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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Android phone - which should you buy? UPDATED The top Android phones compared

Best Android phone - which should you buy?
Which is the best Android phone for you? We've got the answers

There's one key way in which Android is massively different from its Apple-branded smartphone competition - the number of phones out there running Google's hot mobile OS.
We're now seeing the latest wave of phones upgraded toAndroid 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Android Jelly Bean options too, although it's currently limited to a few devices, such as the Google Nexus 7 tablet and Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone.
Samsung makes loads of them. Sony's cut the Ericsson ties but still is cranking out the Google-branded handsets. Then you've got Android-powered phones from Acer, LG, Huawei and many others, and while HTC has ceased the practice of releasing more phones than centipedes have shoes (they do wear them, you know) it's still one of the more prominent Android manufacturers.
The many variations in screen size, processor power, software features and design makes finding the best Android phone for you extremely tough.
Do you physically and emotionally need a QWERTY keyboard? Are you the sort of oddball who prefers the rough pressing needed to make resistive touchscreens work? If so, you won't find much luck here, as those technologies are sadly phased out of the Android world as buyers get enamoured by fancy, glossy capacitive touchscreens.
Are you struggling to work out which are the best Android Widgets? Or even stuck wondering: 'Actually, what IS Android?'
To help find the best Android phone for you, we've rounded up the best Android handsets out there today, rating the phones on hardware performance, OS upgrade potential and, of course, how shiny and nice they are to have and boast about to work colleagues.
So here they are - the best Android phones money can buy today. For many, many different reasons.

12. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung galaxy nexus
Google and Samsung's 2011 flagship phone was, for a long time, the only official way to get the all-new Android 4.0 experience on a phone, and for that reason alone was a must-have for any Android user. The good news is it's now got the latest version of Android Jelly Bean platform as another reason to pick it over the competition.
As a smartphone itself, it's a good all-round performer, too, although the omission of an SD card slot is a slightly odd decision.
The large 4.65-inch screen is glassy, smooth and responsive, running at an immense 720 x 1280 HD resolution. It's bright, plus the 1.2GHz dual-core processor keeps everything running well, while the curved chassis is just about stylish enough to give the phone an edge over some of the more boring black slabs out there.

Quick verdict

The only downside to this phone is the price: with the Google Nexus 4 on the market, it's actually more expensive than its successor. We're keeping it in the top list for now as it's still a cutting edge experience, but we urge you to check out the newer version first.

11. Orange San Diego

Orange San Diego
The Orange San Diego is one of the first phones to be based on an Intel chipset, and as such comes with a lower price tag too.
The San Diego is a serious contender for anyone looking for a decent mid-range smartphone who doesn't want to break the bank for some flagship features - although you won't get the full range of Android apps.
It's a worthy successor to the likes of the the San Francisco and San Francisco 2, and the power of the camera alone makes it worth checking out.

10. Sony Xperia S

sony xperia s
The first phone released under the Sony brand for well over a decade is a fantastic smartphone, combining an extremely sharp and clear display with a powerful processor and some clever Android usability tweaks from Sony's engineers.
The camera also produces some excellent results, and while it's not the newest Sony phone on the market any more, we're still very much fans thanks to some cheeky price drops.
Arriving with Android 2.3 as its OS, Sony finally released a 4.0 upgrade for the Xperia S, adding in the updated browser, new lock screen features and more. This will be followed by Android Jelly Bean too, although not until Q2 2013 sadly.

9. Motorola Razr i

Motorola Razr i
What do we like about the Motorola Razr i? Well, the main thing to get excited about is the edge-to-edge display: it's something of a quirk in the smartphone industry, although we suspect we'll see more devices hopping on board soon.
The fact that you can expand the storage by up to 64GB makes this an attractive option. And it's an easy phone to use without too much customisation to confuse Android newbies, showing you can have a phone that works well without breaking the bank, and at a smaller size too.
And let's not forget about that screen: with the edge to edge display, it really pops and fizzes in the palm, with the Super AMOLED display impressing.

