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Windows Phone 8: Microsoft’s Operating System for Smartphones

grand master

WP8 Start Top.jpgMicrosoft launched the latest version of their Windows Phone 8 operating system last week. Designed for smartphones, the launch of Windows Phone 8 follows on from the launch of Windows 8 operating system for PCs and tablets at the end of October.


The new operating system is being used by manufacturers such as Nokia, HTC and Samsung on their latest smartphone devices. With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft are hoping to take on Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android operating system using features such as live tiles and integration with services such as Windows 8, Microsoft Office and Xbox Live. The latest version also brings new features such as Kid’s Corner, improved sharing capabilities, NFC support and more.


In this article, we take a look at the Windows Phone 8 operating system and the range of devices that use it. We’ll also look at the new features that Microsoft have implemented and ask whether it’s enough to take on the market leaders, Apple and Google.


Windows Phone 8’s Modern UI: Live Tiles & More


The most distinctive thing about Windows Phone 8 is the way that it looks and feels. Unlike the iPhone which opens up into a screen full of application icons, Windows Phone 8 unlocks into a “Start Screen” which is full of “Live Tiles”.


“Live Tiles” are designed to showcase all the information that might be of interest to you in one place. They are provided by the applications on your phone and can automatically update themselves, for example to show status updates from your friends or the latest weather forecast. “Live Tiles” also serve as shortcuts into your applications. The premise is that the “Start Screen” combines together notifications, shortcuts and useful information in a single location.


WP8 Start Screen.jpgiOS Start Screen.jpgAndroid Home Screen.jpg

Home screens, from left to right: Microsoft Windows Phone 8, Apple iOS and Google Android. Windows Phone 8 features dynamically-updating “live tiles” rather than static icons.
These live tiles can show information such as upcoming calendar appointments, the number of missed calls and unread texts, etc. Whilst iPhone users need to open each application individually to find out relevant information, Windows Phone 8 presents it all on the home screen. Android users can use widgets to achieve the same purpose as live tiles.


In Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has made several enhancements to the start screen. Firstly, Windows Phone 8 allows much more customisation of live tiles. Tiles can have three different sizes: small (1x1), medium (2x2) and large (4x2). They can easily be resized by long-pressing on them and you can customise your start screen to prioritise the information that is important to you.


Windows Phone 8 also features the ability to customise the home screen with 20 different colours and features better use of screen space than Windows Phone 7.


WP8 Start Screen Colours.jpg
Several examples of customised start screens in Windows Phone 8.


Windows Phone 8 also features a new customisable lock screen. It is possible to have a dynamic lock screen photograph: for example you could choose to show Bing’s Picture of the Day on your lock screen.


Kids Corner.jpgKid’s Corner


With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has introduced a new feature called “Kid’s Corner”. This allows you to set up a restricted environment on your phone for your kids to use. Instead of giving your kids full access to your phone each time you lend it to them, you can use “Kid’s Corner” to cordon off your personal information such as phone calls, text messages, e-mails and social networks.


“Kid’s Corner” allows you to select the applications that your kids can use, the games that they can play and the songs and videos that they can access. They’ll be given their own “Start Screen” within the device which can be accessed by swiping leftwards on the lock screen (swiping upwards will unlock your phone in the normal way).


If your smartphone is regularly being used by children, check out our guide to internet safety & parental control software.


Rooms.jpgRooms: A Social Network for your Friends & Family


Windows Phone 8 also introduces a new feature called “Rooms”. Designed as a mini-social network, you can set up a “Room” for groups such as your colleagues, your friends or your family members.


Once you’ve set up a room, it becomes possible to easily share content amongst that group such as your calendar, photographs and notes. You can also send instant messages to your Room, a bit like on BlackBerry’s BBM platform.


Whilst “Rooms” works best if everybody is using Windows Phone 8, it’s possible to add iOS and Android users to a “Room” too. Photos are synchronised through Microsoft’s SkyDrive service (just grab the free app for iPhone or Android).


Near Field Communication (NFC)


Wallet.jpgWindows Phone 8 adds support for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This allows you to wirelessly share webpages and contact details by tapping your phone against another NFC-enabled device.


