Windows Phone 8: Everything you need to know (FAQ)

Your most common Windows Phone 8 questions, answered.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Editorial Director, Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
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Windows Phone 8 grows up
Watch this: Windows Phone 8 grows up

Here's CNET's Windows Phone 8 OS review. This article was originally posted on June 20 and was updated November 6.

The first smartphones bearing Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system are hitting store shelves this holiday season. CNET has even reviewed the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X, the first two premium handsets with Microsoft's next-generation smartphone OS. Yet those of you on the fence still have questions. Here's what you're asking.

What are the hardware changes?
Near-field communication (NFC), support for multicore processors (like dual-core and quad-core), new screen resolutions (like 1,280x720-pixel HD), and optional expandable memory slots are the biggest news in terms of hardware changes.

What's with the new start screen?
Microsoft's redesigned start screen (pictured above) spans the width of the screen. You'll be able to resize each individual live tile on the start screen to one of three sizes. There's also support for new color themes, which differ slightly by carrier and manufacturer.

The new Windows Phone start screen.
Behold, the new Windows Phone start screen. Josh Miller/CNET

What else is new?
There's also support for in-app purchases, and there's a "wallet" for linking credit cards and storing loyalty cards. Phones get over-the-air OS updates, instead of needing tethering to the desktop to update.

In architecture Windows Phone 8 heavily overlaps with Windows 8 for desktops and tablets, so there will be a great deal of similarity in the way that the two operating systems handle security, gaming, networking, media playback, and so forth. Being able to sync apps like Office 2013 documents and notes, music, and photos is easy and useful.

Read our Windows Phone 8 review for the full rundown.

When can I get it on my Windows phone?
New Windows phones are shipping this month; however, Windows Phone 7.x devices won't see an upgrade. Why not? Most features rely on back-end hardware that the earlier waves of phones didn't support. The additions will make Windows phones far more competitive against Android and iOS devices in the future.

Well, what can I get, then?
Microsoft threw you a bone. A small bone, but one that Redmond hopes you'll find tasty nonetheless. Windows Phone 7.8 is an update that will give current version 7.5 Mango users the new start screen to play with. Microsoft did not announce a Windows Phone 7.8 update schedule.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X (L) and Nokia Lumia 920 (R) are both premium expressions of Windows Phone 8 OS. Josh Miller/CNET

Can I use my old apps on a new phone?
The good news is, yes. You'll have access to all your apps, and Microsoft is hoping that developers will update apps specifically to take advantage of new Windows Phone 8 features. Skype is a case in point.

Which carriers will these new phones come to?
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have already committed to carrying several handsets apiece this holiday season.

Is Sprint getting a Windows Phone device?
Although Sprint hasn't announced a Windows Phone 8 lineup, the carrier told CNET that it will offer Windows 8 products, including smartphones. Expect the first ones in 2013.

What kind of processors will the phones use?
The high-end Windows phones will use Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, which can be tuned for up to 1.7GHz clock speed. Some more entry-level phones will use slower processors as a way to manage price and match features. Get more details here.

Skype on Windows Phone 8
Skype for Windows Phone 8 will let you answer ring-throughs as you would a cellular call. James Martin/CNET

Is there native Skype support?
No, the VoIP app isn't built in and you'll still have to download the Windows Phone 8 Skype app to use it. Microsoft has, however, laid the foundation for third-party apps like Skype to integrate with the phone-call menu so that VoIP calls that you answer look identical to calls that originate from the dialer.

How will it use NFC?
Windows Phone 8 will support NFC, or near-field communication, for the first time. There are three parts. The first uses Tap + Share -- what Microsoft is calling NFC for consumers -- to do all sorts of things, like share URLs among NFC devices and read a "tag" on items like a business card, poster, or menu. The second part makes use of a secure SIM card that the carriers can control and that will enable mobile payments.

Microsoft is also introducing its own wallet hub, which will store sensitive information about your accounts, loyalty cards, and so on. It's very similar to some available third-party wallets, and to Apple's Passbook feature for iOS 6.

The Nokia advantage?
Nokia is also offering several apps on its phones: Play To for content sharing over DLNA, Nokia Maps with commuting intelligence, Nokia Music 3.0 with Mix Radio and offline listening, Nokia Drive with turn-by-turn voice navigation, and camera extras that could include panorama, burst shot, and GroupShot (it'll find photos with the nicest smiles and open eyes). Camera Extras and Counters will come to the U.S. and China by June 22, and to other countries in July.

Zynga games like Words with Friends and Draw Something will be available to Lumia owners for the next couple of months, Nokia said. There's also a usage app for monitoring one's allotment of texts and calls.

Wireless charging on the Nokia Lumia 920
Nokia's Lumia phones are the first to employ wireless charging. Josh Miller/CNET

Windows Phone 7.5 was very stable. How about WP8?
So far in my tests, the OS has been very stable.

Are costs such that a WP8 phone for emerging markets is feasible?
Absolutely; however, these may not be the top-of-the-line handsets equipped with every feature. A processor/screen/camera trade-off is likely, but many OS additions will make it onto these phones.

Will I be able to open all my Office documents on a Windows Phone 8 device?
Yes, either through Microsoft SkyDrive or via sideloading.

Nokia Lumia 920
The Lumia 920's default camera doesn't have many features, but a booster app will add panorama. Josh Miller/CNET

Does it play nice with Google services?
It's certainly easy to track your Google mail, but as with iOS, you won't get the full Gmail experience by default. There is an official Google app that's great for initiating voice actions and searching, and that's easy to pin to the start screen. Beyond those and any apps, you'll need to use the browser to reach other Google services.

Does the lack of a unified notification area make a difference in how the phones work?
In my opinion, a unified notifications center could certainly help (depending on the implementation), but lack of one doesn't detract for me, since you see badge alerts on your live tiles. If you expand them to their largest, you'll even be able to see who sent you e-mail and who called. That works a lot like a notification center.

In your opinion, how well does Windows Phone 8 support productivity, and keep you connected to the business tools that truly matter?
In my opinion, Windows Phone 8's support for Office 2013 is unparalleled in any other mobile OS, but Google Docs support will have to come from the Web or from third-party apps.

Is the multitasking improved?
Multitasking, which is actually task-switching, remains unchanged in Windows Phone 8. An app pauses when you leave it and resumes when you open it up again.

Is it true that with Windows Phone if the phone screen is locked, Wi-Fi will disconnect and you won't get Internet notifications?
Yes. When you unlock the phone, it checks for new updates. Always-on Wi-Fi is a fast way to drain your battery.