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.

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