Microsoft has just launched Windows 8, and in a few weeks, you’ll be able to find the next generation of Windows on smartphones, with Windows Phone 8 hitting handsets late November. We went hands-on with new devices from Samsung, HTC, and Nokia to see just what they’re like.
Heading to stores in late November, Windows Phone 8 will bring with it a customisable start screen to let you decide on how you want your phone to look.
It’s more than just the simple square icons everywhere, because this is a platform that has evolved from the same idea that exists in Microsoft’s latest operating form: a long flowing screen of the most important shortcuts and pieces of your life, kept in squares known as live tiles that act as shortcuts and widgets.
These tiles can show more than just a name, actually relaying real updated information, like Windows 8’s shortcuts do, such as Twitter updates, Facebook information, short messages, recent pictures, and more, and you’ll find three sizes – small, medium, and large – so you can fit as much on your phone home screen as you want.
Smartphone owners with kids will also appreciate “Kid’s Corner,” a new feature that allows you to make a special home screen just for your kids with specific apps only, limiting the little ones from seeing your emails, making phone calls, and buying things off the store. Activating it is pretty simple – swiping to a different side – and your kids get a special home screen just for them but made by you.
Microsoft has also added support for “rooms” that can let you chat to friends using Windows Phone devices, as well as other services out there, and included a better Skype experience, as well as the future of mobile payment technology with Near-Field Communication.
But all of these advances are nothing without the hardware, and there are three manufacturers launching products in Australia.
First, we took a gander at Samsung, which had one handset to show us: the ATIV S.
Samsung was pretty talkative about its Windows 8 products in August, and is one of the only companies with a Windows Phone 8 device that has tablets and laptops with the sibling desktop operating system.
This phone looks to continue the success of the Galaxy S3, taking a similar design from the popular Android handset but making it a touch more square, the ATIV S offers up a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED screen covered in Gorilla Glass 2, and pairing it with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, microSD upgrade, 8 megapixel rear camera with dedicated shooting button on the side, 2300mAh battery, and even Navigon’s turn-by-turn GPS navigation software for free.
In the hands, it feels like a Galaxy S3, with a plastic body and slightly different curves, but the stainless steel paint is a nice look for the handset.
Optus will be the sole provider of this handset, with the Samsung ATIV S arriving in December. It will also be available for outright purchase in the Samsung Experience Stores and select retailers.
HTC was also at the event, showing off the HTC Windows Phone 8X, which features a 4.3 inch 720p display with 341ppi – higher than the iPhone 5 – and a Beats Audio headphone amp intended to push the volume and quality from both the on-board speaker and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Announced back in September, we’ve now had a brief play with the HTC Windows Phones and like what we see.
Taking similar design cues from what HTC learned with its unibody One X and One XL handsets, the Windows 8X is a one-piece design with polycarbonate used in the construction and then covered with an anti-slip finish, so you’re less likely to drop it.
Just in case you do, HTC’s handsets are covered in Gorilla Glass 2, which should help with some of the drop, even if it’s not what the strengthened glass was designed to protect against.
In the hands, we found the HTC Windows 8X to be very comfortable, with a firm yet soft exterior, and a weight that just feels so light. From our short time with it, you can see that HTC has definitely done a good job with balancing the weight here, and this is one seriously light phone.
We’re also intrigued by the 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, which an HTC representative said was developed with an 88 degree field of view because “people are using the front facing camera to capture ‘here I am’ shots.”
HTC’s 8X is heading to Telstra and Vodafone later this year, with 4G LTE connectivity for this handset, while the less expensive version without the headphone amp, smaller screen, and only 3G – the 8S – will head to Telstra and Optus.
Finally, we checked out Nokia, which seems to be one of the main companies behind Windows Phone devices of late.
Coming up, Nokia plans to release the Lumia 920 and 820, new handsets that evolve the polycarbonate unibody design of the Lumia 900 and 800 which were released this year, and bundle in technologies such as wireless charging, 4G LTE, Near-Field Communication, and optical image stabilisation in the 8 megapixel rear cameras.
“The devices are Nokia at its best and we’re confident consumers will agree,” said Nokia Australia’s Steve Lewis about the products launched this week.
We played with them briefly and he’s not wrong: this is Nokia at its best. A short play with the Lumia 920 found it to be much like the Lumia 900, a very well designed piece of kit that, while it carries some heft, feels very solid, and manages to include a very clear 4.5 inch HD screen.
The new Lumia handsets will be reaching retail at the end of November, with the Lumia 920 arriving on Telstra 4G on plans and a $829 RRP, while the Lumia 820 will hit Optus and Vodafone while featuring a recommended retail price of $649.
As for updates to Windows Phone products already out there, there’s no confirmed release date as of yet.
Current owners of Windows Phone 7 devices got the bad news when Microsoft initially announced Windows Phone 8 this year, citing that not only could the older phones could not be updated, but that a small half-step update would be coming that would let WP7 devices imitate the start screen of WP8.
If you have one of these devices, know that an update is coming, aiming to bring you up to Windows Phone 7.8, but that there is no confirmed release date at this time.