Editorials

In addition to being available right here on Windows Phone Central, now you can also catch up on all the Talk Mobile roundtable videos via your subscription services!

The roundtable videos are the ones where Phil Nickinson of Android Central, Kevin Michaluk of CrackBerry, Daniel Rubino of Windows Phone Central, and yours truly, Rene Ritchie of iMore get together and, moderated by Cali Lewis and John P. of GeekBeat.TV, start the conversation about the issues in mobile that matter the most.

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A few weeks ago I wrote an editorial piece on how 2013 was finally turning into the year of Windows Phone (after numerous false starts).

There turns out to be another facet though that I missed in my analysis, which I'd like to address here. Besides increased advertising, impressive hardware, a maturing ecosystem and a reinvigorated Nokia who has hit their stride, Microsoft is using another tactic: direct action.

It’s a fascinating change in strategy from previous years where Microsoft took on a more “hands off” approach, often leaving marketing up to their OEM and carrier partners. Now, in 2013, Microsoft is asserting themselves a lot more directly (and it’s not isolated to just Windows Phone as the recent Surface rumor suggests).

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We’re back from London and Nokia’s main event last week to begin another exciting week here at Windows Phone Central.

First up, I’ll give you my gut reaction to the Lumia 925 announcement and what it means for the platform, next up I want to welcome our new Microsoft News editor to the site and tell you what that means for us (and you), next up is that Xbox thing tomorrow and finally, some Lumia 928 impressions.

Yes, it's time for me to just blog some thoughts in a stream-of-conscious manner. Read on, if you dare!

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App counts don’t matter but so-called “flagship apps” do. Ever since Windows Phone 7.x came out nearly three years ago, the “break moment” has been anxiously anticipated. That’s the instant where things click with consumers and the phones become an accepted, viable option for people to consider when shopping—the third way, if you will.

There have been false alarms in the past: Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”, Nokia’s Lumia 900 (with AT&T’s “Hero” status) and then finally Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920.

Every one of those turning points it felt as if Windows Phone would finally catch on and go mainstream, but alas it never happened. Granted, with the Windows Phone 8/Lumia 920 combo, Microsoft and company had their best opportunity. But even then, things have been slower than expected despite the award winning OS and hardware.

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Microsoft is scheduled to reveal the next Xbox console (codenamed Durango) in two weeks’ time on May 21st. The announcement of the reveal event marks the first time the console maker has publicly acknowledged the existence of the upcoming system. Still, the gaming industry has known about the next Xbox for quite some time now thanks to the usual steady trickle of leaks and rumors.

One of those rumors that we haven’t addressed here at Windows Phone Central is that the new console would require an internet connection in order to function. We’ll expand on that rumor in just a bit. The new rumor (which I take for truth) is that the next Xbox will not require an always-on internet connection after all. Thank goodness!

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That's right, folks. We're firing up an article on user review etiquette. Why, you ask? We've had numerous developers complain that consumers simply don't pay attention to information provided on the Windows Phone Store. This is prior to downloading trials or purchasing apps and they then leave negative feedback, which is viewable by the general public. We've noted this ourselves when browsing the catalogue.

Our own Jay Bennett has had this issue with the official Windows Phone Central app, so we figured we'd talk about how you can help make the review system less skewed for others to rely on, as well as improving the overall store experience for everyone (including developers). If you're one to quickly jump the gun and add a one-star review on apps and games then this resource is for you.

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Samsung has announced that its expanding the ATIV brand to include its Windows based PC products. Originally used for its Windows Phone 8 hardware, Samsung states it will use the brand to represent the convergence of PC and mobile technologies. This will essentially unite all Samsung Windows products under a single umbrella. If you're now looking at Samsung ATIV hardware, it's running a version of Windows.

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Although the year got off to a rocky start with an extended Xbox game release drought, the Xbox Windows Phone gaming situation has actually been looking up since February. Gameloft’s highly anticipated Windows Phone 8 titles finally started rolling out, and some weeks saw two Xbox games released instead of just one.

Don’t think we’re out of the thicket just yet. The Xbox Live certification process continues to cause games like Cut the Rope: Experiments to come out much later than on other platforms, and meaningful title updates come just as late or not at all – both Windows Phone Cut the Rope games are missing levels that iOS and Android already get to enjoy. Microsoft’s solution to this problem seems to be encouraging big games like Temple Run to release as indie titles in order to circumvent the Xbox Live certification process. Because why bother fixing a broken system?

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There's nothing worse than your Windows Phone taking some physical damage as the appearance of a smartphone is fairly important, especially when it's a Lumia 920 or other Windows Phone. There's really only one instance when an issue can prove more irritating and that's when the software (or a combination of it and hardware) royally breaks and thus bricking the device. How useful is a bricked Windows Phone? Well, it's good paperweight, I suppose. This is what happened to my poor white Lumia 920. Let me tell you a short story of what happened and how quickly the issue was resolved by Nokia.

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Yesterday, Facebook announced their much anticipated “Facebook Phone” aka the hilariously named HTC First, which turns out to be nothing more than a mid-range HTC device sporting Android 4.1 and yet-another-custom-skin. That skin simply features the most popular features of Facebook e.g. having it on your lockscreen, etc. but is it a game-changer? Not at all.

Indeed, after enduring the presentation, users familiar with mobile technology may have had a case of déjà vu as Zuckerberg and others focused on the “people first” aspect of their new money maker.  There’s little doubt that Facebook (and HTC) borrowed heavily from the Windows Phone philosophy of allowing your friends and family to be front and center on your phone versus “just more apps”. 