8. Samsung Galaxy S2

Samsung Galaxy S2
The Galaxy S II still offers a genuinely exciting experience, managing to eclipse all other Android phones in every field when it was first launched.
Apps install ridiculously quickly, while browsing web pages is so fast it's hard to believe you're looking at a phone screen. The large display is robust and, despite the slim and lightweight case, build quality manages to impress.
OK, it's not the latest Android phone on the market, but we're impressed with the update to Android 4.0 and the lower cost, not forgetting things such as the fact that many of Samsung's Touchwiz widgets are resizable, making it a phone that's fun to customise and spend time playing with.
This was Android made fast and thrilling in a bygone age, but it's still one of the best Google-powered phones around.

7. Sony Xperia T

Sony Xperia T
This is James Bond's phone apparently. Well, he was seen using it inSkyfall, so that's good enough for us. It packs some lower specs than others on this list, but combines them in an attractive unit.
The Xperia T heads back to the design language of the Xperia Arc, meaning it's got a lovely curved back that sits comfortably in the hand, and the large and expansive screen provides great video playback thanks to the Bravia Engine.
Sony has produced another impressive smartphone that offers the functionality and performance we're looking for in a top-level handset.
That being said, when compared with the earlier Sony Xperia S, or some of the other flagship Android handsets, the difference is negligible.

Windows Phone Store boosted by 75,000 new apps in 2012 300,000 app updates also published

Windows Phone Store boosted by 75,000 new apps in 2012
Can we finally put to bed the old adage about Windows Phone not having enough apps? Microsoft thinks so after adding 75,000 new apps to its store in 2012.
In a post on the Windows Phone developers' blog, the company said it had scrutinised and published enough apps to double the pre-existing catalogue during this calendar year.

Microsoft said that it had also published 300,000 updates to existing apps, pointing out that Windows Phone users can now rely on having the latest, safest versions of the software faster than before.
Microsoft revealed that, on average, Windows Phone customers are downloading 54 apps to their handsets, aided by the improved catalogue and new Windows Phone Storeshopping experience.

Live Tiles apps preferable

"Over the last year we've made a lot of discovery enhancements including Bing-powered search and smart lists, as well as new collections and recommendations for Windows Phone 8 customers," wrote Todd Brix, senior director of the Windows Phone app team.
Brix also mentioned that 85 per cent of Windows Phone users preferred applications with functioning Live Tiles, which bring information directly to the Start Screen, than those without.
This, or course, would make perfect sense as the presence of Live Tiles is perhaps Windows Phone's most convincing selling point, especially with their new, customisable sizes in Windows Phone 8

Original Samsung Galaxy Note to get Android Jelly Bean New Premium Suite update to bring multi-window support

Good news for owners of the original Samsung Galaxy Note: The Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update is coming your way soon.
Samsung announced the forthcoming software bump on its Galaxy Note microsite as part of a new Premium Suite upgrade.

The move to Android 4.1 will bring owners of the pioneering and surprisingly popular 5.3-inch phablet access to features like the Google Now personal assistant and Project butter.
However, the company is yet to reveal when the update will drop and, initially, it will only be available to unlocked devices.

Going Premium

Those additions are undoubtedly headlined by the neat Multi Window feature, which will allow two open apps to be running on the screen at the same time.
The Popup window multi-tasking feature for Notes, Video and Browser is also coming to the device, while handwriting will also be enabled within the email app.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brazilian company launches 'iphone' Android handset

Brazilian company launches 'iphone' Android handset
The tech firm that owns the rights to the word 'iphone' in Brazil has launched an Android phone under the illustrious moniker.
The Gradiente iphone Neo One is a low-powered device running Android 2.3 Gingerbread and only features a single core 700MHz processor and a low-res 320 x 480, 3.7-inch display.
There's a 5-megapixel camera and a 0.3-megapixel front-facing offering, along with 3G connectivity, 2GB of RAM and dual-SIM capabilities.
Although, specs wise, the handset is virtually incomparable with the all-conquering iPhone, it's unlikely that Apple will be taking this 'iphone' launch lightly.

