Windows Phone 8 largely offers a very nice web browsing experience, though there is one irritable flaw. First the good stuff, though.
One of the reasons we like browsing the web on this OS is a very simple thing indeed – the address bar is at the bottom. This makes it infinitely quicker and easier to reach when using the phone one-handed. Down here is also the refresh/stop button and the menu, which gives access to the tabs menu, overall browser settings, favourites and an option to pin the webpage you’re on to the homescreen.
Also good is the speed and accuracy with which the browser renders webpages. We’ve so far noticed no problems with pages being incorrectly formatted, nor has the interface become slow due to a graphically rich website.
However, part of the reason for this is because it doesn’t support Adobe Flash or embedded HTML5 videos. In particular, you can’t view the embedded videos that, for instance, we use for our video reviews or the BBC uses on its website. Both of these work on both Android and iOS.
Still, back on the plus side, you can specify whether the browser should default to showing mobile versions of websites or desktop versions and there are comprehensive controls over security features too.
Microsoft has teamed up with Nokia to create the Windows Phone 8 maps experience. Like most equivalents it offers a line-map style and a satellite image map too. It also has a turn-by-turn navigation system and a local services search facility called Local Scout.
Starting with the basic maps, the line-map looks like a cross between the Apple Maps and Android GoogleMaps interfaces, making for arguably the best of both worlds. Like Apple Maps, it uses vector rendering making it incredibly fast both to download map data and move around it, with the pinch-to-zoom action being super smooth. Meanwhile, like Google, there’s much clearer road-type colour-coding and place labelling is clear and intuitive – Apple Maps is awful for this side of things.
We also quite like that when you zoom right in the map changes to the satellite view for a more detailed look. It’s a bit of a cheat to mask the fact that Windows Phone 8 doesn’t offer an even more detailed vector based view – such as the 3D buildings available on GoogleMaps – but nonetheless it’s a fairly practical tweak too.
The full satellite view, meanwhile, seems to provide a decent amount of detail and overlays road and place markings onto the images so it’s easy to track where you are. Again, there are no ‘extra’ modes though, like the 3D buildings in Apple Maps or Google Street View. We’ll have to have a bit more of a play before we find out just how good coverage is.
As for the turn-by-turn navigation, it’s very nicely presented and seems to offer sensible routes, putting it at least on par with its competitors.
However, there is one very strange missing feature, and that’s a compass. More specifically, you can’t get the maps to rotate to match which way you and the phone are facing. This feature is incredibly useful for getting your bearings when in an unfamiliar place and we’re quite baffled as to why it’s not included.
What you do get, though, is Local Scout. Like many such local services search facilities, it will lookup restaurants and places to drink, things to see or do and places to shop. It seems to have a good selection of places, with restaurants particularly well covered, though we did note that despite being just down the road from the Globe theatre, it didn’t appear on the See Do list.