Windows Phone 7: Does it live up to the hype?

I bought my first smart phone in November. In fact, I bought a Samsung Focus Windows Phone 7 handset on the day the OS was released to the public in America. So why go with Windows Phone 7? Why not Android with its plethora of handset options and massive app store? Why not the iPhone with its slick design, great apps, and proven track record? And the big question, after two months of use, has my WP7 device lived up to expectations?

Why a WP7 device?

  1. I love the clean interface of WP7 metro UI. The home page of my Samsung Focus makes an iPhone or Android device look incredibly cluttered. I especially notice this when I use my wife’s Android phone (HTC Aria) or grab my iPod touch. While iOS or Android might cram more onto the screen, WP7 maximizes the size of the tiles and displays information in a pleasing and quickly digestible manner.
  2. Live tiles. These are a much hyped feature of WP7 and they live up to the billing. With a quick glance I can see which of my three linked email accounts has new messages, whether or not I have a text message, the Facebook statuses or Twitter updates from any contacts who I have created a tile for on the home screen, any appointments on my calendar, the weather, and a picture from the band I last played in Zune app. I can see all those things without ever opening an app or leaving the home screen. The lives tiles are what really make this phone stand out and Microsoft did a great job integrating them, making them useful, and making them nice to look at.
  3. Zune integration. I love the Zune desktop software. I have used it as my music playback software for some time even though I didn’t have a Zune device. Zune is to WP7 what iTunes is for iPhone. The difference is that the Zune software is better designed, more pleasing to the eyes, and far less laggy. Syncing with my Focus is a breeze and happens very quickly. Oh, and how about this one, wireless sync! That’s right my Zune desktop software will automatically sync to my WP7 device without me having to plug it in via the USB cable. That means I can add music, podcasts, pictures, and video to my phone while it is sitting the bedroom and I am sitting in the office on my computer. The Zune live tile on the phone is great because it shows the band I am currently playing or the last one that played if I am not playing any music. Playback on the device is a breeze. When a song is playing all I have to do is tap the volume rocker and no matter what screen I am on (even the lock screen) a little menu will drop down from the top of the screen allowing me to pause or skip forward and backward to the next track.
  4. Xbox Live. This was not a huge selling point for me, but it is still a great feature and a lot of fun. The WP7 app store (accessible through the Zune desktop software or on the phone itself) has a lot of great games that are tied to Xbox live and which allow you to earn achievements and grow your gamerscore for playing games on the phone. Note that there are also a lot of independently developed games that you still access through the Xbox live tile, but which to do not have achievements. It is also a nice touch that I can see my Xbox live avatar, friends, messages, etc. all from the Xbox live app.
  5. MS Office compatibility built in. I probably won’t use this much right now, but it’s very nice to have. If someone sends me a MS Office document (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) in an email I can open it, edit it, and save it. Granted you won’t wanna do serious document editing on a phone, but it is very useful to have and it comes free on the phone!

 

Thoughts after two months

The phone has lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I love the Samsung Focus handset. The screen is amazing and responsive. The battery life is great. The camera takes pretty good pictures in a pinch (I still far prefer my Canon EOS 7D, but I always have my phone with me). The app store, while nowhere near as large as the ones for iOS or Android is more than adequate and I have never felt like there was a killer app that I just had to have that was missing. Basically, it’s a great phone!

 

Below are a few pictures taken with the phone on a recent trip to Seattle where we did not check any bags and the light packing meant not bringing my 7D with me.

 

What needs work

There is not a lot I can think of here. The biggest thing is cut and paste functionality which MS will be adding via an update in the near future. Oh, customizable ringtones would also be nice but those are also supposed to be coming via update soon as well. MS also needs to work more closely with its handset manufacturers to avoid confusion about expandable memory. My Focus has a MicroSD slot under the battery which MS apparently was not too happy about. The phone is not like Android where you can add and remove cards at will. With WP7 it spreads all the apps and system resources out across the available memory thus melding the inserted card to phone. The only way to get the phone to work without the card present after it has been inserted is to do a hard reset. There are reports of some cards working well and others not working at all. I have a 16GB patriot card in mine and have not encountered much in the way of problems thus far. That said, MS really didn’t design the device with expandable memory in mind so the safest bet would probably be not to add any but I like living on the edge.

 

Conclusion

I think if people had a chance to use this phone they would be sold. I followed the development closely because I’m a nerd like that so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. For most people, they’ll need to see the device in action to convinced that it is a viable alternative to Android and iOS. My advice would be to give the phone a chance. The next time you are wandering by a kiosk that sells these phone (currently AT&T and TMobil with Verizon slated to come on board in the future) stop and give it a look. I have friends who are dedicated iPhone and Android users who have all been very impressed with WP7 and I think it presents a worthy competitor to the other offerings available. It is certainly far superior to the old Windows Mobile and should serve to wipe away some of the memories that OS left in people’s minds. So give it a try, I think you’ll like what you see. Oh, and if you want to see a great website with news about Windows Phone 7 check out Windows Phone Secrets.

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