Windows Phone 8 may be the underdog among mobile operating systems, but don't let its secondary status fool you. You won't find a cleaner, more elegantly minimalist interface than what Windows phones have on offer. Smooth transitions, crisp animations, striking colors and easy-to-read lettering all help to define an OS that is aesthetically beautiful and joyfully easy. But there's more than just good looks packed into Microsoft's mobile devices, including a few features you won't find on Android or iOS.
The iconic Windows phone home screen is defined by Live Tiles: a series of movable, resizable rectangular icons with dynamic text and imagery. These icons don't just give you quick access to your favorite apps; they continually update with fresh, at-a-glance information, whether it's a new email in your inbox, a recent text from a friend, the latest photo to grace your Instagram feed, or a top news story from CNN.
The Live Tiles concept is a simple idea, expertly executed. Both the iOS and Android home screens are populated by a grid of icons for all the apps you've installed on your phone. Android supplements this grid with widgets, which offer dynamic information and can be rearranged on the screen, but are limited to specific apps. Live Tiles combine the easy visibility of icons with the dynamic information of widgets, and they work for just about any app you can download from the Windows Store.
The home screen called the Start Screen in Windows Phone 8 is only populated with the Live Tiles you choose to show. You can always access all your installed apps from the alphabetical application list, which is a searchable, scrollable view of every app and game you have installed on your phone. The Start Screen, however, is dedicated to only those apps you want to see, for a completely personalized experience.
Whether you're a cubicle dweller, a college student or a stay-at-home parent, you probably use at least one Microsoft Office product in your day-to-day life. Microsoft Word is the de-facto standard when you need to type up anything from letters and recipes to business proposals and research papers. Outlook is one of the most secure and relied-upon enterprise email and scheduling programs in the world. Excel isn't just for accountants; its powerful spreadsheet capabilities make budgeting a breeze and graphing complex information a delight. And who among us hasn't created their fair share of PowerPoint presentations?
Every Windows phone comes with Microsoft Office pre-installed, giving you access to a world-class text editor and an email program that will integrate perfectly with your office's secure servers. It's easy to touch up a big presentation on your phone before standing up in front of your classmates, or to perform a few quick Excel calculations in the middle of a department meeting.
Xbox Live Integration
Every platform has its share of exclusive applications, and Windows Phone 8 can certainly boast some fun ones. Alongside productivity apps like the Microsoft Office suite, Windows phones offer complete Xbox Live integration. If you own an Xbox, you can take advantage of Xbox features right on your phone, such as your Gamertag, your customized Avatar, and those obsessive-compulsive achievements Microsoft famously popularized.
Achievements in Xbox games let you track your progress and give you extra goals to strive toward. Each achievement gives you points, which are added to your GamerScore an overall measurement of the time and effort you've put into Xbox gaming. By unifying achievements and your GamerScore across platforms, Windows phones let you play mobile games and improve your overall standing within the Xbox Live ecosystem. And, since you'll have access to exclusive Windows phone titles like the superb "Halo: Spartan Assault," you'll have a blast playing.
Windows Phone 8 isn't some third-tier operating system installed on budget handsets; it's a speedy, efficient interface with fun extras and a superb home screen. Gamers, businessmen and budget-hunters unite there's more here than you might expect.