All guns blazing

The brazen Brazilians won exclusive rights to the word 'IPHONE' in 2008, just one year after Apple launched the original iPhone handset in 2007, but this is the first time have used the name.
Even though Apple does not own the word in Brazil, it is likely to go after the iphone Neo One all guns blazing as it is, unquestionably, a competing product.
For now, the device is on sale in the country for 599 Brazilian real, which works out at about £176 (USD$286, AUD$272).

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review
It hasn't even been a year since the original Samsung Galaxy Notelaunched. It was a work of genius for old Samsung. Many (including us, we admit) were not convinced. Who on earth would want something so big to make their calls and surf the internet, even with a glorified stylus?
Cue awkward silence.
Millions of you, it would appear. The Samsung Galaxy Note has sold by the bucketload. And while it is most definitely a niche device, it's done wonders for Samsung's balance sheet. How do you follow that up? With something better, of course - the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

If you've ever fondled or caressed the original Samsung Galaxy Note and found its larger size too much to handle, we'll break this to you with a sledgehammer - the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is bigger.
It's now 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm (5.9 x 3.2 x 0.4 inches), so slightly up from 146.9 x 83 x 9.7mm (5.8 x 3.3 x 0.4 inches). That said, we didn't find it cumbersome at all.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

In the way the original Samsung Galaxy Note followed the Samsung Galaxy S2's square design, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 follows the Samsung Galaxy S3's more rounded rectangular look.
And what a beauty it is. It actually felt slightly smaller to us in day-to-day use - but that may be down to the fact that we have gravedigger hands.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

The Samsung Galaxy Note had a frankly amazing screen as it was, so would have taken some beating. But Samsung clearly likes a challenge. The size has gone up slightly from 5.3 inches to 5.5. And although pixel density is reduced, we didn't notice it.
This is the bright, vivid Samsung Super AMOLED panel that we all know and love - and what a beauty it is, replicating colours amazingly and immaculately.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

As expected, that screen takes up most of the front. You get a home button and two hidden soft keys beneath it as before, plus a front-facing camera and sensors up top.
The handset itself has little to note (geddit?) around the edges. A headphone jack up top, power button on the right, volume on the left and charger port below, right alongside the S-Pen slot - more of which will follow later.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

Around the back, you'll find the 8MP camera with flash.
The additional sorcery is carried out away from view. The microSD expansion slot is beneath the rear cover - as is the microSIM slot, hidden behind the enormous 3,100 mAh battery.
And there's a whole lot of goodness even further inwards than that: HSDPA (LTE if you're extra lucky), NFC, GPS, Wi-Fi and so forth. It's a veritable treasure trove of geekdom.
One other thing we'd say is that this does feel like a quality Android smartphone/tablet. We're aware of the protestations by some readers (particularly iPhone users) that phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 feel like toys because they're so light and plasticky.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

At 183g (0.4lbs), you couldn't describe the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 as a feather - and the weight gives it a real notion of substance.
If you want to pick one of these big boys up, you'll need to be willing to part with some serious cash - around £530/AU$999/US$700 appears to be the average SIM-free price. It is also available on contract, but be willing to shovel top dollar each month in the network's direction for two years.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

Normally, this is where we'd talk about the alternatives on offer. But we admit, we're stumped here. Why? Well, in our mind, there is no clear rival. The Samsung Galaxy Note created its own category, in that there were no real phablets about before.
There is the LG Optimus Vu, which hasn't hit the UK, but is in the US under the moniker LG Intuition, however it's 4:3 ratio screen makes it an extremely odd proposition.
And while you'll get the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system and similar benefits from the Samsung Galaxy S3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (depending on whether you want a phone or tablet), the form factor is pretty unique.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review