At the Windows Phone 8 launch event, we managed to use NFC to share information between devices running on Windows Phone 8 and Android. This shows that Windows Phone 8 has some limited compatibility with Android Beam. However, Windows Phone 8 is not compatible with Samsung’s S Beam or the advanced features of Android Beam introduced in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.


Microsoft is also introducing the “Windows Phone Wallet” service with Windows Phone 8. This will allow you to pay for things using NFC and your mobile phone. It is unknown whether this will be available to users in the UK.


Other Additions in Windows Phone 8


Amongst the other changes in Windows Phone 8:


  • Use of Windows NT kernel. Windows Phone 8 has been rewritten behind-the-scenes to use the same kernel as Windows 8. Microsoft is hoping that this change will make it easier for Windows developers to port their applications to Windows Phone.

  • Improved Maps. The maps application in Windows Phone 8 now uses data from Nokia’s Navteq subsidiary. This should mean more reliable and more accurate maps. Turn-by-turn GPS navigation is not provided on Windows Phone except to Nokia devices. iOS 6 and Android both include GPS navigation as standard.

  • Improved support for Skype. Windows Phone 8 allows voice-over-IP applications such as Skype to run in the background.

  • Skype.jpg7GB free cloud storage. Microsoft has included 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage service with Windows Phone 8. It is possible to have your photos automatically uploaded to SkyDrive.

  • Camera Lenses. It is possible for applications to integrate themselves into the camera as a “lens”. This allows for Instagram-style filters as well as augmented reality applications.

  • Improved application search. The “Windows Phone Store” contains an improved search engine for apps. The new search engine takes into account feedback from other users including the number of times the application has crashed or been uninstalled.

  • Internet Explorer 10. Windows Phone 8 features the latest version of Internet Explorer. This contains many speed and rendering improvements.

  • Screenshots. It is now possible to take a screenshot in Windows Phone 8. This can be done by holding the power and start buttons simultaneously.

Windows Phone 8 Handsets: Lumia 920, HTC Windows Phone 8X & Samsung ATIV S


Windows Phone 8X Colours.jpgWith Windows Phone 7, the selection of handsets that were available was fairly limited. This is because the operating system imposed many limitations: only single-core processors were supported, displays were limited to WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) and there was no support for Micro-SD cards or NFC technology.


With Windows Phone 8, these restrictions have been lifted and there is a much greater choice of hardware. Windows Phone 8 is launching with three flagship devices: the Nokia Lumia 920, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Samsung ATIV S.


The Lumia 920 is Nokia’s flagship smartphone. It features a PureView Camera with great low-light photography and some clever features such as super-sensitive touch and wireless charging. You’ll also get exclusive applications from Nokia such as the “Nokia Drive” application for turn-by-turn GPS navigation. The Lumia 920 is available in a choice of 5 different colours.


The Windows Phone 8X is HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 device. Like the Lumia 920, it’s also available in a range of bright colours. Unique features of the Windows Phone 8X include a wide-angle front-facing camera and Beats Audio support.


The Samsung ATIV S can be thought of as a Galaxy S III running Windows Phone 8. Aside from the design similarities, it has the same 4.8-inch organic LED display as the Galaxy S III (both the Nokia and HTC devices use LCD displays) and features MicroSD card expansion. It also has the largest battery of all three devices.


The 3 handsets compare as follows:



Nokia Lumia 920

Lumia 920.jpg 

HTC Windows Phone 8X

 HTC Windows Phone 8X.jpg

Samsung ATIV S

 Samsung ATIV S.jpg


1.5GHz dual-core

1.5GHz dual-core

1.5GHz dual-core


4.5-inch LCD display

4.3-inch LCD display

4.8-inch Organic LED display

Screen Resolution

1280x768 (332ppi)

1280x720 (342ppi)

1280x720 (306ppi)

Operating System

Microsoft Windows Phone 8

Microsoft Windows Phone 8

Microsoft Windows Phone 8


32GB internal memory

16GB internal memory

16GB/32GB internal memory

MicroSD Slot



Up to 32GB


8.7 megapixel with LED flash, optical image stabilisation

8 megapixel with LED flash

8 megapixel with LED flash

Video recording

1080p, 30 frames per second

1080p, 30 frames per second

1080p, 30 frames per second


2,000mAh (10 hours talk time)



GPS Navigation App








Wireless Charging





Black, Grey, Red, Yellow & White

Blue, Black, Red & Yellow






Approx. price




SIM card size

Micro SIM

Micro SIM

Micro SIM


All three devices are compatible with giffgaff and some great savings can be had by buying these devices upfront and using one of our giffgaff goodybags.


