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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Windows 8 review

Windows 8 review

It's unusual, to say the least, for us to spend a year with a product before publishing our review. In the case of Windows 8, we've written thousands of words already, starting with our first hands-on in September of 2011, followed by deep dives on the Developer Preview, Consumer Preview, Release Preview and RTM build. Even our readers have had ample time to get acquainted with the OS -- it's been available as a public download since February. And yet, we've never tested a final version of the software running on brand new, made-for-Windows-8 hardware. With the OS now on sale (alongside with dozens of new PCs), it's finally time for us to double back and revisit everything we've previously written in the form a final, comprehensive review.

And what a challenging assignment this was: it's hard enough to give an OS the full review treatment without burying the reader in minute details. It's even tougher when the software was built for so many different kinds of hardware. Combining a traditional desktop with Windows Phone-inspired Live Tiles, Windows 8 was designed to be equally at home on traditional PCs and more finger-friendly devices, like tablets and hybrids. In addition to walking you through the operating system's various gestures and built-in apps, then, we'll spend some time talking about which form factors are best suited to this redesigned version of Windows. Read on to see what we found out.
Getting started
It's all about the cloud
The whole boot-up sequence takes not a minute, but just 20 seconds in some cases.
We can remember when we first started using Windows 7; the start-up sequence wasn't that different from Vista, which in turn wasn't unlike versions of Windows that came before that. The chain of start-up screens could be long, sometimes taking more than a minute to complete. Depending on how slow the system was, it could have taken a while longer for the desktop to fully load. Here, booting Windows feels like turning on an Android tablet, or some other mobile device. The whole process takes not a minute, but just 20 seconds in some cases -- a short sequence marked by a brief splash screen and redesigned Windows logo. If this is your first time starting up your Windows 8 machine, you'll see a 30-second video tutorial explaining some of the controls that otherwise might not be so obvious -- the so-called Charms Bar which you pull out from the right side of the screen, for example. (We'll circle back and explain all those new user interface elements in just a moment.)
From there, getting set up is a quick, painless affair. When you first boot up Windows 8 you'll be prompted to sign into your Microsoft account. Yep, the same one you might already be using for Hotmail, SkyDrive and Xbox Live. That means that every time you sign into a Windows 8 PC, your settings and custom tweaks will follow you to that new device. Additionally, because your Microsoft account is linked to your SkyDrive storage, you'll be logged into SkyDrive on any Windows 8 device where you've logged in using your Microsoft ID. So, because Office 2013 backs up to SkyDrive by default, it means any document you edit on your Windows 8 device will automatically upload to the cloud.

If you didn't already have a Microsoft account, you can create one while you're setting up your PC. You can link your account at any time, really, and you also have the option of disconnecting it (in Microsoft's words, "switching to a local account"). Naturally, too, you can add multiple user accounts, as you could on previous versions of Windows.

If you like, you can also cherry-pick which settings do and do not get synced across your various Windows 8 devices. Go into the settings menu, for instance, and you can use on-off switches to sync your settings for desktop personalization, accessibility, language, app and browser settings. You also have the option of syncing your lock screen, account picture and other Windows settings, like those relating to File Explorer or the mouse. Note: to have your passwords follow you from PC to PC, you'll need to "trust" the computer through an online verification process.
Security options
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Obviously, if you log into Windows 8 for the first time using an existing Microsoft account, you've already got a built-in password for your PC. But in addition to a standard password, you can use a four-digit numerical pin to unlock the device. What's more, with Windows 8, Microsoft is also offering a new "Picture password" option that allows you to pick any photo and make a series of gestures on it. You can make as many gestures as you want, but they do have to be taps, circles or swipes. In addition to the order, though, you'll have to remember where on the picture you're supposed to make each gesture.

We had mixed success here. On the one hand, when we set our password to be one tap in each corner of the picture, we were easily able to replicate this pattern, even if we didn't hit the exact same pixels each time. Still, when our password was a diagonal slash across each corner, we struck out trying to draw the lines in the same spot we did initially. Fortunately, as you're configuring your picture password you'll be asked to repeat the pattern, so if you can't do it then, that might be a sign you need to come up with something else.
User interface

Redesigned Start Screen, and the end of the Start button
Everyone can, and will, figure it out.
It's safe to say the Windows Phone-esque Live Tiles have been the single most polarizing thing about Windows 8. Which makes sense: the new, mobile-inspired Start Screen looks wholly different from anything we've seen on previous versions of Windows. What's more, you can't even interact with these apps the same way: they run at full-screen, and can't be minimized or re-sized like the windows you're used to. In short, these tiles are the cornerstone of the Windows 8 experience, and they're impossible to avoid, even if you plan on doing much of your work in the traditional desktop.

As you've probably heard by now, the Start button is no more. Well, it's there, but you'll have to hover with your mouse in the lower-left corner to make it appear. So, it's exactly where you'd expect it to be; it's just hidden until it's clear you need it. And what if you're using a touchscreen PC, like a dockable tablet? Your device will almost certainly have a dedicated Start button, the same way every Windows-compatible keyboard has a Start key. You can also find a shortcut to the Start menu in the Charms Bar, which you expose by swiping in from the right side of the screen. Not being able to click on the Start button is an adjustment, to be sure, but we're also confident you'll fall into a rhythm pretty quickly. After all, hovering where the Start button used to be isn't that different from clicking it, and hitting the Start key with your pinkie feels natural as well.

When Windows users say they wish Microsoft hadn't axed the Start button, what they're really nervous about is the fact that the Start Menu is presented so differently. When you hit the Start key, you'll no longer see a stack of fly-out menus; instead, you'll be whisked away from the desktop to a full-screen assortment of finger-friendly Live Tiles, which you scroll through from left to right. In other words, that minimal, unfamiliar screen is the new Start Menu.

Back when we first tried out the Developer Preview, we said it felt jarring to switch back and forth between the traditional desktop and this more tablet-optimized Start Screen. And it is -- if you've never used Windows 8 before. What we can say now that we didn't appreciate back then is that while the learning curve is steep, you do get comfortable after a while. No one is a dummy: everyone can, and will, figure it out. It just takes a little time before using Windows 8 feels truly effortless.
Universal search
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We'd add, too, that once you master this new layout, there are lots of useful things about the OS that feel like clear improvements over previous versions of Windows. If you make the same pinch-to-zoom gesture you'd use to zoom in and out of web pages, you can shrink the Start Screen so that you can see all your pages of apps at once. As you can imagine, that's useful if you have a large collection of apps and don't want to page horizontally through eight home screens.

Additionally, once you bring up the Start screen you can start typing to search for something. As any Windows user will tell you, you can already more or less do this in Win 7, except here you don't even need to find a search bar. The results will immediately pop up on the right side of the screen. From within the search results pane, you'll see the results are divided into files, settings and applications. Admittedly, this method of search isn't obvious to new users, but again, you only need to learn it once. After that, it's quite convenient.
Charms Bar
The Charms Bar is at its best when you have some sort of touch device at your disposal.
We already mentioned the Charms Bar, which appears when you swipe in from the right side of the screen. Here, you'll find shortcuts for the Start Screen, settings menu, a list of connected devices, search and sharing. Lingering on that last point, sharing works much the same as it does on other mobile devices, which is to say if you've got some piece of content -- say, a Word document or a batch of photos -- you can share them in all sorts of way. This includes email, as well as Facebook, SkyDrive, Twitter and any other applicable service you've linked to your Microsoft account. Again, we're used to doing this on our smartphones and tablets, but it's a pleasure to be able to use a Windows PC the same way.

