Windows Phone 7 Saved Me From My Phone
On March 20th Windows Phone 7 finally arrived for Sprint customers, NoDo in tow fo’ sho’, with the release of the hTc Arrive. After a year of anticipation, has Windows Phone 7 lived up to my hype? Read my full review, which was composed entirely on my Windows Phone 7 handset mind you, after the jump.
They say that seven is a lucky number. It was the best Final Fantasy, the best Windows desktop OS, the best Nightmare on Elm Street, and now it’s the best mobile OS that Microsoft (or anyone) has produced.
Before I get into my in depth analysis, let me give you a rundown of my history with smartphones. I think it will give some perspective to where I’m coming from, and prove I’m not just typing out of my ass.
It’s Like an iPhone! No, Really!
Once upon a time, hot on the heels of the original iPhone launch (the $600, Edge capable, no copy paste, no MMS iPhone that fanboys like to pretend never happened), Verizon Wireless tricked me into purchasing the LG Voyager. The VX10000, as it preferred to be called, allowed me to enjoy mobile YouTube, Facebook and all my news site staples, as well as view my email with notifications coming at regular intervals. It really was a powerful little machine, but iPhone it was not. In fact, this was technically not a smartphone at all, but rather what we now refer to as a feature phone. The reason I am including it is that it still managed to be far superior to my next disastrous purchase.
BlackBerry Curve 8800
Obama Has One. It must Be Good, Right?
This so called business phone had trouble downloading my email at all, no matter how much they try to push that it does (SWIDT?). The SMS program wouldn’t automatically split texts over 160 characters (more on that pet peeve later). The final insult occurred, ironically enough, on the night Windows 7 launched. I needed a flash drive to install it as I haven’t had an optical drive in some time (which has caused quite a few headaches such as this, yet Apple has decided to omit an optical drive from the MacBook Air entirely. *sigh* Is this the post-PC era Steve Jobs warned us of?). So I hopped in the car, Curve in tow and powered up VZNavigator. There was but ten minutes till store closing when the GPS app decided to stop updating the route, but give no indication there had been an error. By the time I had driven into a lake (Dunder Mac, you might say) I’d had enough.
Sans Chin, Like The Tonight Show of the Time
Around that time, Timmy-Dawg had acquired the shiny new hTc Hero “with Google” (one of the more obnoxious brandings found on telephones). The large 3.2″ screen and full HTML browser wowed me enough to once again jump headstrong into a new contract and phone. For a time, it was good. But cracks began to show through Android’s armor before long. You’ll never see me use Gmail since I rather enjoy privacy, and as a Live Mail user, I was relegated to abominable email apps that barely functioned, taking upwards of 90 seconds to load a single message. The phone would chug and crash continuously, but one thing stood out above all. To Android, Phone is just another app. Let that sink in for a second. Phone, aka the reason I bought the thing in the first place, is an app, given no special treatment or priority over other apps. This meant that on several occasions, Phone stopped responding and had to be force closed. Phone. PHONE! WTF?!
Imagine for a minute, you just witnessed a terrible car accident and need to call 9-1-1. Oopos! Phone stopped responding! Now, imagine an even worse situation. A local radio station is giving away Emilie Autumn tickets to the 4,203rd caller. You know how quickly that contest will be over and yet the phone doesn’t boot up in time. You’d probably hang yourself. Thanks Android!
It Cost the Same as the Hero, So According to Geek Squad It’s Just as Good
After a series of unfortunate events, I traded my hTc Hero for an even more unimpressive Android experience with the Intercept from Samsung. It had a weaker processor, though it was a later Android build, so figure that one out. (Before any of you schmitties try to call me on this, it was pre-May 2010, so my original Hero was still running 1.6). All the same problems that marred the Hero remained, but with the added pain of losing hTc’s signature Sense UI (stock Android of course is simply the no frills version of iOS. You take out the semi-pretty Apple gloss and you’re left with a dull, boring, “me too” interface that makes me wonder why consumers ignored the far superior webOS). It was just a terrible experience all around.
hTc Hero (Now with Éclair)
1.6 + 2.1 = Negative Fun!
