Charles Arthur tweeted that he’d be interested in my views on WP7 – I nicked the general approach from his review: Here
I intended to write about 500 words as, amazingly, I don’t get paid when I write for myself but I got carried away. Apologies for long boring WP7 HTC HD7 review.
The phone is a HTC HD7, if you want to know the specs there are plenty of places to find them. My only two gripes about it are: the buttons are about a half a millimetre too short making them a bit difficult to hit accurately and the screen though large isn’t as crisp as I expected. It’s fine, non-retina iPhone display quality for sure, but on closer and longer inspection it’s not got any wow factor. However, it is big and that’s a good thing. Battery life is fine, but as with all smartphones if you intend to use it in anger then make sure you have a charging option handy.
I like the home page and the large tiles, they’re clear at a glance and this makes it easy to tell you’ve got mail, text or voicemail waiting. The fact they don’t all quite fit on the screen implies there’s more if you scroll down and indeed there is. Reordering them is easy, but they don’t reflow automatically, which would be a nice touch. In a direct comparison with the iPhone home screen and its 20 app arrangement you could argue that the 8 live tiles of WP7 is a limitation. However, I only ever use 4 or 5 apps regularly enough to demand a home screen position.
Phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, Internet Explorer, Foursquare and People suit me fine as the first page tiles and that’s only 7.
Pinning people to the home screen is, I find, really useful. In his review Charles Arthur says that they should be speed dials directly. I do not agree. My wife has two mobiles an office number and three email addresses. It depends which office she works in and where she is as to which of these I use. The live tile gives me instant access to all this info in one tap and I can call or email with just one tap more.
As a phone
The phone itself is ok. I agree that the list of recent incoming, outgoing and missed calls is a bit poor. I don’t get that many calls, but if I did this would quickly become a pain. It needs work, but like many of the gripes I have with Windows Phone 7 these are rough edges rather than interface disasters. It’s exactly how I felt with the first generation iPhone: ‘ahh, that’s not quite right, but I can see it’s not a huge step to make it better’. The iPhone still has some of these rough edges too; the notification system is one of them.
The lack of an option to permanently see the signal strength, battery and Wi-Fi indicators is a pain and I’d like to see this as an update. I’m on a 500MB data contract I NEED to know that I’m connected to the wireless and not burning through my allowance when I’m watching porn, er YouTube
Web and Email
The web browser on Windows Phone is a variant of Internet Explorer. Ugh. As a Mac user poking fun at the desktop version of Explorer should be easy, but in reality I don’t mind IE all that much whenever I use it on the PC. On the phone it is Teh Suck. No really it’s just terrible. Sites render badly with oddly mixed font choices and they’re slow too. Managing bookmarks is a pain and frequently sites simply refuse to load at the first attempt.
Internet Explorer for Windows Phone is a bit like Duplo, it’s similar to grown-up Lego, but the bricks basic are and only good for simple construction. Whilst neither Mobile Safari nor the Android browser could claim Lego Technic status they’re certainly not as piss poor as IE. I think the browser is my least favourite part of the Window Phone experience.
Managing email is a lot better. Setting up my Google account was incredibly simple. I just entered my email address and password and boom all my mail was there. I really like the interface, the large type and white space makes quickly browsing messages simple. I moved from iPhone to Windows Phone without incident. I don’t get the same ‘frustratingly big signage and small information’ feeling as Charles Arthur did, but horses for courses. I like being able to see the sender in large type alone – the subject and first line of the email? Meh. I get 5 emails per page on WP7 compared to 4 on my iPhone 3G.
I suspect that without my job of reviewing apps for various sites and magazines I’d not have half as many as I do on my iPhone. On this Windows Phone I have about ten. However, Windows Phone needs applications. The Marketplace is a mix of no-brainers like Facebook, Twitter, Adobe Reader and total unmitigated crap. Much like the Apple app store, but it has the advantage of having more of the no-brainer downloads.
I guess Microsoft will make plenty out of the Xbox connection and that should help make the platform a decent mobile games platform. However, my knowledge of mobile gaming starts and ends with Snake so perhaps I’m wrong there.
Moving past the apps themselves and on to their organisation. Here too I can agree with the guardian review, get lots of apps and the second page becomes a real pain to navigate. However, surely Microsoft will make a live tile folder style arrangement where you can put up to nine apps in one tile. Surely? It’ll have to do something about the very basic list of apps page too. It’s easy to forget that the iPhone interface has evolved in this respect too and I’m certain WP7 will as well.
On information density
I’m not entirely in agreement with The Guardian review here, though. I find that the information given is perfectly dense enough and I like that there’s not much getting in the way. When I first saw the Zune OS and its floaty titles that didn’t fit on the screen I was sceptical, but in use it’s a great way of saying to the user ‘hey you there, this way for more stuff…’ That said there are screens that look like they’ve had the functionality provided with a view to designing the UI later. Using Twitter or Facebook I never find myself wishing that I could see more information and the same is true of email. One man’s lack of density is another man’s clutter free, I suppose.
Windows Phone 7 conclusions
I don’t buy in to the ‘it’s all too late’ mantra from some people. It’s still early days and Microsoft can afford to be behind the curve as long as it makes sensible upgrade decisions and continues to keep tending its field and not looking over the wall where the grass looks greener. The bricked Samsung phones update was bad, but Apple users have suffered similar fates at each OS update too, it’s just not news now.
I have to say that moving to the Windows Phone platform has been seamless for me. Sure, there are some iPhone apps I use on an occasional basis that I miss and web browsing is, um, less than good. Overall though I’ve enjoyed the phone much more than I did with Android. Before anyone gets their panties in a twist I’m not saying that Android is a poor OS just that it didn’t float my boat as much.
If I were reviewing Windows Phone for a magazine or paper I’d probably give it 3/5 as it clearly needs work for most consumers. However, for me, willing to put up with minor issues ‘that’ll be sorted in a future update’ (crosses fingers – spins three times) it’s a 4/5. I feel like I did with the first iPhone, ‘look this is a really great piece of tech even without [insert list of ‘missing’ features]’
It’s interesting and different something that I did not find with my brief trip down Android lane.
I think Microsoft has been down’t pit and mined a diamond. It’s rough and it needs cutting and polishing carefully, but I can see this OS as a real high-end competitor to iOS. I’m locked into this phone for the next two years so come February 2013 we’ll see if that promise has played out. If it hasn’t I can always go back to Apple they’ll be about to announce iPhone 7 by then anyway.