But 8. A beta version of the Cortana digital personal assistant which, for now at least, makes Apple's Sir and Google Now look tame by comparison and a notification center that, frankly, Windows Phone should have had years ago. I've been using Windows Phone 8. Going back to the previous OS version is painful, and I miss a few big bucket features in 8.

Suffice to say, I'll be taking advantage of the developer preview program—described near the end of this review—to upgrade all of my existing Windows Phone 8 handsets to 8. What I'm not seeing is any real indication that Windows Phone is being merged into Windows. Yes, there are absolutely features from Windows 8. But this absolutely isn't a "phone version of Windows. The Start screen is oriented for portrait mode and still cannot, for example, be used in landscape mode.

It's a phone, not a tablet. I think that's just fine, by the way. From the first moment that Joe Belfiore introduced Windows Phone on the Mobile World Congress stage in early , I've been taken with the cleanness of this superior platform. And for all the underlying, platform-level changes, from a user experience perspective, Windows Phone has yet to veer from its central mission as the most personal of smart phones. That is not just still true in Windows Phone 8. As noted, Windows Phone 8. If there wasn't already a Windows 8.

But platform synchronicity certainly makes sense, because users and potential new customers will immediately understand that both Windows 8. Perhaps the two products will be updated in lock-step from version to version but not with regards to interim updates going forward, since the same product group at Microsoft is now responsible for both. The lock screen has been evolved with a more attractive and, I think, more usable informational layout, with the clock displayed in a larger clock font and the day and date in a smaller font.

Oddly enough, the lock screen settings are identical to Windows Phone 8, but of course 8. I haven't had the chance to use such an app yet, but the few I've seen demonstrated are attractive, and I suspect these types of apps are going to be a big deal. While cynics will point out that both Android and iOS have supported a notification center for quite some time, whatever: This is absolutely necessary and quite welcome, and it's one of the best new features in Windows Phone 8.

Action Center is activated by swiping down from the top of the screen as with Android and iOS. This works from anywhere in Windows Phone, including, interestingly, the lock screen. There are two parts to Action Center, a row of quick settings tiles and then a list of app notifications. And Action Center is awesome. You no longer need to find and then navigate into Settings to do things like enable Airplane Mode or toggle screen rotation.

Navigation menu

And when you dispense with an app notification, it will reflect on the app's tile. For example, when you remove an Outlook Mobile notification about a new email message—by swiping it to the right—the app's tile changes to no longer display the number of unread email messages. As with Android and iOS, you can really customize how each app provides notifications too.

On an app-by-app basis, you can choose whether its notifications appear in Action Center, whether it displays a notification banner at the top of the screen, which notification sound it uses if any , and whether it vibrates. All-in-all, Action Center looks like it accomplishes exactly what you'd expect. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it. And on a related note, reminders and reminder sounds have been nicely updated. One of the weirder limitations of reminders in previous Windows Phone versions is that all reminder types—text and instant messages, voicemail, email, and other reminders—had to use the same reminder sound.

First, Microsoft now provides a "show more tiles" option for all Windows Phones with a display with a resolution lower than x This enables you to display a much denser set of tiles—5 of the smallest tiles, horizontally—a feature that was previously available only on devices with p screens. Oddly, this option does not appear on devices with a p display, so you cannot toggle it off and display fewer tiles. This will transform your existing Windows Phone handset in ways I think most people will find quite appealing.

The background and accent color options haven't changed since Windows Phone 8, but there's a new Start Background feature that lets you pick a photo to display under the Start screen. Here, the background image appears only through those tiles that are transparent. It does not appear "between" the tiles. This design difference makes sense because the Windows Phone Start screen doesn't have any appreciable dead space, as is possible in Windows.

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So you wouldn't be able to see the image if it was only available between the tiles. But because many Windows Phone tiles are opaque, and not transparent, you'll need to choose your image—and your tile placement—wisely in order to get the best effect. Also, there's an interesting parallax effect that occurs when you scroll through the Start screen: The background image scrolls at a different speed than the tiles do.

As with the background image capability itself, some will love this feature, while others will find it annoying. But while using a background image is optional, the parallax scrolling effect is not: If you enable the image, you get the scrolling effect. Frankly, this is one of those features that demos well, and it speaks to the user-centric nature of Windows Phone nicely, but I don't really care for it. This one will be pretty polarizing, which some loving it and some not being so impressed.

