Windows Phone 8 is here, and finally consumers can get their hands on the latest and greatest from Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division. It's a seriously major change, the biggest since Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" over a year ago, and it brings with it some critical new features that should keep the operating system relevant in the ever changing world of smartphones.

The change is big enough that Microsoft required new hardware to run the new operating system, which also means the platform gives Microsoft more flexibility to add whatever they like without worrying about performance on legacy devices. The choice to support Windows Phone 8 only on new hardware disappointed a lot of current supporters, especially those who recently purchased the Lumia 900, but going forward it will probably be the right choice.

When you start up your Windows Phone 8 device for the first time you'll most likely notice the new and improved Start screen, complete with three sizes of tiles. Visually, this is the biggest change to Windows Phone 8, as the Metro/Modern style complete with large text headers, left-right swiping panes and tiles remain exactly the same.

The lock screen has also received more options for you to salivate over, including the ability to customize which apps display notifications on the lock screen just like in Windows 8. You can set up five quick app notifications and one additional app for detailed information; you may choose to display a Facebook and Skype notification count alongside unread messages and emails on the lock screen, while having the calendar display an upcoming event.

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