In fact, the only real rival is the original Samsung Galaxy Note - a worthy contender for that title, because it's now available for a much reduced sum.
Around £400/AU$480/US$500 will get you one of those babies SIM-free - and that makes it a very serious and credible alternative to its replacement, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Monday, December 17, 2012

HTC Windows Phone 8S review

HTC Windows Phone 8S review
HTC have been a major Windows Phone player for a while now, arguably second only to Nokia in their output. With Samsung eating up much of their Android market share and Microsoft launching an exciting new version of Windows Phone, the platform is obviously going to be a key area of focus for the Taiwanese firm.
So it's no surprise that they haven't hung around to release some Windows Phone 8 handsets, with both the mid range HTC Windows Phone 8S and its big brother the HTC Windows Phone 8X competing for your attention.
As there aren't many Windows Phone 8 handsets yet the HTC 8S doesn't have a whole lot of direct competitors. Its main competitor is probably theNokia Lumia 820, but even that is a fair bit pricier, as the HTC Windows Phone 8S can be picked up for around £240 (around $365/AU$345), while the Nokia Lumia 820 will set you back closer to £360 (around $650/AU$649).

HTC 8S review

Nokia are also due to launch the Nokia Lumia 620 before long and that looks to have fairly similar specs to the HTC Windows Phone 8S and a potentially lower price tag, but until then the HTC Windows Phone 8S has found itself a narrow gap in the market where it's the only truly mid range Windows Phone 8 available, while simultaneously being the cheapest WP8 thanks to an absence of low end handsets.

HTC 8S review

The specs confirm its position as a mid range handset. Powered by a 1 GHz dual-core processor and packed with just 512 MB of RAM. With a 5 megapixel camera, 720p video and just 4 GB of internal storage (albeit with support for microSD cards of up to 32 GB), everything about it screams mid-range.
Things don't change with the Super LCD Gorilla Glass display. At 4 inches it's a decent size but not huge and its 480 x 800 resolution (coming in at 233 pixels per inch) is fine but nothing particularly impressive.
In other words it's got solid specs all around, which on paper are neither impressive nor disappointing for the price.

HTC 8S review

The only potentially disappointing spec is its 1,700 mAh battery, which seems a little on the small side, but it's around the same size as the one in the bigger and more powerful Samsung Galaxy S2 and that holds up well enough.
The first thing to stand out about the HTC 8S is its two-tone colour scheme. Bright colours have become a staple of Windows Phone, but normally you just get the one colour per handset.

HTC 8S review

With the HTC 8S the bulk of the phone is one colour, while a stripe at the bottom is another. Interestingly this sets it apart even from the other phone in the range- the HTC 8X, which again is all one colour. It's a great and distinctive look, making the phone immediately recognisable no matter what angle it's viewed at.
With dimensions of 120.5 x 63 x 10.3mm it's not the thinnest phone you'll ever see, but the curved edges make it seem slightly slimmer and sleeker than it actually is.

HTC 8S review

It continues to impress when you pick it up. At 113g it's got a decent amount of weight to it, making it feel like a fairly premium device rather than a cheap piece of plastic.
Speaking of plastic, there's no brushed metal or glass back on the HTC Windows Phone 8S, it's plastic through and through.
Despite that it doesn't seem flimsy. The rubbery, polycarbonate finish makes it easy to grip and feels good in the hand. It doesn't look or feel cheap either, just different and that's a good thing.

HTC 8S review

The front of the HTC 8S is dominated by the 4 inch screen, as you might expect. Above it there's HTC's logo and a speaker, while below it there's the iconic stripe adorned with three soft touch buttons, specifically home, back and search.
HTC have again stamped their logo in silver onto the back of the phone - this time much bigger. Above it you'll find the 5 megapixel camera lens, while below it there's a logo for 'Beats' audio, below that a speaker and below that the coloured stripe.

