So Microsoft were kind enough to invite us to the Windows Phone 8 launch in yesterday (albeit a trip we had to pay for completely), and it took place at the Shangri-la Hotel, Sydney. The Australian Windows Phone 8 launch too place at an early 8:30am (though it started at just after 9am because everyone was busy getting breakfast which was provided by Microsoft). While the breakfast was certainly appreciated, it wasn’t enough and I’ll get to why at the end of the article. For now, let’s get into the actual events of the Windows Phone 8 launch. Presentations were presented by a few people from Microsoft, including Ben Miller who is the head of the Windows Phone division in Australia as far as I understand, and a few people from Nokia, HTC, & Samsung. The presentation did overlap throughout our breakfast, so we’re not sure if Microsoft were intending to do something different (which is feeling I get), or they were trying to make it slightly less informal despite it being a briefing much like the one in the USA.
They went into some detail of the new features of the Windows Phone 8 OS which we either didn’t know much about, or didn’t know anything about it at all. It’s worth pointing out that none of the features that were explain at the wp8au event was new to us, and had either been leaked or shown off before.
- Kid’s Corner – A section of the phone which we feel many parents will like and eventually learn to love. Parents these days often end up giving their children their phone so they can be entertained, and the issue with this is that kids can get rather creative (and naughty) and start going onto different programs and apps. You don’t want your kid to delete/touch your emails or social networks and Kid’s corner enables a child area just for them and it’s customized by the parent for their kids (so total control). The Kid’s Corner takes a swipe to left from the lock screen (instead of a swipe up to get to your live screen). It’s a much needed feature for parents and even Jessica Alba uses it regularly (Microsoft gave her a Lumia 920).
- Rooms – Rooms is like a private chat room. It’s baked right into the people hub and it acts as a group, but a private group where you can add other members to your ‘group’ and directly share Pictures, Lists (whether it be shopping lists, packing lists, what not), and even plans with the people you want to. The easiest way to explain it is that it’s like an expanded version of a Group Chat on Skype or MSN. Expanded with many more features of course, and only those people you choose to include in the group will be able to see the information you share with the group. Useful.
- Wallet – The Wallet feature was also shown off, and it’s meant to compete with Apple’s Passbook directly but on different levels as well. It’s obviously NFC enabled as all Windows Phone 8 devices will have the option for NFC as it’s built right into the OS. Apart from keeping things like your Credit Card details, you can also use it to keep private information such as Frequent Flyer numbers, Driver License details and so much more. This is especially useful since all details will be encrypted and kept safe right on the phone. Microsoft are easily hoping Business users will find this feature useful, on top of the other WP8 feature’s they’ve already announced for Business users.
Essentially those were the big new features they went into depth. The other side was just about showing off the screen and how easy it is to customize it for each person and how it can be a unique experience for each person, sort of like an extension of themselves. From what we saw of Windows Phone 8 (and tried), our first experiences and impression were along the following lines:
- Live Screen feels much more vibrant, fun, and inviting. The ability to resize each tile in 3 different sizes helps users to customize each different aspect of the actual home screen and it will give users a lot of options on how they want to set it up. We found that tiles flipped much quicker than on Windows Phone 7, and everything just seemed to buzz along nicely, just enough to let you know changes are occurring, but not enough to be in your face. My expectations were high and the OS lived up to this part of the expectations at least.
- The OS itself is very snappy and quick, and we never encountered any lag on the main OS apps. Dual core processors and the upgraded Windows Phone 8 functionality worked very well together. We half wish Microsoft had made dual core processors available at the start of WP7′s life, but oh well. At the very least everything shown off on the demo’s on screen was quick, fluid, and zippy. Microsoft obviously has put in a lot of work into making sure no one can complain about the Operating System’s speed, but we knew this wasn’t exactly an issue in WP7 either. The only thing now is that Microsoft really need’s to push developers to get their apps in tip top shape much like Microsoft made apps, because the last thing we need is a great OS with low end 3rd party apps.
