The Windows Phone Interface

When Microsoft came up with the Metro Modern UI design language, their goal was essentially to streamline and simplify the interface as much as humanly possible. For me at least, this was a huge draw towards the platform (though I benefitted from arriving to the smartphone race late.) The Modern UI was designed to run in portrait mode, and it takes tremendous advantage of the increased vertical space.

If you're unfamiliar with it, Windows Phone 8's interface involves two basic screens: the start page which features live tiles, and an application list. For WP8, Microsoft has gone from having two live tile sizes to three, and while I feel like it clutters the interface, it's ultimately much more productive. The tiles both launch applications and, depending on which applications they link to, can also provide useful information, essentially combining desktop widgets with shortcuts into a single useful "button." The tiles also tend to blend together in a much neater and more orderly fashion than widgets and icons do in iOS or Android, and they're very easy to rearrange and resize. Microsoft won't let you personalize your background (only your lock screen), but you can get a lot of mileage out of customizing the start page exactly.

Meanwhile, the application list has amusingly been the standout feature of Windows Phone every time I've shown it to anyone: it's just that sensible. If you swipe left from the start menu, the application list is exactly what it sounds like: a vertical list of the apps installed on the phone, alphabetized. Icon on the left, name on the right. Once you reach a critical mass of apps, the letters of the alphabet pop up above each set of apps that start with that letter; you can tap the letter to bring up the alphabet, then tap the first letter of the app you want to find. Or, you can scroll up or down to it. Either way, to me at least, this is a very intuitive way of keeping the phone organized.

Finally, holding your finger on anything you're interested in brings up a menu that allows you to modify it. Uninstalling apps is as easy as choosing "uninstall app." "Pin to Start Menu" does exactly what it says. On the start menu itself, all of the tiles start floating, allowing you to rearrange them. You can resize them by tapping the arrow on the bottom right corner of the tile.

When you do use applications that employ the Modern UI design language, screens remain exceptionally clean. Since you're restricted to customization between having white text on a black background or black text on a white background and can only choose which accent color you want the tiles and highlights to use, the interface remains crisp and easy to understand.

Ultimately, between Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8, the only immediately visible major interface change is the addition of the quarter-sized live tile on the start menu. You can add additional notifications to the lock screen and choose a single application to get a full text readout, but I felt like the one notification type seriously missing from the WP7.5 lock screen was a toast notification for whatever games I was playing with friends (i.e. WordFeud). Despite being able to assign a "games" icon to the lock screen, there's still no toast notification for any of the games I play. On the flipside, pinning the games I play regularly to the start menu allows the live tiles to indicate to me whenever it's my turn, so at least there's some way to know.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X Essentials: Phone, Contacts, and Messaging


View All Comments

  • steven75 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    "Yes, the social media stuff on WP is a big innovation. You get one unified feed of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. This is a far better model than going into individual apps."

    Why would you want this? You can't "like", view photo albums, or events on twitter, you can't hashtag search or trend search on facebook. You basically lose each services most useful features into something extremely dumbed down.
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    You can like, comment, and view photo albums from the unified feed for facebook posts...have you even used one of these devices before?

  • Belard - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    Get Launcher 7 or Launcher 8 for Android.. comes in free or paid versions. Reply
  • karasaj - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Er... no. 335 ppi is indistinguishable to the eye without a magnifying glass. It doesn't matter if you smash your nose into the screen; you won't see it. And if you do, you're convincing yourself through a placebo effect.

    You can't shrug off the point of WP8 lol. Live tiles are certainly better integrated with the OS than widgets on Android or nothing on iOS. I don't see what you consider to be a standout point to Android. I love Android, I used stock, several Cyanogen Mod's, and another ROM whose name I don't remember, but I like WP8's UI more. It's cleaner, fits more on one screen, and I think it is definitely a better "average social" kind of phone. Sure, if you're an enthusiast, you get Android, root the phone, and have fun. But that isn't everybody.
  • GoodToGo - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Err except that it is not. Here is an article clearly refuting why 300ppi is no where close to good.
  • hahmed330 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Firstly, live tiles are barely informative. Widgets are far superior then live tiles as they are interactive and are very practical. For example youtube widget, I can scroll down tabs of my favorite youtube channels and access it in 5 seconds without ever accessing youtube app itself. (lets assume that there will be a youtube app on WP8) You would have to have a separate live tile for each of the channels.

