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.