HTC 8S review

The top edge of the phone has a 3.5mm headphone port on the left and the power button on the right. The general positioning of the power button is fine, but it's hardly raised at all, making it hard to find and press, in fact we found that we often thought we'd pressed it only for nothing to happen as we'd either missed it or not applied enough pressure.
The bottom edge is home to a micro USB port, used for charging the handset and connecting it to a computer. You'll also find the microphone here.

HTC 8S review

The top of the right edge houses a volume rocker while the bottom is home to a dedicated camera button - which both launches the camera and takes photos. The left edge has absolutely no buttons or ports on it.
You can't remove the back of the HTC Windows Phone 8S. Instead the little stripe at the bottom is removable and gives you access to the microSD card slot and the micro SIM.
This does mean that you can't remove the battery, which is a bit of a shame, particularly considering it's 1,700 mAh in size, but otherwise it seems a lot more elegant than taking the whole back cover off.
It also means that the annoying practice of putting the microSD card slot behind the battery has been avoided, meaning that if you have more than one cards worth of media you can swap cards without turning the phone off. Given that there's only 4 GB of internal storage this could be genuinely useful for some users.
The coloured stripe is easy enough to remove but feels securely in place when you put it back on. It's also not as flimsy as some covers, so there's little worry of it breaking when you try to take it off.

New leaks show off BlackBerry 10 home screen, potential voice search


Anticipation for Research In Motion's new BlackBerry 10OS is reaching a fevered pitch ahead of the company's planned January event.
As has been customary for any new technology or software, a handful of images of BB10's home screen have leaked.
Consumers dying for their first look at what to expect from BB10 should find plenty to sate their appetite, as the images give a clear look at the user interface and potential launch applications for the first BB10 smartphones.
Though an invitation-only beta test for RIM's government and enterprise partners did open on Monday, these new images give everyday consumers a glimpse inside what awaits.

At your fingertips (Credit: BGR)

Are you Siri-esque?

Everyday social networking apps like FourSquare and Twitter make an appearance on the home screen, as do Facebook and LinkedIn.
The other apps present on the home screen include text and BlackBerry Messenger, as well as the standard media (music, video, pictures) and more practical apps like Docs to Go and Remember.
The images also give the first look at BlackBerry Hub, BB10's new all-in-one messaging center which allows users to manage multiple email accounts, BBM, social networks and more all from the same portal.
All of those features are outshone by the alluring appearance of what could be BB10's answer to Siri.
Judging by the images, the voice activated app will allow consumers to use voice commands to send messages, set reminders and possibly more.

BlackBerry 10
Yes, what can you do for me? (Credit: BGR)

Whats(app) missing

Unfortunately, even though it looks like BB10 is going to work with a lot of familiar apps, and introduce a handful of new experiences, some developers won't be making the jump.
Whatsapp confirmed it has no plans to support BlackBerry 10, but didn't indicate if that meant forever, or just in the short term.
The developer also didn't reveal why a new Whatsapp wouldn't be created for BB10 in time for launch, but perhaps they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new OS.
Whatsapp will likely not be alone in not making the transition to BB10, but until the new operating system and phones actually launch, users will just have to hope their favorite apps will be part of RIM's new direction.

Windows Phone 8 release date and latest details

Windows Phone 8Microsoft has officially announced Windows Phone 8 (which you may know better as Apollo) and confirming many of the rumours about the new operating system at the Windows Phone Summit.
The new operating system is tasked with catching up to the dominate iOS and Android platforms, and become the stand-out third choice mobile OS, something RIM is also hoping to achieve once it launches BlackBerry 10 early next year.

