It is a whole new Windows. And promises to change the way we use just about every computing device, from smart phones to tablets to computers. We take a closer look at Windows 8 and its mobile avatar, Windows Phone 8.
The operating system that for many of us is synonymous with computers is now not just looking to strengthen its hold on desktops and notebooks, but is also on course to grab a massive chunk of the smartphone and tablet market. While a mobile version of Windows has been around for a while (remember Windows Mobile?), its similarity with its desktop counterpart was rather limited. Well, that is all set to change with the arrival of the eighth wave of Windows. With the launch, Microsoft has managed to achieve what many players in the tech market dream of – a synergy across desktops, phones and tablets. The tiled interface that had become iconic with Windows Phone 7 will not be seen not only on phones, but also on computers and tablets, albeit with a few tweaks to suit the hardware it is running on. And the Xbox, which incidentally can now be connected even more seamlessly to Windows and Windows Phone users, could be the next in line to get a similar makeoever. And if we go by rumours, Microsoft’s Kinect technology, which allows people to control actions on a screen by their gestures, will soon be seen not just on mainstream computers but also on mobile phones and in cars. With Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has embarked on a very ambitious effort to integrate phones, computers, tablets and to an extent consoles. It is still too early to say how successful the Redmond company will be, but if it is, consumers will not be complaining. One could start a presentation on a PC, edit it on a phone, and maybe check out how it looks on a really big screen using your Xbox console, and maybe add gesture controls to it (wave your hands to change a slide) using Kinect. Now how cool would THAT be? It might just happen. But that’s in the future. Let’s first check out what the new Windows has in store for us.
Windows Phone 8 The Awesome 8
It looks a lot like Windows Phone 7 on the surface, but scratch beneath those tiles and there are changes. And here are the eight that really matter.
Windows Phone 8 has a similar yet different interface from the previous version, i.e. Windows 7.5. The landing screen seems bigger with the deletion of the arrow key, earlier given on the top right of the screen. Now users can simply drag the screen to go to the other homepage (with the list of applications on it). Thinner borders on the sides also mean that you have more tiles to fit into one screen. And speaking of tiles, you can resize them now – to small, medium, and large, depending on your requirements. So what you have in essence is the same magical tiled interface experience that everyone loved on Windows Phone 7, only now with more tiles per screen, and of different sizes.
Support for bigger resolutions, multiple cores
Windows Phone 8 comes with support for higher resolution displays and multiple core processors. In fact, many feel that the best of the OS will be experienced on high resolution displays with dual core processors as innards. This paves the way for high quality apps to run on this platform. Yes, this does mean that most initial Windows Phone 8 devices will be pricey, but in the long run, prices will come down, and users will love the experience of using these devices.
Safer for children
We all agree that a mobile phone is a very personal device and one cannot share it with everyone, sometimes not even with family members and for some of us, seeing it in the hands of our children is a nightmare. With Kid’s Corner on Windows Phone 8, one can set the phone in such a way that even if your children grab your handset, they will only be able to access those apps, videos, songs and games which you have chosen for them. Your own data will be password protected. This not just protects your data but also lets your child experience Windows Phone without the chance of accidentally deleting information or being exposed to content that may harm him. Now, that’s smart!
Windows Phone 8 will let you pin just about anything and anyone you wish to follow on to the home screen. One can pin apps, people, favorite songs, useful websites, and important documents and thus always see them on the home screen. The “pins” will be in the form of live colorful tiles and will keep being updated as the person updates them on their end. So you do not need to access an app or the browser to see what the people you follow are doing – just a glance at the tile representing them on the home screen is all you will need. Incidentally, the OS comes with a Word Flow Keyboard feature which can predict the next word in a sentence one is typing.
Invite people to rooms
Want to have a close conversation with a set of people? Well, this feature will let you do exactly that. Create a room with people in your contact list and share photos, documents, group chats and more with them, all at one place without disclosing them to anyone else. The feature is useful to have private discussions with family members, professional contacts, and of course, friends. One can also create groups of ‘Best Friends’ or ‘Colleagues’ and can text them, share anything and see their social updates, all at once.
Windows Phone 8 allows you to take your information like photos, notes, videos and even apps with you. Even when you do not have your mobile phone with you. The OS allows you to store your information on the cloud using its SkyDrive service, letting you to access everything from MS Office files to photographs to your apps on any other device. Now that is freedom to roam, isn’t it?