    Secondly, Microsoft has too much of a control over their OS itself. How are companies going to differentiate themselves? The biggest reason why android has been so successful. Of course this is also a bad thing as well, but for the end user it is also a good thing because whatever works for you best is the best policy there is. Because android is here you have more choices as Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG, Huawei, Pantech... e.t.c. All of their smart phones can be differentiated, but not WP8 based phones.

    Thirdly, android evolves very quickly by the time there will be windows 8.5 we would have 3 revisions in android. The changes in android have been quite substantial each time. Difference between WP7 vs WP8 is like difference between Android 4.0 and 4.1. While android evolved form gingerbread to jellybean in the same amount of time.
  • Alexvrb - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Both Android and WP8 have their advantages. In my family I have a couple of iPhone users and a few Android users. I'm the only one with a WP device, and that was only very recently.

    Live tiles give me what I want in at a glance. I don't just have one live tile. At a glance I can see all kinds of stuff, and with a touch you can dig further into any of them. They're not perfect but I like them quite a bit, and like just about everything on WP8 they are designed to be battery-friendly . If Google was playing nice with Youtube, we would already HAVE a proper Youtube app.

    Too much control over the OS? I can see that point of view, but personally I disagree. When I buy a PC, I don't want OEM junkware or modifications. For my personal desktop machines, I build, so this isn't an issue. I feel the same way about phones. I think PC OEMs have managed to differentiate just fine without relying on gimmicks. If anything, it has forced them to concentrate on the hardware more. I see no reason why smartphone vendors can't do the same. In fact, in the WP field, they're doing just that. I chose a Lumia 822 over the 8X because the 8X lacked a removeable battery and SD slot.

    As for updates, frequent updates don't necessarily mean more substance. You're definitely wrong about WP7 vs WP8. WP7 went through multiple significant updates before we even arrived at WP8, and the platform has improved significantly over time. I'd say this is really a wash, and not strictly an advantage for anyone.
  • steven75 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    In what way are Android widgets different than live tiles?

    What good is "integration with the OS as far as social media" when you can't even reply to someone on twitter using the built-in twitter mechanic? I mean this is basic stuff. Same for Facebook. The built-in social media support is about as basic as it gets which is why everyone installs an app anyway, pretty much taking away any advantage WP8 has.
  • s44 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I think you're on to something.

    Leave aside how Windows is or isn't superior, though, how do they make their brand *feel* superior? Most people don't *want* to think of themselves as the tech idiots whose VCRs used to flash 12:00 and need a Smartphone For Dummies, even if they are. (Look how Apple has spun that image to flatter their customers -- and how Samsung has successfully played the old/unhip/un-saavy card on Apple and BB.) Having middling celebs do down-to-earth stuff doesn't really associate WP ownership with awesome.

    The recent Droid/LG Optimus ads are sort of dumb, but at least they aren't this:
  • Belard - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    I agree with much of what you have to say. The HTC 8x looks like colorful versions of the Once X. When MS first came out with WP7 "Metro" - I like the interface for a phone... and I ran a METRO launcher on my Android 2.x phone for almost 2 years until I got a new Motorola Atrix HD (4.1) - I still have that old phone as a part time mini-tablet.

    With Android 4.x, I didnt feel the need to use Launcher 7 (or 8). The widgets do what I need and I love how Motrola has designed their UI (Almost pure Android).

    When I use a friends SGS3... its different UI isn't as nice... but that is more opinion and personal preference.

    Win8 is a whole eco-system designed to revamp Microsoft in all market points.. it does nothing great. I think its still great for a phone and is actually original compared to Android and iOS... Okay for a tablet... horrible for a desktop.

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