Tried and tested: Is Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 a match for iPhone?

One of the most fiercely fought tech battles is the rivalry between smartphone operating systems. Microsoft has just released its newest operating system, Windows Phone 8 to take on Android and iOS.

It's simple, colourful and looks great - but is it worth switching?

In late-2010 Microsoft revamped its mobile phone platform and Windows Mobile became Windows Phone 7. The new OS was designed to showcase the best of the company’s wares and provide a refreshing alternative to existing devices on the market.

The next version Windows Phone 7.5 featured some minor user tweaks but significant background tweaks that allowed for manufacturers to make more affordable, entry-level Windows Phone handsets, such as the Nokia Lumia 710 making it a more accessible OS for consumers on a budget.

                                 [Related: Get the best deals on Windows Phone handsets]

With the arrival of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has added more features to make Windows Phone 8  a truly competitive OS.

About the OS

Windows Phone devices offer an inherently different user experience to the likes of iOS and Android phones with a distinctive Live Tile driven interface that runs vertically down the screen.

Live Tiles - such as People and Mail - update automatically, so you can view important information at a glance, without even having to open a single app.

One other enduring element is Internet Explorer - the mobile version of Microsoft’s popular desktop web browser can only be had on Windows Phone handsets, which also include a dedicated button for Bing Search.

What’s more, being a Microsoft product you won’t see better integration of Microsoft services on another mobile phone. Each phone includes Office including Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, so you can edit documents on-the-go and even access your Xbox avatar.

This year Microsoft pulled the wraps off the hotly-anticipated Windows Phone 8, the brand new iteration of Windows Phone which has been built afresh to better work with both Windows tablets and PCs as well as offering better hardware support so manufacturers can create more phones at different price points.

                       [Related: Which Windows Phone handset is for you?]

Although Windows Phone 8 uses the same underlying Live Tile design, there are a number of new additions which help the platform better stand and fight against the likes of iOS and Android.

Key features of Windows Phone 8

Multi-core support
Thus far all Windows Phone handsets have had a single-core processor, whilst iOS and Android devices have been utilising dual-core and (in some cases) quad-core processors. Multiple cores means faster performance and the ability to handle more intensive tasks, such as gaming.

New screen resolutions
Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 devices were locked into using one screen resolution. Windows Phone 8 allows flexibility so manufacturers can create devices with higher resolutions, so the Nokia Lumia 920 with it’s 720p HD display, can rival flagships like the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3.

Removable memory
Many Android devices offer removable SD cards for installing/storing both apps and files like music, movies and pictures. Windows Phone 8 users can now do the same on their new devices, provided a removable microSD card is accessible. Exceptions are the HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920.

You don't need a PC
‘Over-the-air’ updates were a welcome inclusion on Android and iOS and now they’ve made their way to Windows Phone handsets, meaning users no longer have to plug their phone into a computer for each major firmware upgrade and can instead update their phone over WiFi or 3G/4G.

Other features of Windows Phone 8 include resizeable tiles, so you can fit more tiles on the homescreen; Kids Corner, which lets you create a secure area of your phone populated with features children can use safely and automatic data syncing.

Which phones suppor Windows Phone 8?

Microsoft annoyed many customers when it revealed that only new devices would be able to support Windows Phone 8, so consumers who’d bought any of the existing Windows Phone devices available would be confined to minimal support for their older version of the OS.

The current tally of Windows Phone 8 handsets available now stands at five, with two devices from HTC, two from Nokia and one from Samsung: Nokia Lumia 820, Nokia Lumia 920, HTC 8S , HTC 8X  and the Samsung Ativ S

Whilst the above list of handsets are hitting the market right now all supporting Windows Phone 8, other handsets running previous versions of Windows Phone, either 7 or 7.5, like the Nokia Lumia 800 will see an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8. Although it doesn’t feature the same support as Windows Phone 8, it does offer a more flexible user interface as well as adding features such a new homescreen.

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