When it comes to those most fundamental of phone duties, Windows Phone 8 holds up fairly well.
Perhaps its weakest area of all though is the most basic, as the phone app is to our minds rather odd. Tap it and, rather than take you to the dialler to start calling a number, it takes you to your call history. We can only assumer Microsoft put lots of focus group research into that decision but we still don't agree with it.
Once you've tapped the icon for dialler there's another problem as the app doesn't auto match your contacts as you dial. This isn't a feature offered by iOS either but on Android as you type it shows matching numbers or names according to the number you're dialling. Sure, most of the time you'll go to your contacts list if you're going to call someone that you already have the number for but sometimes you can't quite remember if you've got that number for that person so you just start dialling.
There's also a search feature but this is focussed on the history list – are people really this obsessed with checking back on who called whom and when?
As for call quality, well that's clearly dependent upon the handset but on our HTC 8X we found it to be very good.
Managing your contacts is something that takes place in the People Hub. This brings together your list of contacts, the What's New stream of updates from your contacts' social networks, a list of your most recent contacts, and the Together column. The Together column in turn includes your Rooms and Groups.
Groups are fairly self explanatory with them simply being groups of contacts. Within each group you can see the list of contacts, a What's New stream and a photos stream for those members.
Meanwhile Rooms are like super Groups. You can share calendars, notes and photos or have group chats. It's a nice idea but it does rely on all the Room's members having Windows Phone devices.
At the top of the contacts list is a picture of yourself, linking to your profile. In here there are quick links to post an update or check in to a social network and set your chat status, as well as Notifications and What's New pages showing recent messaging and social networking activity.
Jump into another contact and again you've got a What's New feed and their social network photos as well as their profile information and messaging history. All this information is pulled in from your various online services such as Hotmail, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter with the phone automatically matching the information. If it gets it wrong, it's a simple enough process to unlink the profiles and correct the mistake.
All told, it's a pretty slick interface giving you a onestop shop for everything that's going on with that one contact or a wider group.
Window Phone 8 has a very good messaging interface with text messages and instant messaging services (including Facebook chat and Skype) all handled in a single interface. Texts occupy one column where they're, as is the way nowadays, arranged in neat conversations while online chats make up another column. It's simple but effective.
As for actually tapping out a message, it's also a good experience. The onscreen keyboard is fast to respond, has a good layout and intelligent word prediction plus a mind-bogglinly comprehensive selection of emoticons.
You can also dictate your message with the excellent voice recognition tool. As ever it requires you to speak clearly and not at too high a pace but it's certainly good enough to be useful.
If you're a user of Skype you'll be pleased to know the service is fully integrated into Windows Phone 8. This means you're never signed out so are always contactable through the service, plus your Skype contacts are integrated into the People hub, as messages are into the Messaging app.
As with most modern smartphone operating systems, Windows Phone 8 supports all the big name online email accounts such as Gmail, yahoo! Mail and Microsoft's own hotmail, as well as Exchange accounts. Setup is also blessedly easy with just a few email addresses and passwords required to get going.
As for viewing your emails, the app takes on the familiar Windows Phone column style this time with the default column showing all your emails then subsequent columns for unread, flagged and urgent emails. This layout makes it much quicker and easier than other smartphone platforms to get to these other views. In fact, all told it's a fairly nice experience with it easy to browse or search through messages and the messages themselves are presented very nicely.
Getting and keeping yourself organised is fairly easy thanks to a calendar app that seamlessly syncs with your email and social network accounts. The app has columns showing an hour by hour day view, your agenda and your to-do list, again making it very quick and easy see catchup up on everything.
However, we do have one gripe which is that there's no week or working-week view. You can tap an icon to take you to a month overview but this only shows appointments in an unreadably small font and once a date is tapped it takes you right back to the day view. This feels rather limiting, particularly when you're trying to get a quick sense of how busy your week is looking, and whether it really would be sensible to fit in that long lunch.
When it comes to that most nitty gritty of organisational skills – actually getting up on time in the morning – Windows Phone 8 has you covered with a dedicated Alarms app. This is simple enough to use with it easy to create multiple alarms for different days or groups of days in the week.
However, notable is that this alarms app isn’t part of a larger ‘clock’ app as it is on Android and iOS. On those two platforms this one app also gives quick access to a stopwatch, timer and world clock. Here though you’ll have to download separate apps for these functions – a tedious and seemingly unnecessary hurdle.