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Windows Phone 7 | One Year Later

Selling Out

About a year ago, I sold out as part of the Windows Phone 7 Telstra Review Team. I was really curious about the WP7, which was getting a lot of buzz and certainly looked very different from most smart phones on the market. The deal I made myself at the time was to use the Windows Phone ((For those curious, it was a HTC Mozart)) exclusively for a week, so I could write a fair and honest review. I broke that deal on the second day. The Windows Phone, though very pretty, was just too frustrating and unfinished to use. So instead I carried two phones for a week. I tried as much as possible to use the Windows Phone, but for most things – listening to music and podcasts, posting to Twitter, checking the bus timetable – the iPhone was just so much easier an experience.

At the time, all the Windows Phone blogs and rumour sites were saying “Just wait til January” and “Mango will save us all!”. Mango, or Windows Phone 7.5, was supposed to be bringing cut and paste, multitasking, and a slew of other features to that would bring Windows Phone up to date with iPhone. It didn’t actually drop til September, and by then my lil Mozart was long gone. But I was still really curious, did Mango really fix all the issues I had with the WP7? Was good ol’ Microsoft back in the game?

Mango Cometh

So when a lovely friend offered to lend me a review unit ((this time a HTC Trophy)) running Mango I jumped at the chance. The hardware looked identical to the phone I played with last year, but that’s not what I was interested in, and that’s not what this review is about. It’s all about the software. So, looking back on my review last year, lets see what they’ve improved.


First, to do this properly, I set myself the same challenge of a week using the Windows Phone and nothing else. This time it was easy. The only thing I really missed was over the air podcast downloading with Instacast or Pocketcasts. Everything else was at least doable this time round.

 The OS

The greatest improvement to Windows Phone 7 was the operating system itself. The pretty was back, but this time it was a hell of a lot more stable. The phone didn’t crash once in the week I used it. Cut and Paste is there, and its actually a little faster than in iPhone. Or at least it feels that way. Mail has a unified inbox, which helps with Tile management (more on that later) and the Mail app itself it gorgeous, and I think superior to iOS’ Mail. The Font Heavy Metro UI just makes email look pretty, and i guess its understandable. Microsoft made its empire on the back of Exchange and Office, and with WP7 it feels like the rest of the UI was designed to make email look good. The Calendar App now supports multiple calendars and sub or delegate calendars,which is handy, but will still only show the next upcoming appointment on the lockscreen. In a way, I kind of like that though. WP7 seems all about cutting down the options and distractions. Sometimes that gets annoying, but here it really works. IE for WP7 was a solid browsing experience. Websites loaded quickly, bookmarks (sorry, favourites) we’re easy to access and pages could be pinned to the homescreen. There were a few annoying little glitches though. WP7 still doesn’t save drafts in SMS, so if you’re half way through an SMS and get distracted, you’ll lose the SMS when you reopen the app. Bing Maps is still quite ugly compared to Google Maps, and I stand by the description of it looking like “varicose veins on a pale, chubby leg.”  There’s also no way of using the WP7 as a 3G modem, or at least I couldn’t find it. There’s also no real multitasking to speak of. Sure, there’s no real multitasking on iOS either, but the facsimile of it is good enough. With WP7, you’re thankful the homescreen is just so pretty, because you see it all the time. EDIT: Thanks to the Nick’s comment below, there is a way of fast-app switching between the last few open apps, by pressing and holding the back button, you get a sexy little app switcher screen:


Most annoying, there is still no goddamn way of taking a goddamn screenshot on the goddamn phone. I can understand Android leaving this feature out, them phones is ugly, but WP7? How do they expect people to review the phone, or post screen shots on twitter, or whatever? I realise this is a very small market or use case to cater to, but its the most important market, the social media douchebag. Get on it Microsoft. What is cool is that Microsoft have a full screen demo you can play with right now on your iPhone or Android. I found it looking for screenshots for this post.

The Tiles

The most well know feature of WP7 is its tiled homescreen, possibly because its so different to iPhone and Android. I still really like the idea, and how some tiles can be “live” (showing moving images of friends for instance on the “People” Tile) but it’s still just not that great in practice. I still had the issue of trying to find the one tile I needed amongst a sea of similar coloured tiles.  The size of the tiles means the default home screen (before scrolling down) can only hold 8 applications to iPhone’s 20 ((more if you use folders)). And the 8 applications become 6 or 7 if you include Calendar or Photos, which for some reason are the size of two tiles each. Making app finding harder is the fact there is only one homescreen available. To use WP7 effectively I’d suggest having only 16 apps on the home screen, 8 at the top, then 8 if you scroll down. Any more than that and the homescreen will  scroll with no clear snapping point in either direction, making finding apps in the middle of your list a chore. Of course, there is still the back up homescreen, the long list of apps you havent “pinned” to the start, but thats not much better. Its still just one long list of apps, only smaller. I’m sure WP8 will bring multiple homescreens, so you can organise into Daily Apps, Camera apps, Social apps, etc, but until then, i found myself booting one app off the homescreen before adding anything new. Perhaps this is the WP7 “forced simplicity” idea at work again, and for many users it won’t be a big deal, but for the app obsessed, its a bit of a drag.

My biggest complaint, one I bothered to photograph, is the colours of the tiles. I know I just finished complaining about similar coloured tiles making finding things harder, but it does make the homescreen prettier. And until we, the end user, can change the colour of an individual tile, I don’t see why developers are allowed to. It’s such an odd complaint, I know, but in an interface so obviously governed by a strict HIG, to allow any old app to be any old colour is really bizarre. Some apps seem kind, and will change colour to match the theme you’re using, but most simply ignore your colour theme completely.  And Microsoft makes this decision acceptable by making their Xbox app lime green, and pinned to the start of the homescreen by default, regardless of the theme you choose. I know it sounds small, but in an interface where 7 out of 8 apps are blue but one stays green, mocking you, just to spite you,  it really drives you insane, as the following re-enactment shows. Here we have a beautiful homescreen of calm azure tiles, with 6 built in WP7 apps and the official Twitter app.


