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Mini Review: HTC Windows Phone 8X

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Mini Reviews are a new review format from Current Editorials that allows us to take a look at a selection of interesting gadgets and present you with the details you care about most in a bite-sized article.

HTC and Microsoft partnered up this year to launch the premiere Windows Phone 8 handset, the HTC Windows Phone 8X. It’s running the latest Windows Phone 8 software, and features top-notch, stand-out hardware design. Microsoft and HTC are promoting the 8X as the Windows Phone 8 handset, but can it live up to that title? And more importantly, is it worth your hard earned cash?

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Windows Phone Has Over 120,000 Apps, Still Playing Catch Up

Over 120,000 apps are available for Windows Phone, Microsoft announced at a press conference today. It shows steady improvement since June, when Microsoft announced over 100,000 applications were available, but Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store still has a long way to go before it catches up with the Google Play Store’s 675,000 programs or the App Store’s 700,000 apps.

Microsoft didn’t announce how many Windows Phone applications are exclusive to specific Windows Phone devices, a problem Windows Phone users have wrestled with. Zynga, for example, just announced that Words with Friends is coming to Windows Phone—but it will only be available on Lumia devices for the first few months.

Microsoft also failed to address quality issues that have plagued Windows Phone since its launch. Some applications, including many from big name publishers, are poor ports of iOS and Android apps that have lost features or stability in the journey across platforms.

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Nokia Faked The Photos Too

Fresh on the heels of the discovery that Nokia used a DSLR camera to fake the promo video for its newly announced Lumia 920 smartphone, is the discovery by Youssef Sarhan that shows Nokia’s still photos to have been faked as well. According to Sarhan, the sparkling effect around the streetlights in the photo above, known as diffractions, are impossible for the Lumia 920’s camera with a fixed aperture of f/2 to capture and would require a camera with a smaller aperture  such as f/22.

For further damning evidence, one need look no further than the image (below), which was shared by a Hacker News user under the alias exDM69. The photo was captured during the actual photo shoot and reveals the plethora of photographic equipment that was present to enhance the images. If you look all the way to the left side of the photo just above center, you can make out what appears to be the lens of a DSLR camera.

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Nokia holding Windows Phone 8 event on September 5th

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Image Credit: Engadget

Nokia and Microsoft have sent out invitations today to a Windows Phone event that will be held in New York City on September 5th.

Based on the invite, Windows Phone 8 will likely be the focus of the event, and we should be seeing Nokia’s lineup of next generation Lumia handsets. It should come as no surprise that Nokia will be the first company to launch Windows Phone 8 devices, thanks to their strong partnership with Microsoft. Though the two companies struggled to gain much traction in the smartphone market with their flagship Lumia 900 handset, we expect they will make a strong push heading into the lucrative holiday shopping season.

Mark your calendars! CE will be covering the event live on September 5th!

Source: Engadget

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Microsoft announces Windows Phone 8, launching this Fall with redesigned Start screen, dual-core support, and more

Microsoft held their Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco today, and they used the event to premiere the next version of their mobile operating system: Windows Phone 8. Joe Belfiore, head of all things Windows Phone at Microsoft, highlighted 8 new features that Windows Phone 8 will bring for developers and users when it launches in the Fall.

First, and most importantly, Windows Phone 8 now has a “shared core” with Windows 8. For developers, this means that kernel, networking, multimedia, driver support, and more will be shared between Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Belfiore said the shared core will allow for a wider range of form factors, price points, and capabilities for consumers, as well as better apps from third-party developers.

Multi-core support is also on its way to the platform, meaning that hardware manufacturers will finally be able to produce dual-core Windows Phone devices. Though quad-core phones are technically feasible with Windows Phone 8, Belfiore stated that Microsoft is focusing on dual-core for now. Also coming is support for 3 new screen resolutions – WVGA 800×480, WXGA 1280×768, and 720p 1280×720 – and removable microSD storage for Photos, Movies, Music, and Installing apps.

Internet Explorer 10 will be built-in to Windows Phone 8, which will bring SmartScreen anti-phising, 4x faster JavaScript performance, and 2x HTML5 feature support. Microsoft is providing a native game development platform based on DirectX which will be common across Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Belfiore says this should allow developers to easily port games from Windows, iOS, and Android to Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft has taken a huge step into the mobile payment world by announcing native NFC support and a Wallet hub for Windows Phone 8. Microsoft’s Wallet hub will support debit cards, credit cards, loyalty & membership cards, and NFC Tap to Pay. The company is working with Orange France, as well as ISIS backers AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, to support Windows Phone 8 Wallet sometime next year. This support will come by way of a “secure SIM” that the carriers will provide. Orange France will be first to provide this secure SIM sometime in the Fall. In addition, all Marketplace purchases and in-app purchases (another new feature of WP8) will be handled through the Wallet app.