The most hyped feature of Windows Phone 8. It's available in beta form and then only in the United States. Everyone else will need to wait, and even then it's not completely clear which markets will get it when. If you do live outside the United States, you will be disappointed to learn that Cortana works surprisingly well. It's basically a new generation of Bing Search, in the sense that it replaces the Bing Search functionality in Windows Phone 8 with a new version that is more universally integrated with everything in the phone and with voice interaction.

That said, I'm still not so sure that I'll ever use Cortana, outside perhaps of the car, as the only thing I find more annoying than talking to a phone is being forced to experience other people talking to their phones. But I'm surprised by the wide range of functionality here, and by how well the voice interaction stuff works. This isn't just searching app launching via voice—every version of Windows Phone has supported that stuff, though few people seem to realize it—but is instead a fully integrated digital assistant.

There's a short wizard that lets you set some preferences and interests, which nicely jump starts its machine learning capabilities so it can get to know you better, and I recommend not skipping that. Or, you can make changes later via a strangely-named Cortana Notebook. Once you're up and running, Cortana will appear when you press the Search button on the handset.

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Everything about Cortana is smart. If you speak to Cortana, she will speak back to you. The voice interaction capabilities are currently better than either Apple Siri or Google Now—though that can certainly change as those platforms improve—and Cortana lets you interact with apps, including third party apps like Facebook and Twitter, right out of the box. Everything works as expected. For example, if you say, "what's happening today" or tomorrow and Cortana will dictate and display today's or tomorrow's appointments.

Cortana is such a big topic that I'll be writing more about this in future articles, plus in Windows Phone 8. I can say after tooling around with it for a few weeks that I'm not personally sold on this kind of interaction—save perhaps in the car—but I do think that many people will absolutely love it. And of course you can always use normal search if Cortana isn't your thing. Like Windows 8. It's a bit light compared to the wellspring of settings sync options we see on Windows, but there is theme, app setting, Internet Explorer and password syncing.

And where applicable, these settings will sync between Windows and Windows Phone. So if you're saving web passwords in the desktop Windows version of IE and hit the same site in the Windows Phone version, your password will autofill and vice versa. As a Windows Phone user, I've not been able to really experience the Swype-type virtual keyboards that are currently all the rage on Android. I want something light. That is my main criterion. Light and thin. As light as the iPhone, so say grams. There is just nothing even close out there for Windows phones. The whole trend seems to go to bigger screens, which is something I really don't care about.

The whole thing is actually a total mystery to me. You would think that SOME manufacturer would try to provide something with those specs for Windows phone. Isn't the whole idea here that one can get the best OS on a wide variety of handhelds, so that everyone finds something for his or her liking? But all I see is a drive for bigger screens and better cameras. Why isn't there at least one low weight phone in the windows ecosystem?!? So, I'm stuck on my Samsung Focus, which is at g, which is not bad but also not great.

The software of course is really showing its age. Oh, another random thing: The mail app in windows 8. Maybe you can flirt with an Android phone too? No matter how good a mobile phone OS is, if the majority of popular apps are not on it, the OS doesn't matter much. It will be an isolated phone whose longer term usability will wear off soon. I used to have a Windows Phone 7 and I would get disappointing when a popular app I felt is useful to me was not available.

I switched to Android and I am happy with how open it is and the number of app options available and how easy it is to sideload apps. SwiftKey is a cool keyboard replacement app. I don't know if Windows Phone allows them. I bet SwiftKey with a whole company behind it is going to beat any OS built-in keyboard. The fact it's a separate app has no bearing because it's totally seamless across all the Android apps. That's a big win for Android. Still, good job for MS in continuously improving WP and not giving up.

Davidacoder - The is only grams, compared to an iPhone 4 at grams and iPhone 5 at grams. Scott Hanselman. Upgraded both my and my wife's Lumia s on Monday. Loving all the subtle improvements so far, with the swipe typing alone being reason enough to upgrade. Cortana is cool, though I don't know that I'll ever use it enough to really take full advantage of all the features, voice control is just not for me. Works great for setting reminders, though.

As far as apps, all the major ones that I care about are there though the Flickr app looks like it hasn't been updated since WP 7 - still works, but doesn't integrate with some of the newer social features. The "quick settings" on the notification screen are great, though ostensibly the most useful toggle, cellular data, is presently not available as an option there.

