Monthly Archives: December 2010

Windows Phone 7 Review

A few days ago i recorded a one hour chat with fellow social reviewers @smperris and @TheMonkeyBoy – you can listen to it here. But i realise (my girlfriend told me to write this) a lot of people don’t have the time to dedicate an hour listening to our thoughts, so here’s my final thoughts on the latest phone from Redmond. All of this will be on the test.

Hardware.

The Mozart is a nice enough phone. Feels better (softer?) in the hand than the iPhone 4 and a better build quality than the HTC Desire. I hope the next iPhone takes some inspiration here and goes back to the rounded edges of the 3G/s with the aluminium of the first gen Jesus. The screen is a high res, high gloss beautiful touch screen. The screen is as responsive as Jebus, let down (at this stage) by the bugginess of the software.

Network

Considering every wanker with a twitter account (myself included) has complained about call dropouts and slow data on the Vodafone and Optus network, bemoaned the 24 month contracts they signed, and told the world they’d switch to Telstra as soon as their contract was over,  its should be no surprise that Telstra has a kickarse network. Yes, it is kickarse. No, it is not perfect, but its the best we’ve got. I had no dropouts on the phone, although I still couldn’t get data in some of the deeper crevasses of the UNSW campus.

Software

The software is a very polished 1.0 product, but still very much a 1.0 – The already iconic home screen is very pretty, but some fucntionality is lost from the big blocky icons. To compare this screenshot stolen from another blog : ((the most frustrating thing about the phone for me the last two weeks was not being able to take screenshots on the phone. Note to Microsoft, screenshots make reviews helpful.))

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The Windows Phone 7 can only have 8 applications available for immediate launch on the home screen. The iPhone, by comparison, has space for 20 apps of the home screen. Making this worse is certain apps (like Pictures in this example) or Calendar for me, take up two whole squares, leaving just 7 apps to access on the home screen. Worse still, each email account takes up its own app square, so in my configuration ((a screenshot would be so handy right now)) the 4 of my 7 homescreen apps are taking up by email and calendar, leaving just 3 spaces for SMS, Phone, and Twitter. Another disadvantage of the UI is switching between homescreens. On iPhone, a swipe to the left reveals another 20 apps that are easily accesible (more with folders). But the Windows phone UI is not divided into “homescreens”, it’s one long list of apps. So a swipe down in this case scrolls indefinetly, it doesn’t swipe then stop at the next 7 apps. This makes finding and sort apps even harder. And thats before taking in to account every fucking icon looks the same. Big blue squares.

Unified UI

But the phone has some beautiful features too. It appears there are some strict UI guidelines for developing apps for Wp7, which make the experience as a whole feel much nice than the ‘anything goes’ feel of Android. It even looks sexier than Apple’s offering at first (perhaps i’ve just become sick of the same old interface after four years) but within a few days i found myself tired of an interface built around sexy fonts and typography with no obvious buttons to click. But if you may get a kick out of it.

Apps

Not surprisingly, 3rd party apps for WP7 are not even close to the polish of iPhone apps. Very few 3rd Party Android apps match the polish of the iPhone and they’ve had far more experience copying the tastemakers at Cupertino. But wp7 apps have a better chance of becoming polished quicker, as the style guides have already been set, developers can now just focus on function. The best apps on the phone are the Office suite. It makes sense, Office is Microsoft’s strongest brand, and creating the ‘best Office integration’ on a phone should be Microsoft’s killer app. On the other end of the Microsoft stable is Xbox. The name and colours of Xbox are all over the phone, but really, its just another folder on the homescreen to store games. The Xbox live experience app is mainly pointless, it only allows you to play with your Xbox avatar and see your points. Anyone claiming that changing the clothes of your Xbox avatar on your phone is somehow a ‘game changer’ and ‘immersive gaming experience’ has spent too long reading the marketing material. The main problem with apps for the WP7 is the lack of apps we’ve all become trained to use on a daily basis on phones like Android and iPhone. There is no Evernote, Dropbox, (decent) twitter app, Instapaper, Simplenote, Tripview, MetroMelbourne, etc, etc. The Bing Maps App looks muted and washed out compared to Google Maps on Android and iPhone. The App Store itself is pretty annoying too. Like every other part of the UI, its all font no buttons. Every day the background changes to whatever app is recommended by the store, making the interface even harder to navigate, and purely based on the small amount of users, there are very few reviews or ratings on apps to help decided what is decent and what is not. The Browser, IE 6 Mobile apparently, is good enough, rendering full page sites fast with the standard zoom and click you’d expect on a modern smartphone not made by RIM. (( Interestingly, its the iPhone optimised sites that seem to trip up the browser. A screenshot could be really handy here, too. ))