In the next shot, I replace the Twitter App with the Seesmic App. Note how the built in apps stay blue, but Seesmic stares back, mocking me, in defiant cherry red. The devil’s red.

Of course, the only rational reaction at this point is to reject the app and all it’s works, or to give in to temptation and force the app to rule your theme.

 Umberto Eco wrote a famous essay that the Mac experience was quite a catholic experience of “we know whats best for you, so stick to our rules and you’ll make it to heaven”, where as the Windows PC world was far more protestant, it allowed for “free interpretation” of the rules. The point is, WP7 is trying to be the Catholic experience, but to stretch the analogy too far, its only a Catholic experience for the end users, but its letting the clergy do whatever it wants, and that’s not the Catholic church I’m familiar with.. Ok, i’ll stop now.

3rd Party Apps

Despite all the above complaints, Mango is a damn fine OS. It’s beautiful, intuitive and fast, and in many ways a joy to use. What lets WP7 down the most, especially as an iPhone user, is the quality of the 3rd Party Apps. In my original review, I complained about how many third party apps I used daily did not yet exist for WP7. Most of those apps exist now, (Tripview for example) or have equivalent apps (the store is now full of Google Reader Apps). But there are still some notable exceptions. Dropbox is missing,  Instapaper will probably never be ported.  Stranger still, there’s still no official Skype app, despite Microsoft buying them back in May. And while the Apple App Store remains the biggest game in town, developers will always go there first. Every week a new iOS app like Discovr comes along that has been assembled with such thought, care and style, I’m constantly amazed. I can’t see Android or WP7 closing that gap any time soon. But what was really surprising was how awful the official Twitter app was ((all unofficial Twitter Apps were just as bad)). It still refreshed every time it was launched, meaning it never kept your spot in the timeline or a draft saved. It always threw you up to the top of your twitter stream, it would load each section (timeline, then replies, then messages) painfully slowly, and always from scratch. For a twitter app to work, it needs to be something you can open and close quickly, not giving it to much thought. It has to be disposable. WP7 made you work for twitter. I guess its a limitation of no multitasking, but I still think the experience could be improved. I just don’t get it, because, like people who need to take screen shots, twitter people are the most vocal, annoying people on the web (face it, we are) so you really need to please us first. And there really is no need for the Twitter App to be crap, many others aren’t. Facebook for WP7 is better than it’s iPhone equivalent. It’s still a native app, not just a border around a web page as the iOS App has become. Foursquare is brilliant, its functions have been moved around and re-emphasised to work best in the Metro UI, and  again, it may just be better than the iPhone version. But I spend most time on my phone bouncing between a Twitter app, a browser, and a Google Reader app. Nextgen Reader was fine, IE as mentioned above was fine, Twitter was awful.

Syncing to A Mac

The Windows Phone Connector for Mac hasn’t really changed much in a year, although it is now downloaded from the Mac App Store, so there’s that. It’s still a big, dumb interface that just sits on top of iTunes, but at least now you can select a little more granularly- choosing only “the last 3 unplayed podcasts” for instance. A year ago, it was all or nothing.

A familiar, clunky, but workable interface

Buying from the Windows Phone Marketplace (via a browser) is pretty slick though. Apps are immediately downloaded to the phone, which Android did first, and iOS does now, but its still cool, ok? I didn’t try the Zune Subscription Music Store, which sounds both incredibly cool and quite painful.


From a standing start, Windows Phone has become an polished, fully featured, beautiful platform in just one and a half releases. Mango really did bring the Windows Phone up to about iOS 3 in most areas, and in specific apps like Mail, I think they may have even leapfrogged iOS ((I have no idea how WP7 compares to Android, but if anyone wants to lend me one running Ice Cream Sandwich, I’ll happily give it a go )). And they’ve got the time and money to keep building from there. What is really letting WP7 down now, apart from a few little OS niggles that I’m sure will be addressed, is the lack of interesting 3rd Party apps. I have no idea what Microsoft need to do to lure iOS and Android developers (developers, developers) to their platform, but then need to do it now.

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.


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.


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.


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.))


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.


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.

Leading up to a week without Jebus

On Friday morning I’m going to leave the iPhone at home and use only the WP7 exclusively for the next week. I figure any old fucker with a blog can review a phone after playing with one in store, but I assume the kids at Teltra want something more than that. They want us to live with the phone for a while. So that’s what I’m going to attempt.It’s taken about four days to get the Windows Phone 7 to the point where it is almost usable, and hopefully the “i-would-like-the-battery-to-last-more-than-4-hours” hack described here will take it over the line. But I’d like it to be more than usable. I’d like the WP7 to be a contender to the Jebus throne.So, to make it a contender, I need to find apps comparable to the ones that live on my iPhone homescreen. They don’t have top be the same apps, although that would be awesome,  just similar in function.The short list i need:

  1. Evernote
  2. Simplenote
  3. 2do
  4. Meebo
  5. Tripview
  6. Dropbox

Do they exist?

First Impressions Of The Windows Phone 7

I havent had time to write a proper post on the Windows Phone 7 ((Disclaimer: Telstra gave me the phone for free to play around with. They also threw in an Xbox 360 so i could ‘experience the seamless integration between the phone and Xbox Live. Make of this what you will. )) yet, so instead i asked the good folk of Twitter to throw any questions they might have about the phone so far.


Here are some of conversations that followed. (Read from bottom to top in each screengrab). Continue reading First Impressions Of The Windows Phone 7