The Bad News

How do you even begin to compete with Apple or Google? Both companies have a knack for identifying the wrong way to do something and doing the exact opposite. The latter tends to give away much of its innovation while the former somehow makes it cool to charge handsomely for it. In fact, Apple is the first company I've seen to take the pace of innovation offered by Moore's Law and pair it with an equally aggressive expected upgrade cycle. These are formidable opponents.

As much as I believe that HP, Microsoft or Nokia will step up to the plate and retake marketshare from these two, I just can't see it - at least in the short term.

I'd love to be wrong about this as I believe we desperately need competition to prevent the mobile web from turning into Apple's web and Google's web. But I'm afraid for companies like Apple or Google to lose significant marketshare at this point, they need to screw up. They have to do something very wrong. And no, antennagate wasn't enough.

In the early days of 3D accelerators NVIDIA caught up to and eventually surpassed 3dfx by executing frustratingly well. Like clockwork, every six months NVIDIA would have a new GPU and eventually 3dfx was left in an uncompetitive position. Coincidentally the past three years of AMD's near flawless execution has caused NVIDIA a similar sort of pain.

Apple has adopted a 12-month product cycle for its iOS devices. Every summer Apple drops a new iPhone and I'm guessing every Q1 we'll get a new iPad. Sprinkle in a yearly OS update and you've got the makings of a good execution plan. So long as Apple sticks to the formula of quickly adopting new hardware and improving software, the iOS platform will be a difficult one to dethrone.

Google feels a little less structured but we've seen a steep ramp with frequent software updates. If anything Google gets to enjoy an even more aggressive hardware roadmap as Android smartphone manufacturers have typically been the first to adopt new SoC IP. The first dual-core smartphones will run Android and the first Moorestown based smartphones will run Android. Apple has only been similarly aggressive with adopting high performance GPUs in its phones but Samsung changed that this year with the Galaxy S.

And then we have Microsoft. Windows Phone 7 was much, much, much better than I expected. I imagined it being more like iOS 2.0 and what I got instead was something within striking distance of iOS 4. Sure there are some missing features: Hack-free tethering, copy & paste, multitasking and faster hardware, but if you actually use a Windows Phone it's really not bad at all.

A New Hope

Ever since I flew to NYC to grab my first Windows Phone, I haven't had a desire to go back to my iPhone. Looking at the core OS alone, Microsoft did a wonderful job. The OS is easily just as smooth and as fast (if not smoother, and faster) than iOS. Even the lack of iOS style task switching isn't all that bothersome thanks to WP7's back button. It's not perfect, but Microsoft did a great job at creating an appliance-like smartphone. Which, I might add, is impressive for a traditional PC company.

The shortcomings are enough to make me want to keep an eye on the platform, but not fully commit to it yet. As I concluded in our Windows Phone 7 review, the app story is disappointing. There are far more big name apps than I expected, but almost all of them are slow and none of them support background operation, notifications or anything that could make them feel like a part of the OS.

The performance of some 3rd party apps is particularly troubling. I'm not sure whether that's part of the developer learning curve or inherent to the current instance of Windows Phone 7. Either way, if you depend on a lot of 3rd party apps you're better off looking at Android or iOS today.

Since our review posted I've met a number of people who aren't sold on Android but refuse to buy an iPhone. Every one of them has been impressed by Windows Phone 7. It's honestly the iPhone for everybody else.

The only aspect of purchasing a Windows Phone that's more difficult than jumping on the iPhone bandwagon is choosing hardware. While the OS may be polished, nearly all Windows Phone manufacturers took the safe route and launched relatively uninspired designs for WP7. I'm sorry to say that none of them quite live up to the total package of the iPhone 4. You make sacrifices in battery life, material quality, camera quality or all of the above. The OS may be solid, but there's still a lot of work that has to be done to achieve perfection.

If you are planning on making the jump before the next generation of Windows Phone 7 hardware, there are reasonable options today. While the perfect Windows Phone may not yet exist, there are some devices that are good enough.

Unlike choosing an Android phone, performance and UI aren't differentiating factors for Windows Phones. They all run the same OS and use the same 1st generation Snapdragon SoC. As a result, they all perform identically. There are no OS level carrier/OEM customizations. The best either can do is supply preinstalled apps. Other than that, the difference is all in build quality, battery life and the hardware in general.

Brian posted our review of one of the more unusual Windows Phone 7 devices a couple of weeks ago: the HTC Surround. Today I want to provide a quick look at two other options: the very popular Samsung Focus and the LG Optimus 7.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate LG Optimus 7 Samsung Focus HTC Surround
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 106.17 mm (4.18") 125 mm (4.92") 122.9 mm (4.84") 119.7 mm (4.71")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 63.5 mm (2.5") 59.8 mm (2.35") 65 mm (2.56") 61.5 mm (2.42")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 9.91 mm (0.39") 11.5 mm (0.45") 9.9 mm (0.39") 12.97 mm (0.51")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 127 grams (4.5 oz) 157 grams (5.54 oz) 119 grams (4.2 oz) 165 grams (5.82 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz 1 GHz Samsung Hummingbird 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 540 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200
RAM 512MB LPDDR1 (?) 512 MB LPDDR1 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU)
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 2 GB, 16 GB microSD (Class 2) 16 GB integrated 8 GB integrated 512 MB integrated, 16 GB (Internal Class 4 microSD)
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 5 MP with auto focus and LED flash 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4" Super AMOLED 800 x 480 3.8" LCD 800 x 480 4" Super AMOLED 800 x 480 3.8" LCD 800 x 480
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 4.55 Whr

If you haven't read our Windows Phone 7 review I'd encourage you to do that before going forward as I won't touch on anything we've already covered there.