- Apps was also discussed and a Microsoft Spokesperson said that the Apps’ Store currently has 125,000 apps in the marketplace, and 46/50 of the top apps ready to go. When asked about apps like ‘Instagram’ we were told it has a good 70% chance of making it to the Windows Phone 8 marketplace by years end (which is good news!). The bad news is that they didn’t have new big name apps to announce.
Even better was the fact that each OEM has their newest WP8 devices to test our and take pictures of at the event. We’ll break it down by each Manufacturer.
Let’s face it – The Lumia 920 is easily one of the most anticipated phones of 2012 and for good reason too. We’re not going to give you the specs (click on the link at the start of sentence) mostly since everyone is aware, but this was the first time we got a hands on with the actual device. First impressions? It’s big, but boy does it looks amazing. I had my Lumia 900 on hand, and when put side to side with the 920, it didn’t look comparable at all. The 920 will obviously be the grand daddy of all WP8 devices thanks to it’s immense amount of technology they’ve placed in the phone, and it stood the test of everything we did. The camera was quick, and the pictures looked good – very good. While we weren’t able to take any low light photos (it would have been nice if they set up a section to be able to take low light photos), we saw some previously taken shots on a device one of the Nokia team member was using. They looked decent, though not fantastic considering they were uploaded onto skydrive and it was hard to tell just how low the light would have been. As far as real life performance goes in day light shots, they looked superb. Sadly & strangely, Nokia did not allow us to remove any pictures from the phone to compare (HTC and Samsung has no issues if we wanted to do that). At the end of the day, it seemed like Nokia weren’t really trying to sell the phone, but rather they were letting the phone (and it’s legend) sell itself. That’s not a bad idea, though we wished for more. It was an amazing device and while heavier, but thinner than the 900, it’s clear to see that it’s going to be an exceptional device.
The Nokia 820 was on hand as well, along with every accessory. Both phones charged instantly when placed upon a wireless charging pad. The 820 was light and thin, and while the screen was on par with the 920, the added benefit of Windows Phone 8 made it seem like a better device, from a personal point of view. Unfortunately we didn’t get enough hands on time with the 820, but the ability to change the back covers was a nice touch. Both phones are 4G capable. The Lumia 920 is a Telstra Exclusive and will cost $829 on RRP, or cost $60 + $5 on contract. The Lumia 820 will cost $629 on RRP, but plans from Vodafone and Optus haven’t been announced.
HTC has both the HTC 8X & 8S on hand, and it was great to get our first hands on with these devices as well! The 8X we might say was the nicest feeling phone out of any device out there (yes even over the 920). Due to it’s design and shape, it fit more perfectly in your hand than most devices. It uses the same high quality polycarbonate build at the 920, however, it comes with a different finish that really feels nice in your hands. People looking for a phone which is smaller and thinner than the 920 should look no further than the HTC 8X. HTC told us that they drilled 245 mni holes into the 8X so that they could make a complete body without showing off the screws. The screen was very vivid as well, it was brighter than that of the 920 (though not as bright as the ATIV-S) and is a superb Super LCD 2 display. HTC obviously had no accessories apart from Beats headphones (which we feel is a gimmick either way) but one thing the 8X was very good at was blasting music loudly. HTC said they put in a special chip in the device so that music could be played louder than normal and it worked, it was loud but not necessarily the best of quality at the max level. And no they didn’t have the Tennis Ball Yellow model on hand, which was sad. It’s also very light and feels thinner than it actually is thanks to it’s design.
The 8S was on hand, and looked great as a lower end device with it’s great color choices. It didn’t quite feel as nice as the 8X, but it still felt sturdy and light enough to be used as a main device by some people. The 8X will be going to Telstra & Vodafone and is 4G enabled, while the 8S is going to Optus and Telstra and won’t have 4G onboard. Neither pricing nor release dates were announced for this device which we found odd.
