Sunday, August 28, 2011

Windows Phone 7: 72 hour impression

I purchased a Windows Phone 7 HD7 for T Mobile to test drive for a month or so before I go to Korea. Click past the break to see my impression of Windows Phone 7 after 72 hours.

I recently broke my loved hated and now loved G2x and figured I'd purchase a Windows Phone 7 (WP7) device to test drive for a month or so before I left to Korea. I made this decision because I was going to pay $130 for a replacement G2x anyway so if I could find a HD7 for T Mobile for cheap on Ebay, I'd pick one up and just chalk up the extra $100 or so as a learning experience as I see what all the fuss is about for WP7.  I listen to Simple Mobile Review weekly and one of guys from the show is a diehard Windows fanboy and another is recently converted WP7 fan.  Because of these guys, I was more than willing to give it a chance to see if it's all that people say it is.

I want to start by saying that people like Brandon Watson are always on the WP7 hype machine.  It's his job so I can't knock him for what he does.  He recently challenged Molly Wood and the creator of the cartoon Dilbert to try WP7 with Mango and if they don't love it, he would donate $1,000 to their favorite charity.  Sadly Molly didn't love it.  She has a lot of thoughts that are similar to mine after 72 hours with the HD7.  I don't think it's a bad phone at all.  I think there are quite a few things that Android and iOS could learn from it.  But I do feel as though the phone has lots of flaws.  I'm sure some will be fixed in the Mango update but I highly doubt many will.  I'll start off my review with the things I like about the phone.

Home screen transitions:  I think the interface and the way the tiles flip away when one is selected is great.  It's a simple interface that does things in a way that are pleasing to the eye.  No need to download any launchers like on Android just to have custom animations.  iOS doesn't do anything like this at all so there is no need to compare.  The best way to describe WP7's home tiles and the way they transition is to say that they are like using a launcher on Android and choosing a transition effect between home screens.  It's very pleasing to the eye. 

Interface with emails and messaging:  I like the way WP7 is very simple in both messaging and emails.  The interface is basically black and white without any extra BS.  This looks good, almost great and is very pleasing to the eye since it's simple to read and simple to follow without trying to be flashy.

Typing:  Typing on this phone is by far the best touchscreen typing experience I have ever had on a phone.  Auto correct is great and corrects almost everything I spelled wrong from the first day I had it.  Android and iOS tend to mess up words that I spell too badly or words that aren't all that common.  They basically either try to change the word every single time or never change it, both change your messed up spelling for the worse.  In the end, typing on the HD7 is the by far the best typing experience I've had on a touch screen phone and I've had more than a few of them.

Menu flow:  I really love how WP7 flows between menus.  For almost every app on the phone the way you transition between menus is by swiping to the right or left.  In the Market app for example, you can click on the tile then see a basic menu of Music, Games, Apps, etc.  Then once you pick an option, you can scroll right or left to get options like, Top, New, Free, and Featured.  This flow follows almost every app on WP7.  Another example is the Facebook app which shows you your menu upon opening but you can swipe left of right to reveal your timeline, photos, events and notifications.  This works well since you don't have to scroll around looking for info or be overwhelmed by info.

People hub/tile:  The People Hub as its called or tile which it really is, is ok.  I like the fact that you click on it and it'll bring up recently contacted people, your contact list as well as a brief overview of everyone's Facebook statuses.  It allows you to scroll through a short list of your Facebook statuses without launching the Facebook app.  You can view comments, like posts, and even comments on posts all from the people hub.  It works pretty good actually.

I hate to say it but that is about the extent of my positives of WP7.  I don't think it's a bad phone at all but it's not a great phone either.  Now on to my dislikes:

 Mac support:  First and foremost, I know this is a Windows product but how can you release a product without Mac support?  I am by no means a die hard Apple fan but I do own a MacBook Pro and use it as my daily computer.  Guess what?  I can't download Zune software on my Mac.  It doesn't support it.  I can however download a Windows Phone Connector which crashes my MacBook more often than it actually works.  Every time I launch the software, my computer slows down to a crawl and it's only actually worked twice since I downloaded it.  I've managed to get 3 ringtones on my phone and one video off of my phone.  Now why Microsoft would launch a smart phone while cutting out 90% of the tech community, I don't have a clue.  It's a choice they made, and ultimately it's a choice that will probably make them fail.  No, Mac computers are not the be all end all in computing but the vast majority of tech bloggers use a Mac and you are cutting out the very people who need to praise your phone to make it popular.  It took me almost 2 hours to get three ringtones onto my phone only to find out that it doesn't support ringtones.  Then it took me a solid hour to get a video I took of my son off of the phone.  You have to use WP7 connector to get any media on or off your phone if you have a Mac computer.  I'm sure things would be a lot easier if I had a Windows 7 computer but I don't.  I have an old Windows 7 laptop that stays tucked away and has only been pulled out 2 times in the last year.  Am I going to pull out my Windows machine just to load some software on my phone?  Hell No!  No Mac support means No Bueno from me.  I'm not a die hard Mac or Apple fan but I do use some products from them.  And if you don't work nicely with my computer, why do I care about you?

