Windows 8 isn’t just about Windows anymore. It’s integrated with Microsoft’s online services, including Bing, SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype, Xbox Music, and even Office — although the Office apps are sold separately.
These services technically work best when you use Windows Phone 8 along with Windows Phone, just as an iPhone works best with a Mac. But most of Microsoft’s services are actually cross-platform, so you can easily use an Android phone or iPhone along with a Windows 8 PC and not miss out on much.
Windows 8 with Windows Phone 8
If you use the new Windows 8-style apps, you’ll probably want to stick to Microsoft services. You just don’t have that many options — Google doesn’t make Windows 8-style apps, and Apple certainly doesn’t. Search, online file storage, email, voice and video communication, streaming music, productivity — Microsoft provides a complete suite of online services with Windows 8 apps.
What’s really convenient about Windows Phone 8 is that all of these Microsoft services will be installed and configured by default. You log into Windows Phone 8 with the same Microsoft account you use on your Windows 8 PC and you’ll be automatically logged into apps like Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Skype, and other Microsoft services that come installed by default. The whole environment also feels similar, with live tiles and a similar interface design Microsoft once called “Metro.”
Windows Phone 8 also has a built-in version of Microsoft Office. Office Mobile is free to use, whereas the competing Microsoft Office 365 apps for iPhone and Android require you pay a monthly fee. If you want Office on your phone, it’s a nice advantage.
Windows 8 isn’t as integrated with Windows Phone 8 as it looks, however. The Windows Store for Windows 8 apps and the Windows Phone Store are separate, so you can’t buy an app and use it on both your phone and tablet, as you can with an iPhone and iPad or an Android phone and tablet. Even Microsoft’s Halo: Spartan Assault game, which allows you to save your progress and move between a Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 device, requires you purchase a separate copy of the app from the store specific to each device you want to play it on. (If you also want to play the game on the Xbox, you’ll need to purchase it a third time.)
Internet Explorer also doesn’t yet sync like Chrome or Safari do on Android or iOS. Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8.1 syncs your favorites and other browsing data between Windows 8 PCs, but Windows Phone can’t sync your browser data. The mobile version of Internet Explorer is cut off from the other versions of Internet Explorer for some reason.
No discussion of Windows Phone would be complete without pointing out that Windows Phone is still way behind on apps, just as Windows 8 is. The situation is improving somewhat, and Windows Phone is clearly in third place ahead of crumbling BlackBerry, but Windows Phone still doesn’t come anywhere near iOS or even Android in app selection.
Windows 8 With Android or iPhone
Windows 8 works surprisingly well with an Android or iPhone as long as you’re willing to embrace Microsoft services. While Google and Apple aren’t going to release their own apps for Windows 8, Microsoft has been steadily releasing more and more apps for iOS and Android.
For example, Microsoft provides official Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Skype, Xbox Music, and Bing apps for both Android and iPhone. There’s no official way to sync Internet Explorer favorites and open tabs to an Android phone or iPhone, but you can’t even sync IE browser data to Windows Phone anyway.
If you’re really dependent on Microsoft’s online services, these solutions are a bit less convenient. You’ll have to install them each after setting up your phone and log into them separately. They’ll feel more like separate apps than a complete and integrated experience, but you’ll have the benefit of being able to use the larger ecosystem of other apps available for Android and iOS. If you love the tiled Windows 8 environment, Android and iOS won’t feel the same.
Microsoft even makes a version of Office for iPhone, iPad, and Android. The Office Mobile for Office 365 apps, available for all these platforms, requires you pay for an Office 365 subscription that costs $100 per year. After you subscribe, you get access to the latest version of Office on Windows and can install the mobile apps on your Android and iOS devices. Office Mobile for Windows Phone has the benefit of being included and having no subscription fee, but it’s possible to pay for Office and use it on other mobile platforms anyway.
Windows 7 or Windows 8 Desktop Users
If you use Windows 7 or you just use the desktop on Windows 8 and don’t use any of the new Windows 8-style apps, there are no big advantages to using Windows Phone 8. If you use the built-in SkyDrive integration on the Windows 8.1 desktop, you can benefit from SkyDrive on Windows Phone — but you can always just install the SkyDrive app for iPhone or Android.
Windows Phone 8, iPhone, or Android?
Windows Phone 8 definitely has advantages for dedicated Windows 8 users, and we’ll likely see Microsoft add a combined app store, Internet Explorer syncing, and other obvious improvements over time.
Microsoft wants everyone to use their services, so they’ve made it very easy for Android and iPhone users to use Microsoft services without getting a Windows Phone. Of course, after you start using those Microsoft services on your current phone, it’s easier to switch to Windows Phone in the future. That’s part of Microsoft’s plan.