What's more, it's nice that all of these sharing and settings menus are easy to reach with your thumbs, even if you're using a large 11-inch tablet or a 13-inch convertible PC. The Charms Bar is one example of this: you can reach the settings and sharing menus while still cradling your tablet in a natural position. Moving on to the left side of the screen, you can swipe in from the left to toggle through open apps -- a feature known as Switcher. Each time you swipe, a different program slides into place, taking up the whole screen. Here, too, it's easy to control your device, even if you're holding a large-screen tablet and have your hands full.

You can also expose the Charms Bar using a mouse, though it's a less smooth experience. You'll want to hover on so-called hot corners at the upper- and lower-right portions of the screen. This can be frustrating, and definitely has a learning curve. If you're using a PC without a touchscreen, there's a good chance the trackpad has fresh drivers that allow you to replicate key Windows 8 gestures, like swiping in from the right to bring up the Charms Bar. We've also seen accessories like the Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Trackpad T650, which bring this functionality even to people whose older PCs don't support these gestures. Point is: this feature in Windows 8 is at its best when you have some sort of touch device at your disposal. Whether that ends up being a touchscreen or a gesture-enabled trackpad doesn't matter as much.

One other, potentially confusing thing: the Charms Bar holds the shortcut to system settings. If you're inside an app and want to see some options specific to that program, you'll need to perform a different gesture entirely: swipe the top or bottom of the screen to bring up that menu.

When it comes to switching apps, you can use that Switcher gesture, but there are other built-in features designed to make multitasking a bit easier. For starters, Snap allows you to dock a window or app so that it takes up either a third or two-thirds of the screen. That leaves room for a second app, which you can snap into the remaining space. That's actually quite similar to Aero Snap from Windows 7, except here the dimensions are in thirds, instead of half the screen. As in the Win 7 version of this feature, you can't manually re-size these windows: once they snap into place they're going to take up a predictable amount of space (i.e., one third of the screen).

Also, in Windows 8 you can mix up the proportions by sliding the border of a window across the screen. Say, for instance, you're working on a Word document on two-thirds of the screen, with IE 10 sitting off to the side. You might be spending most of your time typing in Word, but if you need to do a web search, you can just put your finger on the border between the two windows, and drag it over so that now the web browser takes up more space. It's also worth noting that you can mix and match traditional desktop programs and Modern (formerly known as "Metro") apps. In some cases, this can mean fewer jarring jumps between the desktop and more touch-friendly apps.

Snap is a trick you can pull off if you're using a touchscreen device or a traditional mouse and keyboard. Whether you're using your finger or a cursor, you need to drag down on the app from the top of the screen before it can be docked into place. If you are using a mouse, you can also hover in the upper-left corner of the screen to expose open apps. What you'll see isn't a list, per se, but a series of preview thumbnails -- miniaturized versions of whatever's going on in that window (your inbox, your SkyDrive home screen, et cetera). From there, you can click on a thumbnail to switch to that app, or you can right-click to close one. Like so many other features in Windows 8, this feels less clumsy with practice, though even after months of testing, we find the swiping Switcher gesture feels smoother, more intuitive.
Personalization options

To some extent, you can control the look and feel of Windows 8. No, there's no bringing back the Start button, but you can select different color themes for your Start Screen. Toward the end of the Windows 8 development process, Microsoft added so-called Personalization Tattoos -- essentially, Start Screen backgrounds with patterns and borders. So long as you're signed into your PC using a Microsoft account, this, too, will follow you to other Windows 8 devices you might log into. Get another Win 8 PC down the line, and it will show your paisley background as soon as you sign in for the first time.
Lock screen

In addition to the Start Menu, you can customize the look and feel of the lock screen. This includes the background photo, as well as which notifications are displayed. For instance, even without entering your password, you can see upcoming calendar appointments, as well as a peek at how many unread messages or emails you have. In the PC settings, you can also choose to display detailed information for one of two things: your upcoming calendar appointment, or the weather forecast.

DNP Windows 8 review
For the most part, the desktop should feel familiar to Windows 7 users.
For the most part, the desktop should feel pretty familiar to Windows 7 users, especially compared to that redesigned Start Screen. Still, there are some differences here, too. For starters, the Aero UI is no more, which means windows no longer have a transparent border. Everything here is flat and two-dimensional, not unlike those new Live Tiles.

In a move that will please power users, Windows 8 also ushers in improved multi-monitor support, with the ability to display different desktop backgrounds on multiple displays, as well as have a single picture span those various screens. You also have the choice of expanding the Taskbar across those monitors, or setting it up so that a pinned program only appears on the same screen where that app is running. All told, it's a welcome improvement, though it would be nice if you could run Modern UI-style Windows 8 apps on more than one monitor at a time. Also, if you do have a multi-monitor setup, you'll find it's trickier than usual to pull up the Charms Bar using a mouse.

Other changes: Windows Explorer is now called File Explorer, and bears the same Ribbon UI already used in Microsoft apps like Office and Paint. There's also now a File History feature, which stores versions of files similar to Time Machine in Apple's OS X. The Task Manager has also received a makeover so that when you first launch it, all you see is a list of open apps. Nothing about processes or memory usage; just a list of programs, and an "End task" button. Click "More details," though, and you'll see a half-dozen tabs, showing you everything from performance graphs to CPU usage to running processes. In the processes tab, in particular, there are four columns showing CPU, memory, disk and network usage, with the resource hogs highlighted in a darker color.

One thing that hasn't changed: the keyboard shortcuts. The same ones you relied on in Windows 7 will work here, which should take some of the sting out of getting used to a new user interface.
Built-in apps


Setting up the Mail app is easy: if the Microsoft ID you use to initially sign in is tied to Gmail, or some other service not run by Microsoft, it automatically prompts you for your email password. In the case of Gmail, we had the option of syncing our Google contacts and Calendar as well (we said yes). There are also easy setup options for Hotmail,, Yahoo and AOL, though you can add accounts from other services too. Even if you don't link a Hotmail or Outlook account, the Mail app will import all your folders and labels -- everything, really, but your starred items, in Gmail. Those folders take up just a narrow pane on the left side of the screen. Next to that is a wider window where you can see each individual message, along with previews and, when applicable, thumbnails of the contact who wrote to you.

The email itself takes up the most space, stretching across the entire right third of the screen. Up top, above the message, you'll find icons for creating a new message, replying / forwarding and deleting. (We always did like the in-line delete button in, so we're glad to see that design touch carries over here too.) If you swipe the top or bottom edge of the screen for the options menu, you can refresh your inbox, or move a message to another folder. Also, if you have more than one email account hooked up, you can pin a particular inbox to the Start Menu.

All told, it's easy to use; we just wish there were easy-access buttons for archiving and marking junk mail as spam. Unfortunately, too, you don't have direct access to certain of Hotmail and's finer features, like the ability to "Sweep" newsletters and other so-called gray mail into out-of-the-way folders. However, if you set up Sweep on our, the Mail app in Windows 8 will still follow whatever rules you have in place.
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As promised, when we chose to sync our Google contacts and Calendar, our appointments all promptly showed up in the built-in Calendar app. (If you're not a Google user, you can also link your Hotmail, or Exchange / Office365 calendar.) The default view is by month, which is a bit too busy for our tastes -- you can only see two appointments per day, even if there are many more. We highly suggest selecting the daily or weekly view in the menu options hidden at the bottom of the screen. If you're creating an appointment from scratch, you'll have the same options as if you were doing this online: everything from date to time slot to reminder alerts.
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The People app doubles as an address book and a one-stop shop for social networking updates. Using the settings menu in the Charms Bar, you can link all sorts of accounts -- things like Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Obviously, the more of these services you connect, the more contacts will pop up in your People Hub. All told, it works similarly to the People Hub in Windows Phone, which is to say everyone you know gets a contact card that pulls in all available forms of contact -- everything from email to a Twitter handle. Open your own contact card and you can update your Facebook status as well as post, favorite or reply to tweets.

