It's been eight days since Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 and eight days since I started using an HTC 8X, which has the new software installed, as my main cellphone. So far, I'm impressed with Microsoft's new platform.
When I switched to the HTC 8X, which Microsoft distributed to journalists at the Windows Phone 8 launch in San Francisco, it replaced my Samsung Nexus running the Jelly Bean version of Android.
The HTC handset is fast, has a bright, crisp screen and feels comfortable in the hand. But the real star is the new OS. Here are some impressions, thoughts and findings after eight days using Windows Phone 8.
If you haven't seen the Windows Phone 8 home screen, it's well worth checking out. Starting with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft began taking its phone screens in a different direction to those of Apple and Android. Instead of static application icons, Windows Phone uses "tiles" that can be resized and, depending on the app, display information from the underlying service.
For example, the tile for the Associated Press app displays news photos, the tile for ESPN shows the latest scores for your favorite teams, the photo app cycles through pictures from your gallery, and the Facebook app shows an updating mosaic of photos of your friends.
In comparison to Android and Apple home screens, Windows Phone 8 is alive with action. But the tiles bring more than a different aesthetic.
You can create your own tiles that represent people, and therein lies one of the big differences in Windows Phone 8.
Behind these tiles, the operating system collects the information it has about a person. Clicking on a tile brings up contact details pulled from your address book, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Swipe to the right and their social media posts are collated into a single list. Another swipe brings up photos they've posted to social platforms, and a final swipe shows the interactions you've had with them, including Twitter and email exchanges, and phone calls.
Putting people rather than apps at the heart of the phone is a key differentiator for Windows Phone 8, and Microsoft should be commended for trying something different in a market where there is so much sameness.
Something else I liked was the ability to change the entire feel of the phone by changing the theme color. A lot of the buttons on the home screen and highlighted text throughout the phone are tied to the same color, which can be changed by the user.
Compared to iOS and Android, the selection of apps is still a weak point of the operating system, but things aren't as bad as you might fear. A lot of the most popular apps are in the Windows Phone Store, including Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Evernote and Foursquare. But some notable ones are missing, such as Instragram.
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