Final Words

There's a lot of good to say about Windows Phone 7. Far more than I expected going into this review, to be honest.

The Facebook integration is the best I’ve seen on a smartphone. The Zune integration is similarly perfect. If you’re used to spending a good amount of money on iTunes every month you’ll have a better overall experience with Zune Pass on a Windows Phone. Exchange support, Office and the Email app are great too, it all just works. And unlike previous Microsoft OS launches, there’s no caveat necessary. Windows Phone 7 is both functional and attractive.

The UI is a thing of beauty. Microsoft got the style, customization and performance one hundred percent right on this thing. It makes iOS feel old and utilitarian. It’s funny to think that Microsoft was the one to out-simplify Apple in the UI department.

Microsoft made great use of GPU acceleration throughout the OS. Scrolling, panning, zooming, everything is ridiculously smooth. The OS is so polished in this regard that almost none of the third party apps I tried seemed to clear the bar Microsoft has set. It’s going to take a while for developers to do the right thing on this platform.

It’s not only third party developers at fault. Microsoft itself clearly has a lot to work on. The Xbox Live Extras app is inexcusably slow. And then there’s IE mobile.

With JavaScript performance much lower than iOS and Android, IE mobile is measurable slower at loading web pages. The browser doesn’t actually feel much slower because of how smooth actually navigating around web pages is, but the web page loading performance must be improved. On top of that, web page legibility when zoomed out suffers due to a lack of font smoothing on very small fonts.

The application history and associated back button work well enough to make getting around WP7 pretty easy. Proper linking of addresses, phone numbers and web pages is nice and plays well with the back button. Ultimately adding copy & paste (coming in early 2011) will help but I’m not sure Microsoft can get around not having an actual way to switch between apps rather than just going back all the time.

From a hardware standpoint I have to say that I believe Microsoft got the formula right. Windows Phone 7 is launching a lot like a gaming console that Microsoft allows other companies to manufacture. Microsoft dictates the hardware, and it’s up to the handset manufacturers to implement it as stylishly as possible. If the manufacturers want to provide additional features, they can do so through their own apps that can come preloaded on the device.

Some handset makers are undoubtedly upset that they won’t be able to use UI as a differentiation vector, but I believe this is a better option for general consumers. You get a consistent experience across all Windows Phones and you force the handset guys to deliver better hardware, rather than attempt to compete out of their realm of expertise with software.

Buying a Windows Phone is going to be a lot like buying a PC. Except this time around the pre-installed software will be a lot easier to get rid of and hopefully a lot less intrusive.

Of course, this approach only works if the OS is good enough from the get go, and in this case, it is.

I’ve always liked Microsoft as an underdog. It isn’t afraid to spend money to deliver a good user experience and the company has the talent to do some amazing things. It’s only when Microsoft becomes a monopoly that things go wrong. But in the fight to reach that point, we get great products and healthy competition.

With Windows Phone Microsoft is in underdog mode. The OS isn’t perfect but aside from the lack of apps, it’s competitive today. While I’m traveling I need the apps you can only get with a mature platform like Android or iOS (e.g. Yelp, BART app, etc...), but while home I don’t use those apps as much. Instead my smartphone behaves more like an SMS, phone, email, camera and web browsing device, and it’s in those areas that Windows Phone is easily just as good as the competition.

The app story and lack of conventional task switching are the two biggest issues facing Windows Phone 7 today. Both of which look to be very fixable problems. If you don’t own a modern smartphone, you probably won’t view either as an issue today and you can bide your time until Microsoft introduces them. If you’re migrating from an Android device or iPhone, depending on your app usage, Windows Phone may be too young for you.

If you’re looking for a feature replacement to an Android phone or Windows Mobile device, WP7 will disappoint. Windows Phone is more like the iPhone than it is anything else. If you don’t like the iPhone (for reasons other than an inherent dislike for Apple), you probably won’t like Windows Phone. If your sole reason is disdain for Apple, then pick up a Windows Phone.

What I’m most excited about isn’t the fact that we’ll have another good competitor in the smartphone space, but rather the hope this gives me for Microsoft’s future products. Windows 7 was a nice OS, but it was nothing earth shattering and clearly did nothing to fend off Apple’s erosion of PC market share. Windows Phone 7 is a beacon of hope for Microsoft. If Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are designed with similar focus and clarity of thought as WP7 was, we may be looking at the beginning of Microsoft’s return.