The LG Optimus 7
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  • inighthawki - Friday, December 03, 2010 - link

    Any news on the Omnia 7's US release date? I'd love to get my hands on one, as it's the only WP7 phone I'm really very interested in. Reply
  • Hrel - Friday, December 03, 2010 - link

    I think 4" is the minimum size I'd buy. When I use the Galaxy S I always feel like just
    a little extra room would make using it perfect. But hey, maybe you're right and that's
    not true for WP7; I've never used it. I still think 4" is the minimum size though. I'm 6'4"
    and an athletic 240lbs and I have very large hands.

    I think EVERY phone should have an SD slot, prefferably not micro, but if they must.
    I mean, is it really that hard to fit a full size SD card slot in there? THey're not
    very big.

    I like the brushed metal design of the LG over plastic any day on any electronic anything.

    A good screen can never be understated, good on ya Samsung. AMOLED FTW!

    I like the 3 main buttons to be physical, personal preference here.

    I really like the apps LG includes.

    I want all the camera option of LG and Samsung Standard on all WP7 phones.

    You dogs like to eat plants:) Hahaha, that one runs off with the stick so the other just keeps on
    eating grass.

    Have you guys ever looked into reviewing anything from Archos. They make a bunch of handheld
    smart phone like devices that would be great for people who don't wanna be locked into
    paying 100+ per month to use it. I've never used any of their stuff so I'd like a
    good thourough review, who else could I ask really? They also have Windows 7 Tablet
    that if it's done well could combat the ipad and galaxy tab.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 06, 2010 - link

    There are reviews of Archos units around, just have to look a little more. General opinion (which I agree with based on my Archos 5 IMT) is great hardware paired up with flaky software. They also have a bad habit of promising things in software and then never delivering.

    And yes, a full-size SD slot would be huge on something smartphone sized, I would much rather have the microSD slot and have she space saved over SD used for a thinner device or a larger battery or something.

    I like the ability handset makers currently have in Android to customize the OS, IMO allows it to be much better tailored toward individual markets. For example, on Windows phone I would have no interest in the Zune anything or Xbox anything, so it would suck to have a significant portion of the UI devoted to that. What I would love is if Android phones were able to (without rooting) dual-boot whatever the current vanilla flavor of Android is as well as whatever the customized version their phone maker came up with, have the choice of which experience they want. I do like that carrier programs can be easily removed in Windows phone though.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    The lack of mountable storage on WP7 is a deal killer for me.

    Anyone who's used a phone has probably experienced times when the on board (micro or otherwise) SD card simply refused to read. On a normal phone, you can usually fix this by removing and reinserting the card, or cleaning the contacts.

    If a WP7 phone ever loses touch with its SD card storage (dust, dirt, loose contact, etc), it will corrupt your whole filesystem. This is a major failure in robust design.

    Right now, I'd go so far as to avoid any WP7 phones that have an SD slot.
    Reply
  • MGSsancho - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    You can remove and reinsert the same SD card no problem, the issue you are referring to is booting the phone with out the original SD card.

    I will agree with you sometimes you need to force reboot the phone but usually a simple removal works and others you need to remove/reinsert the memory card.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    Cool, that's good to know.

    I'm still waiting for the Nokia N8 review on Anandtech. We're on AT&T, and their phone selection is rubbish, so I'm thinking of buying my own unlocked phone and adding it to the plan.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 06, 2010 - link

    Well, wasn't the internal card on the HTC Surround under a cover? Reply
  • bobjones32 - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    Thanks, Anand, as usual. Great reviews on WP7.

    I've owned a Samsung Focus for about two weeks now and in general agree with everything said here and elsewhere.

    I've been an iPhone user for more than 2 years, and loved it. I know iOS inside and out, and thoroughly enjoy the application ecosystem. But my contract was up, I was going to spend ~$200 either way, so I figured I'd give WP7 a shot and keep my iPhone to use as an iPod Touch so I could continue using all my games and applications.

    For all the bitching and moaning about the obvious things lacking, or how the back button behavior is "confusing", it's been nearly perfect for me. The back button always does exactly what I want it to do at a certain time, and even after using iOS for 2+ years, I don't really miss copy+past, fast app switching, or certain background processes at all.

    Here's hoping that the updates are fast and significant next year!
    Reply
  • ryedizzel - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    Another excellent review and the video was really helpful in understanding the navigation/ visual effects you talked about. Keep up the good work and hopefully MS adds the ability to do WiFi tethering- that's the only reason I would choose Android right now over Win7 and iOS. Reply
  • popej_ - Saturday, December 04, 2010 - link

    "AMOLED displays are truly off when displaying black, so you technically get infinite contrast ratio."

    Well, no. You simply don't include reflected light into measurement. That way you can't measure AMOLED, transflective LCD, e-ink or compare matte with glossy screen. So what does remain? Maybe it is time to change your measurement to something more usable, that will correlate with real life?
    Reply

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