When Timmy-Dawg upgraded to the hTc EVO (the first Android phone I’ve ever used that didn’t feel like a beta release) he gave me his old Hero, which had since been upgraded to Android 2.1, or Éclair, as those gluttons at Google refer to it internally. A better browser and slightly snappier performance still couldn’t make up for a fundamentally broken experience. On March 19th, I received a standard picture message sent from my sister’s dumb phone (will update with actual model once she wakes up). That picture was ‘downloading’ to the handset right up until I de-activated the phone on March 23rd. I still haven’t seen what she sent.
Android on any handset shy of a 1GHz processor is just not yet ready for primetime. The continued growth is due to companies squeezing this thing onto anything with a screen. It’s really just a lose lose situation. Consumers are tricked by the pretty images on the real phone ads (read EVO or Xperia Play) into buying crappy underperforming hardware (read T-Mobile Comet). Plus, I’m sure Google can’t be too pleased with their name being dragged across the mud with bargain handsets not fit for the OS. There is something to be said for the strict minimum system requirements imposed by Microsoft.
iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre, Motorola Droid, Samsung Epic, Samsung Fascinate
A Wild Smartphone Has Appeared
The majority of my experience with these phones has come from mall kiosks and/or debates over the merits of each phone. Though each phone’s owner would praise the respective hardware up and down, each has thrown their fists to the sky and shouted “fucking phone!” when they think I’m not listening (hint: I’m always listening). That’s enough for me to immediately dismiss these phones as viable options. I think you’d agree.
So as you can see, my smartphone chops are sound (well, that’s assuming the phone’s speaker driver didn’t crash requiring a 3-6 minute reboot depending on the aforementioned handset in question). When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 Series (stupid name, glad they kinda fixed it), I saw a glimmer of hope on the horizon. However, after years of getting burned I waited with lowered expectations.
Good luck typing in your date’s digits on Android’s keypad.
Windows Phone 7
A Phone to Save Us from Our Phones
Right off the bat, the OS is a striking change from anything seen before on a smartphone. Redmond’s new darling, Metro UI, is a mix of solid colors and beautiful clean text. If you’ve ever used the Zune HD (and who hasn’t?) you’ll feel right at home here. All of this is complimented by MSFT’s required buttons: Home, Back, Search, Camera, and a volume rocker. This brings me to the first truly great innovation: the volume rocker. Press it once, even on the lock screen, and you can easily adjust the volume over 30 points. 30! Now that is what I call a custom ringtone.
Note that all pictures were taken with my old Hero, so the quality is wonky.
Back to the display, Microsoft has foregone the grid of icons seen on every other smartphone OS, a style lifted pretty much directly from the desktop editions of Windows. While this works splendidly on my 42″ LCD, it’s not ideal on a telephone screen (AMOLED or Retina Display I’m even looking at you, or should I say not looking at you. Bazinga!). M$ has instead opted for a sleek system where the user is free to pin the most commonly used apps and contacts to the home screen. A quick swipe to the right brings up a full list of apps (with games centralized in one Hub, but more on that later).
11 is the perfect number of apps to display. Any more is just silly.
The sleek Metro UI permeates every first party app, and a majority of third party apps to bring the phone a sense of cohesion not found on any other platform. put simply, this is one beautiful OS.
Some apps even look better than their site.
Putting the ‘Phone’ Back in ‘Smartphone’
Microsoft realized this is a phone first and a toy second. The guys and gals in Mountain View could learn a thing or two from this design philosophy. Directly from the home screen, I can see any missed calls or messages and quickly jump right in. The phone is snappy and not once have I experienced a crash.
The Software Keyboard and SMS
Winky Frown Is One of the Included Emoticons ;(
The software keyboard Microsoft has produced for this phone is hands down the best in the business. I used Swype for the past six months, and found it an absolute dream, so being able to praise this keyboard says a lot. The keyboard is aided a great deal by the smart inclusion of a wonderful popping noise every time a key is pressed. While this can be disabled in the menu, who would want to?!
More important is the auto-correct and predictive text features. Before you groan, all of us have seen the clearly doctored photos of auto-correct gone wrong. (The most hilarious example I can remember ever happening to me involved Tim’s Android converting “unappealing” into “lead-appealing.” That’s a regular laugh riot, am I right folks?) It doesn’t work that way on Windows Phone 7. This is the same auto-correct we’ve had in Microsoft Word for years. The one we swear by. The one that has made kids unable to spell anymore. It’s that good. So good, I haven’t even turned it off yet, which as any smartphone user knows, is typically a top priority upon booting up a new handset for the first time.
