As most people probably don't know, because it wasn't really advertised too well, Microsoft recently released their new phone Operating System, titled "Windows Phone". Windows Phone is a new approach to Microsoft's aging touch screen cell phone line that revamps the entire experience. It synergizes Zune, Xbox Live, Silverlight and many new apps and features into a handheld device. You can find many websites out there that focus on the review of the entire experience as well as the hardware, just do a search for "Windows Phone Review" in Google and you'll find them. What I wanted to talk about today was the gaming experience.
The main thing gamers, like myself, might be interested in is the Xbox Live integration. Just like on the Xbox 360, the phone allows you to view your avatar, chat with friends, play games, earn achievements, and purchase games from an app store like interface. You can see who is online, and they can see you and what you're playing just like if you were sitting in front of the console at home. The experience is very similar to how it is on Xbox Live. You cannot, however, sit down and play Halo 3 on the phone with your friends on the 360. Currently the games offered on both systems are not the same, so there is no cross game play, but that may change down the road. While I still don't think you'll ever play Halo 3 on the phone, there is opportunity for other games to offer cross platform play.
The selection of Xbox Live games is a bit limited right now, since the phone is still very new. The top ten games break down as follows...
Need for Speed Underground
The Oregon Trail HD
The Harvest (Microsoft exclusive RPG)
Star Wars: Battle for Hoth
Earthworm Jim HD
As you can see, most of these games are similar or the same as titles you can find on other smart phones like the iPhone and Android. There are a number of Microsoft exclusive titles like The Harvest, Hexic Rush, The Revenants, OMG, Rocket Riot, Butterfly, Twin Blades, CarneyVale, etc. In addition, there are hundreds of independent titles that work both with Xbox Live and without.
Game play is similar to other smart phones, in that touch controls are the primary control mechanism, with accelerometers for turning and flipping the phone. Performance seems to be pretty good, as the units have a dedicated GPU and 1 gig of RAM to match the 1ghz processor. It is at least equal to the iPhone hardware specs, if not better.
Overall, if you're a gamer, this will be a tempting next generation phone for you, especially if you enjoy playing on Xbox Live. Currently the game selection is limited, but new titles are releasing every day. And as part of Microsoft's standard policy, every game must offer a demo with a try-before-you-buy mode. So you always get to experience the game before making up your mind on whether you want to buy it or not. And since the demo is built into the main game, you don't have to download two apps to play one game.
Another nice thing about Windows Phone, is that carriers are likely to offer them very inexpensively over time. Primarily due to Microsoft's strategy of letting things go practically for free to get them into more hands. Right now, most carriers are offering deals with buy 1 Windows phone, get 1 free. My guess is, we'll see lower prices and better deals as the months click by.
However, good deals aside, the phone is in need of an update to handle missing features like Flash support, multitasking, and cut and paste that other smart phones currently have. All of which is on the way, but we don't currently know when. The rumor is early 2011. Windows Phone is a decent device that has a lot of potential, it's not quite where it needs to be yet to be a real contender. Of course, not everyone is on AT&T and able to get an iPhone, and though Android is a good OS with a much better selection of apps, there are a number of features in the Windows Phone to give you a potential alternative.
In terms of buying a Windows Phone, I suggest waiting at least a year, by then the competition between iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone will be more balanced. As it is, the gaming aspects are certainly appealing, and with new games already announced such as Crackdown coming out for it, it may become an even bigger deal in a few short months. Keep your eye out for it. I'll be doing game reviews that are worth mentioning here on the blog as well, to let you know if there is anything out there you won't want to miss.