Is the Windows Phone 8 an iPhone and Android Killer?

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The Nokia Lumia 920 (left) and 900 (right) run the Windows Phone OS (Photos: Microsoft)

With the impending and much-hyped release of Windows 8, and the new 8-based smartphones hitting shelves next week, we wanted to see if Microsoft’s new tech could end up an iPhone and Android killer.

It’s no easy task. Right now, Android controls over 68 percent of the smartphone market and Apple’s iOS has just under 17 percent, according to research firm IDC—giving the two giants a dominating 85 percent share of the market. Currently Microsoft has only 3.5 percent (up from 2.3 last year), and a tough hill to climb.

So let’s take a look at one of Windows’ current best-selling phones, the Nokia Lumia 900, the plans for Windows 8, and the new Nokia 920:

I tested Nokia’s Lumia 900 and I should preface this by saying I am a diehard Mac head. I’ve been using Apple computers since I got the Lisa back in the 80s, and own the full line of iEverything: iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air… so giving me a Windows phone to test is a little like asking a vegetarian to try bacon. But I will say, after a lot of fumbling and some messing around, I got comfortable with the interface, and actually ended up liking the phone.

The Nokia Lumia 900 runs Windows Phone 7, but is upgradeable to 7.8 which will give it the new, talked about, Start Screen

The screen is larger than the iPhone’s (which is pretty much commonplace now), and once you get used to navigating with the customizable Live Tiles, and the haptic feedback, the 900 becomes a snap to use.

Customizing the Live Tiles can make whatever you happen to be doing easier, making your phone bend to your will. For example, if you’re traveling, you can you design your Start Screen to reflect your travel plans. Set a Tile to check local weather at a glance, pin your boarding pass to the Start Screen for easy access, or create a travel group to email or text everyone at once. A welcome convenience.

The new Windows Phone 8 Start Screen with different configurations of the customizable Live Tiles

And they’ve promised that with Windows Phone 8, the Start Screen will have even more capabilities. What they are, they aren’t telling yet, but they have hinted at what 8 will include. Here’s what they’ve told us is coming:

  • Multi-core processor support: The current Windows Phone OS runs very smoothly on phones with a single processor, but with the new multi-core processor support, they can piggyback and get support for multiple cores. So if the hardware, and apps running on it, get more demanding, Windows Phone 8 should be able to handle whatever is thrown at it.
  • Larger, higher rez screens: Windows Phone 8 supports two new screen resolutions—1280×768 and 1280×720, opening the door to new handsets with high-def 720p displays.
  • Expandable storage: Something the iPhone doesn’t offer—Windows Phone 8 supports removable MicroSD cards, so you can slide in higher capacity cards to cram your phone with tons of photos, music, and whatever else, then pop and swap the card to your PC to transfer everything.
  • NFC wireless sharing: Haven’t heard the term “NFC” (for Near Field Communication) yet? Watch the commercial mocking iPhone users, where the “other smartphone” owners share pics and music by bumping phones, and you get the idea. In Windows Phone 8, you’ll be able to share photos, Office docs, music and contact info just by tapping your phone to another NFC-equipped device.
  • Internet Explorer 10: The new Windows Phone 8 users will get the same new, faster version of IE10 that’s headed for Windows 8 PCs and tablets.
  • Wallet: Windows Phone 8’s new digital Wallet keeps debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, and other important info right where you need it. You can also pair it with a secure SIM (get one from your carrier), allowing you to pay for things with a tap of your phone at compatible checkout counters.
The Wallet feature keeps everything easy-to-find, and you can even use it to make purchases

And don’t worry if you’ve just bought your Windows 7 phone, they tell me you’ll be able to upgrade your OS to Windows 7.8 and it will include the slick new Start Screen. But you may want to look at the new Nokia Lumia 920. The spec sheet says it’ll come with 4G LTE, a 1.5 GHz processor, 8.7 MP Carl Zeiss wide angle lens camera, and a 4.5-inch HD screen.

Overall, while I’ve never been a fan of Windows products, I have to say I think they are finally starting to get it with their new OS and phones. They’re packing in features we want and need—and with the help of hardware partners like Nokia, they’re putting it in attractive phones like the 900 and upcoming 920.

Company Hub keeps all your Windows stuff organized

And, just like with us Apple users, if you’ve got Windows-powered gear in your office or at home, having a smartphone that works on the same OS and can integrate seamlessly with every other device is a big plus. And with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, that’s the idea.

For more, follow me on Twitter, @ericrogell.