Review: Windows Phone 8 an upgrade with some failings

Nov 09, 2012 by Troy Wolverton, San Jose Mercury News

Lauded by many critics, but struggling to catch on with consumers, Microsoft's Windows Phone smartphone software has gotten an overhaul.

The new version, 8, gains new features that should help it better compete with 's Android and Apple's iOS, which underlies the . But even with the update, Windows Phone still has some notable shortcomings when compared with its two main rivals.

Unlike the prior version, the new Windows is based on the same basic code as the for PCs. That doesn't mean you can run Windows programs on Windows Phone devices. But it does mean programmers should be able to more easily modify those programs for Windows Phone.

And it means Windows Phone is able to tap into the support in Windows for a wide range of hardware. As a result, the latest devices will run on processors comparable to those users would find in Android devices, will feature high-resolution screens like those of the or the Samsung Galaxy S III, and can support new hardware features including NFC chips and cards. Those changes should make Windows Phone devices compare more favorably with their rivals.

In addition to replacing the software's innards, Microsoft has added a bunch of new features. One great new feature called Kid's Corner allows parents to set up a separate area for their children. The only applications kids will see inside are those that parents have approved. And while inside the area, kids can't accidentally send a text message, make a call, purchase an app or check your email.

I wish the settings were more sophisticated, and I don't like that the Kid's Corner also blocks access to the Web browser. But overall, it's a neat idea that I wish was available on other devices.

Windows Phone also has a new app called Data Sense that helps users limit the data they consume while connected to the cellphone networks. It compresses Web pages, lets users restrict their data use when they approach their limits, and helps them find Wi-Fi hotspots.

It's a great idea, but I didn't get to test it because the feature currently is only supported by Verizon, and the Windows Phone 8 device I have is on AT&T's network.

Other new features include the ability to re-size application tiles or to set devices so they display Facebook photos and updates on their lock screen. Users can also create virtual "rooms" of friends or family members, within which they can share photos or exchange messages.

Together, the updates have improved Windows Phone 8 and make it more useful and fun to use.

But the software still has shortcomings. Perhaps the biggest one is that Windows Phone 7 devices can't run it, even if users bought those phones in recent days or weeks. Instead, to get Windows Phone 8, consumers will have to buy a new device.

Another shortcoming is the lack of apps. Microsoft says users will now find 120,000 apps for Windows Phone devices, and the company also claims that 46 of the top 50 applications available for its rivals, including Pandora, are now - or soon will be - available for Windows Phone.

But the total number of applications is still a small fraction of the number available for the iPhone or devices. And in my searches, the ones available included a lot of fluff.

I also found the claims about the availability of top apps dubious. I could only find seven of the top 25 paid apps available for the iPhone in the Windows Phone store. And of the top 25 free apps on the iPhone, 14 weren't available for Windows Phone devices - and that doesn't include five Apple-designed apps that aren't available for any other platform.

One big loss for Windows Phone 8 is that unlike its predecessor, it doesn't include turn-by-turn navigation. Instead, users have to find a separate app that provides the feature from the company's store. Nokia for one has committed to offering its Drive app to Windows Phone users, but right now it's only available for Nokia devices. The loss of this feature is unfortunate, because it has become a standard one for smartphones.

If you're in the market for a smartphone, Windows Phone 8 is definitely worth a look. It's different, easy to use and offers some compelling features. But its lack of apps in particular means it may not offer everything you want.



-Likes: Kid's Corner feature helps users to make the smartphone kid safe; Data Sense feature helps users monitor, limit data usage; able to run on wider range of phones with speedier processors and higher-resolution displays

-Dislikes: Unavailable for Windows Phone 7 devices; offers fewer apps than rival platforms and few of the top apps available for the iPhone; lacks built-in turn-by turn driving directions.

-Price: Comes preinstalled on new phones.


Explore further: Fujitsu develops technology to quickly detect latent malware activity in internal networks

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Microsoft: Windows Phone to catch up in apps

Oct 30, 2012

(AP)—Microsoft launched a new version of its Windows Phone software with broad support from smartphone makers, cellphone carriers and app developers as the software company tries to position new Windows gadgets as strong ...

Windows phones to miss out on new software

Jun 21, 2012

(AP) — As it struggles to gain a foothold against the iPhone and Android phones, Microsoft Corp. is planning to issue a dramatic update to its phone software, one that won't be available to current Windows Phones.

Nokia to unveil Windows phone next week

Oct 20, 2011

Microsoft said Thursday that Nokia is going to launch phones using Windows' new mobile operating system next week, giving a major boost to the US firm's come-from-behind phone software business.

Recommended for you

Microsoft CEO is driving data-culture mindset

1 hour ago

( —Microsoft's future strategy: is all about leveraging data, from different sources, coming together using one cohesive Microsoft architecture. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tuesday, both in ...

Enabling dynamic prioritization of data in the cloud

Apr 14, 2014

IBM inventors have patented a cloud computing invention that can improve quality of service for clients by enabling data to be dynamically modified, prioritized and shared across a cloud environment.

User comments : 0

More news stories

IBM posts lower 1Q earnings amid hardware slump

IBM's first-quarter earnings fell and revenue came in below Wall Street's expectations amid an ongoing decline in its hardware business, one that was exasperated by weaker demand in China and emerging markets.

Microsoft CEO is driving data-culture mindset

( —Microsoft's future strategy: is all about leveraging data, from different sources, coming together using one cohesive Microsoft architecture. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tuesday, both in ...

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

( —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

Researchers see hospitalization records as additional tool

Comparing hospitalization records with data reported to local boards of health presents a more accurate way to monitor how well communities track disease outbreaks, according to a paper published April 16 in the journal PLOS ON ...

Ebola virus in Africa outbreak is a new strain

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain—evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.