Google Docs and Google Sheets are getting more useful for consumers and enterprises with the addition of third-party tools that enable neat new functionalities.
Review: Strike 3 for Microsoft's Windows Phone
Three strikes and you're out! The third version of Windows Phone -- Windows Phone 8 -- finally adds basic compatibility with corporate Exchange server security settings, but not much else. Despite an initially enticing look, Windows Phone's user interface remains a frustrating blend of simplistic and difficult, with occasional touches of brilliance that render the poor usability even more frustrating.
You really have to wonder what the Windows Phone team does most of the year, given how little significant change there has been from 2010's Windows Phone 7. Certainly, it's not making a serious effort to compete with Apple's iPhone 5 or the leading crop of Android smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, both of which are years ahead of Windows Phone. A year ago, I compared Windows 7.5 to Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," which was significantly lagging iOS 5 at the time, and found that Windows Phone 7.5 wasn't even as good as Android 2.3. A year later, Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" is out and giving iOS 6 a run for its money, but Windows Phone 8 has barely moved.
What's new in Windows Phone 8? As noted, the biggest improvement for users is support for on-device encryption and some Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies, both typically required for corporate usage. The browser is now Internet Explorer 10, which is a little more HTML5-savvy than the previous IE9. The home screen tiles now have two additional sizes: a quarter-size tile so that you can cram more tiles and thus scroll less to find them, and a double-wide tile for live tiles that display a lot of information that's otherwise too hard to read. (Tap and hold a tile until an arrow icon appears at its lower-right corner; tap it to toggle through the three sizes.) The lock screen now displays alerts, like iOS and Android, and the Kid's Corner mode lets you create a custom workspace for others to use, typically with a limited set of apps.
Windows Phone 8 also integrates several Microsoft services -- the Xbox Music and Xbox Video stores, as well as SkyDrive cloud storage, Skype messaging system, and Microsoft user accounts -- that Windows 8 supports. The new Wallet app lets you collect loyalty and other electronic cards, similar to the Passbook service in Apple's iOS 6. Hardware support is improved: Windows Phone 8 devices can now use SD cards and have screens with 15:9 or 16:9 ratios. Near-field communication (NFC) is supported by the OS, so hardware makers can now make phones that support NFC-enabled mobile payments or data sharing (like Android and BlackBerry OS).
Hardware: HTC 8X versus Nokia Lumia 800
I've been testing Windows Phone 8 on two of the three smartphones in the United States that support it: the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Nokia Lumia 800 series. (The Nokia Lumia 920, whch was unavailable for testing, also runs Windows Phone 8.) Before I get into the details of Windows Phone 8 itself, let me compare the two devices. The two smartphones are fairly similar, as Microsoft gives Windows Phone makers very little leeway to differentiate. But the Lumia 800 is definitely a lower-end device, whereas the HTC 8X aims higher.
The HTC 8X is thin, weighs 4.6 ounces, and has a contoured, colored, easy-grip case, whereas the Lumia 800 is thick, weighs 5.1 ounces, and has a blockier all-black case. The HTC 8X is much more comfortable to hold. Both have 4.3-inch screens, but the HTC 8X has a higher-resolution display (342 pixels per inch versus the Lumia 800's 217 ppi). Both use the 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. Both have an 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash. The HTC 8X has a 2.1-megapixel, 1080p front camera whereas the Lumia 800 has just a 1.2-megapixel, 720p front camera.
The HTC 8X's screen is crisp, and the color balance very nice when playing back movies. Its speakers also produced clean, loud, well-balanced audio, despite their tiny size. The Lumia 800's screen is not as bright, resulting in muddier video, and its speakers are quieter and produce flatter sound than the HTC 8X.