Editorials

Microsoft is scheduled to reveal the next Xbox console (codenamed Durango) in two weeks’ time on May 21st. The announcement of the reveal event marks the first time the console maker has publicly acknowledged the existence of the upcoming system. Still, the gaming industry has known about the next Xbox for quite some time now thanks to the usual steady trickle of leaks and rumors.

One of those rumors that we haven’t addressed here at Windows Phone Central is that the new console would require an internet connection in order to function. We’ll expand on that rumor in just a bit. The new rumor (which I take for truth) is that the next Xbox will not require an always-on internet connection after all. Thank goodness!

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That's right, folks. We're firing up an article on user review etiquette. Why, you ask? We've had numerous developers complain that consumers simply don't pay attention to information provided on the Windows Phone Store. This is prior to downloading trials or purchasing apps and they then leave negative feedback, which is viewable by the general public. We've noted this ourselves when browsing the catalogue.

Our own Jay Bennett has had this issue with the official Windows Phone Central app, so we figured we'd talk about how you can help make the review system less skewed for others to rely on, as well as improving the overall store experience for everyone (including developers). If you're one to quickly jump the gun and add a one-star review on apps and games then this resource is for you.

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Samsung has announced that its expanding the ATIV brand to include its Windows based PC products. Originally used for its Windows Phone 8 hardware, Samsung states it will use the brand to represent the convergence of PC and mobile technologies. This will essentially unite all Samsung Windows products under a single umbrella. If you're now looking at Samsung ATIV hardware, it's running a version of Windows.

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Although the year got off to a rocky start with an extended Xbox game release drought, the Xbox Windows Phone gaming situation has actually been looking up since February. Gameloft’s highly anticipated Windows Phone 8 titles finally started rolling out, and some weeks saw two Xbox games released instead of just one.

Don’t think we’re out of the thicket just yet. The Xbox Live certification process continues to cause games like Cut the Rope: Experiments to come out much later than on other platforms, and meaningful title updates come just as late or not at all – both Windows Phone Cut the Rope games are missing levels that iOS and Android already get to enjoy. Microsoft’s solution to this problem seems to be encouraging big games like Temple Run to release as indie titles in order to circumvent the Xbox Live certification process. Because why bother fixing a broken system?

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There's nothing worse than your Windows Phone taking some physical damage as the appearance of a smartphone is fairly important, especially when it's a Lumia 920 or other Windows Phone. There's really only one instance when an issue can prove more irritating and that's when the software (or a combination of it and hardware) royally breaks and thus bricking the device. How useful is a bricked Windows Phone? Well, it's good paperweight, I suppose. This is what happened to my poor white Lumia 920. Let me tell you a short story of what happened and how quickly the issue was resolved by Nokia.

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Yesterday, Facebook announced their much anticipated “Facebook Phone” aka the hilariously named HTC First, which turns out to be nothing more than a mid-range HTC device sporting Android 4.1 and yet-another-custom-skin. That skin simply features the most popular features of Facebook e.g. having it on your lockscreen, etc. but is it a game-changer? Not at all.

Indeed, after enduring the presentation, users familiar with mobile technology may have had a case of déjà vu as Zuckerberg and others focused on the “people first” aspect of their new money maker.  There’s little doubt that Facebook (and HTC) borrowed heavily from the Windows Phone philosophy of allowing your friends and family to be front and center on your phone versus “just more apps”. 

For two years now Microsoft has been pushing the “people first” slogan in mobile (they've have even filed for a patent!) and now it appears Facebook is going that route.

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Today here in New York, Samsung finally pulled the sheet off of the Galaxy S4, their next big flagship Android phone for 2013. Due at the end of April, the phone looks almost exactly like the S3 save a few minor differences, but it’s the guts and software that make this a killer device. It will launch on a massive 327 operators in 155 countries for complete global reach.

