This month, Windows Phone 8 arrives aboard two fascinating new phones:
the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X. It's funny about Nokia and HTC; they, too, are fallen giants. Nokia was the world's largest cellphone maker for 14 years straight; not anymore
Thanksgiving, is it? I'll tell you what I'm thankful for: competition. Because competition drives innovation. Innovation leads to improvement. Improvement begets happiness.
In the tech world, some companies do their most innovative work when their backs are against the wall — especially Microsoft. Last month, it took the wraps off Windows Phone 8, the most polished edition yet of its beautiful, crystal-clear software for touch-screen phones. (My review of Windows Phone 8 is at http://j.mp/Qqfz2F.)
Unfortunately, as a Microsoft product manager told me understatedly, "We have an awareness problem." Translation: Nobody is buying Windows phones. And since nobody's buying them, nobody's writing apps for them. And since nobody's writing apps — well, you can see where this is going.
Still, Microsoft isn't giving up. This month, Windows Phone 8 arrives aboard two fascinating new phones: the Nokia Lumia 920 ($100 with a new AT&T contract) and the HTC Windows Phone 8X ($200 from AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile).
It's funny about Nokia and HTC; they, too, are fallen giants. Nokia was the world's largest cellphone maker for 14 years straight; not anymore. At the moment, it's in seventh place among smartphone makers. It has shed tens of thousands of employees. HTC is struggling, too, having sold 36 per cent fewer smartphones this year than last.
How intriguing, then, that HTC and Nokia have each chosen Microsoft as its saviour, and vice versa. Loser (PLUS) loser (EQUALS) winner?
Yes, actually. The two new phones have a lot in common — for one thing, they're both awesome.
For another, both have bigger, sharper screens than the iPhone's famous Retina screen. (The HTC and Nokia phones have 4.3- and 4.5-inch screens. That's 1,280 by 720 pixels, packed in 341 and 332 to the inch.)
Both have rounded backs and edges, which make them both exceptionally comfortable to hold. (The curve also makes it easy to pull them out of your pocket the right way.)
Both come in a choice of bright colours. Both phones have the same blazing-fast processor. Both can get onto their respective carriers' 4G LTE data networks (meaning very fast Internet), in the cities where those are available.
And get this — both of these phones can also charge without being plugged in. That's right: magnetic charging is finally built right into phones. Come home at the end of the day, throw your keys in the bowl, set the phone down on the charging pad (a $50 option) — and a little chime tells you that it's happily charging, even though no cable is in sight.
It's pretty great. It will become even greater if this charging method (an industry standard called Qi, pronounced chee) catches on. Someday there may be charging surfaces at coffee shops, airports and hotel rooms. (Only the Verizon version of the HTC phone has this feature turned on — not the AT&T or T-Mobile versions.)
Both phones also have built-in NFC chips. These allow near-field communications, which means "this phone can do things when you tap it against another gadget." The promise is that you'll be able to tap on a cash-register terminal to pay for something; tap against an NFC-enabled bus shelter ad to download promotional goodies; tap two phones together to transfer a photo or address; and tap against a Bluetooth speaker to "pair" it with the phone.
In practice, there's more to it than that. Unfortunately, the tap only introduces the phones; Bluetooth or some other technology is needed to complete the connection. And Microsoft's coming tap-to-pay initiative is incompatible with the one Google has spent millions of dollars setting up at cash registers across the lan