When you open People Hub you'll see your contacts arranged in alphabetical order, and you scroll from left to right to move through the list. As with the Start Screen, you can use pinch-to-zoom to shrink a long list. In this case, you won't see every contact onscreen; just a tile for each letter of the alphabet, making it easier to jump to a certain part of your list.

Also in the People Hub are Live Tiles for social networking / messaging notifications, as well as a "What's new" page, showing a horizontal feed containing your friends' recent Facebook and Twitter updates. Though the People Hub is easy to use in general, we tended not to rely on the "What's new" stream, as a long list of social updates is easier to view in a vertical list than a horizontal one.
IE 10
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In Windows 8, you get not one, but two versions of the IE 10 browser: one for the desktop, and a more touch-friendly one that lives on the Start Screen. Both versions have a Chrome-like setup, with a single bar for URLs and web searches. The two also sync with each other, which wasn't the case in earlier builds of the OS.

There are, as you can imagine, some UI differences. In the desktop version, though, adding a tab is as easy as pressing a plus sign. In the more touch-optimized version, you swipe from the top of the screen to expose open tabs, or open a new one. IE 10 also has a feature allowing you to either swipe or click an onscreen arrow button to proceed to the next page, whether that's the next page of search results or the next page in a news story broken up into nine pieces.

As far as content goes, IE 10 is HTML5-based, though the desktop version supports Flash and Silverlight as well. In the touch-friendly version of the browser, only certain sites on the Compatibility View list support Flash. So, we can't promise you'll be able to run the site you want, but that Flash exceptions list at least includes popular sites like YouTube and Vimeo. And besides, with HTML5 being as ubiquitous as it is, you really shouldn't run into any issues.

From a privacy standpoint, Do Not Track comes enabled by default, which means sites can only track and collect your private data if you go out of your way to turn off "Do Not Track."
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Windows' built-in camera app is simple: a full-screen frame (if you choose a 16:9 resolution), with a few options always visible at the bottom. These include a timer, video mode and a "change camera" toggle (assuming there are front and rear cameras). There's also a "camera options" icon, but from there you can only switch the resolution or choose another audio recording option, if applicable.

Right now, at least, there are no photo filters, like sepia, and nothing in the way of HDR or panorama mode. The camera app is also missing tap-to-focus, which can be a minor nuisance or an unfortunate problem, depending on the tablet you're using. Still, as we saw on the ASUS VivoTab RT, PC makers have the option of adding secondary camera apps that mimic the look and feel of the stock camera application, but add a few more special effects. Without any of these additional features we've come to expect, the native camera app feels like a bit of an afterthought.
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In addition to creating a dedicated SkyDrive app for Windows 8, Microsoft made over the browser version of its cloud storage service. As ever, people signing up for a new Microsoft account get 7GB of free lifetime storage. However, if you recall, folks who had previously uploaded files as of April 22 of this year had the option of opting into 25GB of storage. If you're already enthusiastic about Windows and the Microsoft ecosystem at large, chances are this describes you.

Whether you log in online or use the Win 8 app, each folder or file takes the form of a tile. When using the browser, these tiles sit as a grid, with the various thumbnails stacked on top of each other. In the Windows 8 app, you scroll through them horizontally by default, though you can also view them in list format. Whichever app you use, you can upload or download files, as well as create new folders. With the web version, though, you can also create a new Word document, PowerPoint presentation, Excel spreadsheet or OneNote workbook -- something you can't do in the Win 8 app.
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Messaging is your native IM app. For now, you can link it with Microsoft Messenger (of course) or Facebook chat. Though it would be nice to add Google Talk, the way you can add your Gmail address in the Mail app, we're not surprised that Microsoft has excluded the competition here.
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Similar to the People app, Photos pulls in pictures from all sorts of sources: Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive and your PC's local storage. As a portal for viewing and sharing photos, it's great. You can run a slide show, and use the context-aware sharing feature in the Charms Bar to easily upload pics to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other websites. You can also pull in pics from another PC you may own -- so long as you install the SkyDrive desktop client on that system and select the checkbox next to "Let me use SkyDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC."

Additionally, you can also share photos through email. It's also easy to select photos to upload in batches: just swipe the top of the screen to expose the app settings, and then hit "Select all." If you want to remove an item from the list, just uncheck it. All in all, the app is easy to use, though more editing tools would be nice. Also, we kept trying to select photos by pressing down on them with our finger. The fact that you can't do this feels a bit unintuitive.
Games, Music and Video
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We'll just lump these together since they all fall under the Xbox ecosystem. Through these apps, you can buy music, movies and Xbox Live games, with the additional option of renting some movies. For now, Windows Phone games are not supported in the way you can play some iOS games on both iPhones and iPads. It would seem logical of Microsoft to eventually make its Windows Phone games available on Windows 8 devices, but for now, you'll have to download different sets of apps for your tablet and smartphone.

Out of the box, Microsoft's Music app includes free, ad-supported streaming, available in 15 markets to start. Though the games compatibility is still somewhat compartmentalized, this music streaming feature will work across Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Xbox. Obviously, Microsoft has been in the business of selling music for some time, so by now its catalog is quite voluminous at 30 million songs. If you like, you can purchase Xbox Music Pass, an ad-free subscription, for $10 a month.

Under this plan, your songs will follow you from device to device, just like the rest of your settings. Here, you'll also get the option of downloading music and listening to it offline, which you can't do with the free, ad-supported service. Similar to iTunes, too, Music includes a matching feature that takes music you already had stored on your computer and finds the cloud-based version.

Though it's not installed on Windows 8 machines out of the box, you can download Microsoft's SmartGlass app, which lets you stream music and video to an Xbox, using your Windows 8 device as a remote. All told, it's not unlike Apple's AirPlay, though SmartGlass has the added benefit of not being limited to multimedia playback. You can also use it with Internet Explorer, in which case you also have the option of using an on-screen keyboard within the app.
Bing Apps: Search, Map, News, Sports, Weather, Finance and Travel
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Peppered around the Start Screen, you'll find a handful of Bing-powered apps: Search, Map, News, Sports, Weather, Finance and Travel. Starting with search, the screen is so minimal that you have to tap to expose the search bar. At the bottom of the screen are a handful of trending topics; you can always click more, and then scroll through them from left to right, as you would with anything else in Windows 8. Maps has aerial and road view options, with a street traffic option. By default, it will show your current location, though you can of course search for any point of interest you like. There are also turn-by-turn directions, which appear as a banner at the top of the screen that you can scroll through from left to right.

Scroll from side to side in the travel app and you'll see featured destinations, panoramic photos and travel-related news stories. If you want more personalized information, though (and you probably will), you can swipe down from the top of the screen to choose a specific destination, or focus on a different part of the travel-planning process, like flight- or hotel-booking.

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It's a similar story for Bing Sports: when you first open the app, you'll see a featured story, followed by other articles. You'll also see schedules for every in-season sport. Swipe from the top of the screen, though, and you can pick a certain sport. You can also pick favorite teams, and view news stories and schedules that only relate to them. Bing News, meanwhile, is personalized in the sense that you can view specific sources, in addition to a main home screen with top news in every category.

