Office and Sky Drive
The next area I'd like to highlight is Office. Like it or not, the world runs on Microsoft Office. My company slings around Excel and Word documents. My daughter complained the other day that she didn't have Office on her computer and that meant she couldn't interact properly with her college professors. Office runs business, plain and simple. And Windows Phone has Office built right in.
Samsung and the other Android phone makers often do include office suites that do a remarkably good job with office compatibility however all it takes is one bad experience with formatting or losing a page or two in your power point for you to realize that "almost 100% compatible" can be very frustrating.
You combine Office with the seamless integration with SkyDrive and you get a very nice mobile workplace. I'm not spending much time talking about Office as it really "just works" and is one of the best spreadsheet and document editor experiences you'll find on a mobile phone. Where it really shines is when you mix in SkyDrive.
When you open up Office on the phone you are met with a Recents list that spans documents on your phone or in the cloud. No differences are made and opening a document from the cloud will check that you have the latest before opening and automatically save it back to the cloud when done. You don't ever have to worry about manually syncing a folder. Trying to set up something similar on my Galaxy is harder. You can install an office suite (like KingSoft) and even open documents right from sites like Dropbox however saving the files didn't appear to push them back to Dropbox automatically. Yes, I could setup some auto syncing of Dropbox with a folder but none of this is automatic and can be challenging for a new user (like your mom!) to setup. And, even once you got it running, you still have something that is "mostly compatible" with Office.
Being 100% compatible with Office and seamless integration with the cloud makes Office and SkyDrive a killer story for Windows Phone 8. Windows 8.1 is making the story even sweeter with even better integration of SkyDrive with Windows on tablets, laptops, and desktops. Installing Office on these other computers now means that you can edit your Office files wherever you are without any concern about breaking compatibility or that you are editing an older version. Peace of mind is worth a lot!
Photo Integration, Automatic Uploads, and Live Tile
Windows Phone does a great job of pulling photos together from several different sources into a single location. Everyone manages their photos in a different way. On my Lumia you can go into the Photos app and choose Albums and you'll see all the photo albums I have on my phone, on my SkyDrive, and on Facebook all in one location. No need to open each of these apps separately. And, while it hasn't been utilized a great deal, I think other apps can take advantage of this as well.
The next call out here is automatic, full resolution, upload of your photos and videos to SkyDrive. It's a ton of fun to take a bunch of pics, come home and grab some dinner (while your phone uploads all the stuff you shot as soon as it hits your WiFi), and then grab your Surface RT or tablet and swish through all the shots you got right there on SkyDrive.
The last thing I want to mention here is how the Photos app updates the Live Tile. It's always fun to unlock you phone and see a fresh, rotating, set of pictures from your camera roll right there on the Live Tile.
There is a lot to say about Facebook integration in Windows Phone so I will just highlight a few of the areas that I particularly enjoy.
In the Me tile I can post a status update to all of my social networks at one time. I can update my status on Live Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all at one and in one place. This is great time saver. Yes, I know that Android has apps that can do this but anything integrated and built in is better in my book. Also in the Me tile I can Facebook check in and see all my Facebook and Twitter notifications and interactions. Very handy!
I've already highlighted that I can see all my Facebook photo albums just by opening the Photos app and looking in my albums. However, as you can see in the photo above, the Photos app has a What's New section that shows you all the photos that your Facebook friends are posting. Want to see that cool photo your sister posted this morning? No need to open Facebook. Just open Photos and hit What's New and there it is!
One pet peeve I have of the Facebook app on Android is that I keep having to search for my family members I want to tag. No so on Windows Phone. Right from the picture I can choose share to Facebook, then click the add tag button to see a list of most recently used tags. No need to search. Love this feature! And if I want to do something more complicated I can always just crack open the Facebook app.
The last thing I want to mention about Facebook integration is one of favorites. I originally didn't think I would like it but boy have I changed my mind. Windows Phone allows you to specify that an app will control what the lock screen looks like and Facebook supports this. When you install Facebook and run it the first time you are given the choice to have Facebook manage the lock screen and how it should look. Now, every time I wake my phone I'm greeted with a new photo right out of my Facebook photo albums. I really can't tell you how many times I've chuckled or smiled at a photo that was on my lock screen. It rotates them many times throughout the day too so it's always fresh.
Contact handling on Windows Phone is really quite nice. It has all the same features you would expect such as grouping contacts from Facebook, Google, and others into a single directory, the ability to set custom ringtones for a contact, and edit details like birthdays, spouses, etc. However there are a couple things that really make it stand out.
The first is contact grouping. You can create groups of contacts with a given name. Once you have the group you can then go into the group and email them as a group, SMS to them as a group, or see what they have been posting to their Facebook or Twitter accounts as a group. You can view their shared photos as a group. You get all the same functionality as when you are looking at all your contacts but it is filtered down to just that group. This can be very handy!
And my favorite is contact profile pics from social networks. Yes, I know that some Android phone makers have done this for Facebook but I have never seen anyone do it with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and have that information flow everywhere in the system including SMS and email. It's very cool to get a phone call from your wife, see her picture full screen on your phone, and realize that she has changed her profile picture. Yes, I can manually set her contact photo to anything I like but I enjoy getting having my contacts set their profile pictures.
And that wraps up part 2. In the next (and likely last) installment I'll finish up going over my favorite features with two of the best, battery life and voice commands. Talk to you soon!