Windows Phone 8 launch: Phones, release dates, and features

October 30, 2012
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Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 yesterday at an event in San Francisco. The tech giant is hoping its third time lucky in the smartphone market as it prepares to try and wrestle some market share from Android and iOS. There’s a decent line up of smartphones and a host of new features on offer. Let’s take a closer look at Windows Phone 8, size up the hardware and software, and check out the pricing and release dates.

Windows Phone 8 Smartphones

A range of devices from some of the smartphone industry’s top manufacturers makes for a promising Windows Phone 8 launch. The rumor about Microsoft manufacturing its own WP8 smartphone seems to have been unfounded, but there are flagship releases from Samsung, HTC, and Nokia.

Samsung ATIV S

A 4.8-inch AMOLED display with a 1280×720 resolution, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8MP camera, and support for NFC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, make the ATIV S pretty attractive. It comes in 16GB or 32GB varieties, but there is a microSD card slot as well. It also has a hefty 2,300mAh battery and a 1.9MP front-facing camera. There’s no LTE support, just HSPA+. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Galaxy S3 but it’s not far away.

It launches in November in the UK and Europe. O2 and Phones4U will be offering it for no upfront cost at £36 per month for two years. In the U.S. Verizon are releasing an exclusive variant called the Samsung ATIV Odyssey in December (no word on what the difference is or what the pricing will be yet).

HTC 8X

A 4.3-inch S-LCD2 display with a 1280×720 resolution, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8MP camera, and support for NFC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, makes the HTC 8X pretty similar to the ATIV S. There are differences, beyond the smaller screen, including just 16GB storage with no card slot and support for Beats audio. The front-facing camera is 2.1MP. There will be support for LTE.

It launches November 2 in the UK and you can get it for between £30 and £36 per month on a two year contract at Everything Everywhere, O2, Phones4U, Carphone Warehouse, Vodafone and Three. It’s going to be $200 on Verizon on a two year contract, available “by Thanksgiving” and you’ll find it starting at $150 on T-Mobile in November. It will also be on AT&T in November.

HTC announced two Windows Phone 8 releases so expect the cheaper, HTC 8S, to be available alongside the 8X. The HTC 8S will be nearer the £20 per month mark.

Nokia Lumia 920

A 4.5-inch PureMotion HD+ display with a 1280 x 768 resolution, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8.7MP camera, and support for NFC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, means the Lumia 920 is a little ahead of the competition. Throw in a1.3Mp front-facing camera, LTE support, wireless charging, and 32GB of storage (no card slot).

It will also hit the UK on November 2 but it does cost a bit more at £20 upfront and £46 per month on Phones4U or £50 upfront and £36 per month on Everything Everywhere. In the U.S. it will hit AT&T in November but there’s no word on pricing. It should be available at Rogers in Canada now.

The lesser Nokia 820 is closer to the £30 per month mark with no upfront cost. In the U.S. the exclusive variant the Nokia Lumia 822 will be $100 on a two-year contract, the 820 will be on AT&T, and the 810 will be $100 on T-Mobile.

Windows Phone 8 Features

We’ve already seen some of the main Windows Phone 8 features and there’s no doubt that it offers a major improvement over Windows Phone 7 or 7.5. In this section we’ll focus on the newer stuff that Microsoft revealed yesterday.

Live Tiles

There has been a big effort to make the home screen and lock screen on Windows Phone 8 majorly customizable. You can select whatever you want and resize it to suit you. The most obvious difference is the focus on Live Tiles which are really just live icons or widgets. They can be constantly updating and they give you a live window on Facebook contacts or email or your favorite apps or whatever. The level of personalization is impressive.

Kid’s Corner

This handy feature allows you to create a home screen for your kids so they have limited access to your phone. It disables the Home button and limits them to whatever apps and Live Tiles you have chosen which they can play around with to their heart’s content without risk of them randomly phoning the police or deleing your emails. You can get Android apps to do this, but it’s a nice built-in feature.

People Hub Rooms

That focus on people is a definite strong suit for WP8 and the platform now offers “Rooms” which are like private groups where you can share content (photos, calendars, locations and notes) and live chat with a select group of family or friends. This is a smart idea.

Data Sense App

Microsoft is definitely following Google’s lead with this. It’s basically an app that lets you track your data usage, set limits and alerts, and review what apps are eating up your allowance.

Other highlights

You get 7GB of SkyDrive space for free with every WP8 device. The camera “Lenses” add typical photo editing tools and filters into your standard camera app. You’ve got NFC for mobile payments (with Microsoft’s Wallet app) and sharing content – you can even share web pages with Android phones using the NFC, but for file sharing both devices have to be running WP8.

Microsoft also boasted about having 120,000 apps and a couple of exclusive offers like a year of ad-free Pandora in 2013 and a new Skype app that makes Skype calls as easy as using your regular phone functions.

What does it have that Android doesn’t?

It has some features as part of the OS that you’d need to get an app for on Android, but it’s tough to see anything really exclusive or revolutionary here. It’s obviously a step in the right direction for Microsoft, but with far fewer apps and no real killer features it’s still playing catch up. What do you think? Post a comment.

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