Windows Phone 8 review: Str8 up
An expanding Store
The Windows Phone Marketplace, called Store now, is still trailing behind the Apple Appstore and Google Playstore. The number of apps available is higher than 125 000, but it's far less impressive than what Android and iOS have at their disposal. Apps written specifically for Windows Phone 8 won't work on the older versions but all of the older apps will be compatible with WP8.
The Store is divided in three main sections - applications, games and music. A fourth section called Updates shows up when one of your installed apps has received an update - there's an Update all button, which will save you the hassle of updating each app individually.
Anyway, each app will be listed with a short description, a rating and user reviews, and a few screenshots. If the app requires access to something that can potentially breach your privacy (e.g. location information) the Marketplace will let you know.
It's not as comprehensive as the Android Market (which lists just about everything the app can use) but on the upside it only warns you about the important things.
Big downloads (anything north of 40MB) need a Wi-Fi connection to work. Alternatively, you can download those jumbo apps using the desktop Zune software.
The Application section starts with a featured app, then it's on to the categories (including all and free), followed by the top apps, a list of new ones and a longer list of featured apps.
The Music section is actually the Xbox (previously known as Zune) Marketplace. Its structure is similar to the Application section. First, a featured artist of the week, three more featured artists, then a list of new releases, top albums and genres.
Genres themselves are separated into sections too - new releases and top artists/albums/songs/playlists. For each song, you get a 30 second preview (same as iTunes). If you have a Zune pass, you can stream the entire song (or download it DRM-protected), just like you would on a Zune player (it's 10 US dollars a month).
The Games section is divided into Xbox Live, New, Featured and Genres, which is the categories version. A great thing about games in the Windows Phone Store is the trial option, which is available to many games and apps. You can try before you buy.
The Store on Windows Phone can be accessed on your WP device, the Zune software on your PC and the windowsphone.com website.
Search is available for the Store but right now it pulls together search results from all sections - games and apps alike. Microsoft have fixed the issue of songs getting mixed up in the search too, which was annoying.
Xbox LIVE tile
Xbox Live is at the heart of the Games hub. It carries over many features from the Xbox - from your avatar to your scores and achievements. The Spotlight feature is available too (it shows info on new stuff) and also Requests - which shows game invites from your friends.
Anyway, the games themselves are housed in the Collection section. Nothing much to see here, the installed games are arranged in a square grid and there's a Get more games shortcut, which launches the Marketplace.
Not all games support Xbox Live - the ones that do are in the corresponding section in the Store.
Also from here you can see your friends and their profiles, achievements and avatars. There are a few shortcuts to other Xbox Live-related apps - such as remote Xbox control or the avatar changing app. If you don't have them installed, you'll be redirected to the Store, otherwise you'll get directly to the app in question.
Bing maps out, Nokia maps in
The mapping solution in Windows Phone is called just Maps. Microsoft claimed that the service is now powered by Nokia Maps and its Navteq Map data, but the interface and the general user experience looks the same.
Unfortunately there is no voice-guided navigation like Nokia Drive. The only available option is directions.
Real-time traffic information is available, though and so is caching for offline usage. This means that you can preload map data and use it on the go without a working data connection.
Another cool new feature of the new version of Maps is that it allows for developers to control it through their app, which enables apps with Maps integration to be created.
The Local Scout, despite now being also available separate app, is still available within the Maps app. It will locate nearby points of interest and will even show you indoor maps of some buildings.
Local Scout has a tabbed interface to sort the various points of interest - eat+drink, see+do, shop and highlights. You can pick items from a "I care about" list to get the relevant options only.
A cool feature of Local scout is that you can pin places to your homescreen - venues you want to keep an eye on, read reviews about or make a reservation. They're right there on your homescreen - that's neat.
The Local Scout app does exactly the same as the Local Scout feature in Maps.