Windows Phone 8 release date

Microsoft held a special Windows Phone 8 event in San Francisco on October 29 to officially launch the latest version of its mobile operating platform.
We've already seen three manufacturers announce their first Windows Phone 8 device, the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 820HTC Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S and the Samsung Galaxy Ativ S.
And it's the HTC 8X which is first out of the Windows Phone 8 blocks, going on sale on November 2, while the rest of the pack at left with just a November release date for now.
Huawei has also been granted permission by Microsoft to build a Windows Phone 8 handset for launch, but we're yet to hear any official on this from the Chinese firm, with rumours pointing towards a slightly more budget handset, possibly called the Ascend W1.

Windows Phone 8 handsets

Samsung, Huawei, HTC and Nokia are the only confirmed Windows Phone 8 manufacturers at this time - although ZTE told TechRadar it will be launching WP8-powered handsets in 2013.
During IFA 2012 in Berlin Samsung unveiled its first Windows Phone 8 handset, the Ativ S, which packs a large 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, with the choice of 16GB and 32GB of internal storage.
  • Find out what i think in our hands on Samsung Ativ S review
Huawei will be bringing out a Windows Phone 8 handset by the end of the year too, with Shao Yang, chief marketing officer for Huawei, saying: "We are poised to end the year with a big bang – with the introduction of our first smartphone running on the Windows Phone platform."
Nokia has also unveiled its first two handsets to run Windows Phone 8 at a special event in New York.
The flagship Nokia Lumia 920 heads up the Finnish firm's range, sporting a 4.5-inch HD display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 8.7MP rear 'Pureview' camera, 32GB of internal memory and 1GB of RAM, helping it to run Microsoft's latest mobile platform.
  • Find out what i think in our hands on Nokia Lumia 920 review
Nokia's second device is the Lumia 820 – a mid-range handset which features a 4.3-inch screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, NFC and 1,650mAh battery.
  • Find out what i think in our hands on Nokia Lumia 820 review
HTC has officially joined the Windows Phone 8 game too, with the launch of the HTC Windows Phone 8X and HTC Windows Phone 8S.
Given the phones are officially called 'Windows Phone 8X/S by HTC' it's a curious move from Microsoft to make the Taiwanese manufacturer the flagship brand for the new version of the platform.
Both phones exhibit solid design, feel great in the hand, and while they're not as thing as the competition offer tapered chassis to add a better position during use.
The 8X and 8S both offer up Beats Audio for enhanced sound, but the 8X is the superior experience thanks to a larger 4.3-inch screen, compared to the 4-inch of the latter.
Microsoft might be planning on launching its own smartphone, with rumours surrounding a Surface handset doing the rounds, further boosted by Nokia's CEO dropping a possible hint.

Windows Phone 8 prices

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the most expensive of the first wave of Windows Phone 8 devices, but that's no surprise as it packs the most tech.
You will however, need to fork out £36 per month plus an upfront charge of £49 on EE in the UK to get your mitts on the Lumia 920.
The Nokia Lumia 820 is slightly more affordable, available for free on contracts starting at £31 per month, while the Samsung Ativ S is only being carried by O2 for free at £36 per month.
If you want one of the HTC Windows Phone 8 handsets prices are similar to the Samsung, with the HTC 8X available from £31 per month, and the HTC 8S starting at just £20.50 per month.
For more information head over to our Windows Phone 8 release date: when can I get my new phone? article.
At the other end of the scale, the unconfirmed Huawei Ascend W1 isexpected to be the cheapest, with sources claiming it will come in at around $300-$350 (£185-215/AU$290-340).

