The period between Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 launch event and our first reviews hitting the Web was a bit of a blur to me. There was a lot to cover, many workshops to attend, numerous phones to be tested, blah, blah, blah. But now that the dust has settled, I thought it would be a good time to take the opportunity to reflect on Windows Phone 7 as a whole--what's to love, what's not to love.
I'm entering my third week of using the Samsung Focus as my primary device, and I used the Samsung Taylor for the Windows Phone 7 technical preview. I've had my ups and downs, but in the grand scheme of things, there's been more to like than dislike.
Below you will find the features that I personally find the most useful. Obviously, everyone has different uses and needs for their smartphones, so I'll be asking you to share your list at the end of the post. But for now, here are my Top 5.
Coming from the Nexus One and Android, the switch to Windows Phone 7 was a bit startling (but when is change ever easy?). I had my reservations about the Start screen and the Apps menu (I still have issues with the latter, but more on this later), but I've come to love the simplicity, organization, and accessibility of the former.
The live tiles are bold and eye-catching and provide me with one-touch access to the information that I want. I also love that you can pin individual Web pages, maps, and the like to the Start screen. Plus, I think the organization of the tiles makes it easier to digest and use compared with, say Android, where you can have multiple shortcuts and widgets cluttering up your home screens in a haphazard manner.
However, it's really the Hub experience that I love the most. Each of the six hubs--People, Pictures, Music and Video, Office, and Marketplace--brings together related content into one place where you can view and interact with different sources of information without have to launch various apps. Though the panoramic layout might not suit everyone, I like it. It really showcases some of the work Microsoft has done on relevancy, organization, elegance, and typography. It's attractive, it works, and it's consistent across all hubs and even third-party apps, so you're getting a familiar experience throughout.
Same but different
When Microsoft first announced that it would restrict OEMs and carrier partners from customizing the interface and even certain aspects of the hardware, I wasn't sure what to think. After all, some companies, such as HTC, had much success in creating user-friendly and helpful skins for other platforms, so why not for Windows Phone 7? However, there's something to be said about Microsoft's philosophy.
From the very beginning, the company said it wanted to provide a consistent end-user experience regardless of the phone or provider, and though you won't feel the effects immediately, in the long run this will help make the transition easier as users switch devices or move carriers. This should also prevent delays when pushing out software updates, since each custom UI doesn't have to go through testing to ensure it works with the new software.
Along the same lines, it's great to see Microsoft partnering up with different manufacturers and service providers to offer customers a choice. You're not restricted to one design, like the iPhone, or to one carrier, again, like the iPhone. It's one of the reasons why Android has seen so much growth over the past year, and I'm sure Microsoft is hoping it will do the same for Windows Phone 7.
This is by far my favorite feature of Windows Phone 7. Music is such a huge part of my life, and I'm always looking to discover new bands, and there are just days where I'm sick and tired of my current playlists. So having a feature like Zune Pass where I can stream unlimited music and download 10 songs per month is like being a kid in a candy shop. Sure, it's an additional monthly cost (you do get a 30-day trial if you're buying from AT&T) but it's worth it to me.
Not to mention the fact that the Zune player is attractive; there's a built-in radio, and you can wirelessly sync content from your PC to your phone. I've said in the past that the iPhone is the only smartphone I'd consider ditching my MP3 player for but now I can add Windows Phone 7 to that list as well. In fact, with Zune Pass, I'd probably put it at the top of my list.
I'm not what you would call a hard-core gamer, but I do enjoy video games, especially on mobile devices. They help me fill the time during my commute on the train, entertain me while I'm doing laundry or some other mundane chore, and most importantly, provide me with ways to procrastinate.
Though the gaming library and Xbox Live integration are still being built out, I've been impressed with what I've seen so far. I've checked out casual games, such as Bejeweled, and more action-based games, such as Twin Blades. The load times could certainly be quicker, but I found the gameplay to be smooth, and for the most part, the games used the touch screen well.
Will it replace a device like the Sony PSP? No, but for a casual gamer like me who just wants to be entertained or distracted without having to carry an extra gadget, this fits the bill. I imagine there could be a time when more-dedicated gamers could be attracted by Windows Phone 7, especially as the functionality and games library continue to grow. It should be particularly attractive to Xbox Live users who will be able access their gamer scores, achievements, friends lists, and Xbox Live messaging. It could be a differentiating factor from the iPhone, which at this point, arguably offers the best gaming experience (in terms of quality and quantity) on a mobile OS.
These last few items don't fit into a neat category, so I thought I'd just bundle them into a miscellany section.
After you take a picture, you can instantly see your image by swiping to the left of the viewfinder screen, instead of having to leave the camera app to go to the photo gallery.
Voice and contextual search returns quick and accurate results.
Keyboard is easy to use and offers a more useful autocorrect feature than some competitors do.
- E-mail app is simple yet effective.
Those are just a few of my favorite things. I realize devices aren't available to the public just yet (in the U.S. at least), but I would still love to hear what has impressed you about Windows Phone 7.
Tomorrow I'll write about five things I dislike about Windows Phone 7, or, rather, features I would like to see in future updates. So think about your list for that as well.
Also, for another take, be sure to check out CNET News reporter Ina Fried's previous story of her likes and dislikes of Windows Phone 7.