Time To Give Windows Phone 8 A Chance
I'm a loyal PC guy, so I really tried to love Microsoft's early efforts to build a phone-oriented operating system. I bought HTC's Touch (also known as the P3450). And although I was disappointed by the ecosystem, I believed it would get better. I kept the faith and followed up with HTC's Touch Diamond as friends with iPhones were enjoying their far smoother smartphone experience.
When it was time to retire my Windows Mobile phone, I grudgingly gave Apple my money. And to be honest, the Cupertino company deserves a lot of credit. Where Windows Mobile was complicated and convoluted, iOS is simple and effective. And the apps. Wonderful, low-priced (and often free) apps as far as the eye can see.
Apple's tight ecosystem kept me hanging on when Windows Phone 7 arrived. But Microsoft's previous-gen environment didn't escape my eye. The company obviously learned a lot since the Windows Mobile days. And now, with the introduction of Windows Phone 8, there's a complete phone, tablet, console, and PC ecosystem in place to compete with Apple. And that mobile operating system looks pretty good. Live Tiles are a great way to display information from a number of sources. So, it was time to give Windows another chance on my smartphone.
I had to change carriers to get access to Nokia's beautiful Lumia 920, but quickly realized that I cherish slim and light more than I knew. I exchanged the 920 for a svelte HTC Windows 8X. Since making that decision, the biggest holes in the platform's application portfolio have been filled. My Windows Phone 8 experience only gets better, and I'm not looking back.
With this in mind, I'd like to share some of my must-have apps with our readers. Picking favorites always comes down to personal taste, but if you're a Windows Phone user, you might learn about something new and useful to try out.
While the standard Windows Phone 8 Calendar app is serviceable, it's a bare bones affair that offers relatively little information in separate screens, and even less customization. The solution is Chronos Calendar. A $1.99 purchase from the Windows Phone store, Chronos Calendar delivers an excellent split-screen month/day interface and a highly customizable Live Tile.
Of course, one of Windows Phone 8's big issues is syncing with Google accounts and calendars, and unfortunately Chronos Calendar hasn't solved this yet. [Edit: Google Calendar Support has been added in the April 26th Chronos Calendar update.]
Here Transportation Suite (Drive, Maps, And Transit)
The excellent Here app suite was developed by Nokia. But Microsoft wisely purchased the rights to deliver them to all Windows Phone 8 users for free. Maps is a good alternative to Google Maps, and Transit is a surprisingly convenient way to find local bus routes and times. The real gem is Here Drive, though, a turn-by-turn voice navigation application. It not only works great, but allows you to download maps for offline use. Thus, a live connection isn't necessary. This is a superb feature for long trips when you want to avoid costly data roaming charges.
Microsoft's cloud storage service is called SkyDrive, and it's another free download from the Windows Phone store. Not only is SkyDrive a good backup system for photos you snap from the phone, but because every Windows Phone 8 comes with Office baked-in, it's nice to access documents from anywhere, whenever you need them.
Here's one that the iOS folks might envy, now that Apple's draconian policies have wiped AppGratis from the App Store. MyAppFree can be described as a Windows Phone 8 equivalent, spotlighting applications that are offered for free (for a limited time), in addition to apps selling at significant discounts. It's a great way to keep abreast of great software in the Windows Phone store while saving a few bucks.
Windows Phone 8 doesn't come with Live Tile shortcuts for connectivity settings, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Airplane mode, forcing you to dig into the settings to find them. The solution: Shortcut Tiles, an app that adds Live Tile shortcuts for those settings and more. There are actually multiple applications with the name Shortcut Tiles on the Windows Phone store; we prefer the one with the hammer logo because it's totally free (and because the logo reminds us of Tom's Hardware).
If you're coming from iOS, you're used to a combination alarm/timer/stopwatch app. Windows Phone 8 only comes with a simple alarm, so you need an equivalent timer and stopwatch, too. My favorite option is called Quick Timer, a free download with a host of controls for multiple timers and presets.
Aupeo! Radio And Mixtapes
Yes, Pandora is available for Windows Phone 8. But if you're not in the U.S., you're out of luck; that service is limited by geography. I use both Aupeo! Radio and Mixtapes, two free apps (with available subscriptions) that provide excellent music streams for your listening pleasure. I enjoy both options and have a hard time recommending one over the other, so I'll leave that to you. They're worth comparing on your own.
While I've heard bad things about Windows Phone 8 voice recognition, I haven't had any issues thus far (it's better than my Google Nexus tablet). If you want a personal Siri-like assistant for your phone, Indigo is a free option that you might want to try. It's a bit limited compared to Apple's solution, but it handles basic tasks like creating appointments and sending text messages.
Another option is Maluuba, an app that sports a very clean and Windows 8 UI-like interface and does a better job of finding local activities. Unfortunately, Maluuba it isn't able to take text dictation and send messages like Indigo.
Bing Translator is a very cool app that not only translates speech into different languages, but actually translates signage and documents in real time, overlaying the camera image with the translated text. Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Chinese can all be downloaded for offline use. Most important, it's a free download from the Windows Phone store.
Photoplay And Instagraph
I'll admit that I'm not a social media addict. I check Facebook fairly regularly, but I don't post pictures of all of my food, or every new place I visit. The nuances of Instagram are often lost on me. But since there's no official Instagram app on Windows Phone 8, I make do with a free alternative called Photoplay. It's able to post to Facebook, Twitter, and vKontakte, and it includes a few stylistic effects it can add.
For those of you who won't settle for anything else, there is an unofficial Instagram client for Windows Phone called Instagraph. This app costs $2.49 in the store.