The weather app is a geek's haven, with a mix of hourly forecasts, maps and graphs. You can add a location manually, or let the radios on your device figure it out. Finally, Bing Finance does just what you'd expect: it shows top market news, along with overviews of the major indices, though you can also create a personalized watchlist making it easy to check on your stocks at a glance.
Windows Store

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This is Windows we're talking about. Developers like Facebook would be wise to come up with something posthaste.
When Windows 8 went on sale a few days ago, Microsoft said the Windows Store was home to thousands of apps, though it declined to provide a precise number. For now, there are no first-party apps for Facebook and Twitter, which remains true on Windows 7 as well. (Twitter, at least, says it will have an app in the coming months.) Other missing biggies include: Foursquare, Mint, PageOnce, TripIt, NPR, Draw Something, Words with Friends, Temple Run, Spotify, Springpad, Remember the Milk, Instapaper, Pocket (formerly Read it Later), Flipboard, Steam, Instagram, Nook and Rdio. Still, there's reason to think many of these will arrive soon enough: in the weeks we spent working on this review, Netflix, The New York Times, Skype, Hulu Plus, Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Zinio and Bank of America all went live in the store. Dropbox, ESPN and PayPal are all coming soon, according to Microsoft. Other notables, like the AP,, Pandora and Slacker, have been available for quite some time already. And besides, who are we kidding? This is Windows we're talking about. The operating system that's going to ship on millions and millions of new PCs. Developers like Facebook would be wise to come up with something for Windows 8 posthaste. Still, in the first few weeks or months of owning your Window 8 device, you might find yourself making do with less familiar alternatives, or just loading up the browser version of the app.

Navigating the store feels like using any other Windows 8 app; you'll start off by seeing recommended apps, along with tiles for new releases and the top free apps. Keep scrolling to the right and you'll see apps broken down by category, such as social or entertainment. If you're less in the mood to meander and more in the mood to find something specific, you can search in one of two ways: you can swipe the Charms Bar and select the Search option, or you can just start typing. Yep, in the same way you can start typing to find something on the Start Menu, you can start typing to look up an app. If it's in the app store, it'll show up in the search results as a recommended pick. As convenient as that is, though, you can only do it on the main page of the Windows Store. Select a page like "Top Free Games" and that search method no longer works; you'll have to use the Charms Bar instead.

Once you find an app that strikes your fancy, you can read an overview, along with a summary of permissions you'll be granting the developer. You can also see a list of supported languages and check which processors are supported (this is especially useful if you have an ARM-based device running Windows RT and aren't sure it will run the same apps as an x86-based Windows 8 machine). Lastly, there's a tab for reviews, which you can sort by newest, oldest, lowest rating, highest rating or most helpful (yep, you can weigh in on specific comments). Payment methods in the Windows Store include credit cards and PayPal. Once you buy an app, you can install it on up to five devices at once.
In addition to all the new apps and UI elements, Windows 8 brings some enhancements for people with limited vision or other disabilities. Windows chief Steven Sinofsky gives a detailed overview of these improvements here, but for the purposes of this review we'll stick with a quick summary. Updates include:
  • A redesigned Narrator that's quicker to read selected items out loud.
  • Expanded language support in Narrator, with more voice options available.
  • Updated UI Automation with more text patterns and document content so that Narrator can use it to read the outputs from applications.
System requirements
According to Microsoft, Windows 8 requires 1GB of RAM and 20GB of free disk space. Other system requirements include a 1GHz processor that supports PAE, NX, and SSE2; 1,366 x 768 resolution; and DirectX 9 graphics. If you're upgrading your current machine, you can be running an OS as old as XP with Service Pack 3. Heads up: Microsoft warns that if you're upgrading from XP or Vista, you'll need to re-install your apps.
What's less clear is whether your current laptop's trackpad will support Windows 8 gestures. Some existing PCs will benefit from updated drivers that let you perform all the Windows 8-specific motions from your trackpad, but of course, we can't make any guarantees there.
Pricing and versions
Though you can buy a PC with Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro installed, Win 8 Pro is currently the only version of the OS available for purchase as a standalone piece of software. (The main differences, in a nutshell, are that Windows 8 Pro includes business-oriented features like Remote Desktop Connection, Domain Join for corporate networks, and Device Encryption, which is based on the company's BitLocker technology.) From now until January 31, Microsoft is charging consumers an upgrade price of $39.99, provided they download the software. If you'd rather buy it as boxed software, the price is $69.99. Microsoft says it will provide additional pricing information at some later date.
Finally, though this is a review of Windows 8, the new version of Windows for traditional, x86-based PCs, it's worth acknowledging Windows RT for ARM-based devices, and also summarizing the differences. In short, the two operating systems have the same look and feel, with the same UI, gestures and native apps. The chief difference is that Windows RT can't run apps written for x86-based PCs. Additionally, not all the apps in the Windows Store can run on both Win 8 and RT devices. Fortunately, all Windows RT devices come with a version of Office 2013 modified for Windows RT. With that major hurdle out of the way, we're hard-pressed to name that many other x86 apps you'd want to run on an ARM-based tablet.
Though you could install Windows 8 on an older Win 7 system and use it solely with a mouse and keyboard, the market is filling up with touch-friendly PCs designed to be used with Win 8. These include traditional notebooks with touchscreens, as well as dockable tablets, all-in-ones with articulating displays, slider PCs and convertible laptops whose screens can twist and fold back into tablet mode. In general, we'd strongly recommend any of these over a PC that doesn't have a touchscreen.

What we've learned -- and what we couldn't fully appreciate before testing some of these new devices -- is that Windows 8 is at its best when you have the option of interacting with it using your fingers. It doesn't matter so much if you have a touchscreen, a modern touchpad or an external trackpad that supports Win 8 gestures. The point is, many of Windows 8's most enchanting features (the Charms Bar, etc.) are easy to use this way, but frustrating if all you have to work with is a mouse. If you have an older system whose touchpad won't support Windows 8 gestures, you might want to stick with Win 7 until you're ready to buy a new PC -- without that touch input, many of those new features will be lost on you. For people with more touch-friendly hardware, though, Windows 8 is easier to use than you may have feared. Its tablet-style apps, multitasking features and desktop enhancements add up to a balanced mix. It's an OS you can use seamlessly on a tablet, but with features like Snap, Switcher and File Explorer you might well be more productive than you ever were on an iPad or Android slate. Just don't lose faith as you're climbing your way across that learning curve.

By posted Oct 30th 2012 1:00PM

Friday, October 26, 2012

Windows 8 Versions

With only two versions of Windows 8 to be available to consumers, plus one for ARM devices (pre-installed only), what you get ought to be straightforward.
But, as is usual with a new version of Windows, there's still room for confusion because what you get with each version overlaps slightly.

Windows 8

Windows 8 (yes, just Windows 8) is the home version for x86 Intel and AMD PCs. The features you do and don't get mostly make sense; joining a domain, encrypting your disk with BitLocker and being able to log into your PC remotely are business features.
You can connect to a PC at work from a Windows 8 system, with Remote Desktop or a VPN, you can combine multiple hard drives into one storage 'pool' that has multiple copies of your files and you can mount VHD and ISO images as if they were hard drives – but you can't boot from a VHD file.
And anyone who speaks more than one language or travels between countries will be delighted that you can switch not just the keyboard but the Windows interface from one language to another without paying extra.

Windows 8 Pro

What doesn't immediately make as much sense is that Media Center not included with Windows 8; it's "an economical media pack add-on" that's only available for Windows 8 Pro, which is otherwise for business users (or enthusiast users). Again, Windows 8 Pro is for for x86 Intel and AMD PCs.
Although Media Center has dedicated fans (around 50 of whom wrote to Windows head Steven Sinofsky to ask about the feature), only 6% of Windows 7 users ever launch it and only 25% of those use it for more than ten minutes at a time.
Microsoft has to pay licences for the codecs used in Media Centre, including Dolby technology. When the Developer Preview came out last September, Sinofsky commented that "the feedback about Media Center was predominantly "we will pay extra, just include it" based on the input directly to me," so it looks like Microsoft is taking users at their word.