We’ll spare you all the details of the S4, though it does feature 2GB of RAM, an eight-core Samsung Exynos 5410 running at 1.8GHz, a triple-core PowerVR SGX 544 graphics chip with a massive 2600mAh battery. Oh yeah, it also has a swanky 5” 1080P Super AMOLED display at 440 PPI and various sensors, including Infrared gesture, temperature and humidity sensors, which while gimmicky is still really neat. Finally, it sports a 13MP rear and 2MP front camera, with some new "innovations" like two-way shot.

We briefly put it up against our Nokia Lumia 920 in a video and while this is far from a controlled “versus” battle, you can at least get an idea of how Samsung’s beast looks against Nokia’s.

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Many in our audience here know our opinion on Samsung—they lead the way with the Focus back when Windows Phone 7 was launched and up until recently, appeared to be a major competitor on the platform.  But with Windows Phone 8 and their ATIV S and Odyssey phones (with on the runt of the litter getting US carrier support), we’re just going to say: Their phones and effort to promote the platform look half-assed.

That’s not to say they aren’t good devices, indeed the ATIV S has quite a few things going for it and we would actually have no problem recommending it. But between the lack of advertising, reported price drops and even the “late to the show” arrival of their flagship phone, one gets the impression that Samsung is not really into Microsoft any more. (Samsung blames the carriers).

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Last week, Gameloft kicked off their much anticipated wave of Xbox releases for Windows Phone 8 with Asphalt 7, a game I call the best racer on the platform in our review. They’ve followed up this week with the very strong The Amazing Spider-Man and the not-so-strong and highly skippable Real Soccer 2013. With at least 9 more games coming, including first-person shooters, action games, and even an MMORPG, it’s safe to say that Gameloft will keep Windows Phone gamers pretty busy this year.

Similarly, Electronics Arts and its subsidiaries Chillingo and PopCap have produced a ton of fine mobile Xbox games as Nokia exclusives within the past few months. All of the Nokia EA games are expected to become available to general Windows Phone audiences six months after release, so they really do benefit the platform as a whole.

However large and prolific they might be, publishers Gameloft and Electronic Arts can’t keep the Xbox Windows Phone lineup afloat all by themselves. The world of smartphone gaming is vast indeed. iOS and Android thrive thanks to many game developers and publishers, both great and small. Today we continue our ‘How Microsoft can save Xbox Games for Windows Phone’ editorial series with a look at the game makers that our platform needs in order to thrive.

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This morning Nokia announced 4 new devices to their handset line-up, 2 Asha devices, and 2 Windows Phone devices.

Nokia’s sights did not seem set on the US market though, where the carriers heavily subsidize even higher end devices to bring them into consumer’s hands. Instead we saw indications that Nokia is continuing to drive into markets where upfront cost is everything. Stephen Elop was also clear that Nokia are pushing aggressively into the enterprise market, highlighting Windows Phone's integration with Microsoft Office services as well as the full device encryption available on every handset.

There’s no arguing against the fact that the two Asha phones, selling at less than the price of your average video game or dinner for two, will sell in their target markets. So we’ll focus on the Lumia 720 and the Lumia 520.

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Xbox for Windows Phone is a key selling point for gamers, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. This editorial series has covered a lot of ground so far, including the need for streamlining the Xbox Live certification process, Microsoft’s failure to appreciate the importance of Xbox to Windows Phone, the need for multiplatform game engine support, and the need for better PR and a download code system.

This week we tackle software and online features that Xbox Windows Phone badly needs.

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Google, like Microsoft, is a company in transition. This can be evidenced today by their entering into the “high end” Ultrabook market with their new Chromebook Pixel. It’s an odd move not because the hardware is not nice (it is) but the pricing: $1299 (32GB) $1449 (LTE, 64GB).

For a company that prides itself on 'free' it’s a different approach from the previous Chromebook strategy of low-cost devices.. To quote iMore’s Rene Ritchie “When did Google become Apple?”.

The other question is how does it stack up against Microsoft’s Surface Pro? We’ll take a look to see how things stand and if Google is making the right move here.

