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The flashy yet familiar Windows Phone 8 start screen (hands-on)

The Windows Phone 8 start screen looks eerily familiar but packs slick updates.

Hot on the heels of Microsoft's big Windows Phone 8 unveiling, I was able to see how the software's touted new start screen looks and feels in my hands. It's fun, fast, bigger, yet strangely familiar too.

Microsoft's Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Phone, was kind enough to demonstrate the Windows Phone 8 home screen (or start screen in Redmond parlance) running on a Nokia Lumia 900. To be absolutely clear, the phone was actually using a top-secret beta build of Windows Phone 7.5. Trust me I checked, much to Mr. Sullivan's chagrin.

In fact, Sullivan confirmed that the software version had the new start screen function enabled and that it will be part of the upcoming Windows Phone 7.8 version update. But why would you want the fresh interface? I can understand the question since at first glance the home screen appears identical to Windows Phone 7.5, or for that matter Windows Phone 7.

The new Windows Phone 8 start screen looks very familiar. Brian Bennett/CNET

Stare a little longer, however, and you'll notice it's now bigger, basically expanding the number of Live Tiles (sort of a cross between application icons and widgets) to fit the width of the display.

There is also a new Live Tile size, small, which effectively increases the amount of apps you can pack onto the start screen too. The size of your tiles, though, is up to you since the updated home screen also adds the capability to choose how large they can be. Options are small, medium, and large.

I have to say the user interface reminds me of Samsung's TouchWiz UI and its Live Panel tiles that are also resizable. I suppose there are only so many ways to skin a cat, with a finger and a touch screen, that is.