Windows RT explained

All three versions of Windows 8 run Metro-style (also now known as Microsoft design style) applications written in WinRT, the new Windows RunTime programming framework, which is also what Windows RT is named for. Windows RT will come pre-installed on ARM devices like Microsoft Surface, you won't be able to install it yourself.
This is what was previously called Windows on ARM. It has both the Microsoft design style Start screen and the Windows desktop, with Task Manager and Explorer and support for multiple monitors (remember Windows RT devices won't be just tablets and they'll have connectors like HDMI).

The three Windows 8 versions 
Windows 8 (for x86, Intel/AMD)
Windows 8 Pro (for x86, Intel/AMD)
Windows RT (for ARM)

But even though you get the desktop on Windows RT, you can't install desktop applications. It comes with ARM-specific versions of Office apps – but just Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, so if you want Outlook you need a PC with an Intel or AMD processor.
Windows 8 languages
Want to use Windows in French or German? That's built in to Windows 8
Windows RT doesn't include Media Center, or Windows Media Player; it will have updated version of the Music and Video apps we've seen for the Consumer Preview.

But it will have the Play To feature that's only been in Media Player so far; this is now something any software can use to send the music or video you're playing to a DLNA-connected device like a smart TV, Xbox or Sonos music player and we expect to see that show up in the Metro Music and Video apps.

It doesn't have BitLocker, but it does have its own form of device encryption, which is based on a Trusted Platform Module like BitLocker. That's not the same hardware TPM you find in Intel PCs today, it's part of the firmware in the system, but that's the same way that System on Chip x86 PCs running Windows 8 will implement the TPM, to keep power and hardware costs down.
The main difference between device encryption and BitLocker seems to be that BitLocker can be managed by an IT administrator in a business using group policies and a domain; with no group policies or domain support that won't work on Windows RT. If you can manage device encryption it will be through Exchange Active Sync – the way you sync email and calendar appointments – which can already make you use a strong password on a smartphone or a Windows 8 PC.

Windows 8 power consumption

Running desktop apps on a tablet would be a bad idea. Although there will be Ultrabook-style thin notebooks running Windows RT rather than just tablets, tablets with just a touch screen aren't the best way to use the tiny icons and toolbars of the average Windows program.
Even if you could run x86 instructions virtually on an ARM processor they'd be slow, and with all the background services and startup apps and power-hogging tools built into Windows app, they'd run down your battery.

But if you want a thin, light, low power Windows 8 tablet that does run desktop applications, that's still on the cards using low-power System on Chip (SoC) processors from Intel and AMD.

Like ARM-based Windows RT devices, Windows 8 PCs with x86 chips can give also you Connected Standby (where your PC turns off when you turn off the screen but leaves the Wi-Fi or mobile broadband running and receiving only the notifications you've asked for, so your Metro-style email stays up to date and you can get VoIP calls, but apps aren't running and neither is Windows).

Connected Standby needs specific hardware that's not available yet, including Wi-Fi and mobile broadband hardware that can stay awake while the system is asleep, and a new level of ACPI power settings as well a new version of the NDIS network interface standard.

Backwards compatibility vs streamlined UI

And while any Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro PC can have Connected Standby according to Microsoft's feature list, it's only going to be low-power SoCs that can meet the requirement for only using 5% of battery if you leave them on Connected Standby for 16 hours overnight.

If you want the best of both Windows 8 and Windows RT, SoC PCs will give you that. But running Windows apps also means they need antivirus software and they'll come with all the crapware OEMs like to 'enhance' their PCs with; Windows RT tablets might come with extra Metro apps form OEMs but they'll be easy to remove and they can't run in the background.

When you come to pick a Windows 8 PC, you'll have to weight up compatibility versus losing some of the deadweight of the Windows environment. That's what the different versions of Windows 8 are really about.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Microsoft won't release Service Pack 2 for Windows 7

microsoft, windows, service pack, windows 8, windows 7, service pack 2, s The engineering team responsible for building and releasing service packs has reportedly been told there won’t be another service pack for Windows 7. It marks the first time in multiple releases that Microsoft won’t be issuing a second major update.

If you recall, Windows XP received three service packs during its run while Vista scored two major bundles. It’s unclear at this hour why Microsoft isn’t planning a second service pack but it doesn’t take a genius to make an educated guess.

Windows 7 was due for a second service pack any day now. Service packs are reportedly a pain for Microsoft to produce because they require a lot of time and effort to build. With Windows 8 primed for release, it seems as though Microsoft wanted to have everyone working on the new OS rather than lingering around on an older project.

The decision to move forward makes sense but Windows 7 faithful likely won’t be amused. Service packs combine dozens, or even hundreds of individual updates into a single package that’s easy to install. Having to apply each update individually is a time-consuming affair that typically requires multiple reboots and administrator attention.

Some also believe that the decision to skip a second service pack could be a subtle hint to push users towards adopting Windows 8 earlier than they might otherwise have.

Redmond will likely continue to issue individual updates on a regular basis as usual until the operating system reaches end-of-life status.

On October 24, 2012, 3:00 PM EST

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mozilla Unveiling

The release of Firefox 16 may not have been as tidy as Mozilla would have liked it to be thanks to the security flaw that was discovered soon afterwards, but apparently that didn't have much of an effect on uptake of the new browser.

That's according to research firm Chitika, which says that Mozilla's quick response--the software was patched and re-released less than 24 hours later as version 16.0.1--minimized any potential negative impact.

“It seems that Mozilla caught the issue before a large portion of their users had updated to the new version, limiting the number of individuals who were operating with security vulnerabilities,” explains a Friday Chitika Insights report. “Soon after the repair and re-release, adoption rates appeared generally unaffected, with three days of sharp increases in traffic share.”
An early look at Firefox Marketplace is now available in the Aurora version of Firefox 18 for Android
As of October 16, Firefox 16 already made up nearly one-third of all Firefox traffic, leading the company to conclude that “Firefox 16 is on track to be just as successful as previous versions in terms of adoption rate.”
Two intriguing new features
Meanwhile, Mozilla has gone on to uncover new features in upcoming versions. Two of those features are particularly worth noting.
1. Firefox Marketplace
With the Aurora version of Firefox 18 for Android released last week, Mozilla is offering early adopters and testers a sneak peek at its Firefox Marketplace apps store.
“This release features a selection of showcase apps in the areas of games, productivity, and news and media that users can browse, install, and use,” explains a Thursday post on the Mozilla blog. Among the first apps ready for testing are Distant Orbit, Jauntly, Soundcloud, and Twitter.
Firefox Marketplace is designed to allow developers to build, distribute, and monetize immersive apps built on Web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.
To check out Firefox Marketplace, you can download and then open Firefox Aurora on your Android phone; in the Options menu, choose “Apps” (or “Tools” then “Apps”) and browse the Marketplace. Support for Firefox OS and Firefox on other platforms will come in the future, Mozilla said.
2. Social API
Facebook Messenger for Firefox can now be tested in the latest beta version of Firefox 17
Earlier this month Mozilla introduced its new Social API for integrating social functionality into Firefox, and on Monday it announced that the feature is ready for testing via Facebook Messenger for Firefox.

“When you turn on social integration, you get a sidebar of social news and chat which stays put as you browse around the Web--no need to switch between or open a new tab,” explains a post announcing the new feature on the Mozilla blog. “You also get the ability to share the page you’re visiting with a single click in the address bar. The site can even let you know when you have new notifications, all without leaving the page you’re visiting. Of course, when you need to focus, you can also hide it away.”