The X(Box) factor
An interesting addition in Windows Phone 8 is the integration with Xbox Cloud. This is Microsoft’s music service which supports services like Xbox Music Pass and Xbox Music Store. This helps devices running on Windows Phone 8 to function as an integrated portable music player. One can download or stream music from a global catalogue of 30 million songs and can also integrate iTunes music on the Windows Phone through cloud. One can download, stream, share music from the Xbox Music Store and access the service from every Windows platform. This requires subscribing to the service after using a trial pack valid for 30 days. The Xbox Music service will come pre-installed on all Windows Phone 8 devices, and will be available for a $9.99 monthly subscription for unlimited play and on the pay-per-song model via Xbox Music Store that lets user purchase and download 256 kbps DRM-free MP3s. In addition, Microsoft will also include features like social integration, scan-and-match functionality, and a cloud-based locker in 2013. And of course, there is a gaming angle too – gamers can interact with their Xbox consoles with their Windows Phone device by adding the Smart Glass app to it, whether it is watching aspects of games on the phone or even using it as a controller.
And there is more…
There are a host of other changes and tweaks that let you do more with your device. Windows Phone 8 allows the users to link all the e-mailing accounts into one, making it easy to access all mail at one place. It comes with Phone Wallet which can be used to keep details of reward cards, coupons, credit cards, local deals, and memberships at one password-protected place. And Data Sense is perfect for those who want to keep track of their mobile data consumption. Finally, the OS comes with support for NFC, which means that in the coming days you will be able to interact with other devices wirelessly and without fuss.
Windows Eight with Weight!
It is Windows like you have never seen before, with a much more touch-friendly interface. We take a closer look at eight features that stand out in particular.
Boots in a blink!
The new Windows 8 for computers has not just got a fresh user-interface but a completely sorted out boot process. When you switch on your Windows 8 device, be prepared to be greeted by the home screen in something like twenty seconds! A far cry from the days of Windows XP and Vista’s tedious start up times, where people used to joke that one could press the Start button and go make a cup of tea and start working when one returned.
Desktop gets interactive with Live Tiles
One of the rare times when the mobile platform has inspired the computer, the live tile interface (a la Windows Phone) is by far one of the most impressive new features introduced by Microsoft in Windows 8. Users will see information on the home screen in the form of tiles which can be customized as per their needs. And it works brilliantly with Microsoft’s own applications such as Mail, Calendar, Photos and News. The tiles are live so users can actually view updates on them be they e-mail, upcoming events, thumbnail images or the latest headlines. And if you think that all those tiles are cluttering up your screen or are too small, just pinch to zoom in or out. We love it! And fear not, if you are missing the look of your “regular” Windows, you can also switch to it by going to Desktop mode, in which you will get the same familiar interface that has been Windows’ trademark for a while now.
Windows gets touchy-Feely!
Windows 8 is packed with full gesture support, providing the user with an intuitive touch experience, which is helpful in multitasking. Yes, even Windows 7 had been touch friendly but Windows 8 has been built from scratch keeping touch screens in mind. Users can swipe in from the left to bring the running applications and swipe in from the right to open the Charms menu that carries the start button that helps the user to switch to the tiles interface. And pinch-to-zoom works brilliantly across apps. Users can also swipe in from the top of the screen for app-specific commands and settings and drag their fingers from the top of the screen to the bottom to shut an app. Yes, it can work on non-touch screen devices too, where you can use the touch pad and mouse for gestures, but we would recommend using them on a touch screen to experience the real magic of the OS.
Taking inspiration from other OS ecosystems, Microsoft has finally integrated an app store into Windows 8 to offer apps for download and purchase. The user interface of Windows app store is similar to the tiles interface of the OS and apps. Apps are classified across different categories like Games, Utility, Travel, Food, News, etc. While there are a number of apps already available for download in the store, they are not really in the same class as iOS and Android in terms of quality. But then these are very early days and we can expect many more apps to arrive to Windows 8 – after all, all developers would love to make apps that run on what we are sure will emerge as the world’s leading computer OS. Meanwhile, your regular Windows 7 apps will also work just fine on your Windows 8 device – all you will need to do is switch to Desktop mode while using them.
Hunt for anything on your device
One of the major revamps made to Windows is the introduction of a system-wide search. It is easily the best tool for exploring apps, files, games and even settings of the device. It is present on the Charm bar on the right side of the screen and lets you hunt anything on your device. And like almost everything in Windows 8, it works at the rate of knots.
Snap view for Multitasking, Strictly for workaholics
Now you can work on two applications simultaneously on your Window 8 PC. You can put two apps side-by-side on the screen, with one occupying a part of the screen while the other occupies a larger portion. The feature is very handy for those who like to transfer data from one application to another – such as between a browser and a notepad or from a photo gallery to a presentation. In order to perform this action, you can drag the running app down and snap it into the right or left edge of the screen after which you can open the new application, which will run in the larger portion of the screen.
At the fore of Windows 8 is the ability to share content seamlessly across social networks. If something is shareable you can share it with friends and even with other apps. While you are using an app, tap the share key on the Charms bar and you see options for sharing information. And in what we think is a super cool touch, the Share charm will even start to recognize where and with whom you share the most, saving you a whole lot of trouble when you wish to share information in future.
