Apr 13, 2014

Windows Phone beats iOS and Android

It may not have the market share or indeed the breadth of apps that iOS and Android do, but Microsoft's mobile OS has a lot more going for it than you might think. In fact in many ways it combines the strengths of its rivals: it's more customizable than iOS, but you won't get the fragmentation and manufacturer branding that you get with Android, for example. Now not all of these characteristics are well and truly unique to Windows Phone - some of the features we've mentioned can be
duplicated on iOS and Android with the right combination of settings and third-party apps - but nevertheless they are all ways in which Windows Phone works more intuitively or more conveniently for the user. Please click on the image above to view the rest of the story.


Some time using a Windows Phone, and the iOS and Android home screens can look very static in comparison. With the live tiles approach, you can get information straight from the home screen without having to delve into any of the apps, whether it's your next calendar appointment, your most recent text message or a photo that's just been published to Facebook. Android has its home screen widgets of course, but the live tiles of Windows Phone are an interesting compromise between widgets and the badges of iOS - they allow for a certain amount of animation and interactivity while staying in a rigid and organized pattern that's easy to follow. Tiles can be resized, moved around and removed to keep your favorite apps front and centre. System notifications are kept to a minimum too, keeping the focus on your apps and their integrated updates.




You can get Office files on your iOS and Android devices using the official apps or a variety of third-party solutions but the experience is best on Windows Phone. It's no surprise that Microsoft has devoted most of its mobile Office efforts on its own mobile platform, which means that opening and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files is a breeze from your WP handset (or at least as good as you can expect from device that you can fit in your hand). If you use Office regularly for work or play then Windows Phone currently offers the best mobile experience. While the integrated mobile Office suite isn't perfect, it enables you to view documents with their original formatting and layouts intact, as well as giving you the ability to make minor adjustments when required. The app works neatly with the desktop Office programs and SkyDrive's Web-based editing system as well.


As in Windows 8 for desktops and laptops, the Windows Phone People app pulls together notifications from Facebook, Twitter and various other accounts to give you one central location for your virtual socializing. Of course being able to meld all of your social media networks together isn't unique to the People app on Windows Phone, but it's carried off with style and simplicity and makes life far easier when you want to get a quick update on what your friends and family are up to. You can add comments, replies and likes from within the People app itself, and view one feed for each person that combines all of their various profile pages and updates. There are various other tricks you can try too - the official Windows Phone Facebook app can display recent pictures from your contacts on your handset's lock screen (in the style of Facebook Home), and you can update your Facebook and Twitter statuses at the same time.


Windows Phone includes a useful little feature called the Battery Saver, which you can activate if your handset is struggling to last the day and you need every drop of juice it's got left. It automatically switches on once your battery level goes past a particular point, but you can also activate it manually, and it deals with a variety of system settings simultaneously. Automatic calendar and email syncs are disabled, though you can still refresh these apps manually should you need to. Some of the live tiles on the home screen won't be updated in Battery Saver mode, and any apps running in the background are shut down as well - you'll only be able to use one app at a time. Head to the Battery Saver page in the settings and you can see an estimate of how much life your phone has left, with and without Battery Saver. 


Apple has iCloud, Android has Google Drive, and there are many other competing services (such as Dropbox), but it's difficult to find a syncing and storage solution that works so well across desktop, Web and mobile as SkyDrive. The SkyDrive service is integrated tightly into Windows Phone, giving you instant access to all of your documents, files and photos, and you can expect to see it feature more prominently than ever in Windows 8.1 when it's released to consumers. You'll find your SkyDrive folders automatically appear in the Office and Photos apps and elsewhere on your device, and you can choose to automatically upload captured photos and video straight to your SkyDrive account once a Wi-Fi connection is detected. If you've already invested in the SkyDrive ecosystem on your laptop or desktop then the standalone app is a simple way of linking up your mobile too. 


We've already talked about the home screen and how customizable it is, but there are plenty of other ways in which you can personalize your Windows Phone handset. The main color scheme of your phone is up to you, and all of your apps and tiles will adapt to follow suit - something that can't be said of either iOS or Android. The lock screen is very customizable as well, allowing you to set which of your apps are allowed to display information on it and giving you a choice of which pictures to show (you can choose one of your own photos or let an app such as Facebook rotate through a series of images for you). Again, Windows Phone finds an appealing middle ground between the limited customization options of iOS and the bewildering number of tweaks and hacks possible with Android and its gallery of alternative launchers.  


Google+ has its circles, but Windows Phone has Rooms and Groups to help you sort out your friends from your 'friends' on your mobile. Create a room with you and a selection of other Windows Phone 8 users, and you can then share pictures, locations, chat messages, appointments and more within your private digital space. Groups work in a slightly different way and act like curated lists of particular social network contacts (you might want to bring together all of the people on your 5-a-side team, or close friends and family). You can group text, email or chat and you can even set up a particular group tile on the home screen, as well as find these chosen few more easily in the People app. Groups are more for your benefit (making it easy to sift through a mass of contacts), whereas Rooms are specifically designed for private sharing.

  
Almost all of the best Windows Phone apps look very similar, from Facebook to Evernote to Spotify. The design standards set down by Microsoft mean that you can find your way around new apps very easily, and there are a growing number of quality ones that you can get your hands on (Instagram is the latest big name to confirm a Windows Phone app is in the works). Both iOS and Android have design guidelines and restrictions of their own, but Windows Phone has a more distinctive and cleaner look, and it's a look that translates across tablets and Microsoft's desktop operating system too. While we're on the topic of apps, we also like the Kid's Corner feature built into Windows Phone, enabling you to hand over your mobile to your children without having to worry which apps they'll be running (or how much money they'll be spending while doing it). 


The Windows Phone specifications require a dedicated camera button on the side of the handset, which makes it easier to take snaps and launch the camera app in the first place (or any other camera app installed on your handset). It's a small difference, but it can make taking photos feel much more authentic and digital camera-like. You can still tap the screen to take a picture if you prefer. The iPhone and Android 4.3 can make use of a volume button to do the same job, but there's no option to actually launch the camera without looking at the screen, nor can you half-depress to focus. Install a third-party photography app or effect on your Windows Phone and it's available right there in the default camera app. If you have Twitter installed, for example, or the Nokia Smart Camera, then you can jump between these different lenses as required. How well your photos turn out, of course, depends on the hardware specifications of your mobile and how steady you can keep your hands still. 

  
Business use might not be the most exciting aspect of a phone to talk about, but if you use your mobile for work as well as play then it's important to consider your options. BitLocker encryption and Secure Boot are both included in Windows Phone 8 (the same system protection you'll find in the full desktop Windows 8), and collaboration tools like OneNote and SharePoint are built into the operating system too. Windows Phone supports Exchange Server and Exchange ActiveSync right out of the box, and a business can set up a Company Hub on each of the handsets that it manages. Companies can also create bespoke app stores and push out programs of their own making to employee phones. If BlackBerry continues to falter, then there's a chance that Windows Phone can pick up some of the slack and get a foothold in the enterprise market.  


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