The new feature doesn’t change what social providers can see about your online behavior unless you explicitly decide to share it, Mozilla stressed.

Support for more providers is on the way, as is support for multiple social sites at once. In the meantime, you can check out this first glimpse at the feature by upgrading to the latest Firefox 17 Beta and then visiting Facebook as you normally would.

By Katherine Noyes

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Windows 8 spurs new PC designs

If you're going to buy a new computer in the next year or two, the decision will be more complicated.

It also will be more fun, with all sorts of new models that will make you think differently about what a PC is, what it does and how it works.

A catalyst for this change is the radical new design of Windows 8, which works equally well on a touch-screen tablet, a traditional laptop or an all-in-one desktop PC.

Helping things along are tiny processors that enable PC makers to build full-power machines in cases less than an inch thick.

New hardware designs were pushed by Intel, which seeded the market with prototype designs developed largely in Oregon. Microsoft also developed prototypes and decided to build its own tablets to raise the bar and showcase its platform.

The PC industry had to do something because lots of people were starting to think the most exciting option for their next computer was an Apple iPad.

Looking ahead, I'll bet computer shoppers will be more intrigued by the new Windows-powered machines that will go on sale starting Friday.

Even the expected arrival of a mini iPad this week won't be enough to keep people away from the new and different PCs and Windows-based tablets.

That is, if shoppers aren't too confused by all the options they'll face, not to mention the hurdle of learning a new operating system. The thinnest and funkiest new touch-screen computers will cost more than old-fashioned PCs, which also will come with Windows 8.

A PC tower and monitor -- or a lower-end, standard laptop -- may still be the cheapest options for a Windows 8 computer. The next step up will be to systems with a touch-screen display, which is especially nice with Windows 8, but not mandatory.
PC makers are building new "all-in-one" desktops around Windows 8, including designs that finally will approach the sleek case design of Apple's iMac. (Here's my review of a Sony all-in-one with an early version of Windows 8, which talks about the learning curve for new users; at left is HP's Spectre One.)

Windows 8 will bring a flood of tablets that may look similar but have big differences. Some will be full-power PCs that run most software made for Windows. Others will be iPad-like "Windows RT" models based on smartphone-type processors that run only new programs designed for the platform. The latter includes Microsoft's own line of Surface tablets.

Dozens of thin, new laptops are coming. Intel is aware of about 70 new models in the works that are thin and potent enough to carry its "Ultrabook" brand. That's in addition to the 70 or so models with Windows 7 that launched since the summer.

Then there are the crazy new Windows 8 hybrids and convertibles PCs that flip, fold and slide into different shapes.

This is just the beginning. Even more hardware changes are likely in mid-2013, when Intel will launch new processors requiring PC makers to design another wave of new machines.

For starters, here's a quick guide to some of the different Windows 8 PCs on their way to the showroom. They say the rainy season is a good time to shop for convertibles, so let's check out some of the new models:
The Jumbo Tablet: Sony calls it the Vaio Tap 20, but it's really a humongous tablet with a 20-inch diagonal touch-screen display (top photo and above). On its stand, it's a nice all-in-one PC that tilts back to use like an easel. Removed from the stand, it runs on a battery and can be carried around the house or used to play digital board games. It starts at $880 and comes in black or white.

The Ferris Wheel: The Dell XPS 12 (below) is called a "Ferris wheel" design by Intel because of the way its display rotates. Dell calls it a "flip hinge touch-screen display." Spin the screen, fold it flat and your laptop becomes a 12-inch tablet. It starts at $1,200.

The Channel Slider: The touch-screen display on Toshiba's Satellite U925T tilts back and slides forward in a channel, covering the keyboard and turning it into a 12.5-inch, widescreen tablet with an Intel Core i5 processor and 128 gigabytes of solid-state storage. It starts at $1,150.
The Surf Slider: Sony also has a "channel slider" called the Vaio Duo 11, but it calls the convertible mechanism a "Surf Slider." It starts at $1,100.
The Twist: Laptops with screens that twist and flop down over the keyboard to form a tablet have been offered since Windows XP Tablet Edition debuted a decade ago. New models are being offered with Windows 8, including the Lenovo Twist S430u, with a 12.5-inch screen and starting at $849.
Twist S430u.png
The Tent: Lenovo has drawn kudos for its Yoga laptop with a 360-degree hinge that folds the display back until it becomes a tablet. You can also fold it around 300 degrees and pitch a "tent" that stands up by itself. A Windows 8 version with 13.3-inch screen starts at $1,099. An 11.6-inch version with the more-limited Windows RT software will start at $799 and arrive in December.
Microsoft's future may hinge on Windows 8, and your next computer may be all about the hinge.

Written by Brier Dudley 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cellphones Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition
Shopping for a smartphone can be an exciting and arduous experience. Along with the promise of something new and fantastic, it brings the fear of commitment, and even worse, the prospect of saddling yourself to a lousy device for two years. Fortunately for you, Engadget spends tons of time playing with the latest gear and we're constantly on the lookout for what's coming next. If you're wanting to take the pain out of shopping for a smartphone, you've come to the right place. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide: your one-stop resource to finding the best and most exciting handsets on the market today.

Before you dive in, however, we've introduced a few changes to the buyer's guide, so take a minute to prepare yourself for what's in store. First and foremost, you'll now find alternate selections to supplement our top picks. This should already be familiar to many of you, which is the same format we use for our seasonal gift guides. The next one is a biggie: we've dropped the QWERTY selection.

By and large, manufacturers and carriers alike have shifted their focus away from keyboard-equipped smartphones, and you'll rarely find more than one option on any given carrier. That said, if you still insist on the tactile experience, you'll always find everything you need to know in our reviews.

Finally, whenever possible, you'll now find prices from Amazon Wireless, which allows us to provide you with more compelling budget selections and highlight the substantial savings that you can score by circumventing the carriers. It's not like they need your charity, anyway.

If you're curious to see how it all unfolded -- and we know you are -- join us after the break, where we round up the very best smartphones of the season.


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition


Five months have passed since its debut, and as a testament to its staying power, the HTC One X remains our top pick for AT&T. Not only does it combine excellent performance, a large and beautiful 720p display and a fantastic camera into one stunning handset, but at just $0.01 through Amazon Wireless, it also represents the very best value on the market today. A near-term release of Jelly Bean promises to bring a new lease on life to the venerable One X, and the only consideration that keeps it from being a no-brainer is that its successor has already been announced. Still, this is an amazing value by any measure, which qualifies the One X as our unequivocal budget pick for AT&T -- or any carrier, for that matter.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.7-inch HD (1,280 x 720) S-LCD 2 display, 8MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras, 16GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $0.01 at Amazon Wireless
You might also like...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Apple iPhone 5

It's no secret that the iPhone 5 is among the most compelling smartphones on the market today, and for good reason: it brings snappy performance, a top-notch display, commendable battery life and an excellent camera to the table. We're also particularly fond of its beautiful enclosure, and all things told, the iPhone 5 is the best choice on the market for those who insist on a compact smartphone.

From $199 at Apple

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy Note II

While the Galaxy Note II certainly isn't for everyone, many users will absolutely adore the additional functionality that comes with the S Pen stylus. What's more, it currently leads the pack in terms of raw performance, and it packs a spacious, beautiful display and amazing camera to boot. Better yet, upon its release, the Galaxy Note II will come dashing out of the gate with Jelly Bean.

Pricing and release date TBA

You might want to wait for...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

HTC One X+

While the One X remains awesome to this day, power hungry shoppers may prefer to wait for the One X+, which combines a quad-core Tegra 3, a larger 2,100mAh battery and 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. As another reason to smile, it'll ship with Jelly Bean from the get-go. Keep in mind that you'll likely need to pony up a decent chunk of cash to snag this untamed beast, but if you insist on living on the bleeding edge, it could be well worth it.

