I must admit, I’ve been very ignorant of one area lately, and that is Windows phones. And before you all boo and hiss me down, it’s actually hard to ignore the steady stream of news announcements about hardware and apps have that come coming through.
So I thought I’d take a quick look of some of the Windows Phone 8 apps that are new and notable inclusions on the Windows Phone ecosystem, and talk a bit about the latest hardware, and see whether all this adds up to a compelling offer to move to a Windows Smartphone.
For a while now, Facebook has been present in its own right on Windows phones, though it was one of the glaring omissions during the Windows Phone 8 launch. Coming from Android, Facebook’s Windows Phone 8 App is pretty much like using a direct clone of the current Android version, so it doesn’t really add much to the experience, but you can set pics from Facebook to appear randomly on your lock screen.
Facebook’s multi hundred dollar acquisition was the big news for Windows Phone this week, this the release of Instagram’s beta Windows Phone 8 app, loaded right here. You can take photos from within the app, and you can select pre-existing ones and add filters before uploading, but there are heaps of features not yet functional, like video recording and uploading as well as photo and location tagging. This will be a welcome addition to the Windows store, as Nokia’s cameras are regarded as some of the best in the smartphone market, and therefore well suited to Instagram users.
Speaking of Nokia cameras, another Windows Phone 8 app that was just released was a brand new one called Nokia Refocus, available free on any Nokia windows 8 phone with a Pureview lens, which happens to include this Lumia 920. Now this app is quite interesting, as it tries to emulate with software what the Lytro camera does with hardware, which is take a shot, and allow you to select the areas to blur out in a kind of depth of field type style. The effect looks pretty good but works best when you have really close objects and really far objects. The ability to have all of it in focus is actually my favourite setting. It can also selectively colour certain areas of your composition to highlight it.
The other Nokia-focused Windows Phone 8 app that has just had a refresh is its free music service, previously called Nokia Music, now called Nokia MixRadio. It’s very similar to Pandora in that you can’t choose the music tracks, your playlist is curated based on artists you like, and it’s supported by regular advertising intermissions. It learns your musical taste by the artists that you nominate and your thumbs up and down of tracks as you listen.
Then there is Vine, the Twitter of video sharing, and it’s another significant Windows Phone 8 app addition. I’ve done a few Vines myself to try it out and love the short, snackable video moments you can capture and find. It’s another important app that was noticeably absent amongst others for Windows phone, and it’s a case of better late than never.
Google have also updated its search app, with the ability to finally search with voice, something I am getting very accustomed to on Android. The weirdest part is speaking and not being spoken back to – there is no voice reply yet, just screen delivered info. Hopefully this too will change.
Speaking of Google, their socially powered GPS service, Waze, has also just been released onto Windows Phone as well, so you can use the power of your local road using community to keep updated on road conditions, radars, accidents and traffic and the rest. The interface of their Windows 8 Phone app looks clean, although I couldn’t work out how to get it working in landscape mode, maybe that’s just not an option.
One last thing is the hardware. I haven’t had a play with the latest Nokia 1520, but on paper it looks like a great smartphone, but as we all know so well, a smartphone will only be as good as its ecosystem. What is not debatable is the quality of these phones, particularly on the imaging front. Up till now I’ve felt it’s been such a shame to have such great camera hardware only to be let down by major apps not being available on Windows Phone. That seems to be changing and Windows looks like it has some wind in its sails right now.
I feel like it’s crept up on me, but Windows phone now seems to be a quite interesting proposition. The important Windows Phone 8 apps are appearing, and the strong camera hardware is now supported by a stronger suite of exclusive and socially omnipresent apps. There’s a few more I’m waiting for, dropbox and youtube amongst them, but Windows Phone seems to finally be making headways where it counts – in the store.
What are your thoughts – are Windows phones even on the radar for you at all, or are you firmly entrenched in the Android or iOS camp. What else would it take to get you to bat an eyelid at a new Windows phone, by Nokia or otherwise?