Overall, I think it's a great update to an already strong platform and definitely worth a shot. The things people spend most of their time on a smartphone doing taking pictures, texting, using social media and browsing the web are all best in class experiences. I think the "lack of apps" is mostly a myth outside of goofy vendor specific things which are generally just website wrappers anyway. Brad Westness. That is HUGE. The iPhone feels like an elegant, small device, the like a big, heavy thing in comparison.

Can't there be one, out of the gazillion well, dozens Windows phones, that matches the iPhone on weight? Here's a few of my qualms. Titles of some apps are render in huge text that, if they are too long, some of the header gets cut off. The search icon on this All Apps screen is at the top left, violating the same Metro paradigm that places the search icon on the lower command bar.

Transition should be a smooth fade in and fade out, almost flipboard'ish. The start screen should scroll horizontally just like Windows 8, Android, or iOS.. Instead of freely scrolling the start screen, it should be paged. What's the benefit of live tile if it is off screen? There should be a quick launch bar at the bottom where user can pin their app not the same as pinning live tile. The spacing between tiles should be slightly increase cause WP8 looks like a clutter mess. Overall, Metro UI needs a big time makeover.

Yes, the guts and basic functionality are being baked into the OS, but users love eye candy and this is where the battle is. Google and Apple iterated their UI For me, the notification panel and the distinct alert sounds for each email account make it complete. Plus the Lumia Icon has a super camera and a beautiful screen. I'm not a really big app user so I don't really miss any.

Friday, April 18, Swipe down from the top and get notifications in one place. Quiet Hours takes this a little further with the concept of an "Inner Circle" and a more sophisticated series of configurable rules like "Don't bother me at night on weekdays unless it's these three people, and text everyone else back that I'm not answering calls.

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It also allows a contact list of people that can get through. Again, forever. Has for years. It's nice that Windows Phone now has the capabilities of a Samsung Galaxy S2 except for the selection of apps. But, I guess this list shows how truly behind Apple is these days. David - I guess I'll need to go feel my iPhone 5 and iPhone 4 again. I don't notice a major different. Hanselman - you've just earned a spot on my start screen! I personally would love a bit more weight if that meant a bigger batter and wireless charging.

Abdu - things have changed since the Samsung Focus. Candy Crush is not. If Candy Crush is your concern than do not get a Windows Phone.

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If you must have the latest fad apps, I'm not sure why you haven't gone iPhone Cortana goes beyond Google Now is areas. GN doesn't have People-centric reminders. Wordlow swipe typing is more accurate than Swype and faster too. I'm not sure why you feel the need to minimize what Windows Phone has done, but if you enjoy your Samsung, enjoy it. It's not a religion - no one is forcing you to convert. A little investigation would reveal however that Windows Phone has taken steps to move beyond the competition.

I'm sure the competition will respond and that is why competition is great. Although it is meant to make background pictures possible for live tiles, I find them more or less confusing. I love the clean design of unicolored tiles on my screen. Through vibrant colors that I can choose to my very own taste, I can express my emotions without the start screen distracting me from what it is meant for: Supporting me in getting my things done very fast and then get back to real life.

Background pictures are distracting. However, I found out that they are are great feature nonetheless. Because I can create unicolored pictures, I can circumvent the useless limitation of only 20 colors Windows Phone makes me choose from and can set virtually ANY color I want for my live tiles after all!

I developed a little Windows Phone 8. This way you have the color of your real choice at your fingertips literally and have your live tile color changed in no time. Great for corporate identities! You can get an impression of what the app does here: Very nice Its too bad my pebble watch isn't comaptable with windows phone Christian - Try some of the stock photos I'm finding that faces don't look good, but close ups of flowers, etc, do.

Like the examples in the picture. By the way, I projected my screen with this " Project your screen " app. JD That's why I said "a popular app I felt is useful to me was not available". I don't care about fad apps which are mostly games. In fact I don't play games at all on the phone. I read emails, RSS feeds and tweets plus a handful of utility apps. Another reason why I got the biggest phone Galaxy Mega which is Android only. Compared to most people I have a lot fewer apps but when I want an app, I want it.

After several incidents like that, I decided it was time to switch. As they say, something needs to be 10 times better for a loyal customer to switch. So Scott, why do you think this took so long to get here? I apologize for a rambling email I sent to you a few years ago harping on the fact that I could not simply navigate to a contacts address using turn by turn navigation.

