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When it comes to smartphones, three names typically come up, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Missing from this list is a powerful fourth choice, and one poised to give the others a run for their money: Windows Phone.

Microsoft has come a long way since its initial mobile platform, which debuted more than a decade ago, under the name Pocket PC. My how things have changed; take a look at the new devices, including the LTE-running Nokia Lumia 710, a device exclusive to Rogers – and you’ll see how. But first, here’s our primer on everything you need to know about Windows Phone.

What’s a Windows Phone?

As the name suggests, Windows Phone is a mobile operating system developed by Microsoft. While it shares some features with the PC operating system (Windows 7), including pocket editions of Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office, the mobile, for the moment at least, is much different.

Who makes Windows Phones?

Similar to Google’s Android OS, Microsoft has partnered with multiple hardware companies, including Nokia, Samsung, LG and HTC, each offering a slightly different version; large or small, touchscreens, slide-out keyboards, cameras and special functionality – all are featured on various Windows phones. That said, each Windows phone has a few minimum requirements, including a capacitive multi-touch screen, 1GHz processor or faster processor and dedicated Bing search button.

Who are Windows Phones for, exactly?

Windows Phone-based devices are designed for both personal use and business productivity. For consumers, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this phone – be it exclusive games (and Xbox Live integration), social networking and photo enhancement options. For “suits,” Windows Phone is secure, supports Microsoft Exchange and includes familiar Office apps including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and SharePoint. And everyone benefits from the Find My Phone feature, which lets you remotely lock, erase or find your device on a map at
The Windows Phone Windows Interface

What’s the “Metro” interface all about?

Unlike the small static icons on other smartphones, Windows Phone’s “Metro” home page consists of active tiles that lead you to various hubs (such as Office or Pictures).

Real-time information is pushed to each tile, such new emails or voicemail messages, social networking updates and more. The benefit? Metro gives you an at-a-glance look at what’s happening, without having to load up

How do I connect with my friends?

People, one of the half-dozen hubs on the main home screen, delivers a consolidated view of each of your contacts (including phone numbers, email addresses and such), along with photos and social feeds – all together, one page per person. This means you don’t need to close an app (e.g., Twitter) to open another (e.g., Contacts) to access information on someone. And while others have tried this consolidated view in the past, Windows Phone handles it all in a more graceful way.

Windows Phone Gaming

Is Windows Phone good for gaming?

Another compelling – and exclusive – feature of Windows Phone devices is Xbox Live integration. This gives you the ability to play solo and multiplayer games, synchronize scores, unlock new achievements and avatar outfits, and even post or accept challenges with other gamers. Simply log in with your Xbox Live ID and you’ve got instant, on-the-go access to your online gaming community. Speaking of games, there are thousands of game downloads available at the Marketplace.

Does it play music and movies, too?

Absolutely. Windows Phone devices are media marvels. You can preview and purchase music on your device or on your PC via the free Zune software, which can also be used to manage your media and smoothly sync your music, TV shows, movies, pictures and podcasts.

In fact, the Zune Marketplace not only sells songs individually (“a la carte”) like iTunes, but the Zune Music Pass offers an “all you can eat” or buffet-style approach that gives you unlimited access to millions of songs and thousands of music videos for less than $10/month.

Do these phones work with the cloud-storage SkyDrive service?

Of course. Millions of us take advantage of Windows Live SkyDrive, which gives you up to 25GB of free online storage in the “cloud,” so it only makes sense that Microsoft would make this a feature of the new mobile devices. Not only are your important documents, irreplaceable photos and other files protected but you can access all your password-protected stuff anywhere you go.

Windows Phone Marketplace for Apps

I’m an app addict – will I be impressed?

Yes, indeed. While the Marketplace might not have hundreds of thousands of apps like iPhone and Android, it does include more than 65,000 apps including all of the popular, most-useful ones we all can’t live without. Windows Phone devices also let you “pin” favourite apps to the phone’s start screen, plus these live tiles are also dynamic as they can reveal information about the apps (such as tapping on a movie listing app and it flips over to give you review scores for each film). A web-based marketplace lets you buy apps on a computer and have them automatically downloaded to your phone, too.

Windows Phone Timeline

Windows Phone Timeline:

Fall 2008:

Microsoft began working on a top-secret mobile operating system to replace its aging Windows Mobile platform. It needed to be radically different. And it was.

Feb 2010:

Microsoft officially unveiled the new software, dubbed ” Windows Phone 7 Series.” In April, Microsoft said it would drop the word “Series” to simplify the name.

April 2010:

To stimulate interest among app makers, Windows Phone development tools were announced at the MIX10 event in Las Vegas.

Oct 2010:

Windows Phone 7 devices launch first throughout Europe.

Nov 2010:

North America gets Windows Phone 7, with four models in Canada alone: LG Optimus Quantum, Samsung Focus, HTC 7 Surround and LG Optimus 7.

Feb 2011:

Microsoft announces partnership with Nokia.

April 2011:

Windows Phone 7.5 (code-named “Mango”) was announced, with more than 500 improvements and new features. It became available as a free update in September of 2011.

August 2011:

Code-named “Apollo,” the next-gen Windows Phone was confirmed at a Microsoft developer seminar. It is expected to launch in mid-2012 and might be called Windows Phone 8.

January 2012:

Nokia Lumia 710 launches in Canada, the first product born out of the Microsoft-Nokia partnership.

When Titans Unite – How Nokia and Microsoft came together

A year ago, Microsoft (the world’s biggest software company) and Nokia (the world’s biggest cell phone maker), announced a strategic partnership that fuses each company’s core strengths.

Microsoft has developed the Windows Phone platform, while Nokia brings to the table its expertise on hardware design, language support and worldwide distribution. The result is a new line of Windows Phone-powered devices, beginning with the much-hyped Nokia Lumia 710, which is now available in Canada exclusively through Rogers. Microsoft and Nokia have also integrated their services, including maps and app stores, while Bing has become the key search engine for Nokia devices.
The Nokia Lumia 710 at a glance

Nokia Lumia 710 at a glance

It’s here, the first device that combines the latest Windows Phone version (“Mango”) with Nokia’s market-leading hardware, not to mention numerous services from both camps. Here’s a closer look:

Hardware specs: Available in black or white, this Windows Phone 7.5 device features a bright and colourful 3.7-inch touchscreen, 1.4 GHz Scorpion (Snapdragon) processor and powerful Lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 7.5 hours for talk time (and up to 400 hours on standby).

Core benefits: The Nokia Lumia 710 features the attractive and intuitive Metro interface (featuring live tiles); a half-dozen hubs for all your important connections and information; and the ability to see friends’ live updates from Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and LinkedIn, to name a few.

Joined services: The best of Microsoft and Nokia’s services are in the palm of your hand, including Nokia Drive (free voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation), Windows Live SkyDrive (your own personal cloud) and Zune and Xbox Live integration for music, movies and games.

Super software: Only Windows Phone offers mobile versions of Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and SharePoint. The Internet Explorer web browser also benefits from powerful Bing search – via voice or text – while the Marketplace is your lifeline to thousands of apps.

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