Windows Phone 8 apps

The problem for Windows Phone is less the existing users – who tend to be enthusiastic as well as demanding – and more selling the phones.
The partnership with Nokia is certainly helping, as will the announcement that the Windows Phone Marketplace is now up to 100,000 apps with more coming - from the PayPal support for Wallet to iPhone must-haves like Words with Friends and Audible, plus Zynga's newly acquired Draw Something.
Windows Phone 8
All Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 handsets; but in future developers will have to choose whether to make an app that only uses Windows Phone 7 features and works on both, or one that uses Windows Phone 8.
This means supporting features like Wallet, VOIP, native code or being able to run navigation in the background (which should mean we finally see some full-featured turn-by-turn navigation apps that go beyond what Nokia Drive offers).
TomTom clearly sees the power of Nokia Drive too, as it reckons it will be looking at a Windows Phone 8 app in the future, despite saying it has 'a bit of a love hate relationship with Windows Phone'.
EA has come out in support of Windows Phone 8 platform too, with the powerful Windows 8 synergy seemingly enough to encourage the brand to state: "Anything that allows more platforms to be adopted quickly that have a gaming element is good for Electronic Arts."
However, BBC iPlayer isn't likely to appear on the platform due to the development tools used, meaning it will still lag behind iOS and Android in the VOD stakes.
There are other advantages, but with the interfaces to components like graphics, audio and sensors being far more similar to those in Windows 8, it's a lot easier to write Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps that share features.
Or, of course, they can make two versions, one for 7 and one for 8; how often that happens is going to depend both on how easy Microsoft makes it to share code between versions of apps in its developer tools and on sales of Windows Phone 8 handsets.

Windows Phone 8 interface

There is one feature of Windows Phone you will be able to get on current handsets (with an update that has the strikingly appropriate name of Windows Phone 7.8) and that's the new Start screen. This now uses the whole width of the screen, without the arrow to tell you to swipe sideways for more apps.
With the extra space you can fit in a lot more tiles, which can now be three different sizes. There's a new small size that you can pick for any app, so if you don't need the Office hub or the dialler to have a full size button because there's not that much useful information on them, you can shrink them down.

But the overall look of the platform hasn't changed dramatically – you're still offered a list of apps adjacent to the Start screen, and the panorama method of seeing more information by moving horizontally remains – after all, why change one of the best things about the old OS?And as well as the current standard tile size, any app will be able to have an extra-large tile to fit more details onto the live tile. Along with some new colour schemes, that makes the Start screen look much more personal.
Microsoft has incorporated a new kind of live wallpaper, which brings live tiles to your lock screen, which can show the likes of sports updates, news stories and photo galleries from your social media accounts.
Another new feature is Rooms, which acts a lot like groups where you can pretty easily create hubs for individual people.
For instance, you can create Rooms for Family, Friends, Sports or Politics and populate the groups with the people who are interested in interacting about those specific topics.

Windows Phone 8 - Kid's corner

Ever buy yourself a minute of peace by handing your smartphone off to your child, but end up worrying what apps they may be purchasing?
Kid's Corner on Windows Phone 8 is a feature designed to eliminate such worries, by letting you choose which apps your little ones can access.
They'll be able to customise their own homescreen, and have a lock screen with their name and picture, and it's all controlled from the settings menu. Peace at last.

Windows Phone 8 – under the hood

Windows Phone 8 is a major new version, running the kernel from Windows rather than from Windows CE.
It isn't the same as Windows 8, or even Windows RT – even though that also runs on ARM processors – and it doesn't have the same look to the Start screen and Metro-style WinRT apps won't run on Windows Phone 8.
  • Windows 8 review
But under the hood it's a lot more similar to develop for and Windows Phone gets several key components from 'big' Windows as well as some significant new features and new hardware, which is good news for what developers can make apps do with the increased access they get to the phone system.

Don't expect the same do-anything, break-anything ethos of Android though; battery life and user experience are still priorities for Windows Phone and even native applications run in a sandbox.

Windows Phone 8 future updates

There's good news regarding future software updates on Windows Phone 8, as you won't have to wait until your mobile network gets around to testing and pushing out updates.
There's going to be a way for users to get updates directly from Microsoft (perhaps labelled as beta releases) as long as they assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
It's good to see Microsoft is finally doing something to address the problem of upgrades that would work on your handset but you're frustratingly unable to get due to networks getting in the way – listen up, Google.