Samsung were on hand as well, and they only had the ATIV-S device on hand (incidently the only Windows Phone 8 device they’ve announced). The pro’s here was that they it had the largest screen out of any wp8 device, and it was also the thinnest by a big margin. It’s also the only high end device that features a microSD card slot (the 8S and Lumia 820 aren’t high end devices) and it fits up to 64GB on top of that 16/32GB it comes with which is handy for those who want a device with lot’s of storage. Samsung also said they were putting on Navigon, a free turn-by-turn maps to compete with Nokia Drive. They also said over 1 million people in Australia had activated Navigon and they planned to keep improving the maps and directioning. Samsung also believe the fact that they are the only Manufacturer to have a Windows 8 Tablet, PC and Windows Phone 8 device should help them get a strong foothold in the market, and push ahead of the other manufacturers in the wp8 market as well. Sadly, the ATIV-S (pronounced Ay Tiv, S) didn’t have 4G on board, just HSDPA+ with speeds up to 42mb/s which is decent, but we did find it surprising they weren’t planning on 4G for this model.
It will be an Optus exclusive since Samsung and Optus have a close working relationship and while pricing wasn’t announced either they said the device should be out early December (we’re guessing the 1st of December).
Other points from the event:
- Windows Phone 7.8 features are expected to be announced in the coming week globally.
- Microsoft is hoping that their Windows 8 & Xbox strategies feed into the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem. They hope Windows 8 helps push Windows Phone 8 in a big way since users can familiarize themselves with the OS and looks.
- Microsoft is in talks with OEM’s to see what kind of incentives they can give future potential buyers, but nothing has been revealed on this point.
- Windows 8′s $1.5 budget in the USA also includes Windows Phone 8, and a small portion of that will go to Australia for marketing needs.
Overall thoughts were that the Windows Phone 8 launch felt almost like an after thought in Australia. Yes, we had a decent breakfast at a great hotel but when you consider what Journalists in the USA got, Australian media folks like ourselves can almost feel sore. While we were happy to pay for for our flights to Sydney and accommodation . and travel from Melbourne, Journo’s in the USA got Steve Ballmer, Joe Belifiore and even Jessica Alba and that shows that a lot of emphasis and funding was put into the American event. However, that’s not important to us. The thing that really has us in a bind is that most (if not all) Journo’s who attended the American WP8 launch either got an HTC 8X to review, and a select few even got a Lumia 920 to review (30 day loan unit but still). Added to that, BUILD attendees got a Microsoft Surface AND a Lumia 920 to take back. If Microsoft even wanted to make a good impression with the people of Australia, the place to start is with the Media, Journalist, and Bloggers of the country and from my discussion with other Journo’s who attended – They all agree that Microsoft didn’t even come close to appealing the Australian media, which is a shame because we really would like Microsoft to do well in the Phone Industry.
EDIT: Some people are taking this as an indicative that I wanted a free phone. That is not correct, I am simply asking why Microsoft won’t give Australian media/reviewers/journos loan units to review at the same time as American sites get them. This was the same case as the Surface, where literally NO Australian news outlet got a Surface RT to review, yet it seems most websites in the USA has a review unit up. It’s about asking Microsoft why they aren’t putting these devices in the hands of the Aus Media to review. That is it. Either way isn’t going to affect the review unit’s score, whether we get it now or later to review.
The fact of the matter is that if they won’t give the Media a real reason to get excited over the phone (aside from specs), then why would they expect the Australian public to get excited over their devices? We can’t really answer that, that’s for Microsoft to think about and we hope they read this because this is not only my opinion, it’s the opinion of most Media reps in Australia (at least from the ones who attended the event). Microsoft, you’ve got a gorgeous platform which we really want to invest in, but you’re causing us to think twice by almost ignoring us in terms of benefits compares to our friends in the States. You’ve got time… use it wisely!