My thoughts on Windows Phone 7

Don't call this a review. Call it a critical analysis of a platform I really wanted to like.

I just spent the last five days with the Samsung Focus on AT&T. First off, I should say WinMo 7 will be a great contender in the mobile a couple years. It is reminicent of the first iPhone, which would be okay if this were 2007...but it's not.

The thing I continue to be disappointed about from phone makers competing with Apple is that they seem to follow directly in Apple's footprints. Copy/paste came late on the iPhone. So did tethering, push notifications, multitasking, screenshots, global inbox. And all of those features are missing on WinMo 7 for now. (Although, there is a workaround for tethering.)

If you want to compete with Apple, you need to release a phone that competes with the latest iPhone, not the first one they came out with. Just because Apple didn't release certain features until years later doesn't mean you can do the same thing. It's 2011, and even though you're late to the party, you'd better catch up, because when a consumer goes to compare your phone with the iPhone, it's just not going to compete without certain features.

For the sake of this post, I'll leave out the features listed above, assuming they'll all be coming at some point. Also, keep in mind that I'm writing this from an iPhone user's standpoint, so that's my main reference point. (And I apologize for not providing screenshots. But since WinMo 7 doesn't let you take screenshots, well...)

Things I like about WinMo 7

Facebook integration
WinMo 7 has tight Facebook integration. Not only does it pull in contact profile pictures, but viewing a contact also shows their latest status update. While I usually find this type of thing cheesy, I can see the value in this because status updates can make a great conversation starter when calling someone.

It also automatically downloads all Facebook albums into the built-in photo app, so showing off Facebook pics is as simple as popping open the native app. (It actually downloads album meta data and loads thumbs when you view the album, so the pics aren't actually saved on the phone.)

Profile linking
If I recall correctly, Palm's WebOS was the first major platform to automatically link multiple contact records for contacts from different sources. For example, it will combine phone numbers and email addresses for the same contact that are found in different places like Google Contacts, Facebook, and more. WinMo 7 does this just as well.

Email readibility
Emails look fantastic on this device. The sizing of the sender's name, subject, and text, and the coloring works in harmony to create a really delightful experience. On WinMo 7, I actually enjoy reading email.

Bing Maps look great in this app. I especially like how, when scrolling to a new section on the map that hasn't been loaded, that section of the map is faded out like a video game map in an area that hasn't been explored. Once the area loads, the map fades in. A simple, but nice touch.

On-screen keyboard
The keyboard feels more accurate and precise than other phones (including the iPhone). I'm a fan. But unfortunately, auto-correct isn't nearly as good. (I'll write about that later.) The keyboard also gives word suggestions which is useful in a few cases. One thing I liked was the ability to highlight an entire word and see auto-complete suggestions for other words. So if you're typing fast and don't realize you input the wrong word, you can just select it and tap on the correct suggestion, rather than using backspace and retyping the correct word.

Marketplace app trials
The biggest thing that bugs me about the iPhone App Store is that you can't try an app before you decide if you like it. I think Google's move with Android Marketplace to allow refunds within 24 hours was genius. I downloaded so many more apps on Android because I didn't feel like it was as much of a commitment; there was a way to "back out" if I wanted to. But I have a feeling some app makers didn't like this, because if you only needed to use an app once, you could use it and then get a refund right after.

With the Windows Marketplace, they offer free trials if the app maker provides a trial version. This is a happy medium, because game makers can offer trial versions, and other app makers can still force you to buy the app if you're not likely to use it on a daily basis.


Things I don't like about WinMo 7

Lack of homescreen/tile customization
The homescreen tiles (see screenshot at top) are large, lifeless (the built-in app icons are only one color), and the only thing you can do with them is move them around. You can't change the size of tiles to make three to a row, and if a tile is two tiles wide by default, there's no way to make it half the size. I'd much prefer to see more icons without having to scroll, since the icons show notifications for each app (again, see screenshot above).

