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Windows Phone 8 Review - Notifications, Search and Performance

By Edward Chester


Our Score


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Windows Phone 8 Kid's Corner

While the lock screen trails some contenders in some ways, it does offer entrance to one brilliant and unique Windows Phone 8 feature called Kid's Corner.

Kid's Corner is a protected interface for letting your children play with your phone. It let's you set up a homescreen especially for children with only the apps, music, videos and pictures you choose to let them see. Like the main homescreen it's completely customisable in terms of layout and you can add as little or large an amount of access as you like.

You get to the Kid's Corner by swiping left from the lock screen. This then presents a second lock screen which, like the main one, can be customised with a picture of your choice. The idea being that you keep the phone protected with a lock code but your children can still access their favourite games or music through Kid’s Corner.

The only problem we did find was that when selecting specific albums for the Kid's Corner, we found each was shown individually as an icon on the Kid's Corner homescreen, which could get rather messy if you add 100 albums. To get round this you need to create a playlist of all your safe music and select just that.

Nokia Lumia 920

Windows Phone 8 Notifications?

One of the big downsides of the Windows Phone 8 interface is its lack of a notifications hub. While you can get notifications on the lock screen, these don't represent all apps, and once unlocked there's no one place which will quickly show you that you have three missed calls, four new texts and fifteen new emails. Instead you have to check each individual app. Obviously this is made easy by the Live Tiles indicating new messages or such like on the tile itself but if the Facebook tile is right at the bottom of your homescreen it can be a bit of a bind to have to scroll all the way down. In contrast, both iOS and Android keep notifications in a single, always accessible drop down menu that appears when you swipe down from the top edge of the screen.

Windows Phone 8 Bing search

Search has become an integral part of all smartphones, and so it is here. But, Microsoft has done things a bit differently, and not in a good way.

You get to the search feature by tapping the dedicated button underneath the screen and to start searching you simply tap the search box – so far, so easy. However, immediately there's a problem; the search doesn't search anything on your phone.

Windows Phone 8 13 Windows Phone 8 12

Yes, that's right, the search is for searching the web only. So whereas Android and iOS both bring up contacts, apps, messages and more that match your search term, and then offer to search the web as well, here you're left to go into each individual app to search.

Otherwise, the internet search facility is good. Results are returned quickly and are neatly presented. We'd prefer a few more results to appear per page too – yup, it's that same stylised but inefficient interface issue again – but it's enough to get by. Swipe left and you get a local search, which offers nearby business and other notable locations search, and left again gets you to the media section which offers matching images and videos for your search.

Search effectiveness is as good as Bing ever is, which, put simply, isn't as good as Google, but you can certainly get by.

Potentially making up for the lack of on-phone search are two unique features. At the bottom of the search screen are two buttons - one for a music matching service, which uses the phone's microphone to listen to the world around you and identify any songs that are playing, and a very clever image search. This uses the phone's camera to capture text; read barcodes and QR codes; and lookup books, CDs and DVDs just by 'looking' at the cover. Both music and image search work quickly and very effectively, and it's a huge boon that they're their integrated into the interface, not buried in an app.

A more minor, but still quite welcome, feature is the background image of the search app which changes daily and has little bits of information about the image – it's a bit like the Google doodle but powered by Bing.

Windows Phone 8 Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 Performance and Feel

So far we've talked a lot about features but not necessarily how the interface actually feels to use. The answer? Pretty good.

It was a key design point of Windows Phone 7 that it should offer a good user experience no matter what price of device you're buying – which explains the strict hardware guidelines – and this has been carried forward into Windows Phone 8. It feels consistently fast and slick. In fact, we never once noticed the phone really slow up, though it did crash a couple of times.

The feel of the OS is in a way similar to iOS, rather than Android, in that every move is greeted by a slick animation. This gives the feeling of speed and fluidity, though it's actually a bit of a ruse as those animations are used to mask the little pauses that are inevitable while some apps load.

Sometimes these animations can be a little tedious. Particularly the one that accompanies every time you close an app – the homescreen flips back into view tile by tile. It's nice but it's just a little too slow that sometimes it can feel like it's getting in the way if you just want to quickly do something.

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October 29, 2012, 11:17 pm

I'm happy to read that you think this is a competitive product...at long last.

But after Microsoft sucker-punched me with the shockingly poor combination of the Lumia 800 and Windows Phone 7, I will not be even considering investing in this platform for at least another 24 months until it has a proven track record and mature app infrastructure & support.

Oh, and they must ditch the terrible toddler-tile design too!


October 30, 2012, 12:34 am

Was really looking forward to Windows Phone 8. I saw a live stream from the press conference and thought, hey they have done it. But after reading this it almost seems a step backwards. Missing simple key elements, screen wastage in many places, most offensivly in the app list. Email app looks horrible, search function is ridiculous. Call app taking me to the history is strange, messaging looks pretty good however.

I can lay criticism almost everywhere. I just wrote a huge list of things about the Email app specifically, but nobody actually wants to read that. But theres lots wrong with it. Mostly the swipe menu at the top. Text size and screen wastage, lack of option there to expand a single email whilst remaining in that list.. woops there I go again.

MS, read this review, delay release by a month, fix everything and you'll have a winner.


October 30, 2012, 1:52 am

picture caption says "The Nokia Lumia 920 is the flagship phone of the Windows Phone 8 launch."...erm...that's the htc!! ;)


October 30, 2012, 6:42 am

SMS notifications /text message receipts were never sorted out on Android (issue 2305)

I have stuck with my Windows Mobile 6.1 for years due to text message receipt confirmation which works internationally (as per the old pre smartphone era)

1 )Does this function correctly ?

2) Also, does this synchronise with the Outlook Suite ok (unlike windows 7/7.5 which has to go via the cloud as opposed to Windows Mobile Device Centre) ?

Thank you

Martin Daler

October 30, 2012, 3:21 pm

don't know about the rest of it, but Samsung Android phones can sync to Outlook on the PC (no cloud etc) using Kies. It is a bit klunky, there are endless updates to Kies and it can get its knickers in a twist, but I do use it successfully to keep my contacts synced to Outlook. If you have advanced requirements it might not satisfy however, I already notice that it muddles the order of street address fields etc.


October 30, 2012, 7:39 pm

Thank you Martin. Have you been able to check the SMS/text message receipt functionality ?


November 1, 2012, 1:47 pm

Agreed, the UI looks like it is trying to be a slot machine! Unless it's designed for the younger crowd - looks far too busy.

Richard Mulholland

May 24, 2014, 3:03 pm

If Windows Contacts is the best MS can do in 2014 they will fail. Awful functionality for Contact set up. Soft Reset not really my idea of fun with 523 unwanted contacts. Lazy engineering. They'll all be buying Samsung S5s....the market will not put up with contact garbage in 2014.

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