29/10/2012 19:03 GMT

Windows Phone 8 Review: Impressions, Thoughts And Fears (PHOTOS) (VIDEO)

If phones really do reflect their users, then Windows Phone 8 is the person I would be if I was a better human being.

To explain, let's imagine an alternate universe in which I do use Windows Phone 8. What's that version of me like?

For one thing, he calls people more; his family, his friends, buddies from his school days and colleagues at work. They are all receiving calls, all the time. And they love it. With their faces, photos and updates constantly poppping up on his animated start screen this Windows Phone 8 Me laps up every morsel and rings the poster incessantly just to chat, catch up and make people feel wanted. He cannot help it. It is just who he is.

Similarly, 'Windows Phone 8 Me' not only uses Microsoft Office - he uses it on the train. For he is a hard-working, efficient, office busybody, equally at home in an Excel spreadsheet and a collaborative Word document circle-jerk.

One thing Windows Phone 8 Me doesn't do is play many games. That's lucky, because there aren't very many games here from which to choose.

Oh well - unlike actual me, 'Windows Phone 8 Me' at least has a sensible attitude to online security. He still trusts Internet Explorer, and likes it when his phone warns him about Malware. He backs up regularly, isn't too lazy to ring his bank and finally set up NFC, and plays Xbox at sociable hours with his actual friends, not at 1am with people he's never met, and chats about it on Xbox Live, like he should. He has kids, happpy ones, who like Angry Birds. He doesn't have time for NFL Fantasy Football. He doesn't listen to Smodcast. He likes music, but only the latest Mumford or Paloma Faith record. Who are Titus Andronicus? WP8 Me doesn't even care.

Windows Phone 8 Me is a wonderful, social, productive human being.

But I am not Windows Phone 8 Me.

And the problem with the platform is that it just isn't able to let me be myself.

Key here is the lack of apps. Under-the-hood, WP8 shares more in common with full Windows and that could lead to an improved range of games and productivity apps. But that said, without a boost in user numbers it's unlikely that right kind of creative, thoughtful developers will flock to the platform in anything like the numbers that are needed. It's hard to see howthe next great viral gaming hit could be made on WP8 first, for instance - currently one of the top Free games is a knock-off version of Sonic Jump - and without that it's difficult to get too excited about gaming. Similarly, the weird, beautiful productivity apps that power my day - Paper, iA Writer, Garageband - don't have equivalents that are anywhere good enough. Apps are still a problem.

Elsewhere, the Start Screen remains a matter of taste. Some love the feeling on constantly being connected to your Facebook pals. I find it oppressive, and a bit off-putting. Similarly as a concept I like the 'Me' hub, filled with my thoughts, updates and photographs. But seeing my own face on my Start Screen made me feel self-important, and silly.

Elsewhere, WP8 still feels curiously over-designed, The large-fonts, sliding-screen feel to the OS is the same as in previous versions, and is often surprisingly obtuse. Reading emails just isn't as easy when they're this beautiful. Everything feels hard to grasp, intangible, and uncanny.

For all that, there is a lot to like about WP8. It has a lot of good ideas, interesting and genuinely refreshing design cues, and a thoughtful balance between letting users do what they want - a la Android - without throwing them to the techie lions. For the right user, it's a fine choice. It should improve, and with a burst of decent apps it could rise to challange the bigger beasts.


And on a purely aesthetic level, it's animated Start Screen - while not in all ways to my personal taste - makes iOS feel like a dinosaur with false teeth.

But whether this is enough for Microsoft to make a dent this time around is an open question. And whether it's enough for Nokia in particular to make it to next year intact is an even more vexing one.

All I can say is that 'Windows Phone 8 Me' loves this operating system. It makes him beam with pleasure as he bounds about his confident, strong life; dining with kings, drinking with the common man, getting to grips with Powerpoint.

But I am not Windows Phone 8 Me.

And I'm just not sure I ever will be.