Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 has joined a handful of other phones at, of all places, the Microsoft Store. Both the online store and brick-and-mortar locations have the handsets, both unlocked and carrier-branded; today, they’re $780, with a regular price of $930.
The Note 8 joins the Galaxy 8 and 8+ as well as Razer smartphone; Microsoft is selling all four Android handsets, alongside three Windows Phone devices (including the HP Elite x3, newly available to Verizon). Why is Microsoft selling Android handsets? Well, the company says, you can run Microsoft Launcher, a home screen/app launcher replacement for Android, along with all of Microsoft’s other Android apps, such as Office, Cortana, and Skype.
This represents Microsoft’s fallback position in the smartphone market. If people won’t buy phones with Microsoft’s operating system, the company will at least try to get people running Microsoft’s apps on their phone. Redmond is also trying to use these apps to improve the Windows 10 user experience. If you use the full range of Microsoft software, you get some convenient extra capabilities, such as the ability to open a webpage on the PC from your phone, with much deeper integration promised soon.
While most of the apps (except Launcher) are also available on iOS, they are, at least in some ways, better on Android. That’s because Android offers deeper integration and customization capabilities to third-party applications.
Microsoft can still earn a few pennies from this, too; lighting up the full range of Office for Android features requires an Office 365 subscription. But it all falls a long way short of using an actual Microsoft phone; Launcher isn’t bad, but it’s not a patch on the Windows Phone interface with its live tiles. And on most phones, the styling is all over the place; you’ve got Google apps with Material design, Microsoft’s apps with their similar but different Windows-like styling, and then whatever apps your phone’s OEM has bundled. I’ve been using the Microsoft apps on a Huawei Mate10 Pro, and Huawei’s built-in software, such as its phone dialer, sticks out like a sore thumb, with icons and an interface that look like nothing else in the operating system (other than Huawei’s other apps).
The phones Microsoft is selling are otherwise run-of-the-mill Android handsets. Aside from their unusual vendor, there’s nothing special about them. If Microsoft’s pricing and availability works well for you, the Microsoft Store is as good a place as any to buy them. But you’re not missing out if you don’t.