Internet Explorer 10

Probably one of the most important smartphone components for me is the browser, and each major version of Windows Phone has brought improvements which have largely brought it up to or close to parity with the competition. This update is no exception, and includes the codebase for IE 10 shared between Windows 8 and Windows RT. Windows Phone 7 launched with Trident 3.1 (IE 7.0), then WP7.5 brought Trident 5.0 (IE 9.0), and now WP8 brings Trident 6.0 which is IE 10. Microsoft hasn’t yet decoupled the browser from platform updates, but then again neither has iOS, although going forward it will become an inevitable part of making mobile platforms a real place to get work done, but I digress.

IE 10 in WP8 dramatically improves HTML5 support, scoring 320 and 6 bonus points on HTML5test where WP7.5 previously scored 141 and 5 bonus points. In addition there are some major improvements to CSS3 support, which goes from 32% (273 out of 944) on WP7.5 to 54% (444 out of 944). That puts IE 10 in WP8 roughly on par (at least based on these synthetics) with Android 4.1 which scores 44% on CSS3, 281 and 3 bonus points on HTML5 and iOS 6 which scores 57% on CSS3, 360 and 9 on HTML5. Comparing just the scores is one thing, what features are implemented will really tell the whole story, but my quick analysis is that IE 10 again brings the platform back up to feeling good enough.

 

JavaScript performance has also improved dramatically. There was one slide back at the Windows Phone Summit which quoted around a 4x increase in that JS performance thanks to dramatic improvements made to Chakra (the JIT engine Microsoft built for IE 10), and I was later told to expect sub 1000ms sunspider 0.9.1 runs from WP8 devices. Benchmarking WP8 really just ends up being testing JavaScript performance, largely because from an SoC perspective Windows Phone has been a closed camp with only Qualcomm SoCs. That’ll eventually change at least for Windows RT, but at present we’ve got a ton of JavaScript tests to choose from.

As promised, the 8X gets sub 1000 on sunspider 0.9.1, which is very impressive. Clearly this was an optimization target for the team, and to their credit it beats the V8 project’s performance on MSM8960 which is very impressive. I’ve included the Lumia 900 which was running the latest WP7.5 as of its running for comparison, you can see how dramatic of a jump JS performance is for the platform in that test, more than the 4x number for sure, but across CPU architectures (Scorpion to Krait).

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

Browsermark is another largely JS-dominated tests, though there are a few other things in there as well. This is another test that we’ve had around forever and have a lot of data for. The 8X doesn’t do quite as well here, which is strange. I noticed that it does seem to hitch and slow down on one particular subtest, which I suspect is why there isn’t as large of a delta here, even though it’s double the Lumia 900 score.

BrowserMark

Google Octane and Mozilla Kraken are recent JS benchmarking additions for us. Octane builds on the V8 test and includes even more test cases, Kraken is Mozilla’s testing suite for their engine.

Google Octane Benchmark v1

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

I tried including a WP7.5 device in Kraken and Octane, but the platform simply wouldn’t even finish running either test and either halted or failed to produce a score. I think that’s pretty telling about how much better IE 10 is, as both Kraken and Octane are pretty demanding workloads. IE 10 and Chakra clearly don’t get along with Octane, but Kraken performance isn’t bad at all.

My subjective performance takeaway for IE 10 is that both browsing and loading pages is faster. Scrolling around is still just as smooth in WP8 as it was in WP7 and 7.5, and I’ve yet to see any strange page rendering like I did from time to time even on WP7.5. The UI also gets improvements, including the ability to customize the address bar button and change between stop/refresh, favorites, and tabs, NFC link sharing, find on page, and of course the same malicious site filtering as IE 10 elsewhere. One feature that isn’t present I’d like to see is the font size boost that iOS and Android impose on pages whose views aren’t mobile optimized. This is a subtle thing but does make a big difference in readability.

NFC and Wallet

WP8 includes NFC sharing throughout, and though I couldn’t test most of it without a second device (but did see it demonstrated at one point), it’s important to go over. I should note that for some things (like contacts) you don’t need to stay within a particular NFC ecosystem, but for other things that are WiFi-direct augmented this is still largely a platform or OEM-specific implementation. In WP8 NFC sharing is dubbed Tap+Send, and gets its own settings pane toggle.

 

Tap+Send supports sending and receiving links from IE 10 as I touched on earlier, in addition to arbitrary contacts from the people hub. Photos and videos likewise can be shared over NFC, but really this begins the transfer which completes over WiFi or Bluetooth.

