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Windows Phone 7 Review


The Windows Phone 7 has been available here in the UK since 21st October and I managed to get hold of one for a few days from a friend after I bribed him with a bottle of whisky (he’s a big fan of his whisky). So I borrowed his HTC HD7.

So I used it for around 3 days and to be honest it took some getting used to. But I think I’ve learnt enough to share some experiences in this blog post.

So some points about Windows Phone 7:

Availability

It took my friend 6 days to get his hands on a phone and that wasn’t through want of trying. It seemed that if you wanted to get a Windows Phone here in the UK then you had little choice but to sign up with a carrier on a new contract which is not something he wanted to do (he wanted a sim free phone). I’m mainly thinking that the limited phone availability could be interpreted as there was an unexpected high demand for the phones.

First impressions

I pretty much new my way around the phone before I got it due to the mass of online videos on youtube and other review sites. So there wasn’t much new to learn about it but still I was looking forward to finally getting one in my hands. I can say that the phone is a delight to use; it is quick and very easy to use. Do I say that because I already knew my way around the phone? Possibly, yes, though I am still of the opinion that this phone’s base interface (known as Metro) is both a refreshing change and a step ahead of any of its competitors (esp againest the likes of the Iphone and the new blackberry OS7)
Microsoft have very clearly spent a lot of time thinking up ways that the phone can impress and delight users, be that with an entire feature (such as OneNote sync) or a user interaction (such as email notifications on the lock screen) of which is a great use to me (I use email for everything).
The Music and Video hub is new to me because I have never handled a Zune HD before (which is where the interface borrows from) and only know this as I had a play with a friends one (she swares by her Zune). The backdrop to the hub changes to show the artist that you last listened to which contributes heavily to the overall positive look. The best word I can think of to describe the Music and Video hub is “very classy”.
The calendar too is a work of art. I have four different calendars (meaning four separate accounts) and the syncing to the phone and the calendar does a beautiful job of displaying them all. The vibrant colours used for each calendar contrast fantastically with the black background and make the simple act of looking at one’s agenda a real pleasurable experience (and easy as well). The app bar has a button that takes you back to the current day no matter where you happen to be browsing within the calendar – a very smart idea indeed.

All that being said there are still problems with the phone, niggles if you will, some of which leave me scratching my head and thinking to myself “What on earth were they thinking?”. How ever lots of features are not complete (calendar and office being classic examples) which is no doubt due to Microsoft’s desire to get something in front of their customers who have been waiting for this for a while now.

The good points:

The main thing I use my phone for is sending/receiving email (personal and work) and this is where Windows Phone shines; I have two email accounts synced to the phone and am happy to report that email on this thing is a pure joy (even a lot more than my blackberry 9700) Simple things like a single click to delete an email and then being returned to your inbox rather than showing the next email brings a smile to my face. The animation when deleting an email is a delight and navigation is both simple and efficient. For me though the real high point of email is the presentation of it on the lock screen.

On the lock screen it shows my unread text messages whereas the second tile and third represent unread emails in each of my two email accounts. What I particularly like about this is that the O/S isn’t relying on space-consuming memory to tell me which account has unread messages, it is simply shown by location on the screen and it takes no time at all to get to grips with which is which. Its a great example of Windows Phone taking something that might seem fairly insignificant but that serves to make the whole overall experience easier.

The second thing that I have fallen in love with is OneNote syncing. I am a fairly regular OneNote user and recently added all of my OneNote files to http://office.live.com knowing that this would enable me to view them on the phone. There’s something deeply satisfying and delightful (there’s that word again) about being inside a OneNote page on your phone, hitting the camera button on the app bar to take a picture, then watching that photo automatically turn up on your laptop screen just a few seconds later. I can think of many scenarios where this will be useful (esp at work) and is definitely a very unique future for Windows Phone.

What else is good? I mentioned earlier that the Music and Video hub and truly it is an awesome.

The Bad points:

I’ve talked about some of the things I love but I’m afraid I have to report that not all is well with Windows Phone. I find it to be teeming with bits that detract from the overall experience and I’m going to list some of them out here.
I wrote above about how I love being able to sync my OneNote notebooks from http://office.live.com to my phone but I can’t ignore that setting up syncing of a notebook up in the first place is a very difficult thing to do. I managed to get myself into such a pickle first time around that I had to phone my friend up and beg him to help me out (seeing it was his phone)

The Music and Video hub is a delightful experience as I emphasized earlier but still its missing things and, quite frankly, some of the these things I find downright bizarre. For example, I can shuffle all of the songs on the phone but I can’t shuffle a playlist. Huh? What’s that about? That seems like a glaring mistake to me and is one that I miss a great deal because in general I make great use of my playlists but listening to them in the same order each time is not really what they were designed for (and to be honest bores me). So the word that springs to mind when using the Music and Video hub is that its “unfinished” and to be honest that is a common theme across the phone.

The dam right Ugly points:

I’ve talked about my main complaints and here’s a quick-fire list of more minor issues that irk me a little:
When typing a URL into the address bar in Internet Explorer there’s no “/” on the facing keyboard. What the….? [OK, its there if I long-hold on the period but still – you’d think this would be front and centre when typing a URL]
After installing an app from the marketplace you have to come out of the marketplace to actually launch it. Why can’t I simply launch it from the marketplace when it tells me that its finished installing it? Oh and Long-holding the period key on the keyboard will present a submenu of different punctuation marks that I can add to wherever I’m typing. This submenu includes a dash, an exclamation mark, a colon and a question mark but unbelievably no apostrophe. It seems like a small thing but I’m left incredulous at this omission.
I can pin a person to the home screen which is kinda cute and all but its not what I want; I want to pin a person’s phone number up there. That would be useful.

The Conclusion

There’s a few complaints in this blog post and that is indicative of this being version one of Windows Phone – I used the word “unfinished” a couple of times and that sums up the whole phone pretty well. Happily the majority of these irksome points are not core problems to the phone and can be easily fixed and I’m sure that will happen in the not too distant future. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not enjoying the phone –I am, I’m loving it- and thinking of getting rid of my blackberry for one.