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
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Some time using a Windows Phone, and the iOS and Android home screens
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
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
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
(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.