Pricing and release date TBA

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Nokia Lumia 920

If you've never developed much of a fondness for either Android or iOS, it goes without saying that Windows Phone deserves your attention. Set to debut later this year, the Lumia 920 packs some serious treats for camera junkies, which offers superb low-light performance and peerless optical stabilization technologies -- a boon for those who tend to shoot shaky videos. In all, the Lumia 920 promises to be a thoroughly premium smartphone, and it'll even offer wireless charging via a pillow, of all things.

Pricing and release date TBA


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition


Those in search of the best smartphone on Sprint need look no further than the EVO 4G LTE. A retooled version of the One X, it combines much of what we love from the original and adds to it a dedicated camera button, larger battery, removable storage and a handy kickstand. What's more, its $30 price positions it as the best value on Sprint and similarly qualifies it as our budget pick. That said, unless you know for certain that Sprint will soon bring LTE to your area, you're guaranteed to have a more rewarding experience with the One X and AT&T's vastly superior network speeds and LTE coverage.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.7-inch HD (1,280 x 720) S-LCD 2 display, 8MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras, 16GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $30 at Amazon Wireless
You might also like...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Apple iPhone 5

While the iPhone 5 is an excellent handset, only those under unique circumstances should choose this model. For example, if you know that your area will be covered by Sprint's LTE service and you're looking to take advantage of its unlimited plans, then go for it. Other than that, however, you're more likely to benefit from the iPhone 5 on Verizon Wireless, which offers access to a much larger LTE footprint in the US and accepts international nano-SIM cards without issue.

From $199 at Apple

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy Note II

Sure, you could pick up a Galaxy S III for Sprint today and be completely happy, but if you're not sold on the EVO 4G LTE -- which is the better of the two smartphones in terms of software, overall quality and value -- then we seriously suggest you wait for the arrival of the Galaxy Note II. Not only is its large display in a class of its own, but the phone also offers raw horsepower and unique functionality that no other phone can currently match.

$300 at Sprint on October 25th

You might want to wait for...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

LG Optimus G

If the Galaxy Note II isn't your thing and you're still keen on owning the very latest gear, then you'd be wise to wait for our review of the Optimus G. Not only will it be among the first smartphones on the market to wield a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, but it'll also boast a large IPS HD display and a rather unique 13-megapixel camera. While we can't yet recommend the Optimus G, we have little doubt that it'll be among the most intriguing smartphones to emerge in the coming months.

$200 at Sprint on November 11th


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy S III

While most of us prefer HTC's high-end offerings at AT&T and Sprint, that's not to suggest that the Galaxy S III isn't an excellent smartphone in its own right. More importantly, its our pick for the majority of subscribers at T-Mobile. Unfortunately, this Galaxy S III is also the most expensive of all the major carrier variants, which means that shoppers will need to find value in T-Mobile's unique offerings such as free WiFi calling and unlimited data usage to make the handset a worthwhile purchase. Despite the carrier's lack of LTE coverage, its 42Mbps HSPA+ network offers excellent data speeds in areas where it's available.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.8-inch HD (1,280 x 720) Super AMOLED display, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras, 16GB or 32GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $280 (16GB) or $330 (32GB) at T-Mobile
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Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition


The HTC One S isn't quite as impressive as the One X on AT&T, although it offers roughly the same level of performance and the same excellent camera. The most glaring weakness of the One S is its inferior qHD display, which is less pixel dense -- and thus not quite as sharp -- as the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II. That said, it's still an excellent smartphone and is nearly ideal for those who'd prefer a more compact handset.

$150 at T-Mobile

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy Note II

While we certainly wouldn't consider the Galaxy Note II a phone for the masses, it's our selection of choice for power users who demand either blazing fast performance or maximum screen real estate. We're also fans of the extra functionality that it offers, which includes the ability to quickly jot down notes and annotate photos. Like other carriers, the Galaxy Note II isn't yet available at T-Mobile, although we expect that to change in short order.

Pricing and release date TBA
If you're on a tight budget...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Nokia Lumia 710

If you're stuck in a situation where you absolutely must have a new T-Mobile smartphone today and you can't afford to spend much, the Lumia 710 is far and away your best option, although it comes with one gigantic caveat: it's incompatible with the next generation of Windows Phone apps. Unfortunately, T-Mobile's other smartphones are sorely deficient in the budget realm. We recommend either switching carriers or waiting until the One S, Galaxy S II or Galaxy S Blaze 4G are sold at a promotional discount that's in line with your budget.

Free at T-Mobile

You might want to wait for...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

HTC Windows Phone 8X

If you're looking for a phone that absolutely oozes personality, there's a good chance that the Windows Phone 8X will fit the bill. By coordinating the enclosure with the software, HTC is looking to give smartphone owners a clean break from the buttoned-down black monotony. We also have reason to believe it'll be a serious hardware competitor: the phone boasts a 720p S-LCD 2 display, and HTC has been talking up its quality camera and superior audio -- both good signs.

Pricing and release date TBA

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Nokia Lumia 810

While the Lumia 810 will undoubtedly be somewhat of a mid-tier offering when it lands at T-Mobile, it'll offer one key advantage over all other smartphones: Nokia's finely tuned suite of apps. This includes advanced camera features, augmented reality, an e-book / news reader, a transit planner and the best offline navigation system we've ever come across. Not to let HTC have all the fun, the Lumia 810 is a downright colorful creation in its own right.

Pricing and release date TBA

Verizon Wireless

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy S III

Verizon Wireless is currently awash in excellent smartphones, and while it's a tough call, the Galaxy S III is our favorite of the bunch. In addition to its spacious and beautiful display, it offers an excellent camera, fantastic performance and solid battery life. It's also an excellent value at Amazon Wireless, which positions it as the best bang for your buck. Our only major grievance with Verizon's Galaxy S III is its encrypted bootloader, which means that you'll need to jump through a few loopholes to load custom ROMs on the device. Additionally, while the carrier has promised an update to enable international roaming support, it's yet to deliver on the promise.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.8-inch HD (1,280 x 720) Super AMOLED display, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras, 16GB or 32GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $149 (16GB) or $199 (32GB) at Amazon Wireless
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Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Apple iPhone 5

Unlike the Galaxy S III, Apple's latest iPhone offers unrestricted global roaming, which should be at the forefront of your list if you make a habit of traveling abroad. Siri also boasts superior voice control, which is a distinct advantage for those who make regular use of the feature. Given the iPhone 5's snappy performance, excellent camera and dependable battery life, the decision is a no-brainer if you prefer Apple's iOS. It also goes without saying that the iPhone 5 should also be on your short list if you prefer a compact handset.

From $199 at Apple

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy Note II

The Galaxy Note II not only wields a wicked fast quad-core processor, but also boasts a stunning HD display and the latest version of Android. The phone is an excellent choice for shutterbugs, too, as the massive display also doubles as a viewfinder, and it combines the same camera as you'll find in the Galaxy S III and adds additional software features that you won't currently find on any other model. The Galaxy Note II combines the best features of a smartphone, tablet and sketchbook into one genuinely compelling device.

Pricing and release date TBA

If you're on a tight budget...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Motorola Droid RAZR M

It's fair to consider the Droid RAZR M an outright superstar for those who can't afford to splurge on their next smartphone. While it's not quite the same insane bargain as the One X for AT&T, the phone boasts a speedy dual-core processor, dependable battery life, a fantastic still camera and a thoughtfully designed implementation of Ice Cream Sandwich. Weak points of the phone include a sub-premium qHD display and a lackluster video camera, but we think budget-minded shoppers will agree that the Droid RAZR M is an incredibly well-rounded smartphone.

