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.

My thoughts on the iPad

Despite the millions of people who have already felt the need to give their two cents on the iPad, I have been asked quite a bit to share my thoughts on the device, apparently due to my critical honesty. And since I am in NO way an Apple fan boy, I guess my review can be a little less biased.

First let me tell you how little I cared about this device before Saturday at 11 AM when I walked into Best Buy. I had no desire to purchase one, and saw no purpose for the device. I figured there would be some cool uses at some point, but nothing that would change my world. But I was wrong.

This thing is amazing. I can now say that people who just call this device a big iPod Touch have never actually used the device and probably had preconceived ideas about it, rather than giving it a chance. The truth is that the iPad is a game changer, and I really do see a lot of potential for it. What it really comes down to is the large, high resolution screen. Screen real estate on a portable device is everything, and it's really what will make this device a success.
I've always been interested in non-phone mobile devices. Back in the day, I switched from a smartphone to a basic phone with a Palm Tungsten to use as an organizer. Then later I tried a Peek Pronto, an email-only device. But nothing had really impressed me until the iPad. I've always been disappointed with mobile devices that try to cram a bunch of stuff into a little tiny device. People want USABLE devices, not small devices. I would have been happy if the iPhone was 1.5x the size, giving it more screen real estate and making it easier to type on. The iPad is obviously much larger, and the size of it make it possible to do a lot of things that aren't possible with the small screen of most mobile devices.
Form Factor

The iPad feels great in the hand. It's sturdy, and the screen looks great. Two gripes here, though. My fingers don't glide across the screen as easily as on the iPhone. I'm not sure why. But when I need to drag from one side of the screen to the other, it doesn't always feel good on the finger, because it doesn't have the silky smooth feeling. The other issue is related to fingerprints. It's BAD. I get a lot of fingerprints on this screen, and they don't wipe off easily. I actually have to use a spray and cloth to get the prints off. This is probably going to happen every couple days. It might get annoying. Battery life is outstanding, although, this is the wifi-only version.


The biggest problem I find with most devices is the subpar keyboard. However, the virtual keyboard in landscape mode of the iPad is nearly as good as most physical keyboards. The screen is large enough to allow for good sized keys and space in between them. I can type with 8 fingers (no pinkies) extremely accurately - I would estimate around 60-70 words a minute. I can't type to save my life in portrait mode. Fortunately, just about all the apps support the landscape view, so I keep it in landscape most of the time.


Just like with the iPhone, the iPad's success will be dictated by the apps that make the most of the large screen. Apple did some cool things with the Mail interface, along with the other default programs that came with the device. Here are a few early iPad apps that I've really come to enjoy using:
  • iMockups - A wireframing application for designers.
  • HTML Edit - Not the greatest html editing app yet, but it's got potential. It has built-in FTP support and has it's own file management system, so you can edit files and upload straight back to the server. Although, without multitasking support, the usefulness of this app is limited for now.
  • Weather HD - Visually shows you what the weather looks like with stock imagery. No need to open the shutters anymore.
  • LogMeIn - Thanks to the screen real estate, the iPad version is much easier to use that the iPhone version.
  • Touch Hockey - An incredibly realistic air hockey game. I can't tell you how realistic the game play actually is. You're going to have to try it for yourself.
  • Harbor Master - Even better than the iPhone version - the large screen makes all the difference.
  • Game Table - Comes with a poker table (and chips), and some other traditional games. This game completely eliminates the need for physical playing cards.
  • Scrabble - Just a lot of fun. Also has multi-iPad and iPhone support for really slick integration.
The common thread in the above apps is that they really excel due to the screen size. Not only have the games utilized the screen in some great ways, but there are some practical business applications for this device. And the device has only been out for 3 days. I can't wait to see what people do with the iPad.
One thing I didn't realize when I bought it is how much these apps use the internet. It's hard to really do anything on the device without it constantly needing to connect to the internet for something. I definitely feel crippled when I'm not near a hotspot (and there's no way I'm turning on my wifi feature on my Palm Pre Plus since they Verizon charge an outrageous $40/mo for the service). Update: For now, I use the wifi feature on my Palm Pre Plus, since Verizon just made this feature free (smart move, Verizon), but I will still gladly upgrade to a 3G model when it comes out and pay the subscription fee. (My opinion on this changed once I got the device. I was totally against another monthly service fee, but now that I see the usefulness of the iPad, I no longer have any reservations about picking up a 3G model.)
So there ya go. Those are my thoughts on the iPad. I thought it was going to be an unnecessary, worthless device that didn't have a place in the world. Now every morning before I roll out of bed, I reach for my iPad and check Facebook, Twitter, open Drudge, and watch the condensed game video for the Angels from the night before in the MLB app.
The iPad has changed everything. Get your hands on one and you'll see what I mean.

Cory Watilo
Sent from my iPad