NFC support in Windows Phone 8 will extend beyond mobile payments. Users will be able to send information such as contacts and photos from one phone to another, similar to Android Beam. NFC can also be used for peer-to-peer gaming across Windows Phone 8 devices, or cross-platform between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Nokia Maps will also come standard on Windows Phone 8, which includes NAVTEQ map data, offline support, access for developers, and Turn-by-Turn directions. Microsoft is also targeting the enterprise with Windows Phone 8, which will support encryption, secure boot, LOB app deployment, device management, and Office.

Microsoft did show off a few user-facing features coming with Windows Phone 8, namely a redesigned Start screen. The new Start screen allows users to pack even more information onto the screen by introducing 3 different sizes for Live tiles: large “double-wide”, standard medium, and the new small size. Users can manually resize any Live tile by long pressing and using the new resize arrow that appears on the bottom right corner of the tile.

Unfortunately, thanks to the extensive behind-the-scenes changes, existing Windows Phone devices will not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8. However, Microsoft will be issuing a Windows Phone 7.8 update that will bring the new Start screen, as well as other currently unannounced UI changes, to existing Windows Phone 7.5 devices.

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Nokia Lumia 900 review

The Lumia 900 is without a doubt one of the most important smartphones to launch in 2012. This is the phone with which Nokia marks their grand reentrance into the North American market. Some may even argue that this is the Finnish phone makers first real smartphone. This is the phone that Microsoft hopes will propel their Windows Phone OS to consumer electronics stardom. But while the Lumia 900 has been met with a fair bit of fan fare, can it live up to these extremely high expectations? Will the Lumia 900 restore Nokia’s status as a household name? Will it help kickstart the momentum of Windows Phone, and earn the fledgling OS a top spot in the increasingly competitive smartphone market? And perhaps the most important question: is it any good?

VIDEO REVIEW


HARDWARE

Nokia has always been known to produce beautiful, modern hardware, and they’ve delivered yet again with the Lumia 900. Building on the design first seen in the MeeGo based N9, and later in the Lumia 800, the Lumia 900 is without a doubt one of the most beautiful handsets on the market right now. Constructed from a seamless polycarbonate shell, the Lumia 900’s rounded edges feel great in hand and very ergonomic. The soft-touch shell is a great trade off; it’s lighter and more scratch resistant than aluminum, yet it still feels like a premium material. At 11.5mm thick, the Lumia still feels thin and very solid; this is a phone I have no problem setting down without a case. The Lumia 900 provides the best of both worlds: a well-built, strong phone that looks amazing.

To preserve the minimalistic design of the Lumia 900, Nokia has kept ports to a minimum. On the top you’ll find a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, alongside the microUSB charging port and microSIM tray. The volume rocker, sleep/wake button, and camera shutter button are all located along the right side of the phone, while the left side remains empty and clean. The buttons have a soft click to them, which makes me wonder if they won’t become sticky or lose responsiveness over time.

On the front sits a 4.3” ClearBlack AMOLED display, as well as the standard Windows Phone capacitive buttons. The sliver thin earpiece is almost unnoticeable, hidden at the top of the screen directly above the Nokia logo. A 1MP front-facing camera sits above the screen as well, while on the back you’ll find an 8MP Carl Zeiss shooter and LED flash (more on that later).

As I said before, the Lumia 900 is one of the most beautiful smartphones around. It’s clean, sleek, super smooth, and very nice to hold. If nothing else, the Lumia 900 shows that smartphone’s don’t all have to look the same. Nokia has designed a phone that looks nothing like other smartphones in hopes that it will stand out from the crowd, and it most certainly does.


INTERNALS AND DISPLAY

When it comes to specs, the Lumia 900 may be considered “last-gen”. The phone packs a 1.4GHz single-core Qualcomm processor and 512MB of RAM. Not exactly future-proof, but it’s not a huge problem in practice. Windows Phone runs well on the single-core processor, with no slowdowns or lag to speak of. The OS feels fast and responsive, and games like Angry Birds and Super Monkey Ball run well on the device. While it’s hard not to compare it to other modern devices packing quad-core processors and 1GB+ of RAM, Windows Phone doesn’t need that kind of power, and the Lumia proves that.

