HTC Windows Phone 8S review: Icebreaker
Store for apps, games and music
The Windows Store (formerly Phone Marketplace) is still playing catch up with the Apple App Store and the Android Market. The number of apps available is higher than 100,000 and, while that doesn't quite compare to Android and iOS, Microsoft says that 46 out of the top 50 apps for Android and iOS are already available for WP8.
Apps written specifically for Windows Phone 8 won't work on the older versions but all of the older apps will be compatible with the new WP8.
The Store is divided in three main sections - applications, games and music. A fourth section called Updates shows up when one of your installed apps has received an update - there's an Update all button, which will save you the hassle of updating each app individually.
Anyway, each app will be listed with a short description, a rating and user reviews, a few screenshots and permissions. While the list of permissions isn't as prominent as it is on Android, the Store will explicitly ask you about the important stuff (e.g. location info).
Big downloads (anything north of 40MB) need a Wi-Fi connection to work. Alternatively, you can download those jumbo apps using the desktop Zune software.
The Application section starts with a featured app, then it's on to the categories (you can list all or free apps only), followed by the top apps, a list of new ones and a longer list of featured apps.
Nokia App Recommendations will help you get the best apps right off the bat, including a few HTC exclusives.
The Music section is actually the Xbox (previously known as Zune) Marketplace. Its structure is similar to the Application section. First, a featured artist of the week, three more featured artists, then a list of new releases, top albums and genres.
Genres themselves are separated into sections too - new releases and top artists/albums/songs/playlists. For each song, you get a 30 second preview (same as iTunes). If you have a Zune pass, you can stream the entire song (or download it DRM-protected), just like you would on a Zune player (it's 10 US dollars a month).
The Games section is divided into Xbox Live, New, Featured and Genres, which is the categories version. A great thing about games in the Windows Phone Marketplace is the trial option, which is available to many games and apps. You can try before you buy - a rarity in mobile app stores.
The new and featured sections act as what's new/hot reference.
The Store on Windows Phone can be accessed via your WP device, the Zune software on your PC and the windowsphone.com website.
Search is available for the Store but right now it pulls together search results from all sections - games and apps alike. Microsoft has fixed the issue where songs would get mixed up in the search too, which was annoying.
Xbox LIVE tile
Xbox Live is at the heart of the Games hub. It carries over many features from Xbox - from your avatar to your scores and achievements. The Spotlight feature is available too (it shows info on new stuff) and also Requests - which shows you game invites from your friends.
Anyway, the games themselves are housed in the Collection section. Nothing much to see here, the installed games are arranged in a square grid and there's a 'Get more games' shortcut, which launches the Windows Store.
Not all games support Xbox Live - the ones that do are in the corresponding section in the Store.
Here you can also see your friends and their profiles, achievements and avatars. There are a few shortcuts to other Xbox Live-related apps - such as remote Xbox control (like the Store) or the avatar changing app. If you don't have them installed, you'll be redirected to the Marketplace, otherwise you'll go directly to the app in question.
Bing Maps takes a page from Google's book
The 8S comes with WP's mapping software, Bing Maps. It's not as full-featured as Nokia Drive found on WP-powered Lumia devices, but it does many of the same things.
One thing that's missing right off the bat is turn-by-turn navigation. While Bing Maps will give you directions from your current location, it does not have a SatNav interface that you can use while driving, for instance.
Like the aforementioned Google Maps, Bing gives you traffic information, satellite view, and nearby points of interest with its Local Scout feature.
Another thing Bing Maps has going for it is that you can download offline maps for tons of locations, including a few that Google doesn't support.
The Local Scout app will locate nearby points of interest and it will even show you indoor maps of malls. The app has a tabbed interface to sort the various points of interest - eat+drink, see+do, shop and highlights. You can pick items from an "I care about" list to get the relevant options only.