For two years now Microsoft has been pushing the “people first” slogan in mobile (they've have even filed for a patent!) and now it appears Facebook is going that route.

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Today here in New York, Samsung finally pulled the sheet off of the Galaxy S4, their next big flagship Android phone for 2013. Due at the end of April, the phone looks almost exactly like the S3 save a few minor differences, but it’s the guts and software that make this a killer device. It will launch on a massive 327 operators in 155 countries for complete global reach.

We’ll spare you all the details of the S4, though it does feature 2GB of RAM, an eight-core Samsung Exynos 5410 running at 1.8GHz, a triple-core PowerVR SGX 544 graphics chip with a massive 2600mAh battery. Oh yeah, it also has a swanky 5” 1080P Super AMOLED display at 440 PPI and various sensors, including Infrared gesture, temperature and humidity sensors, which while gimmicky is still really neat. Finally, it sports a 13MP rear and 2MP front camera, with some new "innovations" like two-way shot.

We briefly put it up against our Nokia Lumia 920 in a video and while this is far from a controlled “versus” battle, you can at least get an idea of how Samsung’s beast looks against Nokia’s.

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Many in our audience here know our opinion on Samsung—they lead the way with the Focus back when Windows Phone 7 was launched and up until recently, appeared to be a major competitor on the platform.  But with Windows Phone 8 and their ATIV S and Odyssey phones (with on the runt of the litter getting US carrier support), we’re just going to say: Their phones and effort to promote the platform look half-assed.

That’s not to say they aren’t good devices, indeed the ATIV S has quite a few things going for it and we would actually have no problem recommending it. But between the lack of advertising, reported price drops and even the “late to the show” arrival of their flagship phone, one gets the impression that Samsung is not really into Microsoft any more. (Samsung blames the carriers).

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Last week, Gameloft kicked off their much anticipated wave of Xbox releases for Windows Phone 8 with Asphalt 7, a game I call the best racer on the platform in our review. They’ve followed up this week with the very strong The Amazing Spider-Man and the not-so-strong and highly skippable Real Soccer 2013. With at least 9 more games coming, including first-person shooters, action games, and even an MMORPG, it’s safe to say that Gameloft will keep Windows Phone gamers pretty busy this year.

Similarly, Electronics Arts and its subsidiaries Chillingo and PopCap have produced a ton of fine mobile Xbox games as Nokia exclusives within the past few months. All of the Nokia EA games are expected to become available to general Windows Phone audiences six months after release, so they really do benefit the platform as a whole.

However large and prolific they might be, publishers Gameloft and Electronic Arts can’t keep the Xbox Windows Phone lineup afloat all by themselves. The world of smartphone gaming is vast indeed. iOS and Android thrive thanks to many game developers and publishers, both great and small. Today we continue our ‘How Microsoft can save Xbox Games for Windows Phone’ editorial series with a look at the game makers that our platform needs in order to thrive.

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This morning Nokia announced 4 new devices to their handset line-up, 2 Asha devices, and 2 Windows Phone devices.

Nokia’s sights did not seem set on the US market though, where the carriers heavily subsidize even higher end devices to bring them into consumer’s hands. Instead we saw indications that Nokia is continuing to drive into markets where upfront cost is everything. Stephen Elop was also clear that Nokia are pushing aggressively into the enterprise market, highlighting Windows Phone's integration with Microsoft Office services as well as the full device encryption available on every handset.

There’s no arguing against the fact that the two Asha phones, selling at less than the price of your average video game or dinner for two, will sell in their target markets. So we’ll focus on the Lumia 720 and the Lumia 520.

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Xbox for Windows Phone is a key selling point for gamers, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. This editorial series has covered a lot of ground so far, including the need for streamlining the Xbox Live certification process, Microsoft’s failure to appreciate the importance of Xbox to Windows Phone, the need for multiplatform game engine support, and the need for better PR and a download code system.

This week we tackle software and online features that Xbox Windows Phone badly needs.

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Google, like Microsoft, is a company in transition. This can be evidenced today by their entering into the “high end” Ultrabook market with their new Chromebook Pixel. It’s an odd move not because the hardware is not nice (it is) but the pricing: $1299 (32GB) $1449 (LTE, 64GB).

For a company that prides itself on 'free' it’s a different approach from the previous Chromebook strategy of low-cost devices.. To quote iMore’s Rene Ritchie “When did Google become Apple?”.

The other question is how does it stack up against Microsoft’s Surface Pro? We’ll take a look to see how things stand and if Google is making the right move here.

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Here at Windows Phone Central, we are focused on Windows Phone and other Microsoft platforms. We also like to keep our eyes on the competition, such as the upcoming HTC One Android smartphone. To that extent, the Xbox 360 and its successor will have a new competing videogame console later this year in the form of the Playstation 4. Last night, Sony officially announced the console, which is due for a holiday 2013 release.

Read on for our impressions of the Playstation 4 and how it will affect Microsoft's next Xbox console!

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Nokia brings up an interesting question. Do smartphones need physical buttons?

We've seen physical buttons on our Windows Phones slowly disappear from the days when they were powered by Windows Mobile. Capacitive buttons replaced physical buttons and physical keyboards are now on-screen. But should it go further?

What remains is a power, volume and camera button. You could make a case where on-screen volume controls could replace the physical volume button and we already have a screen tap feature to capture photos. The power button may be the one physical button we can't live without but BlackBerry's Z10 shows how even that is not needed (they turn on the display by swiping the screen up, no power button).

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