Camera (on my Samsung Focus)
There's no other way to put it. The camera is TERRIBLE (keep in mind this is hardware-related, not tied to WinMo 7 itself). It does record HD video, but what's the point if the quality gives away that it was taken with a cell phone?

Transition speed
Transitions on WinMo7 can best be described as a page turn. When you open something, the outgoing page starts to peel from bottom to top. When you exit an application, the entire page flips at the same time.

The transitions are cool for the "honeymoon period," meaning they're kind of cool for the first couple days of owning the phone, and for showing off the phone to friends. But they take a couple seconds to run their course, and I don't think anything is happening in the background (like actually loading the app). I'm pretty sure they're just for visual effect. For me, I'd much rather have a screen load in half the time, than wait for a transition to do its thing, or at the least, an option to disable them.

Email handling
Images in emails rarely seem to work. You have to tap to download an inline image, and when you do, it's really hit or miss on if they'll actually load. (But keep in mind that my experience here may be different than others, due to my email servers.)

On-screen keyboard auto-correct
While I think the keyboard is easier to type more accurately on, auto-correct is far worse than the likes of the iPhone. Sending messages or typing emails ended up being much more tedious because of this. (This was actually the last straw that made me give up WinMo 7. Being unable to type quickly and accurately with the help of auto-correct is a make or break point for touchscreen phones today.)

General lack of consistency
In some apps, pressing the dedicated hardware search button will search within the app. In others, Bing will load, when you're expecting to search within the app. Microsoft should force app makers to use in-app search. For example, in Foursquare, hitting the hardware search loads Bing; to search for a venue, you have to tap the search icon on the screen.

Also, there is a lack of consistent UI. In the text message app and in calendar, the color scheme is white text on a black background. In others like email, it uses black text on a white background. The latter is much more readable. But the reason for the differences between apps is beyond me.

The calendar is just really hard to understand. I think this has something to do with the black background on white text. There are also no dividers between events in agenda view. It's hard to see what ties to what. The calendar app could really use some cleaning up.

I didn't see an option to use Google as my primary search site, and that's just lame.

No, you can't add your own ringtones (as far as I see), and all of the stock tones sound exactly the same and are all hard to hear. I missed plenty of calls and texts because the notifications aren't loud enough and don't pierce noisy environments.

Internet Explorer
When fully zoomed out, the text just looks like giant black blurbs. You can't even try to read the text without zooming in. And even when you do, the anti-aliasing isn't great. I found myself only browsing when absolutely necessary. I actually preferred waiting until I got back on my computer over using the phone's browser.

No voice recorder
Maybe I'm being too picky, but I have always found voice recorders on mobile devices to be a necessity. But this one lacks a native voice recorder. I would hope an update would fix this, but I would tend to doubt it as there are paid voice recorders in the Windows Marketplace already.


As you can tell from my pros and cons list, the cons currently outweight the pros. I'm sure Windows Phone 7 will get better in the coming months and years - and I really hope it does. I still do like it better than Android, and about the same as WebOS. But WinMo 7 isn't right for me yet. I'm still sticking with the phone that does most things right, my Verizon-powered iPhone 4.

Palm's Web OS could easily be the winning smartphone platform, if only...

I was one of the first of the public to own a Palm Pre. I got up early and was at the local Sprint store a couple hours before they opened so I was sure to get one. But within a week, I returned it, a little disappointed. It wasn't the first time I returned a phone. I am on my 26th phone now, if that explains anything. It's simple: I don't have much tolerance for mediocre devices. I gave up on the Palm Pre for two main reasons: the sub-par keyboard amd the lack of any decent 3rd party applications.

Having had recent stints with an iPhone 3G S, the HTC Droid Eris, and now the Blackberry Tour, I am missing my Palm Pre more than ever. I just really liked Web OS. It's too bad the keyboard was so terrible, and there were no apps because Palm didn't release their SDK to more than a handful of developers. And back on the hardware front, now with the Palm Pixi, I hear Palm cut back on the stuff under the hood to release a less-than-perfect experience of their new OS - in my opinion, not their best move ever, despite the reports that the Pixi has a better keyboard.