Make a fresh start
Windows 8 gives you a better hold on the system. You can now refresh your system running on Windows 8 OS just by a single click and that too without changing any of your files, Windows Store apps, or personalization settings. The refresh option is the perfect solution for those times when you think that your Windows 8 PC is behaving erratically, while the reset option allows you to wipe out all your information, multimedia files, software and even history. You can easily find both these features in the Charms bar.
Eight Flag bearers for WINDOWS 8
Even the best software in the world is only as good as the devices it runs on. And in that regard, both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 have got off to a flying start with some awesome hardware complementing them. Here’s our look at eight devices that will be spearheading the charge of the new Windows.
Nokia Lumia 920
Nokia’s Lumia series of phones has been dedicated to Windows Phone, and its next flagship runs on Windows Phone 8. The Lumia 920 is being seen by many as one of the most powerful devices in cell town and with good reason. It sports a 4.5-inch display with 1280 x 768 resolutions, and is powered by a dual core Snapdragon S4 processor. But the real highlight of the device is believed to be its 8.7-megapixel camera, which uses Nokia’s Pure View technology and performs brilliantly in both still and video mode. It comes with 32 GB of onboard storage, NFC support and wireless charging as well. Don’t be fooled by its slightly thick looks – this is a performer!
HTC Windows Phone 8X
HTC returns to Windows Phone territory with a bang. The Windows Phone 8X is one of the most brilliantly designed phones we have seen for a while, with a large 4.3-inch, 720p display dominating the front, and the back arching out gently. At its thinnest point, it is almost like a sliver. The device also sports an 8.0-megapixel camera with f2.0 aperture, support for 1080p video recording and a dedicated HTC ImageChip. And the front camera has been designed to take better group shots too. Top that off with Beats Audio-driven music and some very funky colours, and this is one device that we can see many people flaunting in the coming days.
Samsung ATIV S
On first glance, this seems another device designed for humans. But then we are not complaining at all. The device’s 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED screen is the biggest we have seen on any Windows Phone 8 device and in best Samsung tradition, it is brilliant. On board are stacks of connectivity options, an 8.0-megapixel camera and some very decent sound. Formidable indeed!
Nokia Lumia 820
The Lumia 920 might be Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 spearhead, but it is by no means the only arrow in the Finnish company’s WP8 quiver. The Lumia 820 might not possess the hardware muscle of the 920, but it is no pushover either. It comes with a 4.3 inch, 480 x 800 ClearBlack display, LTE support, a 1.4 GHz dual core processor and Adreno 225 GPU. On board also are a 8.0-megapixel camera (no PureView though), 8 GB storage, and support for wireless charging. And it is likely to cost significantly lesser than the 920, which could make it one of WP8’s mainstream warriors.
HTC Windows phone 8S
HTC seems to have borrowed a page from the Nokia Lumia book of releases, clubbing a high-end device with a relatively affordable one. The 8S is not really in the league of the 8X in terms of specs, but could end up attracting a lot of people because it still delivers a lot at a relatively lower price. It comes with an eye catching (if not ultra slim) design, a 4.0 inch display, 5.0-megapixel camera and is powered by a 1 GHz dual core processor. Storage stands at 4GB, expandable to 32 GB. Decent specs to run WP8 well, and the price and colorful looks are a bonus.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
The new convertible ultra book from the kitty of Lenovo comes packed with all advanced features that are required to run the latest Microsoft Windows 8 operating system. You can flip back its screen a full 360 degrees and convert it into a tablet with its multi-touch screen. The ultraboook boasts a 13.1 inch screen (1600 x 900 pixels) and is powered by an Intel Core i5 dual-core processor and 4 GB RAM. A 256 GB SSD ensures that operations will happen at the rate of knots and battery life stand at a very impressive seven hours.
Microsoft Surface RT
Designed and manufactured by the Redmond Giant itself, the Surface is being touted as the flagship device for Windows 8. Primarily a tablet, it features a full-sized USB port, 16:9 widescreen, high-definition display and 22-degree angle that make it optimal for viewing and sharing content easily. However, it attains a different dimension when it is connected to Microsoft’s specially designed keyboard cover which attaches to it using magnets and comes in funky colours, becoming almost like an ultrabook. It looks very good, works a charm and could well provide some stiff competition to the likes of the iPad in the coming days. We just wish we did not have to purchase the keyboard cover separately!
Another convertible device to join the Windows 8 powered device gamut is the Asus Taichi, a fusion of notebook and tablet. The device boasts not one, but two 13.3 inch screens a front ‘normal’ screen and a back screen which is a touchscreen and offers intuitive fingertip control with Windows 8. The lightweight tablet is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor and has built-in motion sensors that make it ideal for mobile gaming, while dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connect to the latest wireless devices. The two screens mean that two people can use the device at the same time – a person can watch a movie or play a game on the touchscreen while the other person can work on a office presentation on the primary screen.