One of the best things about Windows Phone 8 is one of its simplest features which is simply that Microsoft stipulates that every phone that uses the software must have a camera button. This one simple addition makes it quick and easy to get to the camera app and take a photo and negates the need to add the camera app to your homescreen. The button will work even when the phone is locked – just hold it down for about a second.
Microsoft has couple this camera button with a great camera app too. It’s fast to load, has a clean simple interface and, as least on this HTC 8X, image quality is decent too. You also get loads of control over settings including white balance, resolution, exposure, contrast and even ISO, allowing you to fine tune your images to get the best from them. We also like that a quick swipe to the right takes you straight to the camera album for quickly reviewing your shots.
When you want a more in-depth photo viewing experience you head to the Photo Hub. Here your camera snaps, photos you’ve uploaded manually to the phone and those from internet sources like Facebook and Flickr are all brought together into one interface. So, from one view you can browse the snaps you just took or those you uploaded to Facebook two years ago.
Photos can be viewed by album, date or according to what contact they relate to, and there’s a favourites folder for quickly getting to your most cherished pics.
Also here is the What’s New tab which shows all the latest image related updates from your social networks, even including the comments made thereon.
Perhaps the smartest thing of all with the Photo Hub and Camera experience, though, are the lenses and apps. Lenses are apps that hook into the Camera app, appearing as options in the menu. They can be anything from the default Bing lens (the aforemtioned image search) to apps that will offer all sorts of real time effects. Simply tap the lens and the camera app will switch to the lens app.
Why these are so useful is that they mean you don’t have to unlock your phone then find your favourite camera app. Instead, just hold down the camera button, tap the lenses option and pick take your pic(k).
The Photos Hub apps, meanwhile, do something similar whereby any compatible apps will appear in one place, allowing you to easily pick the one you want.
Compared to the fairly locked down and simple camera/pictures interface of iOS and the different-from-handset-to-handset experience of Android, what Windows Phone 8 offers is miles ahead of the curve.
Microsoft has chosen to bundle the music and video interfaces into one, creating the Music Video Hub. Here, under the collection tab, you’ll find any music, videos or podcasts you’ve added to the device listed in simple, easy to navigate sections. Flip across to the next tab and you’ve got a history of things you’re recently heard or watched, then a column dedicated to newly added content, then finally onto Xbox.
The Xbox section has two key features which are SmartGlass and the Xbox Music Store. The latter is fairly self explanatory offering a selection of music to download or stream to your device. Prices aren’t the most competitive we’ve seen - £9.99 for an album, 99p for a song, £6pm for unlimited streaming – but aren’t too bad either, while the selection seems reasonable, though not a patch on iTunes.
As for Xbox SmartGlass, well we’re not quite sure why it’s in the music videos sections as it relates to gaming. Download the app and it ties in with your Xbox, allowing you to control it using onscreen controls, shop for other games and see info about the games you’ve got. It’s pretty clever stuff.
Getting back to the music and video side of things, though, we found the music player a little restricting as there’s no way jump straight to just playing a song. There’s a quick play button below the collection tab but if you open the app and it happens to be on the Xbox or New tabs, you can’t access this. In contrast both iOS and most Android implementations offer quicker access to instant playback. Once playing, music information and playback controls will appear on the lock screen for quick and easy access.
We also missed the lack of EQ settings for fine tuning the sound signature.
When it comes to video, Microsoft doesn’t offer an integrated video store but third party solutions will be available. Instead you can manually add videos to your phone through a computer. Sadly format support isn’t all that great with only our mp4 test files playing ball so you’ll have to convert the files before transferring them.
Still, with no software required to hook your phone up to a PC and transfer across files, it’s significantly easier to load up your phone with your own files entertainment than on an iPhone, and even some Android devices too.