$80 at Amazon Wireless

You might want to wait for...

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

HTC's rumored 5-inch 'DLX'

As far as HTC and Verizon are concerned, this phone doesn't exist. Still, we've seen a number of rumors that suggest an epic smartphone is in the carrier's pipeline that wields a 5-inch, 1080p display, a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro and a lofty 12MP rear / 2MP front camera combo. There's no certainty that this supposed beast will ever see the light of day, but if you're willing to wait for something that may not exist, then you're probably not in much of a hurry to make a purchase, anyway.

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD

If gobs of battery life is at the top of your smartphone desires, you'd be wise to hold out for our review of the Droid RAZR Maxx HD, which promises to lead the pack for overall endurance. Like its predecessor, it boasts a massive 3,300mAh cell, but more importantly, it's keeping up with the times with a speedier processor, higher-res display and a (hopefully) better camera. While the phone will debut with Ice Cream Sandwich, Motorola has promised to deliver an update to Jelly Bean in short order.

$199 at Amazon Wireless

Boost Mobile

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy S II 4G

It may cost more than you were hoping to spend, but those in search of the best smartphone at Boost Mobile should look no further than the Galaxy S II 4G. The handset is the very same as the Sprint model that we absolutely adore, which includes a dual-core Exynos processor, a fabulous Super AMOLED Plus display that boasts a traditional RGB (non-PenTile) matrix and a camera that still impresses to this day. Even if you have to scrimp and save for a few months to make it happen, all Boost Mobile customers should choose the Galaxy S II 4G, as it's well worth it.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos, 4.5-inch WVGA (800 x 480) Super AMOLED Plus display, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras, 16GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $370 at Boost Mobile

Cincinnati Bell

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition


Cincinnati Bell has the unique luxury of acquiring hand-me-downs from T-Mobile. Unfortunately, it's yet to visit the figurative thrift store as of late. Suffice it to say, while the lineup is aging, the One S is still an excellent smartphone, which offers the same top-notch performance and camera as the One X, yet within a smaller enclosure that some will find preferable. We're also happy to see that Cincinnati Bell has lowered the price of the One S, which is now slightly more competitive than T-Mobile.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540) Super AMOLED display, 8MP rear / VGA front cameras, 16GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $100 at Cincinnati Bell


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Apple iPhone 5

How does an unlimited smartphone plan for just $55 per month strike you? Throw in contract-free wireless service and you're sold -- right? That's the selling point of Cricket, which requires that customers purchase their phones outright in exchange for a lower monthly rate. While the carrier continues to struggle with its premium smartphone selection, there's one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: it's the iPhone 5. Now, the only question that remains is whether you're willing to pony up for it. Yes, the $500 price tag may seem difficult to swallow, but the latest iPhone exists in a league of its own at the prepaid carrier. Unfortunately, it's not yet available on Cricket's website, which suggests the carrier is struggling to get sufficient inventory. For those unable to afford the iPhone 5, we recommend the HTC One V ($210).

Key specs: 1.3GHz dual-core A6, 4-inch Retina (1,136 x 640) IPS display, 8MP rear / 1.2MP front cameras, 16GB, 32GB or 64GB built-in storage, iOS 6.

Price: $500 at Cricket (pending availability)


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

LG Connect 4G

While we're not particularly taken with any smartphone on MetroPCS, if we were forced to throw down our own money on one, we'd most certainly walk out the door with the Connect 4G. It's most similar to the Viper 4G LTE on Sprint, and just the same, you'll find an excellent IPS NOVA display that's paired with a dual-core processor and LTE connectivity. We haven't subjected the Connect 4G to a full review, but it certainly impressed us during our hands-on time with the device. As for the carrier's other smartphones, the Galaxy S Lightray 4G is certainly its most premium device, but you'd be a fool to throw down $459 for what amounts to a clone of the Droid Charge. Similarly, while the Anthem 4G ($199) may look good on paper, our experience suggests that it's a seriously flawed piece of hardware.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3, 4-inch WVGA (800 x 480) IPS display, 5MP rear / VGA front cameras, 4GB built-in storage, Android 2.3.

Price: $349 at MetroPCS

US Cellular

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Samsung Galaxy S III

It shouldn't come as much surprise that we recommend the Galaxy S III as the best overall smartphone for US Cellular. As Samsung has proven extremely stringent in its dealings with carriers, we feel comfortable recommending the phone without hesitation, despite the fact that we've yet to review this variant. If the Galaxy S III is outside of what you can afford, we recommend you snag the Galaxy S Aviator ($50), which is a clone of the Droid Charge, and like the Galaxy S III, is one of the few smartphones within US Cellular's lineup to support LTE. Naturally, the Galaxy Note II ($300) will be another exciting option, which will arrive as the carrier's most powerful smartphone and the only one to ship with Jelly Bean.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 4.8-inch HD (1,280 x 720) Super AMOLED display, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras, 16GB or 32GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $199 (16GB) or $249 (32GB) at US Cellular

Virgin Mobile

Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition


Yes, the iPhone 4S is without a doubt the most well-rounded smartphone at Virgin Mobile, but we think it's a crime that anybody should be forced to pay $650 for yesterday's hardware. Instead, we recommend that all potential Virgin customers snag the One V, which is the carrier's most aggressively priced option. Sure, it's not the fastest smartphone on the block, but it offers a better display and similar camera to the higher priced Galaxy Reverb ($250). Meanwhile, the EVO V ($240) stands as the only smartphone at Virgin to offer 4G (WiMAX), but its poor battery life and lackluster camera are too significant to ignore. So, yes, that leaves us with the One V. At just $160, think of it as something to tide you over until a better option comes along.

Key specs: 1GHz single-core Snapdragon S2, 3.7-inch WVGA (800 x 480) S-LCD 2 display, 5MP rear camera, 4GB built-in storage, Android 4.0.

Price: $160 at Virgin Mobile


Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

Galaxy Nexus HSPA+

When Google introduced the Galaxy Nexus into the Play Store at just $349 -- with a full warranty, mind you -- the smartphone immediately became the no-brainer decision in the unlocked scene. Unlike most handsets, the Galaxy Nexus includes a pentaband HSPA+ 21Mbps radio that supports both AT&T and T-Mobile, along with a wide number of Canadian and European carriers. For this reason, the Galaxy Nexus is an ideal solution for globetrotters. While it's no longer on the cutting edge of smartphones, this Google-inspired creation remains a perennial favorite around these parts due to its excellent value, stock Android OS and hacker-friendly approach. That said, we expect a new Nexus smartphone -- or possibly several -- to appear in short order. So, unless you need to make a purchase today, we recommend waiting to learn what will come next.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP 4, 4.65-inch HD (1,280 x 720) Super AMOLED display, 5MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras, 16GB built-in storage, Android 4.1.

Price: $349 at Google Play
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Engadget's smartphone buyer's guide fall 2012 edition

LG's upcoming Nexus 'Mako'
The cat's out of the bag: LG is making a successor to the Galaxy Nexus. While we may ultimately discover many Nexus handsets, all reports -- and even a review -- suggest that this smartphone will be a significant improvement over its predecessor. The device brandishes a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, a 4.7-inch HD (1,280 x 768) IPS display and a much-improved 8-megapixel camera. The handset is currently being tested with Jelly Bean, and as history has proven, Nexus smartphones are your best bet for gaining access to the very latest Android releases. Naturally, we're now curious to know whether LG's phone will maintain support for a wide range of wireless bands, which is one of the primary reasons we love the Galaxy Nexus so dearly.

Pricing and release date TBA

[Nexus image credit:]