Upgrading from Windows Phone 7


Microsoft has stated that Windows Phone 7 handsets will not receive an upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Instead, they will be releasing a Windows Phone 7.8 update which will contain some of the new features such as Rooms and the new start screen.


Your Thoughts…


In this article, we’ve looked at the new Windows Phone 8 operating system. Compared to the iOS and Android operating systems, Windows Phone 8 stands out for its distinctive look and feel and for its integration with Windows, Office and Xbox. Windows Phone 8 will launch on a range of devices from Nokia, HTC and Samsung.


What do you think of Microsoft’s latest operating system for smartphones? Are you a fan of Microsoft’s tile-based user interface? Out of Nokia, HTC and Samsung’s offerings, which device stands out for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts: please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!


Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

giffgaff head-scratcher

just such a shame that Nokia have screwed up in releasing the Lumia 920 in the UK.


I have cash burning a hole in my pocket yet due to their wonderful 'Exclusivity deal' with EE and Phones4U availability of sim-free 920's capable of taking a giffgaff sim is non existant, and likely to be so well past xmas.


Any good will Microsoft may have built up with the great launch publicity from September is slowly being eroded by this situation and will either drive people to the lesser specced devices or right into the hands of Google with the bargain price Nexus 4



looks good, I might get when I have a chance Smiley Very Happy

hmmm as a student and too bothered about the latest smartphone, im looking at getting the 4s at some point next year Smiley Indifferent


but yeah its a shame about the lumia 920, looked rather appealing Smiley Sad


@darrenpainter What's stopping you buying a SIM free one from here?


GSMArena says the frequency bands should work in the UK...

giffgaff head-scratcher



@darrenpainter What's stopping you buying a SIM free one from here?




Never heard of that site, can you vouch for it ? Will it have a full UK warranty etc

I would rather it come from a more conventional route such as a bricks and mortar store, or at least a place I have heard of or have experience of.


Many of the UK based tech sites seem to be indicating delays on their 920 stocks and it looks like they are being passed over to fulfil this EE deal. Which is pointless considering the pitiful 4G coverage and exhorbitant tariffs (and before you ask why I want a 4G phone, it was mainly future proofing as it would have DC-HSPA support now and then 4G when the 800 and 2600MHZ bands open up)


@darrenpainter I can't vouch for YesAsia myself but you can get a pre-order new from eBay shipped from India


That'll come with a 1 year manufacturer warranty wherever you are in the world plus eBay has policies if the item is defective upon receipt (and if it's OK on receipt and sealed which it should be then it's Nokia's problem if it goes wrong.)

giffgaff head-scratcher

No, I can't be bothered to support a company that seems so blase when it comes to releasing the product to its supporters in the UK market after the fanfare it made and the support it garnered over the last few months. By tying up with EE and trying to piggy back off their launch publicity they have shown their true colours in not understanding the local market.


In addition the mis-advertising of Phones4U stock as sim-free in store when both phones4U and Nokia are indicating the devices will still be locked to EE/t-mobile/orange leaves a further bad taste.


The device isn't sufficiently must have to push me towards grey market supplied devices


So it will either be an HTC device (although sadly no future 4G capability or built in turn by turn navigation makes that less likely)

, or as previously stated a sim free Nexus 4 for now and see what the next crop of Nokia Windows phone 8 devices look like in a year or so, preferably slimmer and available on more suitable terms



I would take one right this second if offered one. Sadly I do not have the cash!


Customer service here is like banging one's head against a brick wall.


Great phoes. I think the Beats in the HTC will be a big selling point Smiley Happy