It's been a long time since Microsoft could even be considered a contender in the mobile space. Windows Mobile 6, 6.1 and 6.5 struggled to shrug off years of legacy code and offered users a smartphone experience considerably slower and more complex than the alternatives offered by Apple and Nokia.
Windows Phone 7 is a fresh start, and if previous Microsoft-powered phones have left a bad taste in your mouth, then it's time to let go of the grudge and take another look. There is nothing obvious to the end user in this operating system, which has been carried over from Windows Mobile 6.5. WP7 is far leaner, simpler and, for better or worse, it has a renewed focus on the consumer market rather than the business sector.
We'll keep this review short and sweet, focusing on pros and cons rather than the full experience. For a complete guide to the out-of-the-box experience we invite you to take a look at our, which will act as a companion piece.
What we love
You've seen the screenshots and you may have already decided whether you love or hate the aesthetic — we love it. It's clean, it's bold and we love the layout of the core apps, like the People app, with its "full bleed" headings and clean borderless table layout.
This is the most significant change for people who used old versions of Windows Mobile. Windows Phone 7 is fast, blisteringly fast. The combination of the OS design and the hardware requirements set out by Microsoft should mean that regardless of which phone brand you choose, you should enjoy the same silky smooth menu navigation.
Though every smartphone ships with some form of email client, they are not all created equal. We want an email tool that is easy to read and that makes identifying important messages as simple as it is to delete the rest. The WP7 email tool is easily among the best currently on the market, where it feels effortless to manage the inbox, and the design is a pleasure to look at.
Some of the standout aspects of this client are the ability to enter "mark-mode" (where you check the mail to move or delete) by simply touching the left-hand side of any message. We were also impressed with the apps ability to recreate our Google Apps label structure as folders.
We've always thought that phone manufacturers were wrong when they lumped Facebook and Twitter in the same app. Microsoft takes a different and more successful approach, combining Facebook updates with your phone contacts. This offers a limited view of Facebook, for sure, with scope only to reply to updates or post a new update of your own, but it's an excellent and quick way to stay in touch.
WP7 integrates Facebook updates with your address book.
Among the slew of issues with Windows Mobile 6.5, the Internet Explorer browser was towards the top of our must-fix list. Microsoft has listened to the criticisms and has delivered an excellent mobile equivalent to its desktop product. The new IE Mobile loads quickly and pans and zooms as well as the Safari browser on iPhone. It's a little light on features — there's no Flash or HTML5 support for starters — but for everyday browsing, this browser is a winner.
Windows Mobile was a labyrinth of menus and sub-menus. Trying to achieve even a simple task like switch ringtones or wallpapers required half a dozen steps. WP7 is much, much simpler. The home screen is divided into two: Live Tiles and a complete list of apps, which you swipe left and right to move between these two menus. Almost all settings associated with apps is found under the "Settings" menu, unless the options are specific to an item within an app (like a contact in your address book) in which case you press and hold on the item to show a drop-down menu.
The camera and gallery
It's obvious the goal of the Windows Phone development team was to develop a class-leading camera phone, and we love what they have come up with. The camera app is fast to open and to shoot images, and the gallery is easy to browse through swiftly. It's also simple to upload images to a variety of services, including Facebook and SkyDrive.
What needs work
We thought we could live without multitasking, but alas we cannot. Microsoft grants multitasking privileges to core applications, allowing the browser to stay open on the page you were reading or the Zune music player to play in the background, but this is not the case for any apps you download through the Marketplace. This also means there is no task switcher at all in WP7, so you will have to exit to the home screen before launching any new apps.