(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
I'd been anxious to try out the new Windows Phone 8 operating system. Windows Phone 8, part of a Microsoft effort to build all of its operating systems around the same basic engine. WP 8 has the same "live tiles" as WP 7.5, so it looks the same from a user standpoint, but behind the scenes it's a completely different operating system. WP 8 can run older WP 7.5 apps, but not the other way around.
I was delighted when Verizon gave me the chance to test out the new Nokia Lumia 822, one of the flagship WP 8 phones.
Because I was already familiar with the Windows Phone interface, I didn't have to spend much time getting used to WP 8. But then again, WP 8 is intended to be pretty user-friendly to begin with. The live tiles are larger and more useful than the icons you use to launch programs in iOS or Android. They can be used to show information -- for example, the live tile for the Weather Channel app shows the current temperature and weather conditions, and occasionally switches to a thumbnail view of the local radar. The live tile for your photos shows a constant slide show, and the live tile for your music cycles through album covers.
In Windows 8, there are more different options for live tile sizes than there were in WP 7.5, and when you have a nice generous smartphone screen like the 4.3-inch one on the Lumia 822 you have a lot of options for customizing that start screen, resizing tiles and moving them around to put the apps you use most often within easy reach. You can also make a particular document, playlist, song or just about anything else into a live tile if you want easy access to it.
You can flick over from the start screen to an alphabetical list of all your apps.
The Lumia 822 showcases Windows Phone 8 well. It has a gorgeous AMOLED screen with an 8-megapixel camera featuring Carl Zeiss optics, and runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network. It has a Microsoft Office suite that integrates with Microsoft software you might be running on your home PC, and also with Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage, making it easy to share or refer to documents, photos and other files.
All of those features use data, of course, but WP 8's DataSense app gives users a good way to track and manage their data usage, breaking out the data you use over your cell phone plan from the data you use over your WiFi network and giving you alerts if you get close to your monthly limit. Verizon claims that you can reduce your data usage by up to 30 percent by using the program.
There are also parental controls; you can set up a "kids' corner" and hand the phone to your child to play games without fear that the child will disturb your settings or wander into offensive Internet content. I did not get the chance to try out this feature, however.
GPS, including a beta version of the proprietary Nokia Drive feature, worked well out on the road. Nokia Drive looks great. At one point, however, here in the Times-Gazette newsroom (a heavy building with a lot of metal which often interferes with radio signals) my Samsung Focus Flash was able to get a clear GPS reading while the Lumia 822 could not.
The only other problem I had with the unit was that it locked up several times while playing Words With Friends, but when I did some checking online I decided that was likely more of a problem with the software than with the phone.
The camera works well and took good photos, although I used the Fhotoroom app (a Windows Phone competitor to Instagram) to do basic editing and tweak the exposure.
The Lumia 822 is $99.99 from Verizon with a new two-year contract. It's a nice phone, and I hate to have to send it back now that my test drive is over.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.