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Here at Windows Phone Central, we are focused on Windows Phone and other Microsoft platforms. We also like to keep our eyes on the competition, such as the upcoming HTC One Android smartphone. To that extent, the Xbox 360 and its successor will have a new competing videogame console later this year in the form of the Playstation 4. Last night, Sony officially announced the console, which is due for a holiday 2013 release.

Read on for our impressions of the Playstation 4 and how it will affect Microsoft's next Xbox console!

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Nokia brings up an interesting question. Do smartphones need physical buttons?

We've seen physical buttons on our Windows Phones slowly disappear from the days when they were powered by Windows Mobile. Capacitive buttons replaced physical buttons and physical keyboards are now on-screen. But should it go further?

What remains is a power, volume and camera button. You could make a case where on-screen volume controls could replace the physical volume button and we already have a screen tap feature to capture photos. The power button may be the one physical button we can't live without but BlackBerry's Z10 shows how even that is not needed (they turn on the display by swiping the screen up, no power button).

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As our game-playing readers have probably noticed by now, Xbox for Windows Phone isn’t truly out of drought territory just yet. There is no new Xbox release this week. We asked Microsoft whether the two free Gameloft games on Tuesday were intended to make up for the lack of release. Unfortunately, those games being offered for free resulted from a Store glitch that has since been corrected.

Microsoft couldn’t tell us whether there will be a new Xbox Windows Phone game next week, either. It’s clear that the problems facing the platform won’t go away any time soon. Let’s just hope our editorial series can inspire the powers that be to move things in a better direction… In the meantime, we've got another rumor explaining the lack of games and a hefty list of titles that Microsoft could and should be producing for Windows Phone!

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Confession: I personally started “February Fitness Month” back in mid-January and have been regularly exercising for the last few years, including a more aggressive cardio routine starting last summer. Because of this, I’ve been using the Nike FuelBand ($150) and Fitbit One ($99) for quite some time and I can definitely tell you which one I think is the best.

While I won’t do a complete teardown I will give you the pros and cons of each and as you will see, the decision between the two is very easy.

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Remember that huge five week long game drought we just went through? We didn’t get official word from Microsoft until the fourth straight week without a release, after the drought had almost passed (and not for lack of trying on our part). As every week went by, your humble author and most avid Windows Phone gamers became increasingly distressed. The whole situation brought to light the ever-worsening handling of Xbox games for Windows Phone by the platform holder.

It also led to the creation of this very series of editorials about how Xbox games for Windows Phone can be turned around. Microsoft has a wonderful gaming synergy on its hands with Xbox Live and Windows Phone, if only they will make proper use of it. We’ve already explored several ways to do so: overhaul the certification system that’s completely inappropriate for mobile games, get internal forces within Microsoft on the same page about the value of Xbox Live, and then promote Windows Phone directly alongside Xbox consoles.

Today we follow up on that last point by looking at the lack of public relations management that affects mobile Xbox games and makes it difficult for both Windows Phone and Windows 8 developers and publishers to promote their own games.

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You can do a lot with your Windows Phone. From making a phone call to checking your email to watching videos or playing games, our Windows Phones have a ton of potential. February is fitness month here at Mobile Nations and we focus on the health and fitness capabilities of our smartphones.

The strength of our Windows Phone with regards to fitness rest with apps. Our weakness likely lies with the lack of direct compatibility with fitness accessories.

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The implementation of Xbox games on Windows Phone is riddled with problems. While these range from “Darn it” minor to “Holy crap!” major, as a whole they threaten the viability of Xbox games on the platform. We believe Microsoft can still turn things around and make Xbox Windows Phone a mobile gaming force to be reckoned with, hence this series of editorials.

Part One of this series focused on the problematic Xbox Live certification process, and Part Two looked at both the importance of Xbox games to Windows Phone and the platform’s need for popular game engine support. In this installment we’ll tackle the simple need for proper volume control, the ability to redownload purchased games, and the weak advertising presence of Xbox Windows Phone games so far.

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