If a smartphone is on your holiday shopping list this year, the temptation may be to go with what you know – Android or Apple iOS, the biggest sellers – but you might want to consider Windows Phone 8 as a third option, San Jose.
Microsoft unveiled the overhauled Windows Phone 8 operating system Oct. 29, including an array of handsets from HTC, Samsung and Nokia. I’ve been using a demo model of the Windows Phone 8X from HTC and have found it to be a worthy challenger to the various devices running Google Android and the latest Apple iPhone 5.
Microsoft made a clear departure from the mobile OS user interface of Google and Apple with Windows Phone 8. The successor to Windows Phone 7, which I reviewed when it came out in 2010, uses what Microsoft calls “Live Tiles” on its home screen. Rather than static icons that Android and iOS use to identify apps as e-mail, phone, messaging or Angry Birds, Windows Phone 8’s tiles show you a peek of what’s inside the apps. The photo tile previews some of your personal photos stored on the device, the weather tile shows you the local temperature and the calendar tile reminds you of your next appointment. That way you get more information at a glance from the start screen than you would from those other phones.
To be sure, Microsoft has got its work cut out for it in the smartphone wars with Android and Apple, which have 75 percent and 15 percent market share, respectively, in the global smartphone market for the third quarter of 2012, according to IDC. Windows Phone held a scant 2 percent share. And Microsoft has a lot to prove. Despite much promotion, the launch of devices running Windows Phone 7 failed to spur significant sales. It also didn’t help as much as hoped when Nokia partnered with Microsoft to replace its Symbian OS with Windows Phone in 2011.
But there is reason to give Microsoft a closer look with Windows Phone 8, chief among them being the Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor inside, an upgrade from thesingle-core processor of WP7 devices, which means faster running apps. This was such a leap forward for Microsoft that it greatly disappointed WP7 users when they learned their devices could not be upgraded to WP8.
And if you’re big on apps, you might want to look at the Microsoft Store’s online collection of apps before buying. According to Microsoft, there are 120,000 WP8 apps available, versus Apple’s 975,000 and Google’s 675,000. Still, at just 120,000 apps, there should be enough of an inventory to satisfy most users. At the launch event I covered in San Francisco, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Microsoft, said its app store has 46 of the top 50 most popular apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and the Weather Channel.
Buyers can get the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, which I’m using, for $99.99 for a 8GB memory model or $199.99 for a 16GB model through AT&T with a two-year contract. Verizon and T-Mobile only appear to offer the 16GB model, also for $199.99 with a contract. Sprint, notably, is sitting this one out for now and has no WP8 devices from HTC, Samsung or Nokia, though it’s probably still unloading its WP7 inventory.
So, from my perspective, it’s worth it to try Windows Phone on for size. Microsoft is thinking outside the smartphone box with this new OS and that makes it worth considering.