Editorials

It is Friday, and as we all eagerly wait for the Xbox Music app update (fingers crossed), we figured it is time for our weekly poll.

This week's poll is a hot topic: Cortana and local accents.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that Cortana is heading to China and the UK as 'betas.' This expansion means they work, but they are missing some features too, which is not controversial. What is controversial is the choice for voicing.

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Looking to get your kid a cellphone? Skip the feature phone and give them a smartphone, but not just any smartphone – a Windows Phone. It's an amazing platform with a handful of models that make it the ideal first smartphone. Here's why I think your kid's first phone should be Windows Phone.

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Not happy with the Xbox Music platform? Take Beats Music or Spotify for as spin.

Xbox Music. It's more than just the app you love to hate right now on Windows Phone 8.1. It's also a music streaming and subscription service that spans nearly every device you own. It's available on Windows Phone, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Android, iOS, and the web. Xbox Music is the successor to the beloved Zune platform.

Right now I'm still happy with the overall Xbox Music service, even though I think there are a handful of ways Microsoft could greatly improve the service. That said, I acknowledge that the Windows Phone 8.1 app is still pretty bad. Though the Windows 8 app was terrible at one point, but now I'm very happy with it on Windows 8.1. So there's hope.

I've been getting a lot of questions about what are some other solid music streaming and subscription services available as an alternative to Xbox Music. I'm going to look at some of those alternatives to Xbox Music that make the most sense to those with a Windows Phone.

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Readers of this site know that Microsoft's Xbox Music and Video are good services at their core, but many speed bumps keep them from reaching their potential. Whether it is stiff competition from Amazon and Apple or an awkward software experience, the Microsoft teams behind both services have their work cutout for them. Toss in the rebuilding attempts at the Xbox Music app for Windows Phone 8.1, and many consumers are left frustrated.

In yesterday's earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella dropped a strong, but subtle, hint that Xbox Music and Video may be on the chopping block.

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On Friday, Windows Phone Central broke the news about 'McLaren' being cancelled by Microsoft. Not much was known about the flagship Windows Phone except it was to feature the first instance of Microsoft's new 3D Touch UI. Although prototype phones likely get cancelled on occasion, the absence of McLaren causes a potential problem: what is going to the next Windows Phone flagship for the fall?

With the lack of high-end, high-profile Windows Phones for this November Microsoft may be in a bind. However, there may be a way out, and that involves making an updated Lumia 925.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent around an email to employees last week. For those reading between the lines it was a clear message that job cuts were coming. Today they made it official. Microsoft will cut up to 18,000 jobs in the coming months.

I think he's doing what needs to be done, and I suspect this will setup Microsoft to be more successful in mobile and cloud services.

I've been following the technology sector for a long time. Usually when a company announces major job cuts it means they are in trouble, but it would be a sweeping generalization to say this is always the case. I remember when BlackBerry (then Research In Motion) announced a significant round of cuts back in the early 2000s. Analysts and investors freaked out. But in reality the company was just cleaning house as it prepared for even faster growth. The business went on to hit incredible new highs. Job cuts are not always a bad sign.

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Before the formal debut which is planned for September this year, Microsoft and its Chinese joint-venture partner BesTV just brought the Chinese version of Xbox One to China International Cartoon & Game Expo (July 10 - 14, in Shanghai), for a brief demonstration. A quite lengthy commercial for the console was revealed, highlighting the Chinese Xbox One's, um, for lack of better words, let's say "highly localized functionality and marketing strategy".

Here is the video itself, in Chinese, for your enjoyment. There are English subtitles, but sadly they are blocked by all those human heads. I'll try to explain what exactly happened in the video below.

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Eight months on and the Lumia 1520 is still my daily Windows Phone and that's weird

There is little doubt that I live a abnormal life when it comes to smartphones and mobile technology. At last count, I have over 50 smartphones dating back to 2006 and every Windows Phone made in the last three years. Combined with the rapid release of Lumias – with occasional releases from Samsung – and I have plenty of choices to use every day.

That is why it is surprising (to myself at least) that eight months after its release I am still using the Lumia 1520 as my daily driver. To put it another way, this is my longest streak in using a single Windows Phone since probably the original Samsung Focus. Although for regular folks, using a phone for eight months uninterrupted is the norm, for me, it is the exception. For that reason, here is why I still love the Lumia 1520.

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5 ways Microsoft can make Xbox Music even better

Make me king of Xbox Music and here's what I'd do

Hold the pitchforks, I'm not talking about the Xbox Music app on Windows Phone. The headline above is about how to make the Xbox Music service better. I don't think I'm too naïve, but Microsoft will eventually make the Windows Phone 8.1 Music app exactly how you want. If there's a feature or two missing you can look to third-party devs to fill that gap with the Xbox Music APIs. Instead let's look at the core service itself and what Microsoft should do to make it compete with the Spotifys and Beats Music of the music streaming world.

