Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Review: Likes and a Wish List

What’s this?  a Cell Phone review on a blog dedicated to sports, politics and current events? Why not? It’s a slow news day and I have a new toy.

I’ve had a Samsung Focus with Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 operating system for about a week now. While the OS is a major improvement over the clunky interface of Windows Moble 6.x, the latest offering needs some work if it’s going to be competitive with Google’s Android (forget about reaching the pinnacle and competing with Apple’s IPhone).

Amazon Link: Samsung Focus

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not taking the phone back and exercising the 30-day no questions asked return policy from AT&T. The Windows Phone 7 interface is fluid, attractive and intuitive. The fonts are easy on my aging eyes and the operating system’s responsiveness is fantastic. There are lots things to like about it, and only a few things Microsoft needs to work on in the months ahead.



Home screen – Almost anything goes on the home screen.  You can pin app tiles, website bookmarks, email accounts, the calendar, a contact, it’s all up to you.  Put web pages down one column, email accounts down the other, mix them up. I like having only a handful of things on the home screen so I’m not searching for important stuff. My wife likes to have it all right there. It’s all up to the user and it’s quite nice.

Live Tiles – These are icons on the phone’s home screen that update based on the application’s content. They haven’t reached the functionality of a live widget, but your tiles for email and messaging show how many dispatches are waiting and the calendar shows upcoming events.

Apps with multiple screens – The Twitter and Facebook apps use this feature, called the Hub, marvelously.  You flip through multiple pages showing friend updates, mentions, wall posts, lists you’re following, etc.  This a very nice way of dealing with applications that provide a ton of information that needs to be organized to be useful.

image The App Bar – located at the bottom of the screen in all apps, the app bar contains options for changing settings, replying to or forwarding an email or switching tabs in the browser. Having those features and settings tucked away in a pop-up app bar is the WP7 equivalent of a drop down menu. Nice feature, here.

Internet Explorer – Major, major improvement over the toy browser that was in Windows Moble 6.x. Scripts don’t hang the browser like they used to and you have the option of viewing websites in either the Mobile or Native mode.  It’s a shame Mozilla spiked the development of Firefox for the OS because it would have certainly made Microsoft tuck in a few extra features and customizability (more on that, later).

Office – If Windows Phone 7 is going to survive, it’s going to be the corporate market that keeps it competitive and the integration of Office applications Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Sharepoint and One Note is critical to that. Pull a letter template off of the Sharepoint Server, start typing. The Office app also makes nice use of the Hub interface.

Syncing with Outlook – There are some features in Exchange that Windows Phone 7 do not support, such as changing Out of Office settings, Viewing free/busy status for other Exchange users and searching for email message in your mailbox on the server. Desktop Sync through the ActiveSync application is gone, too. But all of the major stuff is there, including DirectPush, multiple accounts, multiple calendars, flagging of messages, auto-discover and multiple policies. Microsoft says that WP7 was originally designed as a consumer-oriented OS rather than an enterprise platform, which is why several Outlook features are not supported. In my estimation, the critical features are supported. Having a tightly integrated email and calendar is essential and its there.

Organizing SMS messages into conversations – Another huge improvement over Moble 6.x and a complete blow-away of the Blackberry. No more scrolling through hundreds of texts to find the one with that contact phone number or specifications website address.

Audio, Video and streaming – Windows Phone 7 gets it. Mobile 6.x did not. The Netflix app is killer. Easily the most well done feature on the phone and every bit as good as anything offered by Google or Apple. Seriously.

XBox Live – Here’s where Microsoft shows its hand in aiming WP7 at consumers. It’s on here, and your account is easily integrated.


Battery consumption – This must be a bane we’ll just have to live with when it comes to the Windows OS, regardless of the platform. The one thing I like about RIM’s Blackberry phones is that they sip on the battery. Windows Phone 7 is a drunken lush by comparison.  Use the phone normally over the course of a busy, 8- to 10-hour workday, and you will likely need a car charger to make the trip home.

No cut and paste? SRSLY? – Come on, Microsoft. I was writing a blog post on the phone and needed some text from a news story I was writing about. How am I supposed to deliver the money quote without copying text from a website?  And no pasting an Excel table into a Word document or Powerpoint presentation? This is a MUST HAVE item. Fortunately, an update is coming, according to Microsoft.

No custom ring / alert tones – This was a disappointment, because my personal ringtone—the Monday Night Football Theme—is the most awesomely awesome ringtone ever. Everyone agrees, and now I can’t use it.

One size fits all customization – Tiles of different shapes, please.  Tiles of different shapes with different fonts.  Tiles of different shapes, with different fonts and different font sizes. More colors. Tile textures. Honest to God themes that change the look and feel of the interface without changing its functionality. Please.

The Touchscreen Keyboard – needs work. It’s a big improvement over the tortuously tiny thing that was on 6.x but it will still give some sausage-fingered owners some grief.


image The Samsung Focus is a wonderful piece of equipment. The last Windows phone I had was an HTC Tilt. It had a slide out QWERTY keyboard and boy was it rugged, but it was heavy and thick. The Focus is a much slimmer unit. No slide out, so it comes in about 1/3 the thickness.

while the Windows Phone 7 operating system is still in relative infancy, it’s a stable, usable platform with rich features and intuitive interface. It’s a great combination and this will be a very competitive combination of sleek hardware and mobile software.

If you’re anticipating an upgrade to a smart phone, the Samsung Focus is a good choice. I recommend it.



Anonymous said...

I had a Tilt too and yeah, it was a brick. Tough and durable. How prone is WP7 to lockups. 6.x was in constant need of reset.