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


View All Comments

  • x0rg - Wednesday, November 3, 2010 - link

    To me it looks like Microsoft just needed to release something ASAP. Later they can work on interface improvement, I mean fonts, sizes, blocks, text location, easy shortcut access, backups, etc. There are tons of things to improve. Reply
  • landswipe - Thursday, November 4, 2010 - link

    "The downside to this layout is that every time you want to enter a different URL, you’ll have to rotate to portrait, enter it, and then swap back. Same if you want to change tabs or use a favorite. That can get a bit frustrating if you’re used to viewing pages in landscape, but not totally killer. There’s an impressively fluid rotation transition between portrait and landscape, however."

    Same theme through the whole article...

    Little Upside... bit more downside... a little frustrated?... but HEY come on we are friends!!! there is some cool animation by our designers to make up for it all :D <cheesy grin>

    It stinks of slight of hand, and overall sounds like an epic fail waiting to happen... This just won't compete.

    As a developer, I don't think the apps/games produced are going to cut it... With Android and iPhone you can at least write cross platform opengl games in C++. dotNet is just pure lock-in.

    I hope they sell just enough of these things to put an early end to it... I have a feeling a lot of people are going to get fooled.
  • jeans_xp - Sunday, November 7, 2010 - link

    It's bad news for us, AMOLED is not used.
  • vhx - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    Only problems I have are no custom ring tones (really now...). No messenger support yet. No clue about 3rd party apps, no one is talking about it. Will it be like Android or the tight control Apple has? I couldn't find any article talking about this. Reply
  • DKant - Saturday, November 13, 2010 - link

    I got through 15 pages and that was it. I have already decided this is my next mobile-platform anyway (unless I start hearing rumors of a hologram-projecting iPhone 5), no point reading the remaining 200. I can't imagine the amount of patience it must have taken to WRITE this behemoth! :) Of course it's your job, you've been doing this forever etc, but still.

    Man, finally. A "proper" competitor to iOS, which was getting a little stale. And I have too many issues with Google's approach to consider any of the quadrillion models on offer.

    Well. I do hope WP7 sells and lives longer than the Palm. :_(

    (And I'd never imagined I'd finish a post with this..)

    To Microsoft!!
  • CSMR - Saturday, November 13, 2010 - link

    Very informative review, but shouldn't this site be serving people who are technically minded rather than the average consumer?

    There is no question WP7 has a lot of excellent points.

    But I'm not sure how you can accept a system that does away with files, and uses a limited sync system to move content around in approved ways.

    Or call software "The Best Smartphone for Music Lovers" when:
    - it believes that music consists of "songs" written by "artists" and put into "albums", when only a minor part of the history of western music is of this form
    - it does not allow a folder structure for navigation, only limited tags of the above form
    - gapless playback is incomplete

    Microsoft needs prodding to update the system in a way that retains the new features and GUI but also implements the basic features. If it doesn't get this from tech sites, where are we left? Perhaps Windows 8 will decide Turing completeness is no longer important, people just need to be able to do x, y, and z as simply as possible. I'm sure there are a lot of people at Microsoft who want WP7 to be a real OS - without changing usability. They just need a bit of support.
  • Millsington - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Excellent point about folder navigation, I had forgotten about that. It is sorely missed in modern music players.

    Sadly, I don't see the issues you raised being addressed for some time unless WP7 really takes off.
  • billybarker - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Check out these Windows Phone 7 Application Icons - there are 350 icons in the set. Reply
  • warden6 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I've had my HTC 7 Mozart for a fortnight. I like it. I like the big square icons on the Start screen (although I've toned down the colour as much as possible); I like the integration with Google Mail, Contacts and Calendar (yes it does work, set it up as an Exchange server); I like the threaded conversations for texts like the iPhone; the music player is good; oh, and it's not a bad phone either.

    There are some issues -- there's no Messenger client, gapless track playback is haphazard to say the least, there's a limited range of alerts/ringtones and you can't add more, and battery life is a bit short. Especially with push email. Hopefully some of those can be fixed, but they're definitely not deal-breakers for me.

    What I can't figure out is how to do "Inverse" on the scientific view of the calculator. No inverse-sin, inverse-log, etc. That's not a deal-breaker either, I don't use those very often! But it's an odd omission.
  • anistoona - Sunday, November 21, 2010 - link

    " 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."

    With all my respect: If I need only the SmS, phone, email, Camera and web borwisng things form my handheld device, I would like to buy a 150$ Symbian phone, I don't need to buy an up to 700$ smartphone to do that things!!

    WinMob 5, 6.x was the system which puts the definition of what " Smart Phones" should capable of, and disappointingly Microsoft chose to give up that system and replaced with a modified copy of Old, aged and discontinued competitors system ( I mean first generation of iOS ) ..

    Really good choice Microsoft !

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