Windows Phone 8 browser and security

Key features that Windows Phone 8 gets from Windows include Internet Explorer 10, complete with the phishing filter and SmartScreen application reputation service to make it harder for malicious websites to trick you into giving away personal information like credit card details or downloading malware.
Malware hasn't been a problem for Windows Phone so far, but any platform that becomes successful is going to get attacked.
Windows Phone gets other Windows security features like disk encryption and secure boot, so businesses will be happier to use it (especially as they can now manage devices and sideload their own business applications).

Windows Phone 8 media and gaming

Audio, graphics and media playback all work more like their Windows equivalents, which should make for more powerful games and entertainment apps.
However, this means that current games will need to be re-tooled to take advantage of the new platform – the likes of Rovio can leave their games as Windows Phone 7 versions, but they'll likely want to re-release a more powerful version of the game too.

Windows Phone 8

But given the increased GPU support and power on offer, we'll at least start seeing some more 3D-rich gaming environments that start taxing the Windows Phone 8 handsets compared to their previous counterparts.

Video calling

There's one place where Windows Phone is jumping ahead of Windows; VOIP calls will look just like regular phone calls with all the same features and notifications. Obviously that's good for Skype but other VOIP apps like Tango will get the same support.

Windows Phone 8

We're still waiting to see how deep Skype integration gets into the Windows Phone 8 OS, as given it's already available as an app on the Windows Phone Marketplace it should be shoved pretty deeply into the platform.
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Will it lead to a surge in video calling? Probably not, but as there are strong rumours the Xbox platform will be getting a taste of video calling too it seems only fair that Windows Phone 8 devices, complete with their improved front-facing cameras, should be given priority.

Windows Phone 8 CPU

To make all this work well Windows Phone 8 will run on new hardware; still ARM processors, still the Snapdragon platform from Qualcomm but now with multicore processors, with a new generation of GPUs, and with NFC support.
Battery life is still priority for the platform, so we doubt Microsoft is going to allow any CPUs that get too amorous with the power pack – but more power is a big selling point in today's smartphone market, so this makes enormous sense.

Microsoft Wallet

The new Microsoft Wallet app will allow you to make payments by tapping your phone on a credit card reader the way Google Wallet does, and store credit card and membership details securely and tap your phone to send them the way iOS 6 will.
And you're not tied to using a Microsoft payment service; applications will be able to tap into the Wallet system to set up new payment services – which will include Paypal.
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The app is a hub for digital coupons and debit or credit cards - plus you can add in loyalty cards and third party apps that will notify you when they become relevant.

NFC support

NFC is there for Microsoft's Wallet payment system, but has other options as well. The OS supports secure SIM, which means users' can swap from handset to handset and take their payment method with them physically.
There are other applications that Nokia is keen to utilise as well, such as being able to pair with its Bluetooth accessories with a simple tap of the phone – it's a trick we've seen on the old Symbian phones and one we expect to feature heavily here too.

Speech recognition

Microsoft has teamed up with Audible to bring speech recognition to Windows Phone 8, allowing users to shout a variety of commands at their handsets.
During the keynote presentation, we saw a demo of the speech platform – which allowed a user to play movies, browse audiobooks and perform searches.
It's also available for Mango devices, so pop over to the Marketplace today and search Audible if you fancy a go.

Windows Phone 8 upgrades

That's the reason that you won't be able to upgrade any existing Windows Phone handsets to 8, because they don't have the hardware to support the new features or deliver the multitasking performance that the Windows kernel and the improved VOIP support needs.
Only two of the rumoured new resolutions are being announced, both widescreen formats: 1280 by 768 and 1280 by 720 as well as the current 800 by 480, which should give phone makers more flexibility when it comes to choosing parts they can use in multiple devices.
And Windows Phone finally sorts out its SD card support; you'll be able to store media files on a micro SD card or install applications onto it.