Microsoft's newest mobile OS -- Windows Phone 8 -- will add some key functionality to Microsoft's smartphones, but is it worth waiting for?
The new software offers a few more bells and whistles in terms of functionality for smartphone subscribers. But the bigger deal is that it will offer the necessary hooks for developers and device makers to build more advanced hardware. Finally, this could mean that Microsoft's live tile interface may finally be installed on some heavily spec'ed devices.
In this edition of Ask Maggie I help one reader figure out if he should wait for this flashy new hardware for the new Windows Phone 8 devices, or if he should go ahead and buy one of the latest and greatest Google Android phones of the summer: the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the HTC One series.
I also offer some advice about finding a normal-size smartphone in a world that seems to be going oversize.
To wait for new Windows Phone 8 devices or not
I currently own a Motorola Droid X on Verizon. I will be eligible for a new device in August. Android is fine, but I am by no means a fanboy. I'm a PC user and have tinkered with Windows for a very long time. I've been using a beta version of Windows 8 at home, and I really like it. I'm also interested in maybe getting the Surface when it comes out.
Anyway, I like the look and feel of the Windows Phone OS. But I've been disappointed in the hardware. But I hear that this might improve with Windows Phone 8. Is that true? Can I expect some Windows Phone 8 smartphones that are in the same category as Android devices? Also, do you think Verizon will offer some new Windows Phone 8 devices? And if you think they will, should I wait for a Windows 8 device, or should I just get a new Android this summer, like the Samsung Galaxy S3?
It's hard to say how the new Windows Phone 8 smartphones will stack up against current Android devices. That said, the Windows Phone 8 software is all about providing a foundation for Microsoft to offer new cutting-edge hardware. For instance, the new OS will support multicore processors. It will have an embedded NFC chip for mobile payments and other apps that may require short range wireless technology. It will allow multitasking. And it will be LTE capable.
The Verge reported Thursday a supposed roadmap for HTC's Windows Phone 8 devices. HTC expects to launch three classes of Windows Phone 8 smartphones later this year. The Zenith will be the high-end line, with an expected 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 display, quad-core processor, NFC support, 8-megapixel camera that can grab 1,080p, and 42Mbps HSPA+. (My guess is that the top of the line phone will also have LTE support for the U.S. market.) The midrange is being referred to as Accord and it's expected to have a slightly smaller, 4.3-inch screen and dual-core processors. The budget Windows Phone 8 will be the Rio line, which is expected to offer a 4-inch WVGA display; 14.4 Mbps HSPA connectivity; 5 megapixel, 720p capture; and a Snapdragon S4 processor.
Many of these new hardware enhancements are already available on Google Android devices today. In many ways, Windows Phone 8 is really just about keeping up with what Google Android has already been doing from a hardware and technology perspective.
Greg Sullivan, senior product manager at Microsoft for Windows Phone, said the Windows Phone 8 software paves the way for Microsoft to keep up with its competitors
"Windows Phone 8 is about investing in the future of the platform," he said. "It gives us the necessary headroom to continue to grow the device capabilities. It's important for consumers, but it's also really important for developers and hardware manufacturers as we move forward."
So should you wait for the Windows Phone 8 smartphones, or should you just buy a new Android phone now?
As you know, there are a couple of high-profile Google Android devices hitting the market this summer. And they already come equipped with the most powerful hardware out there. The Samsung Galaxy S3 goes on sale soon at all four major wireless carriers. And HTC has also introduced its latest One family of devices on all four major carriers.
The good thing about these new Android phones is that they both sport the latest Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software. They also have advanced cameras. And they come fully loaded with all kinds of high-end specifications.
I think that Windows Phone 8 will help manufacturers bring that same level of high-end hardware specifications to Windows Phones in the future. This could mean that the new Windows Phone 8 devices will be on par with any of the new Android devices as well as anything that Apple introduces this fall. But will they be more advanced? That's tough to say.
Since the hardware will be similar in terms of specifications, I think the question you really need to ask yourself is which user experience and interface you prefer. The live-tiles make using Windows Phone devices very easy and intuitive. It still lacks some key apps, but Microsoft says it's catching up fast. In fact, Microsoft has surpassed the 100,000 mark in terms of the number of apps in its app store. Microsoft is also changing the home screen in the new Windows Phone 8 to make it even more customizable. (Windows Phone users on older hardware will also get this benefit in the Windows Phone 7.8 update that's expected to come later this summer.)