NFC payment on WP7 works through Wallet, which includes both operator billing methods and any credit cards associated with your Microsoft account. Of course, paying at enabled kiosks requires operator support, but it is possible through the Wallet app. Loyalty and membership cards are also supported, though at present I couldn’t find any apps to demonstrate with.

Screenshots

This has already been discussed somewhat by Nokia during their own press event, but WP8 now thankfully includes the ability to take screenshots from within the OS by pressing the power/lock button and start at the same time. Screenshots then get stored in a separate “Screenshots” album. It’s crazy how it took Android so long to get first party screenshot support, and likewise how long it took for Windows Phone to get it.

Updates - Now OTA

With WP8 comes the ability to finally update without plugging into a PC. This was a big friction point with WP7 for OS X users, and now pretty much goes away entirely thanks to OTA support arriving. I saw this process in action while installing the US english language pack, and obviously it works well.

Backup Support

Backup to the cloud using SkyDrive is now a supported feature on WP8. During setup, there’s a prompt asking if you want to turn this on for installed applications, settings, text messages, and photos. The backup functionality includes basic things like what applications you’ve installed, the settings for those applications as set through the main settings app, and all the SMS threads you have going. I’m told it doesn’t have the ability to backup every bit of application data at present, or the home screen layout, though it’s possible this might come soon.

Live Tiles, Lock Screen, Maps, Hubs HTC's Windows Phone 8X
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  • Chaser - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Maybe in your iSheep blinded fanboi eyes. Try looking at Android for 10 minutes next time before you broadcast your ignorance again. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    I have a friend in the cell phone business (so he gets to try out lots of phones), he told me "Get a Nokia 920." He likes the Windows phone much better than an Android one.

    I might just do that. Then again, I might wait, because I'm still not seeing the bleeding edge phones with Windows on them. This, in my opinion, is one of the biggest factors that has held Microsoft OS phones back from the beginning. After the Win 7 phones came out there were some nice phones released, but "nice" isn't what I want, and I think I speak for a lot of people - we want the best smart phone we can get, and if it's Android then most people will buy it because it's a better phone, OS is secondary.

    I mean, of all the phones I've seen reviewed here, the Note II looks like the best fit for me - but I want a Windows phone, so where does that leave me?

    Still waiting, that's where.

    ;)
    Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Well the hardware is basically identical. The best hardware out right now is the S4 (or the A6) with S4 pro just barely on the horizon and Tegra 4 months away. Windows phone has that. A lot of the flagship windows phones have their own things too. HTC has an amplifier for sound, and a never been done 2.1? (or 2.0?) MP front facing wide camera. Nokia has an insane (and also never been done except by them) 8.7MP camera that is WAY ahead of other phones. And wireless charging.

    But those innovations might not mean much to you depending on how much you use your phone. I'm interested in the 8X because I skype a lot, but the Lumia sounds nice because of Nokia's apps, as well as the charging (interesting) and the camera (insanely good). They're definitely innovative, but "best hardware" is subjective. The underlying SoC is the same, but some of the software/other parts of the hardware are really what makes the difference.
    Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    The 920 is bleeding edge hardware. The camera is an evolutionary leap above other smartphone cameras. Reply
  • wrack - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Does WP8 have orientation lock setting? I hate it when the screen rotates when I am reading news on the bed lying on side. Reply
  • karocage - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    I thought it was interesting that you say there was a lot of debate about removing the "unused space" on WP7's home screen, because as is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for 5 seconds, that empty space allows you to see more items simultaneously than you can on WP8.

    Of course, the smaller tile size means you can see more items on WP8, but WP7 layout + WP8 smaller tiles size would maximize information density. The symmetry must be purely for marketing as seemed to be implied. Too bad. Less distinctive and less functional.
    Reply
  • von Krupp - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Also less intuitive. There is no arrow to tell new Windows Phone users that more is to be had with a swipe to the left (or a tap on said arrow). If they wanted to better utilize that black space, they could have added charms for such items as search or settings, things that would actually get used often enough to warrant such a position.

    I do not like the new Start Screen at all, let alone the overall lack of change to the UI. Too many missed opportunities.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    The arrow shows up when you scroll to the bottom. Reply
  • von Krupp - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    In that case, I stand corrected on the "intuitive" part regarding the home screen.

    Still, I feel it lacks the character of the original.

    Having put some more thought into it from the last post, I feel like a better use of the black area would have been charms representing programs running in the background...almost like the jump-lists from desktop Windows 7. Inside of an application, dragging the ellipsis would not only bring up the host of options, but the side bar as well.

    Larger tiles just seems like a wasted opportunity. Almost lazily so.
    Reply
  • jamyryals - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Larger tiles? The large tile and medium tiles were both in WP7. The new tile is the small one.

    The new home screen is better.
    Reply

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