Windows Phone 7. Only a complete moniker makeover could help users even begin to learn to forgive Microsoft for the atrocities it’s committed with Windows Mobile in recent years. Rightly, Redmond’s razed it to the ground and salted to the earth: Windows Phone 7 won’t run previous Windows Mobile apps. Indeed, bar a few fonts, it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen in Windows Mobile. Is that for better or worse? We’ve been testing it out on a couple of phones for the past fortnight to find out: see what we made of it in our full Windows Phone 7 review right here.
Read the rest of our Windows Phone 7 review
Windows Phone 7 review: Internet Explorer and Bing
Windows Phone 7 review: People hub and messaging
HTC HD7 review
Samsung Omnia 7 review
We’ve had several opportunities to play with Windows Phone 7 since we first tried it out at Mobile World Congress way back in February, and you’ll either be relieved or disappointed to hear that after extensive play with a HTC HD7 and Samsung Omnia 7 this week, little has changed from its initial premise. Windows Phone 7 is very much a smartphone operating system for the masses, with a very shallow UI – but one that won’t boggle the less tech savvy either.
We’re breaking down the core sections of Windows Phone 7, like media, the web and hubs, in their own individual sections of our Windows Phone 7 review, so we’ll stick to an overview of how the parts come together here, and sum up the experience of using Windows Phone 7.
Who is Windows Phone 7 for? The video above gives you some feel for the audience Microsoft is trying to pitch to with Windows Phone 7. What may surprise you is that it’s really not the same audience as Windows Moible once was: an amalgamation of corporate users unfortunately too tied into Outlook to move, and tinkering early adopters. Don’t let the message of this ad fool you: Windows Phone 7 is an OS for those who scoff at people rubbing their glowing screens, not those already in servitude to their iPhone or Android blower. And by and large, it works, if not for the right reasons.
Read our HTC HD7 review now
Microsoft’s not changed the game with its new Windows Phone 7 hub and tiles system as it claims to have – in practice, they’re just bastardized widgets – and nor does it let you perform many core actions quicker than rival platforms, as it’s been crowing. By only allowing very contained, fenced off third party apps, it’s not changed the “There’s an app for that” paradigm consumers have only just started to grasp, as Android moves well beyond it. What it does do is provide a solid, simple and coherent ecosystem that we have no doubt mainstream users will come to grasp just as easily as Apple’s – but with much more choice when it comes to hardware. For this, Microsoft should be lauded.
Yes, we just used the L word. Albeit with a few inconsistencies – long presses occasionally bring up context menus, but only in certain situations – Microsoft has delivered on the basics, with a shockingly usable touchscreen keyboard that eclipses any Android board we’ve used, a competent web browser and smooth pinch to zoom gestures (Apps can use up to four touch recognition), and most impressively, a system you could credibly give to your parents and expect them to figure out for themselves.
To the design and hub system of Windows Phone 7 first. It’s not revolutionary as Microsoft claims, but it is nice, and our original concerns about getting lost in the UI – mostly backdrops and large font menu titles, Zune style – are null and void, since it’s not really possible to get more than two layers deep from the home screen. You can stick what you like as a tile on the homescreen – including contacts and even individual media files – and your longer list is always available with one swipe to the right.
Microsoft’s People hub doesn’t set a new benchmark for contact management, but it is perfectly pleasant looking, and importing any type of ActiveSync account, plus Facebook contacts, is possible. As we’ve seen on countless Android phones now, a quick swipe shows a friend’s recent activity – as well as who’s talking to them on Facebook, which is decidedly odd – and we can’t help but feel that it’s reached the point where it would be unacceptable if this type of integration wasn’t included. But it is, so.
The same goes for the Microsoft Office hub. Since there’s no TV-out on any of the launch Windows Phone 7 handsets, you’re not going to be plugging it in to show off your PowerPoint presentation, and we’d venture to suggest that if you need to edit said presentations on your phone, you’re probably not doing your job properly. But the options are there, and it’ll do in a pinch, so long as you can cope without Cut and Paste, which won’t hit until early next year.
What we think more people are really going to be slapping high up their list of tiles -rearranged, incidentally, just as icons are in iOS with a long press – is the Music and Videos hub. While a few might be disappointed to see Microsoft take the syncing approach of the iPhone, rather than the more open USB mounting process of Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones, we have to say it’s performed it well. Zune on the desktop, an unknown entity in the UK by and large, is delightful, and worked flawlessly on the Windows 7 laptop we tested it with – and the Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac isn’t half bad either.