The SMS app itself, however, is pretty goddamn barebones. Not gonna make up any bullshit there. But what it lacks in features it makes up for with adequacy. The standards are here, threaded conversations, a notification that pops down from the top of the screen to alert you to a new message. The application does its job and stays out of the way. The only thing worth noting is it infuriatingly does not split text messages over 160 characters. Can we please not make this the artificial end to our attention span? I rather enjoy sending out paragraphs long text messages. The app’s saving grace is the hilarious emoticon that gradually gets excited as you ignore him. This alone almost sells the OS.
Happy little guy.
He’s happy to be working in this economy.
Oh dip! Better answer those important text messages!
I’ll Break-ah You Down Into the Little Cubes
One of the best parts of living in this day and age is never having to remember a phone number again. The People Hub in Windows Phone 7 syncs up with your Live account and Facebook to pull new photos and status updates from all your friends and display them on their contact page. Pretty nifty stuff.
Email and the Office Hub
You Mean You Can Do Things Other Than Play Angry Birds? C’mon
Email in Windows Phone 7 is a dream come true. Full integration with Live Mail means instant access to my Inbox, Sent Items, and even all of my various storage folders. The phone does not automatically download pictures or attachments, thus saving me from malicious threats and allowing for each message to load exponentially quicker. If I really need to see the graphical version of Amazon’s logo, it’s just a tap away.
The Office Hub is where the Big M lumped together OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Sharepoint. This is both convenient and beautiful, as the Metro UI exists in this hub as well. Honestly, this feature alone sold me on this OS. Scratch that, OneNote by itself sold me on this OS. Those familiar with the desktop versions of these apps will find an almost desktop level experience (think somewhere around OS X) using the mobile editions. Word documents can be edited and emailed on the fly. Excel spreadsheets load with full support for cell formatting and editing formulas.
Like I said before, though, OneNote is the cream of the crop. The first app you see when entering the Office Hub, OneNote is a fantastic tool for anyone (students and webmasters of low traffic weblogs especially) to jot down whatever random idea pops into their head. This goes one step beyond your usual notepad app, and automatically syncs all of your notes directly with your Windows SkyDrive account up in the cloud.
If you’ve seen the commercials, you saw this joke coming.
Back on the desktop, you can easily set OneNote 2010 to sync with SkyDrive and you have unified notebooks across all platforms. With this kind of ease of access, EPam Wars may actually see a release after all!
Camera and the Pictures Hub
Remember When You Posted Funny Pictorials? You Should Do That Again. What’s With All the Essays?
For ages now, it has been the unwritten rule that cell phone cameras will never be as good as your handy reliable digital camera. I’m not talking about megapixels, or color balance either. The problem has been that they’re just too goddamned hard to access. Well, M$ made great strides with WP7 by requiring hardware manufacturers to include a dedicated camera button the side of the phone. Within five seconds I was able to take my phone from idle to snapping this:
The format of the site doesn’t allow me to post the full pic, but here’s a scaled down version with a bit zoomed in.
Photos taken with the camera can of course be instantly uploaded to Facebook, but more impressive is the integration with SkyDrive. Pictures are backed up to the cloud instantly, giving you an additional 25GB with which to store your photos.
All manner of pictures are collected in the Pictures Hub. This is unique from your standard photo album application in that it not only reads your internal memory, but also syncs with SkyDrive and Facebook to pull down all of your photos.
Even the one you half-assed not knowing it would become a veritable sensation.
Music + Video Hub
Video Killed the Radio Star?
Music and video are both lumped into another Hub, with the signature Zune branding. The phone uses the Zune desktop software to sync your music and videos to the device; something the phone will do wirelessly if plugged into an AC adaptor. An interesting touch is M$’ decision to go ahead and throw YouTube in the hub as well, allowing you to easily jump back and forth between your collections and YouTube seamlessly. It even maintains a history of your recently viewed videos.
A history of violence.
Of course, no one can match Zune in the aesthetic department. It’s just such a pretty application to use and so much fun to navigate around. Just like on the Zune HD and desktop software, any song you play, no matter how it was acquired ;( will display a detailed biography of the artist as well as links to related artists and more information. If you are a Zune Pass subscriber, or just want to waste money on music, you can even download songs over-the-air. Talk about convenience!
