Windows Phone 8: everything you need to know

News Marin Perez 16:39, Oct 29 2012

Microsoft unwraps the new features in Windows Phone 8 and devices will be landing soon

Some of us have been waiting for this for a while but Microsoft took the wraps off Windows Phone 8 today and we now know when to expect it, what's new and how it will stack up against the iPhone and Android. Without further ado, let's take a deep dive into Windows Phone 8. 

What is it? 

We've seen a bit of Windows Phone 8 before and it features that live-tile user interface that can also be found in Microsoft's Windows 8 and its Xbox interface. These tiles can be updated with live information and these can also bring you information from a variety of third-party services. 
It doesn't look much different from Windows Phone 7.5 Mango except now you can have tiles that go across the entire screen. Under the hood though, Microsoft has retooled its mobile platform and now it's based on the same kernal as Windows 8. This enables it to support things like high-resolution screens, multi-core processors and more modern smartphone technologies. 

What's new?

The biggest changes in Windows Phone 8 are probably under the hood but that doesn't mean we won't be seeing a lot of user-facing new features. Along with the aforementioned tiles that stretch across the screen, you can now have a live tile on your unlock screen and this can display things like your Facebook photos, calendar updates and more. 
Microsoft now owns Skype and this is being integrated into Windows Phone 8 in an elegant way. You can sign into your account and it will run in the background without having much of a hit on your battery life. 
Windows Phone 8 also has a feature called Kids' Corner, and this allows you to create a "safe zone" in your phone that's only filled with certain apps you want. You can then give it to your kid so they will be quiet and you can enjoy reading Know Your Cell in peace. 
You can also look forward to Rooms which will let you group certain contacts in an organized way. Look for the Xbox Music service to give you streaming tunes and the SmartGlass app will also hook into your Xbox for some media streaming. 
Microsoft has also put a lot of time and effort into making its services work well with Windows Phone 8 and this means you can expect a great experience with Office, OneNote, SkyDrive and more on your Windows Phone 8 handset. The Wallet app is similar to iOS' Passbook and Windows Phone 8's maps now use Nokia's Navteq data for its mapping services. 
These are just some of the new features in Windows Phone 8 but I think the most important is what Microsoft announced at the launch event: 46 of the 50 most-popular apps will be coming to Windows Phone, Microsoft said.
Even though the Microsoft app store has over 125,000 apps, there have been a few key apps missing. My go-to example has always been Pandora but Microsoft said it will be coming in early 2013 and Windows Phone users will be getting a year of ads-free music.
I still think that developer interest will remain a problem until Windows Phone 8 proves to be successful but Microsoft has made great strides. 

So, how is it?

We still haven't been able to play with Windows Phone 8 for as long as we would like but a variety of reviews have hit the Web and the reviews have been a little mixed. 
CNET was impressed with the look and feel of the operating system but felt the app ecosystem was still not quite there and that there are multiple minor things that still are annoying. "As before, Windows Phone sits comfortably in between offering more customization than iOS but more consistent uniformity than Android. The OS hasn't quite shed its awkward youthfullness, but it is growing into a powerful, clever ecosystem with a personality of its own."
The Verge echoed some of those sentiments in its review, as it especially liked what Microsoft was doing with its own resources. The site still felt like it lagged behind the competition though. "Between Office and Xbox alone, Redmond is presenting one of the most compelling ecosystem stories in the business right now, and the 8X and Lumia 920 are both lining up to be formidable flagship phones over the next several months. For the moment, though, buy into Windows Phone because you want to try something different, not because you want the flat-out best and most complete mobile experience you can possibly have."
We'll have our full review of Windows Phone 8 soon. 

When can I get it?

You won't have to wait too long to get your hands on a Windows Phone 8 device, as all the major carriers in the United States except for Sprint will be offering handsets in the next few weeks. Verizon will have the Nokia 822 and the HTC 8X by Thanksgiving and T-Mobile will land the Nokia Lumia 810 and the HTC 8X by Nov. 14. Look for AT&T to get the Nokia Lumia 820, 920 and the HTC 8X by the end of November. 
If you want to see a really deep dive into Windows Phone 8 (I'm talking 18 minutes long), check out the video below. 

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