16GB of storage is built-in for music, apps, and games, but unfortunately there is no microSD slot for expansion. Nokia and Microsoft suggest Skydrive as an alternative for those who need extra storage, which offers users an additional 7GB for free. Other specs include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and an 1830mAh battery. In addition to 3G HSPA+, the Lumia 900 features 4G LTE connectivity on Rogers here in Canada, and AT&T in the US.

The display on the front is a 4.3” ClearBlack AMOLED display, with a resolution of 800 x 480. In general, the display isn’t too bad. It’s bright, colours are vibrant, and Nokia’s “ClearBlack” provides deep, rich blacks. The low resolution, however, leads to a poor pixel density of just 217ppi. Text is noticeably pixelated, especially in the white-on-black Windows Phone menus. The brightness of the display tricks your eyes into thinking the quality is better than it is, but text stands out as being noticeably low resolution. It’s a real shame, as the Windows Phone UI is gorgeous, and I would love to see it on a Retina caliber display.


CAMERA

I had high expectations for the camera on the Lumia 900, and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Nokia has a strong history of packing fantastic cameras into their phones, and they always emphasize the inclusion of Carl Zeiss optics. On paper, the Lumia 900’s 8-megapixel camera sounds great, seemingly on par with the iPhone. But the photos don’t hold up.

To be clear, the images aren’t awful, they’re just not great. Low-light shots turned out quite grainy, while outdoor shots looked over-saturated and washed out, with a sort of glowing, dream-sequence effect. While photos taken with the iPhone 4S could be mistaken for a point-and-shoot digital camera, Lumia 900 photos look like camera phone photos.

(Click for a closer look)

(Click for a closer look)

The Lumia 900 is also capable of recording 720p HD video at 30fps. Video quality is pretty good, but suffers from some of the same problems as still photos: low-light indoor shots are quite grainy, and colours are over-saturated. In addition, the camera sensor is very sensitive to light, so the video constantly readjusts to changing light.

Most people won’t have a problem with the camera, as the photos are clear and definitely better than some other phones. But 8-megapixels is at the high-end of smartphone cameras, and for that I expected more.


PERFORMANCE

Time to address the elephant in the room: how does the Lumia 900 work as a phone? Modern smartphones do so much these days, it’s easy to forget that this thing actually makes phone calls and sends text messages. And as expected, it works. It makes calls. It sends texts. What more can you say about the phone features of a phone? Call quality was as good as it gets, and I always had good signal on Rogers’ 3G network. While I previously mentioned that the Lumia 900 is a 4G LTE device, I wasn’t able to test Rogers’ LTE network since it’s not in my area yet. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rogers and AT&T’s 4G LTE networks, so I’m sure customers will be pleased with 4G data on their Lumia 900.

The Lumia 900’s 1830mAh battery holds up well. Using mostly Wi-Fi, 3G, and messaging (with Bluetooth turned off), the battery lasted most of the day but hit critical by the evening. As is standard fare with modern smartphones, you can expect to be charging the Lumia nightly. Microsoft has conveniently included a Battery Saver setting with Windows Phone that will turn off location services and other battery-munching features as the battery nears critical.

As I previously mentioned, though the Lumia 900’s specs aren’t up-to-par with most other modern smartphones, Windows Phone is optimized for this level of hardware. The OS runs smooth with no perceivable stutter or lag. Video and game playback is smooth, as is scrolling, swiping, and typing. Performance is no issue for the Lumia 900.


SOFTWARE

I went into this review a fan of Windows Phone. Granted, I had never used Windows Phone as extensively as I did during this review period, but I loved the UI and from what little time I had spent with the OS, it worked well.

Unfortunately, during my extended use of Windows Phone, I ran into some annoyances that have slightly swayed my opinion of the OS. That’s not to say there aren’t any positives to Windows Phone, because there are, and I’d like to start off by discussing what I do like about Windows Phone. Obviously I can’t touch on every aspect of the OS, so instead I’m going to focus on what stood out to me the most.

First is Metro UI, probably one of the most beautiful and modern design styles I’ve ever seen. The bright colours, flat shapes, modern fonts, and “rule of thirds” layout is a combination I find very visually appealing. I like it because it’s simple, and I believe this will appeal to consumers as well. In comparison, I think Android comes off to some people as confusing; small app icons, live wallpapers, widgets, app drawers, multiple home screens… it’s a lot to learn. Windows Phone presents everything to the user in a simple, easy to understand format that looks great.

