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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  • AssBall - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    LOL! Yeah, I think he needs to lay off the Ritalin. Reply
  • morphologia - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    Seems to me you are creating the problem yourself by caring about it so much. No one is forcing you to take such exception to political imagery. All you have to do is not care and the problem magically vanishes.

    Sheesh.
    Reply
  • Fleeb - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    I did not even noticed that there is a Pepsi billboard in there up until you mentioned it. :S Reply
  • Exelius - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    Given the head start Apple and Google have, what are Microsoft's prospects with the carriers?

    Carrier support is obviously very important with licensed models like WP7 and Android... As Google learned with the Nexus One, what are Microsoft's prospects in mobile? Verizon is highly invested in Android, so don't look for them to push Android phones heavily, and AT&T is still riding Apple's cash cow... I don't think the two platform's positions are a coincidence.

    Furthermore, is Microsoft prepared to potentially be the #3 mobile platform long-term? And that's assuming they can get out in front of RIM. I don't know that they have a chance of catching Google or Apple (Microsoft as a consumer brand is probably irreparably damaged and Google and Apple are still very popular.)
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    this is the #1 reason that I have right now for buying a WP7 phone. "Microsoft needs to pay the bills"??? Are you serious!?!? So their profits on Windows and Office are only for spending 1 billion on advertising and we get to eat it on seeing ads when I am searching through my email??? I can't understand the justification on not blasting MS here on this... which of their competitors do this now? This opens a door full of feces that I would rather not touch... Imagine turning on your phone to be bombarded by 3-10 ads before you can use the phone... and it starts with consumers being ok with an ad here and there while you do things not web related on your phone... "xbox live brought to your WP7 phone by Applebees- tap here to find the nearest applebees while your game loads"

    NO WAY MS... good try though. I guess it's up to Nokia/Intel with their meego to get my hard earned money... I am not paying for those ads on my phone - no way no how.
    Reply
  • Smilin - Monday, October 25, 2010 - link

    Which of their competitors do this now?

    Apple and Google that I'm aware of. Settle down beavis.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    Consumers know of three key smartphone products right now - Apple, Android, and RIM. The people that do know about Microsoft's previous offerings are probably still bitter.

    How will Microsoft overcome this deficit? They actually don't offer anything more than a nice slick interface that runs integrated functions smoothly, but falters on Apps. They won't even benefit from the latest must-have hardware - the launch phones are essentially 6 month old equipment.

    RIM has always banked on the business customer, Apple with the trendy, and Android got everyone else. Well, they all have mature products now. Android was able to gain traction due to the iPhone/AT&T exclusivity which made them the only 'consumer targeted' smartphone on the other three American carriers. That was key to Android's success. There is no longer a pent-up demand for Microsoft to attach itself to.

    What wasn't mentioned in the article is the competitive landscape for these devices. They will be going against superior Android hardware and a new version of the Pre. I just don't see much demand for these outside of the Zune-faithful.
    Reply
  • lwatcdr - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    Yep it all comes down to on thing.
    Is Windows Phone 7 better in every way than IOS and Android. Frankly WebOS is also a very good mobile platform but is not getting anywhere near the buzz that it should.
    Just being as good as just isn't enough when your competitors have a huge lead.
    For me the big thing that WP7 offers will be ZunePass. If you are a music person that could be a huge benefit and it is a really good service I hear. I just don't think these devices are good enough and the lack of apps is a huge barrier.
    Reply
  • AssBall - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    Remember the microsoft compatibility though. This OS has the potential to make for excellent corporate phones. Reply
  • teohhanhui - Monday, October 25, 2010 - link

    Latest must-have hardware? That won't really matter to the average consumer. (And higher raw performance doesn't necessarily translate into better responsiveness, which greatly affects the user's perception of performance.) Reply

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