Wait for January

So my final thoughts would be, don’t buy the Windows Phone 7. Yet. I’m throwing my wp7 into a drawer where it will sit, waiting for the rumoured January update that will supposedly bring the software up to the feature set of the iPhone 4.0. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rumour is true, Microsoft were able to get a very solid 1.0 out the door remarkably quickly after ditching their awful Windows 6 system. They have the money and resources to throw everything at the mobile market, and they must realise they need to – as iPhone solidifies itself as the Mac of the phone world and Android is quickly becoming the Microsoft. So stay tuned. iPhone’s quality is still miles ahead of the competition, Android’s growth seems unstoppable, and now Microsoft has woken up and stumbled in to the market demanding its share. The phone market over the next twelve months is going to be fascinating to watch. In a world without iPhone, the Windows Phone 7 may well be the best phone on the market. But then again, in a world without iPhone, Microsoft would probably think Windows for Palm was good enough.

TRON Legacy

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I few minutes ago I broke the hearts of many a geek by announcing that TRON Legacy was awful. Before i’m lynched for this, I thought i’d give a few reasons why.

TRON Legacy starts well with an amusing boardroom scene at the dastardly ENCOM, a company that seems to inherit all the worst  traits of Microsoft and Apple. While the directors meet, our hero Sam Flynn breaks into the building Ethan Hunt style, and performs a largely pointless prank. Cillian Murphy is fantastic in an uncredited cameo that is all too brief. So we meet the hero, a plucky young thing who can ride the hell out of a motorcyle. Remember that, it could come in handy later.

He seems engaging enough, even though he looks a little too close to Anniken Skywalker for comfort. Soon enough he’s sucked away from this interesting set-up and into the shit boring, neon heavy world of TRON. Creator  of TRON and mentor to Sam is his father, Kevin Flynn, played by Old Jeff Bridges. Old Jeff Bridges is great. His character is half The Dude, half Obi Wan Kenobi. It’s an interesting mix, and Jeff looks like he’s enjoying himself but the pages of exposition he is forced to read are dull and make little sense. CG Jeff Bridges as the villan is just this side of the uncanny valley. In wide shots his head is passable, but any close-ups immediately shatter the illusion and feel like a cut scene from a video game. Animating hard consonants, d’s, p’s and b’s seem especially difficult. This wouldn’t be a deal breaker, the movie is set in a computer so in a better movie I could’ve excused the head as a stylistic choice. But this isn’t a better movie.

Oliva Wilde has nothing to work with. Her character is somewhere between The Matrix and Minority Report, says fuck all and is somehow the saviour of the world. To be honest, I stopped paying attention to her story, but she sure looks pretty in latex and neon. Michael Sheen has a bizarre cameo, channeling David Bowie from The Labyrinth as he struts around his  Matrix Revolutions nightclub. It’s actually embarrassing to watch, but the cameo from Daft Punk is amusing enough.

When all is said and done, TRON Legacy tries too hard. All it had to do was have a vaguely passable plot and a shitload of light-cycle scenes and I would’ve been happy. Instead, all the TRON action we came for is in one confused slow scene at the start of the film, then the next hour and a half is spent watching these terrible characters talk. And talk. And catch a train. Then talk some more. The final battle steals much from Star Wars (the good ones) in action and cheekily enough, set design. But with neon. The few action scenes are a dark, badly shot mess. You really can’t tell what’s going on or who’s life is in danger, and for the most part you just don’t care. No character is real anyway, and certainly none are interesting enough to worry about whether they’ll live or die.

There’s a reason I’ve peppered this review with references from so many other movies. It’s because TRON Legacy plays like a pastiche of scenes from better movies. The only movie it forgets to steal from, it seems, its the fun cheesy glory that was TRON. Oh, and the 3D adds nothing. But who cares, TRON will no doubt make a squillion bucks. TRON opens Next Thursday in cinemas everywhere.