 

The First Phones: HTC Surround
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    It cant play avi files? What do you call a $500 device that cant play avi files? FAIL. Reply
  • beefnot - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I'm so sick of seeing "fail" in user comments. 99% of the time, it follows a point or points being made that wouldn't have swayed them to deem it worthy anyway. YAWN. Reply
  • mutatio - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I'm glad you guys found it to be as smooth and useful as you did. Based on what you described and the corresponding pictures, however, I'm having a hard time understanding something "just works" when the UI looks like a crap sandwich and almost makes my eyes bleed. "No, we don't use those oh-so-80's icons that graphically represent what the App does. We're much too posh for that, minimalist traffic signs for everything! Brilliant!" Maybe it'll be different with hands on, but it looks like MS went out of their way to try and make this thing look clever and almost abstract. Think myspace made into a smartphone, and if you're like me and think that myspace pages more often look like pop culture chewed up, swallowed, and thrown up onto a web page, then you get where I'm coming from. If that is the case when I get my hands on one of these, I can't see how MS can get any significant traction in the smartphone market. They might get some young emo hipsters who dig the abstract layout, but the appeal thus far of iOS and Android is the overall ease of use. My impression from your review, despite your reassurances, is that MS has again made a product much more complicated than it needs to be. I hope for MS' sake that is not the case when actually using the phone. Reply
  • MacGyver85 - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    You'll just have to try it to appreciate it I guess.
    I can understand people when they say the interface looks bland or overly simplistic based on "screenshots" of the UI. But when you see it in person it's so much better. Really.
    Likewise with how you navigate around it. It's just so intuitive you don't for a second have to think how to do something. Every time someone asks me if what it's like I always respond that they'll have to use it themselves. And everyone that does loves it. Seriously :)
    Dare I use it but what the hell: it just works!
    Reply
  • DJJoeJoe - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    I don't think any OS at this point can grab a drastic number of market share like we see in the phone space obviously, or even the slightly slower moving browser space. Modern Operating Systems are so mature at this point that there is really little you can do, both Win7 and Snow Leopard were just small refinements to their previous versions.

    I think it's doubtful that even something as force-ably drastic as Chrome OS will do anything to the landscape either, even if Google bucketed down and really nailed it. Sadly the market share is ruled by the people going to costco and grabbing up a pre made pc, or large corps running xp, and I can't see something drastic being sold to either groups in the next handful of years.

    tis all in the phones these days, and I wish I had a time machine so I could get the second wave of hopefully nicer wp7 handsets and maybe a good update to the os itself. Don't got the money to spend on a 'amazing start'.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Monday, October 25, 2010 - link

    Looks to me like Vista's bad press helped Apple reach 9% market share, but that's as far as they've moved up. Win 7 is sweet and everyone knows it so Apple is no longer making headway.

    I don't want Microsoft execs to think that way though - like was written in the article, I think Microsoft performs better as an underdog, and if they think more in terms of being threatened by Apple or someone else then perhaps they'll be more inclined to put a shining example of what they can do out on the market.

    Glad to see Microsoft did produce a product with some shine.

    ;)
    Reply
  • dotroy - Thursday, October 28, 2010 - link

    Windows 7 phone is good ...umm ..some things not as good ..but win7 phone is good, there are somethings done better by others OS but win 7 phone is good. I never felt like this before. This is a paid advertising. Anand is making good money. Reply
  • pete2s - Thursday, October 28, 2010 - link

    Will Windows 7 Phone store apps on the ROM partition? If so, this severely limits the number and size of apps as well as their quality.

    Although Android is evolving past this limitation, Android, Blackberry and Palm phones store the OS and all apps on an encrypted partition referred to in the specs as the ROM. Usually, this ROM is 512MB. After the OS is installed, the phone has less than 300MB for apps.

    Initially, I thought Windows 7 Phone would not store apps on the ROM because of its unified storage system that creates a single volume. If this were the case, however, there'd be no point in having a larger ROM because the ROM would only be holding the OS + the 60MB limit of pre-installed software. Some phones, like the Samsung Focus, do have larger ROMs though (1GB compared to 512MB). The only point of having a larger ROM would be to store more apps because apps are installed to the ROM.

    If the above is true, Windows 7 Phone will be severely limited in app size and thus development.
    Reply
  • drwho9437 - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    "It’s almost as if Microsoft is taking Apple’s approach and simply letting everyone build iPhones."

    Exactly and it is genius, it means the cost margin will vanish and the experience will still be as the software people want, people won't think poorly of these phones just because of a few badly designed devices they used. Let's hope it works out.
    Reply
  • owbert - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    best review of win7 phone amongst others. great work! Reply

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