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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  • von Krupp - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    The standard 1x1 tile in WP8 is larger than the standard 1x1 tile in WP7. Same goes for the 2x1. To make it worse, they didn't scale the icons inside of the tiles appropriately so now there is more unused blank space. To me, it looks off.

    The functions they added are better, I'm not denying that. However, I think they missed an opportunity for real improvement in the UI. They have also wasted more space with all of that background tile than they did with WP7.
    Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    I agree with everything you said. The WP8 layout is bad, to the point where I won't be upgrading my 7.5 phone to 7.8. It's less functional and less attractive.

    I might grudgingly upgrade to WP8 some day, but not any time soon.
    Reply
  • KaarlisK - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    ...with the ability to plug in a monitor, keyboard and mouse and run Desktop apps... Reply
  • codedivine - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Does the browser support text reflow? Reply
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    I'm all for a compact phone that uses a 4.3" high resolution screen, but the 8X is not it. The dimensions are similar to the Galaxy S3, but the S3 has 25% larger screen area. Very strange design choice. Reply
  • nativetexan - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    I may have missed this, but is there any support for Google apps at all? Most of my content is tied up in gmail, GDrive, calendar, etc. Will I have to start over and use only MS products to use this phone and OS? Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    If Google does it and Microsoft allows it. Reply
  • Chaser - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    In a moment of temporary insanity I went from an SG2 to the Nokia W7P. In hindsight the app support is just not there. Feature wise the '7 phone was a major letdown. -Don't make the mistake for a second that Android is a baseline of features. W7P was way behind on features I had learned to take for granted.

    I think the "metro" interface has some noteworthy features. It;s far better than the outdatesd, over simplistic IOS. If it had app support closer to Android it would have been a contender.

    Obviously I can't speak for W8P but I would look it over very carefully before you commit.
    Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    What features were you missing? Reply
  • Dorek - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    Google Calendar and Gmail work pretty well. Google Drive I don't know about, I have a 25GB SkyDrive. Reply

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