Once your music and video is onboard, album art and imagery will take over the tile. It’s hard to say whether the Zune Pass subscription model will be worthwhile in the UK – a Windows Phone 7 Spotify app has already been confirmed – but in this regard, Microsoft has delivered above and beyond Apple. Oh, and there’s no bloody Ping either getting all up in your grill with suggestions.
Check out our Samsung Omnia 7 review now
What Windows Phone 7 does have however, is Bing. Tap that search button and you can search from Microsoft’s amiable “decision engine”. When you’re on the homescreen, it works a treat, pulling up results based on news, location and plain old fashioned web. It’s not without its flaws – there’s no universal local search of messages, contacts and all your files, and Microsoft has made an alarming concession by letting networks decide what search engine the button triggers when Internet Explorer is open – but both it and Bing Maps are pleasant, fast, and in most situations get the job done. Hand on heart, as gadget enthusiasts, we can’t say the experience matches Google’s comprehensive search and navigation skills on Android. But if Joe Public can understand how to do all this, Microsoft will have achieved something Google hasn’t.
Unfortunately, the one aspect of Windows Phone 7 we weren’t really able to test properly was Xbox Live. Trying to login currently leads to a broken URL, but we’ll be testing it out when the service goes live. For a brand new platform however, the games are undeniably pretty, if slow to load – we just wish that multiplayer support extended beyond “asynchronous” games – or rubbish ones, depending on your perspective. Still, we wouldn’t call this an issue: we can’t honestly say we get the urge to do this much on other smartphones either.
Multitasking – or lack thereof – however really is one of the big issues we have with Windows Phone 7. Every other rival now platform allows some form of multitasking for third party apps, whether iOS 4’s limited tasks to Android’s free for all approach. Windows Phone 7 does not. Leave an app, and it needs to restart. This might sound like a petty complaint, but it does have real ramifications. It means when the Spotify app arrives, it won’t be able to stream music in the background while you browse the web. It means that Twitter programs have to open links within the app, rather than open a full screen page in Internet Explorer. It leads to frustrations you might not run up against everyday, but ones you’re just not going to find a way around, or ever get used to. If this is an issue for you, the chances are nothing else about Windows Phone 7 is going to make this up to you.
Speaking of those apps: as you might expect, there aren’t a great deal of them right now, and some of the ones that are live are rather buggy. Twitter client Twitt for instance crashes like a Windows Vista laptop being dropped off a skyscraper. But this is just the start, and if anyone can get all the big names ticked off in a short amount of time, and get enough money into the Marketplace to make it worth developers’ time, we’d say it’s Redmond right now, thanks to its consistent specs and OS approach to Windows Phone 7 handsets – watch this space closely, as we’ll be monitoring the Marketplace non-stop.
To pull off this united front is impressive, and should avoid any of the Android fragmentation issues we’ve seen over the last year. But in a rush to get Windows Phone 7 onto phones and out of the factories by Christmas, it’s not just Copy and Paste that’s been left on the wayside. Microsoft’s not managed to iron out all the bugs, and it shows in Windows Phone 7. We can forgive third party apps which crash or take a while to load, but we’ve witnessed a quite spectacular glitch on more than on occasion and on more than one phone that causes the background to go mental. It’ll start changing colour, and worse, showing the homescreen at multiple offsets, so everything becomes unreadable until a full restart is required. Fingers crossed this is fixed in time for launch.
We also saw some wild fluctuations in reported battery life on the HTC HD7 too, with quoted battery life dropping down to around 10 percent, before jumping up to about 50 percent for an hour, then suddenly kicking out a critical low power message – not at all helpful. Our Samsung Omnia 7 behaved much more nicely however.
New or completely overhauled mobile operating systems are a rare thing these days – before Windows Phone 7, the last one of note was Palm’s webOS back in June 2009, and then before that was Android more than two years ago. We can’t say that Windows Phone 7 is a more competent OS than webOS on launch, but it’s much more simple and much more mainstream – and with Microsoft’s overspilling coffers propping it up, we think it’s going to hoover up a larger marketshare much more quickly.
Should you buy a Windows Phone 7 handset on launch? It’s nowhere near ready for demanding users, but we’d gladly recommend it to anyone with an iPhone obsession, but looking for something cheaper, or with a physical keyboard. Right now, Windows Phone 7 is something we’ll be recommending to our less fussy friends, rather than queuing up for ourselves.
Until Microsoft fixes the multitasking issue, we can’t see that changing any time soon either – but if that doesn’t bug you, it’s definitely worth considering for your next blower. Overall, Microsoft’s finger-friendly OS is a touch of genius, compared to the stylus OS it succeeds and if you’re scoping out new Smartphone bounty, it’s more than worthy of a place in your pocket.