Of course, software isn’t judged entirely on how it looks, and Windows Phone has some strong suits in the features department. Core smartphone functionality such as calls, texts, and email are all present and work well. I’m actually a big fan of the Windows Phone keyboard, which surprised me because I usually find it difficult to adapt to new touch-screen keyboards. The Windows Phone keyboard was easy to pick up and plenty big enough on the Lumia’s 4.3” screen.

I also really like the People app, how it integrates social networking as well as contact information into one central HUB. As well, as I’ve already stated multiple times, Windows Phone is fast and fluid; no stuttering or lag to speak of. I am, however, somewhat baffled by the fact that Microsoft’s first-party Stocks and Weather apps don’t come preloaded on the phone (they are instead offered as Marketplace downloads) as those features are included out-of-the-box on most other smartphones.

Despite what I enjoy about Windows Phone, there are a bunch of little annoyances that make the experience less than stellar for a power user. For starters, one of my biggest gripes with Windows Phone is that nothing feels accessible. The Start screen only displays 8 apps at a time due to the large size of the tiles, and scrolling up and down the Start screen gets to be quite tedious. Similarly, the app list only shows one app per row, which again leads to a lot of vertical scrolling. It seems like an inefficient way to organize and access apps.

The multitasking tray should fix that, but I found it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Many apps just relaunch instead of resume, defeating the purpose of multitasking. In addition, horizontal scrolling in the app switcher didn’t feel very smooth, and I found it could be hard to stop on the app you want, most times requiring two or three taps before it will actually launch.

I have some major issues with Internet Explorer, issues that make me wonder how Microsoft could have approved and shipped this browser. While I usually complain about scrolling lag and pinch-to-zoom stutter on mobile browser, those two features actually work well in IE on Windows Phone. My major concern is that some core browser functionality is missing, namely back and forward buttons. Who ships a browser without back and forward buttons? Apparently Microsoft does, the company who practically invented the web browser! While the capacitive back button works in the browser as a back button, it doesn’t work as expected, sometimes taking you back out of the browser and into the last app you were using instead of back to the last page you visited. And you’re still left without a forward button, instead relegating you to jump into a menu and dig through a list of recently visited sites. Not cool, Microsoft.

Of course the main problem with Windows Phone right now is lack of third-party app support. There are a few glaring omissions, and Microsoft even had to publish their own Facebook app, while Nokia has done the same for CNN. Still, you won’t find popular iOS and Android apps like Instagram, YouTube, Flipboard, HBO Go, Dropbox, Google Maps, Pandora, TweetDeck, Square, Angry Birds Space, Words with Friends, Draw Something, or Spotify on Windows Phone.

For apps that do have a Windows Phone variant, such as Twitter, they don’t work quite as well as their iOS or Android counterparts. Twitter’s Windows Phone app doesn’t feature the new “Fly” design that has already rolled out to the web, iOS, Android, and feature phones. I think this is a clear indicator that some app developers are having a hard time figuring out how to build their apps for the Metro design language.

Likewise, the selection of games available on the platform is fairly lackluster. Some major titles such as Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, Sonic 4, and Super Monkey Ball are all here and run pretty well. However, newer titles like Angry Birds Space are still missing, not to mention the cornucopia of other popular games that aren’t available at all. While the games that are available run smoothly, they feel almost like emulators rather than native apps.

While Windows Phone looks beautiful, some of that beauty comes at the expense of usability. Missing buttons, options hidden in menus or beneath long presses, and lack of great apps. To do simple, basic tasks such as make a phone call or send a text, even check email, Windows Phone works fine. But it almost feels too simple in spots, which will end up being a nuisance for power users.


WRAP-UP

Making a final judgement on the Lumia 900 is tough. Nokia has done a remarkable job with the hardware design. It’s a gorgeous device that looks unlike any other smartphone available today. On the flip side, Windows Phone looks beautiful and core smartphone functionality works well, but the software has its faults. Apple and Google had a 3 year head start with their respective mobile operating systems, and it feels like Microsoft is still trying to play catch up with Windows Phone. The biggest hurdle they need to overcome is third party app support. If customers don’t see the apps they want, they won’t buy.

So my verdict is this: the Lumia 900 is perfect for someone looking for a simple, beautiful, easy to use smartphone. Perhaps a first-time smartphone buyer, or someone who is confused by their iPhone or Android. But for power users who rely on multitasking and third-party apps, there are better smartphone choices for you. The Lumia 900 may not be the worst smartphone out there, but it’s not the best either.