I was perplexed that this feature was on WinMobile years ago, but not WinPho 7 when it first appeared. Do us little people who don't know how to code , simply underestimate the difficulty it takes to create this stuff? Were we just being impatient? Was MS building a mountain from the ground up and they simply could not get this stuff in from the start? Or do they really move so slowly up there at MS that 3. I'm very happy the wait is over, and I really hope the apps start raining down.

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Nice one. However, I hope it is planned to include a record to disc feature. Recording Windows Phone screens using tools like Camstudio is a pain in the ass I believe, Microsoft can do better. Saturday, April 19, So my question. I had a Lumia , and the update lag was intolerable. Worse than Android. Steve Sheldon. I currently have an iPhone. The Windows phone looks great.

But until the app selection on Windows phone is at least comparable to what's available on iPhone, I won't seriously consider switching. Jon Schneider. It still only displays the live tile count. I'm using the official FB app now previously been using FB beta. How do apps get added to notifications? Saturday, April 19, 2: I want a Windows phone badly, but how do you get around the lack of apps that you use every day? For me it's apps like amazon cloud player, google hangouts, and marvel unlimited.

I know those are very specific examples, but what does one do? Man, I'm waiting for the Nokia but then found out that Cortana isn't coming to Canada. I haven't gone from excited to depressed as quickly as that since I don't know when.. Scott, who can you talk to about this? I used Windows Phone 7 for a brief while before the 5 came out and loved certain aspects of it. It's definitely coming up to par with iOS and Android with regards to features. The killer is the app ecosystem. The first party apps that exist on iOS and Android are so much better than the knockoffs that used to be in the marketplace for Windows Phone.

If the app ecosystem starts to level off as well, I could see myself going back to Windows Phone. Some of the really simple things like pinning groups of contacts or individual contacts to the home screen were so convenient. I just always felt I was lacking an apps here and there. Maybe that's changed in the last months. I hope so. Saturday, April 19, 3: Canada isn't supported in the developer preview, but I don't think we've announced anything else about availability. I wouldn't make the assumption that it's never coming to Canada. Hack to get around it, if you want to try out Cortana: Saturday, April 19, 5: The new changes sound pretty nice but after waiting a year I recently sold my The phone was beautiful.

WP8 itself wasn't bad, though 8. My gripe was the app store. The ecosystem isn't quite there yet at least it wasn't too weeks ago and Microsoft really needs to continue to work to get app developers more invested in the platform. They also badly need to better curate the app store and promote applications. I always found it a disheartening experience to open the app store only to see junk apps climbing to the top. I'll be keeping an eye out - a few more killer apps and maybe I'll be back at some point. Saturday, April 19, 6: Phones are phablets now, and that's the direction they'll continue to evolve in.

Even Apple is realising this. Probably time to stop justifying why to stay on the slowly eroding IOS and hop into the future. Apple is so old school and uncool now it's not funny. Those cutting edge days are long gone. I'm on a Lumia , yes its massive, but combined with WP8. Absolutely loving it, and a real experience to use every single day. PS some of you folks here are talking about WP7 and basing opinions off it. WP7 may as well as have been a different OS. Give things a go again folks.

Few features that are not highlighted in your post: And even without Cortana french here, no Cortana available yet , the update makes my 18 months is looking like a new phone not really sure I will change in near future. Saturday, April 19, 7: The feelings are mutual. I'll be making a list of the Apps I like on iPhone in a few months when my contract is over. Sahil Malik. Windows Phone is nice; my dad and mom have been using it; especially the Hub concept People and Pictures ; they can stay connected; Metro UI is natural to them. I am noticing few changes there; but I hope this is developer preview only thing and final Windows Phone 8.

Saturday, April 19, 8: If you want to use the Project My Screen app, you might need to uninstall your windows phone drivers first: Saturday, April 19, 9: Is it me or the SMS Icons is frowning because you have no texts? If it is so, that's a very cool touch: Robert Iagar. I just wish that "Project your screen" app had Keyboard input. Would be totally kick-ass! Is there a way to link live tiles to permalink? So that when user clicks on it, it takes user to that article instead of the homepage?

What about transparent tiles for pinned site? Also, I hope they fix all IE11 issues with rendering and animation. I had an i Phone first and then a WP 8 for a very short stint. There are simply no good apps available. It destroys all competitors in just about every aspect. Sunday, April 20, 8: One of my favourite things is reading mode in IE. It worked great on all sites that I tried it with until I tried this site. All it shows is the disclaimer. Have you had a look?

Sunday, April 20, 4: Windows Phone 8 is my crackberry. It is my "work phone".