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Last week we looked at how the iOS App Store compared to the Windows Phone Store in 2014. It was a sobering look at how much work Windows Phone still has to close the app gap between the two platforms. That's especially apparent when you look at 'fad apps' like popular games or apps from a new startups or company.

It's not all doom and gloom for Windows Phone. Over the past two months we've seen major apps officially join the platform. Thanks is due in part to the Universal Windows app model that allows devs to target Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 with minimal work. Recently we've seen updates or releases for apps like Comedy Central, PlentyOfFish, UPS, AutoCAD 360, Barclays Pingit, Adobe Photoshop Express on Microsoft's platforms. The future is looking bright for Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Today we're going to turn the tables and look at some apps that are unique to Windows Phone and not available on iOS. We'll list some of the more popular ones and our favorites. Then you can hop into the comments and tell us what apps you love on Windows Phone that you can't get anywhere else.

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Ever since the Surface Pro 3 announcement, the future of the Surface Pro 2 was in question. Would Microsoft continue to sell both or focus on their new redesigned Surface Pro 3, and what about Surface 2? The story is coming into focus a bit as it looks like Microsoft is putting the Surface Pro 2 out to pasture.

Windows Phone Central has learned through various Microsoft Stores that all or most stock of the Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 2 accessories are being sent back to Microsoft. A few stores are keeping units on hand for customer issues, should any arise, but many stores now have zero stock with no plans to carry it any longer. It is not clear if other retailers are following suit or if Microsoft is mandating this only for their own stores.

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Time to check in on how the Windows Phone Store is doing against competitors. While the app marketplaces for Android and iOS are larger than Windows Phone, the gap between high-quality apps gets smaller and smaller each week.

Today we're going to check out the top 25 free apps in the iOS App Store and see if they're available for Windows Phone. If an app isn't available, we'll try and offer an alternative for Windows Phone fans. Let's go.

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Microsoft will be the icebreaker in China’s previously prohibited video game industry with the introduction of the Chinese Xbox One later this year. We have voiced our concerns about that bizarre adventure, like pricing, and the rigid content censorship for game software. The ridiculously high price might be a placeholder, but the frustration on the game content front seems to be very true.

As we have mentioned earlier, the problem of China as a game market is that there are no rules to follow. The country doesn’t have a game rating system like the ESRB. Every game is to be reviewed separately by multiple government organs, led by the Ministry of Culture. In this process a game could be condemned improper, harmful, or politically incorrect, and banned for all sorts of reasons.

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What's on your Start screen, Sam Sabri?

It was way back in mid-March that boss man Daniel kicked off a fun Start screen layout series where you get a chance to look at our Start screens. Since then you've seen which apps populate the Start Screens for Rich, George and Abby. Now it's my turn. Today you get to see what I deem important enough for my Start screen. Plus you finally get a chance to download the Start background I've been using for a few weeks. I've had many requests on where to get it, but wanted to save it for this post.

My Windows Phone 8.1 Start screen, Start background and favorite apps are waiting for you down below.

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In Windows Phone 8.1 certain core services have changed in that they can be updated dynamically, bypassing the requirement for a full-fledged OS update. In theory, that should allow Microsoft to respond to the rapidly changing market by delivering faster paced, piecemeal updates. In reality, it also increases the chances that something may go wrong, and that is exactly what has happened.

Last night Microsoft pushed out a rare update for the calendar app, which was disentangled from the OS in 8.1, much like Xbox Music. The update brought the version number to 1.0.14127.246 and there was no changelog. Although it is exasperating to users to have to update an app without knowing what changed – or improved, it is even more vexing when that update breaks something.

Immediately following the update, people in comments started to complain that the attempting to create or edit an appointment caused the calendar app to crash. We have tested the update on various devices, including the Lumia 630 with the Lumia Cyan firmware, and they all have the same problem, rendering the calendar app a view-only tool.

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It's kind of hard to believe that I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months now. Like many of you, I downloaded and installed (and upgraded) to Windows Phone 8.1 on April 14. That was the day the Preview for Developers version was released to Windows Phone developers and enthusiasts. I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 as my daily driver on my Lumia 925 and Lumia 1520 since then.

How's the OS holding up? What are my favorite features all these days later? Read on to find out the 8.1 things I like about Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months.

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Starting with Windows Phone 8.1 users can select a background wallpaper for their Start screen. The trick only works with apps that have a transparent Live Tile, which has resulted in a massive push by fans for more apps with those see-through Tiles. But like all things in life, sometimes it goes too far. For instance, many people have – rightly – complained that they liked those 'signature' colors for certain apps because it made finding them easier. I agree.

What's the best way to rectify the situation? Give users a choice. Here's how to do it.

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