8 / 10

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Nokia Lumia 900 Review Round-Up

Image Credit: The Verge

The Lumia 900 is meant to be the saving grace of both Nokia and Microsoft. The phone herald’s Nokia’s true return to the North American phone market, while acting as the halo device of Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform. The device has garnered a lot of attention in the weeks since its announcement, but does it live up to the hype?

We hope to publish our own Lumia 900 review very soon, but for now you can check out these reviews from around the web in our Lumia 900 Review Round-Up!

Joshua Topolsky, The Verge
“I think Nokia made a lot of the right decisions, but it’s almost impossible to move beyond some of Windows Phone’s shortcomings this late in the game. Try as I might to envision the Lumia 900 as my daily driver, the math never added up. There’s just too much missing, or too much that feels unfulfilling.”

Walt Mossberg, All Things D
“If you’re looking for a $100, high-end smartphone, or are a Windows Phone fan who has been waiting for better hardware, the Lumia 900 is worth considering. But the phone had just too many drawbacks in my tests to best its chief competitors.”

Joseph Volpe, Engadget
“Much ado about nothing? Not quite, the Lumia 900 has its strengths, coming mainly in the form of optics, but it’s the overall package and performance that’s simply too plain, too ordinary, too dependable to merit the haughty flagship halo it aspires to emanate.”

David Pogue, The New York Times
“This Nokia phone and its Microsoft operating system are truly lovely — more beautiful than the iPhone or Android software, and, for most functions, just as powerful. But is that enough to make you willing to sacrifice important apps like Scrabble, Pandora and Dropbox?”

Jessica Dolcourt, CNET
“It won’t outsell the Samsung Galaxy S II or iPhone 4S (which together gobble up 95 percent of all smartphone profits), and the design isn’t strictly new, but the Lumia 900 is nevertheless a successful handset for the Microsoft-Nokia partnership.”

Adam Lein, PocketNow
“I think it’s going to be difficult to find a reason not to buy one of these if you’re on AT&T and are up for a contract renewal. Nokia has always been known as the best mobile phone manufacturer in the world. The Lumia 900 is here to remind you of that.”

Joanna Stern, ABC News
“For $99.99, the Lumia 900 is a superb value. But even if the phone wasn’t just under $100, it would be considered a great smartphone. It has a striking design, beautiful display, solid camera, fast data speeds, and a very clean and easy-to-use operating system.”

Jordan Crook, TechCrunch
“All in all, I think this phone has great potential. It’s quick, elegant, brings something fresh to the table by way of Windows Phone, and is going for a ridiculously cheap price point.”

Marin Perez, IntoMobile
“The Lumia 900 is probably the best Windows Phone out there right now, as it sports a stylish design, a refreshing user interface, super-fast 4G LTE service and a really nice camera. On the downside, the app selection in the Windows Phone Marketplace is a bit limited and there are legitimate concerns about the update schedule.”

Todd Haselton, TechnoBuffalo
“I’ve said consumers should walk into an AT&T store and get their hands on a Windows Phone device just to see how solid the platform is. That statement is even truer now that the Lumia 900 is available. It’s the perfect marriage of Windows Phone and beautiful, first-class hardware all in a super affordable $99 package.”

Casey Johnston, Ars Technica
“If you don’t need to take cost into account and are a power user looking for the best phone in terms of performance and design, you’re probably going to walk on from the Lumia 900 to greener iOS and Android pastures.”

Devindra Hardawar, Venture Beat
“The Lumia 900 is the best Windows Phone yet, and it’s the first phone I’ve seen to truly unleash the potential of the platform. If you’ve been at all interested in adopting Windows Phone, it’s the only option worth considering at this point.”

Peter Pachal, Mashable
“This is the device that Microsoft needs to show off how good Windows Phone can be. Sure, you don’t get Instagram (yet), but the world of possibility it opens is unlike anything else out there.”

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AT&T to Unleash the HTC Titan II on April 8th at $199

Photo: Engadget

AT&T is preparing to unleash one beast of a Windows Phone. On April 8th, the nation’s second biggest carrier will be releasing the HTC Titan II. Boasting a 16 megapixel camera and a 4.7-inch super LCD display, the phone will arguably be AT&T’s best Windows Phone to date.

The phone was shown off at CES earlier this year and stunned many with the inclusion of the 16 megapixel shooter.

HTC’s Titan II will be available for $199.99 on contract.

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