When it comes to desktop computers, Microsoft has a firm lead in market share, with more than 75 percent of desktop computers running some version of Windows.
The mobile market is very different – Google's Android operating system currently powers nearly half of all mobile devices – Apple's iOS has slipped to about 20 percent, and Windows Phone, Microsoft's entry into the mobile field, powers just over 10 percent of devices.
But Microsoft has been pouring a ton of money into mobile lately, and its new Windows 8 operating system, which powers both desktops and mobile devices, represents the first truly unified interface that's shared by mobile, tablet and desktop devices – and Windows Phone 8 is, I must say, pretty slick.
The first Windows Phone 8 device I was able to use for any significant period of time was the HTC 8X, from Verizon Wireless. Released last month, the 8X is a startling departure from past Windows phones. My first impression of the device – before I'd even had a chance to turn it on was Neat! The phone itself just looks slick. With a dark matte blue finish, a glossy display and an ultra-thin case, the 8X looks every bit the high-tech gadget that it is. It doesn't look like an iPhone, and to the practiced eye, it's quite clear that this isn't an Android device.
When the phone is powered on, the ultra-crisp 342PPI high-definition display looks too good to be real. The Tile interface of Windows 8 is particularly well suited to mobile devices, and at a glance most of the frequently used functions on the phone are immediately accessible.
The phone uses your Windows Live account exactly the way that Android uses your Gmail account – it syncs up your apps, contacts and even documents and photos with the device, so setup was as simple as could be.
The Microsoft Store features a wide variety of apps, and while it might not have quite the selection that Apple or Android offer just yet, the number is increasing rapidly, and as someone who uses a mobile device heavily, it didn't impede me at all.
With 1GB of RAM, a dual-core 1.5GHz SnapDragon processor and an 8 Megapixel Camera, plus 4G, the HTC 8X is every bit as powerful as its Android and iPhone counterparts.
Internet browsing is done via a mobile version of Internet Explorer – which stacks up surprisingly well against the browsers on competing iOS and Android devices, rendering mobile sites and HTML5 content very quickly when connected with 4G.
Overall, I found the 8X intuitive, easy to use and a welcome departure from the by now ubiquitous Apple and Android devices. In terms of usability, I'd say it manages to strike a happy medium between Apple's We're in control, you can't hurt yourself attitude and Android's Do whatever you want, it's your phone philosophy.
The 8X is $199.99 with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless and $549.99 without the contract. It comes in black, red and blue.
Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. Email him at [email protected].