So how long will it take for Palm to come up with something with a little bigger keyboard and powerful hardware that will work on anything other than Sprint? And the bigger question: when will Palm get their act in gear and really start pushing developers to make apps for the Web OS platform? With the way Palm engineered the platform, apps for Web OS should be easier to build than the same apps on either the iPhone or Android platforms, since it doesn't require much in terms of a learning curve. And yet, Palm is significantly trailing the iPhone and Android platforms in terms of available apps.

I'm really hoping Palm has a good reason for taking so long to really release their Web OS SDK. Some might argue that Palm is past the point of being able to compete with app libraries like the iPhone's or Android's. But it's really time they get the thing out there, doing whatever they need to do to get developers to start developing for their platform, even if it takes cash incentives for creating great apps.

I really hope Palm can start pushing forward in both the hardware area and the 3rd party developer market. Web OS is pretty innovative. I just hope Palm can start moving so they can get some significant traction before their lunch gets eaten by somebody else who understands you've got to have it all together to really start selling devices.

The Droid Eris is a failure

I'm a phone fanatic and everybody knows it. I am constantly in search of the perfect phone. So when I heard about the new Verizon Android phones, I was pretty excited. I even got up early yesterday (9 AM) to go pick one up. I had a T-Mobile G1 back in the day (on AT&T, of course), and it wasn't my favorite device in the world. Android just wasn't ready for primetime, so I had hoped the time between the G1 and the Droid Eris would be sufficient enough to get Android to the place it should be. Some may disagree with me, but while I think Android is definitely better than it's V1 release, I still don't think it's quite there. Read on...


The main reason I went with the Droid Eris over the Motorola Droid was for HTC's Sense UI. I strongly dislike Android's default skin, and it was a big enough factor for me to opt for the lower end Eris.

I have three big problems with this phone: the lag, the input methods, the choppy scrolling, and then the capacitive touch buttons.

Input Methods

Obviously the ability to input data into a mobile device is the most important function on a phone, besides maybe receiving signal (*cough* iPhone *cough*). This phone holds 2nd place in worst device input methods, the absolute worst being the HTC Touch Cruise. Although the Droid Eris has a convenient T9 input method (which I personally love), the lag makes it unbearable, as it takes too long to load in new suggested words. The on-screen QWERTY keyboard doesn't work either, because the keys are just too small (the device is smaller than the iPhone). I just can't type on this thing for beans.

Choppy Scrolling

This killed me on the G1, and it hasn't changed on the Droid Eris. The scrolling sucks. It sputters and stalls, and is horribly laggy. Sure, say it's the phone itself and not Android, but it doesn't really matter. IT DOESN'T WORK. HTC should have worked this out some way before releasing a device with sub-par functionality.

Capacitive Touch Buttons

I have had nothing but trouble with the touch buttons toward the bottom of the device. If I tap directly on them, they do nothing. It's like I have to tap on the top border of the icons to get them to react. It's really hit or miss for me. Sometimes I get them to work. Usually it takes two or three tries.

Simple Things

The simple things are really what killed it for me on this device. Things like, adding contact to a text message and trying to dial a contact were more than challenging. There are complicated menus and buttons you have to push - it made me think about steps I shouldn't have to think about. Right out of the box, it should just work. I shouldn't have to go download anything from the Android Marketplace to make my device work. Even reading new notifications is harder than it should be. To unlock the phone, you have to swipe down on the screen. Then to view notifications, you have to swipe down from the top of the device. This whole process requires two downward swipes. Why not one up and one down? It's the little things that really kill this device in my mind.

I really wanted to love this device. I want to love every device I get. But unfortunately, this one has let me down. When it gets to the point where I end up giving up typing a text message or posting on Facebook or Twitter from the device because I get so frustrated with its lag and input methods, you know the device is a failure. And no, I'm not getting a Moto Droid. I hate the keyboard.

Good try, HTC, but try again. It doesn't matter how pretty you make a device. If I can't do the simple things quickly and easily, you have failed.

Back to Blackberry I go...