Review: Windows Phone 8
It may look and feel nearly identical to WP7/7.5, but there are plenty of brand new features that really stand out.Kids Corner
This Hub is meant for parents who often find themselves lending their smartphone to their children. The Kids Corner essentially lets parents put the device in a sort of kid mode, which grants access only to certain approved apps and features, and locks them out of others. The idea is to give parents peace of mind that their kid isn't going to accidentally delete their entire email inbox, wipe the phone, or send prank text messages to their boss.
For example, parents can allow their kids to access games, music, photos, and video content, but block them from email, messages, and the internet. In fact, kids using a WP8 device set to Kid Corner mode can't access any network-based services. Games or apps that require an internet connection will not work properly. That means no YouTube, no downloading apps/games, and no surfing the web.
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Kids can access Kids Corner by swiping the lock screen to the left. Kids can customize Kids Corner to their own liking. That means setting up colors and themes, selecting wallpapers, and rearranging the Live Tiles on the Kids Corner home screen. In effect, Kids Corner is a completely separate chunk of the user interface. Kids Corner is a sectioned off part of the OS that looks and acts like the rest of the platform, but is governed strictly by parental controls and only has access to whichever apps/services the parents permit.
It's a neat idea, and also helps Microsoft pitch Windows Phone as a secure system to its business customers.
Another change aimed at its business customers are Company Hubs. Company Hubs are miniature app stores that businesses can establish to control the apps and services that are on their corporate WP8 devices.
Let's say you're a Fortune 500 company and you have tens of thousands of employees. Rather than worrying about pushing device and app updates to thousands of devices from a complicated device management portal, the Company Hub serves as its own, micro Windows Phone App Store. Company apps and other services/information can be updated in the Company Hub and then disseminated to employees via the Hub.
Microsoft set up a fake corporate hub for WP8 reviewers to use. Through the Company Hub, I was able to download approved apps, access behind-the-firewall information, and so on.
It's a pretty straightforward idea that will please Microsoft's business customers.
Groups aren't entirely new, but have been updated significantly with respect to features and capabilities.
Microsoft expects Groups (pulled from your larger contact database) to be made up of people who you contact frequently or like to receive/see updates from regularly. You can create a group for work colleagues, one for your bowling league, and so on. When you open a group, you'll see all the emails, text messages, social network updates and such from those specific people. You can contact them all together, as well as peruse all their photos.
Of course, Microsoft also envisions that Groups will be a boon to business customers as well, which can set up groups for their employees. For example, the Windows Phone development team has its own Group for team communication. Groups are determined by individuals and there isn't any sort of permission involved to pool your contacts into Groups. Also, Groups now sync with your Microsoft account (Windows Live and/or Exchange), and will automatically populate groups you've set up in your corporate or personal address book.
I liked Groups and how they made managing certain types of communication easier. But Rooms are where it's really at.Rooms
Rooms are a new addition to the People Hub that, in effect, let users create micro social networks. They allow WP8 users to segregate and share content with specific sets of people. Rooms are much more personal than Groups.
For example, say you and your three best college buddies whooped it up on a Friday night and maybe had a few too many drinks. Shenanigans ensued and some compromising images resulted. Rather than post the photos to Facebook or Twitter, where they'd be seen by too many people, you can create a Room with just a handful of people. Put the photos in your "College Buds" Room, and only they will be able to see them.
The Rooms also serve as places to hold group chats. For example, the fellas from The Verge, PCMag, Laptop Magazine, ZDNet, Engadget and I set up a "Room" of our own. We used the Room to share photos, send one another messages and location details, etc., while we all reviewed the operating system. It is actually a really useful feature when you want to communicate with just a few people at a time. Rooms also have shared notes and a shared calendar that can be accessed and updated by all the members.
Rooms support up to 25 people, and also pull in the recent emails and social networking status updates that you may have received from the people in the Room. The result is a miniature social network that feels more intimate and inclusive than Facebook and Twitter.
Each Room has an administrator who has to handle all the invites. Invitees have to accept the administrator's invite to join the group. Once joined, all members can contribute at any time. According to Microsoft, Groups and Rooms can accommodate iPhone users, but not Android users. This is accomplished via WebDAV and CalDAV. Microsoft said that these are compatible with iOS thanks to its Exchange support. However, Microsoft said that the Android platform is too scattered with too many versions for it to work properly.
I was able to set up and use Rooms with no trouble. Once a few guys were on board, it was a great place. We traded information about the OS, shared photos with one another, set-up a shared calendar for our day in San Francisco to attend the WP8 launch event, and did a whole lot of joking around. I think this is going to be a really popular feature with WP8 owners.