I'd recommend checking out a Nokia Lumia 900 or an HTC Titan at an AT&T shop to see if you like the software. These phones will soon get the Windows Phone 7.8 software upgrade that will give them the new home screen, which will be used on Windows Phone 8 devices.
But keep in mind that you may have to wait a long time for the new Windows Phone 8 devices. Microsoft has said that devices will be ready by the "end of the year." My guess is that the high-end phones won't come to market until the late fall, just before the holidays.
Will Verizon be one of the carriers offering these devices? That's a good question. As you are probably aware, Verizon hasn't been a big supporter of Windows Phone to date. In fact, it offers only one Windows Phone device on its network: the HTC Trophy. Even though Microsoft has updated its software and helped Nokia and HTC launch several other newer Windows Phone devices into the market, Verizon has still remained on the sidelines with respect to the platform.
But that may soon change. In April, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said during the company's earnings call that Verizon is "fully supportive" of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. He also indicated that Verizon would have new Windows Phone 8 devices in time for the holidays. A Verizon representative reiterated these plans earlier this week after Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone 8. She said the carrier would offer devices using the OS by the end of the year.
Still, Verizon hasn't said a lot about how much it will support Windows Phone. Will it introduce just one Windows Phone 8 smartphone, or will it offer a full portfolio of devices with an Android-like marketing campaign?
It's a little too early to say for sure. But Microsoft's Sullivan said the carrier seems enthusiastic about the new Windows Phone 8 platform. Sullivan couldn't tell me specifics about the discussions, but he acknowledged that Microsoft has been in talks with Verizon for a long time. Still, he indicated that with Windows Phone 8, Verizon may finally be willing to put a little more weight behind its support for Microsoft's smartphones.
"They're very excited and enthusiastic about what Windows Phone 8 can bring," he said. "And it's very important for us to have strong support from Verizon."
If Verizon plans to put a lot of marketing muscle behind Windows Phone 8, then I'd definitely expect some cool new phones running the OS to appear on the carrier's network in the late fall and into the spring.
But it's the end of June now, and you are up for a new phone in August. Can you really wait that long? If not, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One devices are terrific phones. I doubt you'd regret buying either one of them. But if you are really intrigued by Windows Phone 8, you may just want to wait to see what's offered later in the year.
Good luck with your decision.
Bigger isn't always better.
Although the newest smartphones such as the HTC One and the Samsung S3 look great when I see them on a Web site, in person they are entirely too large. It's like a tablet for a phone. It looks ridiculous holding that up to my head. While I may not use the phone in the traditional way much anymore, it's still a phone. And I still get calls on it from time to time.
There's also the matter of carrying around something that bulky. I've been waiting for the new iPhone to come out because it will likely be smaller than most of the smartphones being released at the moment. But I'm getting sick of waiting with no definitive date of release. Are there any other Androids on the horizon that have less than 4.3 inch screens but will still have all advanced features of the larger smartphones? The ones with the best features coming out now all seem to have 4.5 inch screens or larger.
I hear you. I also think that many of the new smartphones have gotten too big. While it's nice to have a slightly bigger screen if you're watching video or looking at pictures and so on, you still want a device that easily fits in your pocket or purse. And you certainly want to be able to hold it up to your head to take a phone call. (Though you may want to be careful about holding it to your head too often or for too long.)
As you mentioned, most phones seem to be following this trend. Even the new iPhone 5 is expected to get a bigger screen. Instead of a 3.5-inch screen, which is the current iPhone form factor, the new iPhone is expected to sport at least a 4-inch screen.
Of course we don't know for certain when a new iPhone is coming out. But many experts believe it will be sometime this fall, likely September or October. If you're tired of waiting for the iPhone. there are at least a couple of choices for smaller smartphones.
More from Ask Maggie
The HTC One S on T-Mobile USA, otherwise known as the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon Wireless, has a 4.3 inch screen. (The One S and Droid Incredible 4G LTE are the same phone, but with a few different features.)
While that may sound like a big screen, Brad Duea, senior vice president of product management at T-Mobile USA, says it shouldn't scare you off if you are looking for a smaller phone. He said HTC has designed the One S so the screen goes right to the edge of the device, so it's not too bulky.
"They were able to shave off some bulk from the exterior of the device," he said. "It's slim and has a great feel in your hand."
Samsung has also introduced the Galaxy S Blaze, a midtier device that has a 4-inch screen. It's also available on T-Mobile.
I hope that was helpful. Good luck!
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.