Windows Phone 7 Challenge: Week 1

After the Android Gingerbread update ruined my Droid X, I agreed to try a Microsoft developer's Windows Phone 7 challenge. If I don't like my new phone (running a Mango developer's build), Microsoft donates $1,000 to charity. This is my Mango story.

Everything was fine in Android-land until the Gingerbread update. Well, then again, "fine" might be a little strong.

I'd been through an original Motorola Droid, which was a nice little keyboard wrapped in a seriously slow-performing phone with a terrible camera and no end of software update woes.

The Samsung Fascinate: my second Android go-around. Josh Miller/CNET

I went from that to the Samsung Fascinate, wooed by its sleek looks, great camera, and big, beautiful screen. Sadly, the Fascinate was loaded down with carrier crapware, including the staggering inclusion of Bing instead of Google as the default system search. It was so crippled you couldn't search for and download Google Search and navigation apps in the Android Market. Pre-Froyo, it couldn't sync my corporate calendar, and of course I didn't know when the update was coming. Plus, there was the annoying Samsung custom user interface, and did I mention the censored Market search? I actually rooted that phone and installed Google and a custom ROM, but it got so unstable I finally factory restored it and took it back.

Next up: the Droid X. Ah, sweet Android relief. It was already running Froyo when I got it, so no need to wait hopefully for the next "coming someday soon" update. Its huge 4.3-inch display sucked me right in, and its snappy performance made me giggle like a schoolgirl--once I returned the first Droid X to the store because of its laggy onscreen keyboard and got a replacement.

But other than that, and another terrible Motorola camera, it's been the perfect phone. Obedient, after killing off Blur with Launcher Pro; fast, after installing an aggressive Task Killer; pretty...well, not pretty. But I loved my phone, and Android. The integrated Google search, the cloud storage and retrieval of all my e-mail and contacts and photos (useful when you go through four phones in two years), the speech to text, the turn-by-turn navigation. Life was good.

Then came Gingerbread. The Android update dropped like a brick and all but bricked my phone. Connection problems, battery life bleeding out like a deer with a cut carotid, spontaneous restarts, and a mysteriously shrunken space bar on the on-screen keyboard that makes all my texts look.like.this (the period button is way too close to the tiny new space bar). The miraculous speech-to-text microphone just doesn't work half the time. The GPS stops working every few weeks until I clear the application data cache. This all keeps happening after I went back to Verizon and had them hard-reset my phone, erasing all apps, data, and settings (once again, thank God for all that useful cloud backup).

And all the players involved in the near murder of my phone have been conspicuously silent: not a word from Motorola, Verizon, or worse, Google. Nothing but rumors and whispers and tweets telling me to just root it, install Cyanogen mod, and get a custom ROM...what's the big deal?

Into this fray steps Windows Phone 7 Mango and Microsoft evangelist Brandon Watson, who challenged me and Dilbert creator Scott Adams to try out Windows Phone 7 (after our dissatisfied Android rants on Twitter). If I don't like WP7, Watson will donate $1,000 to charity. (I know, I know, the incentive here is not to like the phone...I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

HTC Trophy (Verizon Wireless)
Can the WP7 Mango-equipped HTC Trophy win me over? Time will tell. Sarah Tew/CNET

Those who know me realize that this sounds like a losing proposition from the get-go. I'm notoriously finicky about my tech, and I have a well-documented magnetic field that ensures that anything that can go wrong, technically speaking, will go wrong. And the last time I tried out a Windows Mobile OS (on a T-Mobile Dash), I lasted a week and ranted about it for years.

But Mango is close to hitting the market for real and frankly, despite slow sales of WP7, the buzz around the 7.5 update has been quietly positive. It appears to be matching the big boys feature for feature, with everything from deep social integration to speech to text to turn-by-turn navigation to smarter apps to hyper-local search. Heck, Gartner even says it'll overtake iOS by 2015, thanks to Microsoft's deal with Nokia.

But back to the question at hand: can WP7 Mango win me over? I'll keep you posted. I'm using an HTC Trophy (Verizon's only WP7 phone) running a developer's version of Mango--not the final release. I'll try to leave the hardware out of the equation as much as I can, although I'm sure it'll come up here and there, especially since this would be my only option if I were a Verizon switcher. And I'll be mildly tolerant of bugs that seem to be beta-related, although not completely.

I got the phone this weekend, and I've activated it, added Facebook integration and three Google-based e-mail accounts (all three wouldn't work the first go-around, until I deleted them and readded them--I'm not sure why), and I've had quite a bit of fun rearranging all my live tiles so far. I'll be using the phone as my daily device, for pictures, navigation, e-mail, calendar, Facebook, Twitter, the whole shebang...and I'll report back on this blog and in videos as I go. I'll try to be open-minded, fair, and even-handed--but I'll also try to be an average, tech-enthusiast consumer with the real demands I really have. And I'll let you know how it goes. Watch this space!

 

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