Welcome to the second post of my three-part series. In case you missed it, here’s Part 1, where I spoke about my thoughts on WIndows 8 Phones, the performance and stability of the operating system and the the current state of apps.
In this second part, I’ll tell you about the features of WIndows Phone 8 that I have come to enjoy. Here are the ones that made my list…
1) Live Tiles
Live tiles are what set Windows Phone 8 apart. They are basically widgets of any app, setting or even contact that you pin on your home screen. What you get in return is really useful info at a glance, without having to open the respective app.
The tiles come in three sizes – small, medium and large – and for most apps, you can easily switch between the sizes as you so wish.
Some apps even allow you to pin secondary tiles, i.e. you can pin several tiles of the same app for example, one live tile showing the weather of Nairobi, while another shows New York’s weather.
2) Lockscreen – Notifications Reimagined
The Windows Phone 8 lockscreen comes with more bells and whistles than just a cool-looking background…but how about we start with the background. You have several options for your background image – a standard image, the Bing image of the day, a feed from your Facebook albums.
You can choose one app, for which a detailed notification status will be shown – I chose the Calendar app hence you can see my next meeting.
At the bottom, is the lockscreen’s party piece, a row of five notifications. Again, you can choose any app with push notifications. I chose Battery Meter (I like keeping a close handle on my battery), Phone, Messaging and my two emails.
For the security and privacy-conscious, you could also choose to protect your lockscreen with a password.
3) The People Hub
Think of the People Hub as the most integrated contacts application on any mobile ecosystem around. You can populate your contacts list by importing SIM contacts or adding your social media accounts – Outlook, Hotmail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail or Microsoft Exchange.
Once populated, you can link similar contacts from different networks or filter out contacts from a certain network.
Straight from the People Hub you can post a new update to Facebook and Twitter, check in or set your chat status. You also get your social media notifications and updates from your friends.
Tap a name on your contact list and you can call, text, chat, email, write on their Facebook Wall, or see their latest social updates and photos. The History view shows your recent calls and conversations with a contact, pretty nifty!
Groups – You can create different groups and add people into them. You can then send all the members a group text, email or IM, and see their social media updates all in one place.
Rooms – Think of rooms as private invitation-only group. You can invite other members and share a group chat, photos, videos, notes and a private calendar. Windows Phone 7 and iPhone users can join rooms and set up shared calendars, but group chat is only available on Windows Phone 8.
You can pin any contact or group as live tiles on your homescreen to get quick updates and notifications.
4) Office – Finally done right
Word Documents, spreadsheets, presentations are a central to anyone who’s used a computer recently – be it that contract, proposal, client pitch etc. You know what’s nice and convenient, having the ability to create, view or edit all these document in a user-friendly manner, on the go, from the comfort of you smartphone.
The Office Hub in Windows Phone 8 allows you to pretty much do almost anything you can do with Office on PC.
You can open documents saved locally on your phone, email attachments, documents on your SkyDrive or those you’re collaborating on in Office 365. You can also create new documents or search through the ones you have.
5) Camera Lenses
Now this is one feature I didn’t know I needed until I stumbled upon it. I love the camera of my Lumia 920 and the Windows Phone 8 camera app. Out of the box, you can take great photos and crop, rotate or auto-fix them.
Now what’s awesome is the fact that you can download Lenses – basically apps that add features to your camera. To mention a few:
- Cinemagraph to easily shoot cinemagraphs(cool animated GIFs)
- Photosynth for taking full 360° panoramas
- HDR Photo Camera for HDR photos
- Handyscan easily turns your phone into a document scanner
- Timelapse Pro lets you create time lapses
6) Kid’s Corner
You know the way children like to play with anything with a big shiny screen…well that never ends well. You’ll find your live tiles have been re-organized, they made a few errant call and sent some messages; just to mention a few.
Windows Phone 8 has a solution for that with the Kid’s Corner. You set up a ‘Corner’ and this gives you access to a new home screen. Here you can select the apps, videos, music and games you would like them to access, then activate the corner.
Now all you have to do is swipe from left to right on your lockscreen to access it. They only get access to the apps you want them to.
7) Bing Music Search
Move aside Soundcloud and Shazam, there is a new kid on the block. You know that moment when you hear a song you really like and you just can’t remember it’s title or who sang it…well, Bing Music Search has got you covered.
This comes as a standard feature in Windows Phone 8. All you have to do is click on the Search button, then the music note icon at the bottom, give it about two seconds and there you have it. You also get a link to the music store if you want to buy it.
8) Windows Phone Store – Try before you buy
On Android, you surf the Play Store and see a promising app, like the description, and want to give it a go. The only problem is that the app is a paid one and you have to buy it…so you do.
What happens if you don’t like it? Well you could uninstall it in 15 minutes and get your full refund…not bad, but 15 minutes is not nearly enough time to know if an app makes the cut or not.
Most paid apps on the Windows Phone Store have two options, Try and Buy. Click on try and you get to download a trial version of the app to use for 30 day, you can then decide whether to spend your money on it or not.
Until Next Time…
In conclusion, Windows Phone 8 is proving to be quite a well-built operating system. Am sure it’s not without its faults but it also packs some nifty features that eliminate some of the little stresses of everyday smartphone usage.
For anyone in the market for a smartphone, it is safe to say that Windows Phone 8 has earned itself a seat on the big-boy table with Android and iOS. You should give it a try!
Watch out for Part III of this series where I share what I miss from Android. Also, if there are any features you like that I may have missed, share them in the comments section.