And hTc thought they had scene locked up with Sense UI.
Florence + The Biography
There really is no other music experience quite like it. That being said, I’m still astonished whenever I read trolls on the interwebs complaining about the Android music player. If I may go slightly off topic, the Android player is more than serviceable. It allows for background music playing and breaks your music into a hierarchy. What more do they want? I still think it’s prettier than the abysmal spreadsheet that is iTunes. And before any of you fanboys try to throw Cover Flow at me, I say bullocks. It may be pretty, but it’s useless. Seriously, it’s just Flip 3D for your albums and when was the last time anyone used Flip 3D and thought, “Hey! This is definitely not just a neat tech demo!”
Cover Flow, Another “Genius” Innovation from Cupertino
Windows Flip 3D, Redmond’s Fancy Tech Demo
Grow up guys. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Internet Explorer, Need I Say More?
This is a make or break application on any smartphone, and luckily Microsoft nailed it on the first try (well, second if you count the horrendous Zune browser, which shares some aesthetic traits). Pages load quickly and cleanly, pinch-to-zoom is here as well as up to six tabs. The favorites and history are accessed on the bottom of the screen, with the address bar up top. When flipped on its side, the bottom menu bar disappears, leaving the screen clutter free for the web page to fill, a very nice touch indeed.
RyanMac4203 Home Page. Tell your friends.
In my testing the browsing speeds have been generally snappy over 3G (sorry, no 4G here. Wait, there isn’t any 4G anywhere, nevermind.), and blazingly fast over Wi-Fi. By default, the phone pulls up mobile versions of sites over the far superior desktop versions. Luckily there is a switch allowing you to easily swap between the two on the fly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed the Android browser (or Opera for Android, or Dolphin for Android. If Firefox 4 included it, sound off in the comments), for not including such an option.
Apps + Games
“My App Store Is Bigger Than Your App Store” – Could It Be That You’re Overcompensating for Something?
We often hear talk of Android being “open to developers” and iOS being referred to as a “Walled-Garden” (though, if this were true, why is the company named after the forbidden fruit? I don’t care what the ironically named President Eden has to say about it, it wasn’t a fucking pomegranate). The Zune Marketplace is following in iTunes footsteps by closing things off (lest you unlock your phone, but I would never condone that ;( ). I think this is the strategy to use. Android is the only mobile OS right now that has users in fear of malware. Do we really want to live in a world where we have to run Norton on our smartphones?
One of the biggest questions a consumer faces when making a decision about whose camp to join is the app store. Unfortunately, many stop after asking “How many apps?” rather than asking “How many good apps?” and as anyone familiar with any of the major OS’s will attest, the number is pretty much the same across the board (though to be fair, iOS probably takes the cake on this stat, but not by much). The simple fact is, the majority of the thousands of apps in both the App Store and the Android Market suck. The majority of the apps in the Zune Marketplace suck too. It’s just a fact. So, conceding the number of good apps to Apple, leaves WP7 with one key victory. The quality of the good apps. Ahhh, I pulled a switcheroo on ya.
Microsoft wins this round with one thing: it’s Microsoft. Everything that company touches turns to gold (or at least from red to black. Even if it takes six years to do so) and because of this they’ve managed to already woo several high profile web sites and developers onto the platform. Every major app you’d expect (Twitter, Yelp, Netflix, etc.) is represented here. Plus, WP7 is the only place to find Xbox Live on a mobile device, which has already caught the attention of some big names including EA and Konami.. Any gamer knows there is nothing quite as satisfying as that little noise you hear when an Achievement is unlocked. Now WP7 brings that thrill with you on the go, featuring full integration with Xbox Live, including your Avatar, Gamerscore, Friends List and more. Each Xbox Live enabled game has a free trial, and 200 Achievement Points waiting to be unlocked in the full version.
It’s About Time I Hit the Ol’ Dusty Trail
There’s a lot to love about Windows Phone 7, and a little to hate. There’s a lot I didn’t even touch on (like the built-in FM tuner. Really dropped the ball there) because frankly, there’s so much to this package and I’ve already written 3500 words, so tough. If you managed to read this far, kudos. I hope I’ve helped to shed some light on the greatest phone operating system of all time. If I can influence just one reader to purchase a Windows Phone 7, I know I’ll have done my job.
Sent from my Windows Phone 7
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