescreen on Windows Phone 8 is far more customisable than its predecessor, users are now able to change the size of the Live Tiles and the lock screen picture. Live Tiles first made an appearance on Windows Phone 7.5, allowing the user to pin pretty much anything they wanted to their Homescreen for quick and easy access. WP 8 takes it to the next level and tiles can be resized into three different categories small, medium or large depending on their importance.
You’ll find that WP 8 devices come with Internet Explorer (IE) 10, an upgrade from IE 9 sported by Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.5 devices. IE 10 brings with it better use of resources, faster page rendering, hardware-accelerated graphics and better HTML5 support compared to IE9.
Once downloaded, Skype can be fully integrated too. Whereas on Windows Phone 7.5 you had to use a separate app for video calling, with WP 8 you can use Skype to call someone and it looks the same as when you make a regular calls. Calls can be made over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, so as long as you have some kind of web connection you’ll be able to video call.
The People Hub which collects all contact information in one place has also had a bit of an upgrade, with the addition of the Rooms feature. Rooms allows Windows Phone 8 users to access and edit shared data, as long as they have been invited to the room and accepted to join. Whether it’s a calendar, a to-do list, or a photo album, each member of the room can access all the stored information from their own device, no matter where they are.
New additions to Windows Phone 8
The new kid on the block is Kid’s Corner, a nifty feature that allows you to build a whole new ‘guest’ area that can be customised with the features you wish. When in Kid’s Corner only the features you have selected can be accessed, and all your contacts and account details will be completely safe. For example, if you have children, you can put all the apps and games they use into Kid’s Corner, or if your mates down the pub like to hijack your Facebook when sampling your new games you can make Kid’s Corner into an area for them and they’ll not be able to access any other areas of your phone.
The addition of NFC into all smartphones toting the Windows Phone 8 operating system means contactless mobile payments are possible, using Microsoft’s Wallet feature. Wallet allows users to store card accounts, PayPal details and other memberships in one location for ease of use when a payment needs to be made online. Using Wallet on an NFC-enabled device means transactions can be processed in shops, restaurants, and other locations that allow NFC payments, with a simple swipe of the handset over a compatible payment point. For safety Wallet is PIN protected, so all your details will be completely secure.
Bridging the gap
Of course, it’s extremely likely that there will now be a large number of Windows Phone 7.5 users that are pretty cheesed off at not being able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. To appease these customers, Microsoft is creating an incremental Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade for Windows 7.5 devices for free. It is expected that the upgrade will become available by the end of 2012, and rumoured features include the customisable Live Tiles and homescreen seen on WP8, the ability to share calendars, and access to the new Xbox Music Store. But Microsoft has not confirmed any dates or the final list of features for the new WP7.8.
Windows Phone 8 represents a major step up compared to Windows Phone 7.5, but not a massive one. The truth being that you won’t be able to buy a new Windows Phone smartphone without WP8 on it. On the whole, those looking to invest in a whole mobile ecosystem for the future now have a new player to consider with Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Abbi Cox works for UK mobile phone retailer Phones4u. It offers Windows Phone 7.5 plans starting from £10.50 per month and Windows Phone 8 ones from £25 per month.