Naturally, Microsoft has tied the phone to many of its other services, in particular a version of Office called Office Mobile that can let you view, edit and send Office documents. Gamers with an Xbox 360 will be able to incorporate their profile into the phone, and game apps on the phone will generate achievement points for the profile.
A few different manufacturers make Windows phones, though the number of available models is vastly fewer than Android. The hardware and performance can vary, though manufacturers don't modify the operating system other than sometimes contributing their own panes.
The operating system has earned praise from the tech community, but its weak sales have resulted in precious few apps developed for it. However, it's also caused the wireless carriers to slash prices, and it's not difficult to find a good Windows Phone for free.
The other point of concern is that Windows Phone 8, along with new models, will be released in November, so those looking to stay ahead of the technology curve might want to wait.
Pros: Attractive pane system. Close integration with Microsoft Office and Xbox Live. Inexpensive.
Cons: Few apps. Will be replaced by Windows Phone 8 in November.
Might be good for: Office power-users, Xbox 360 gamers.
ANDROID Price range: free-$299
Current models: HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III, dozens of others
Description: Android is the biggest smartphone platform. Google allows manufacturers to use it for free, so there are many different types of Android smartphones available.
The phone is operated by a touchscreen and three or four buttons, depending on the type and version of Android installed. Android also uses tappable icons, though some options can only be accessed by tapping the menu button.
Not all app icons are represented on the home screen -- you'll need to tap a specific icon to get to them all. Instead, the home screen can be populated with a selection of most-used icons and widgets -- larger icons that automatically display new information without opening them up. For example, a weather widget could automatically display the current temperature, and a music widget could display what is being played in the background.
Android is well-known for its openness and is the most customizable of all the smartphones.
As such, you're free to use a variety of programs to load up music or back up the phone. Google's services such as Gmail are intimately integrated into the phone, though other smartphones can use the services via apps. However, Android isn't as polished as other smartphones and can be confusing to newcomers.
With the huge variety of Android models available, potential buyers have the potential to choose the exact set of features desired -- for example, a photographer could choose an Android with a particularly strong camera function.
The sheer number of models can be confusing, however, and though there are fantastic Android phones, others can be downright bad. It's critical to research before you buy.
Android software can also vary from phone to phone, as individual manufacturers are free to modify things. Some modifications are better than others. This also makes upgrading erratic because a phone's upgrade is released when the manufacturer chooses, not Google. Many phones are sold with versions of Android several revisions behind the most recent version.
Pros: Extremely customizable. Freedom to access the phone with a wide variety of programs. Close ties to Google's services. Many good and/or cheap phones are available. Wide variety of apps.
Cons: Less polished than other platforms. Can be confusing to newcomers. Many bad phones are available. Erratic or unavailable upgrading, depending on model. Manufacturers incorporate varying amounts of undesired crapware that can't be deleted.
Might be good for: Experienced users, buyers looking for a specific feature, those willing to trade style for options.
BLACKBERRY Price range: free-$199.99
Models: BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry Curve, BlackBerry Torch
Description: Research in Motion's BlackBerry was one of the earliest smartphones and had a dedicated following in the years before the iPhone was released. The platform has evolved over time and now barely resembles the tool many business professionals couldn't put down six years ago.
The various current BlackBerrys are controlled by touchscreens on all but a few models, five dedicated buttons and sometimes a physical keyboard. BlackBerry is known for making the best physical keyboard on smartphones, though that feature has all but vanished everywhere else.
The operating system feels most like Apple's iOS, with functions generally controlled by icons, though most of those icons have submenus. Unfortunately, the BlackBerry is hard to recommend to anyone but BlackBerry die-hards. Its interface quickly devolves into a baffling mess of long menus and hidden options.
RIM manufactures all the BlackBerry models. Most of them can be had for relatively little money, though be warned that most of them are more than a year old and don't compare well to newer phones.
Relatively few developers have chosen to develop for BlackBerry, and sales have been so weak the future of the company is in doubt. The company is releasing a new operating system and presumably new phones next year, so those who want to stick with the platform should probably wait until then.
Pros: Good physical keyboard on some models.
Cons: Clunky operating system. Aging hardware. Few apps.
Might be good for: BlackBerry die-hards who hate change.
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