No ringtone support:  As I mentioned earlier, I spent about 2 hours trying to figure out how to put some .mp3's on my HD7.  I was hoping to change the ringtone for calls and for alarms.  I prefer a simple text message ringtones because I get so many that it just doesn't make sense to play a song for every one.  I do however prefer a ringtone for my phone calls and my alarms.  Sadly, after wasting 2 hours of my life trying to put these .mp3's on the phone, I can't even change the ringtone for anything.  If my three year old BlackBerry can have ringtone support, there is no reason why a 2011 WP7 device shouldn't.  I simply don't see why I can't use my own ringtones as alarms, alerts and ringtones.  Pitbull, "Give me Everything" popular right now?  Allow me to use the .mp3 that I own as a ringtone.   Nicole Scherzinger, "Right There" banging in the clubs, I want that too but nope, can't have it.  Please Microsoft, give the people what they want.  I am stuck with stock ringtones and I don't like it but I could live with it if I had to.

Home screen tile color:  I don't like the fact that I can't change the home screen tile color.  I can change it but i can only change it to one of 10 standard colors.  I am cool with things like blue, red, orange, teal, but magenta, purple, lime, etc, kinda suck.  If I had my choice, I'd choose some dark gray color that is almost black but just light enough to tell the difference between the tiles.  I don't like this, it sucks, and Microsoft needs to change it now.  Who wants standard, bright colors on their home screen?  And guess what?  Your text messaging will all have the same color as well as any apps that don't have a per-determined color.  So yes, this sucks.  I don't mind blue, but I prefer a darker color and I simply can't have it on this phone. 

Apps:  There are honestly very few apps that work on Windows Phone 7 phones.  There are a few major supporters like Netflix, Slacker, Evernote, etc. but the vast majority of the apps I use every day are not supported.  I can use some janky work around that may or may not work and also store my password on some strange website I don't have a clue about.  But honestly, the apps are not there.  I use Dropbox a few times a week and it's not supported.  I use Pandora almost daily and it's not supported.  I use catch notes and it's not supported.  Even simple things like is not supported.  I can't even go to the speedtest website but because it requires flash so it doesn't work.  Do you conduct banking on your mobile?  Well guess what?  Chase, Wells Fargo, and I'm sure many others are not supported as well.  You can however go to the mobile site via the browser and pin the website to your start menu.  That works but honestly, it sucks.  It seems as if every app that someone coming from Android or iOS used to use, needs a work around and you have to store your password on some random app developers website.  I will never say that its completely unsafe but what if you and your spouse use Dropbox to transfer banking documents between computers?  What if you used it to exchange racy pictures to surprise your spouse while you're apart?  Some developer could essentially take your information and do whatever he wants with it all because you choose to use the first Dropbox client that showed up in the App Market.

I know some people will claim that there are alternatives for most of the apps I mentioned above.  I can use Slacker instead of Pandora and in fact I use Slacker at work to stream music.  But I also find myself skipping tracks on Slacker a lot more often than I do on Pandora.  Slacker will play one current R&B top song then it'll play a Hip Hop song from the 90's.  Nothing wrong with hearing Notorious BIG but if I wanted to listen to 20 year old Rap songs, I would have picked an Old School Hip Hop channel.  I could also use SkyDrive as my cloud storage instead of Dropbox, but I prefer Dropbox. I'll talk about SkyDrive integration a little later but if Microsoft's own cloud storage isn't well integrated into Microsoft's own phones, there is a problem.

Media both on and off the phone:  Getting media both on an off the phone is a pain.  I don't know if it's because I have a MacBook and Microsoft wants to send a big "F you" to Apple or if they just don't want to gain market share.  Photos are easy to get off of the phone by sending them to SkyDrive or to things like Facebook.  Videos on the other hand are terrible to share.  You can't send videos to SkyDrive, you can't send them to Facebook, you have no other options from the phone with a video other than to delete it.  You can however hook your phone up to your Windows computer and get the videos off via Zune software or WP7 connector.  But why in the world can I not send a video to Facebook or SkyDrive?  Is SkyDrive not your 25GB of cloud storage?  Why in the hell can I not upload a video to it?  Aren't videos the biggest media files on phones?  What am I missing here?  Why the hell can I not upload a video online anywhere Microsoft?  Please tell me.  I really wanna know why I have to hook my phone to a damn computer to share videos.  How hard would it be to set up something like Google+ on Android phones?  It would be simple to allow videos to upload to SkyDrive via wifi or only while charging.  It would be great to know that I took a video of my son and when I get home, it'll just be on SkyDrive ready to download or share.  I don't see the point of having a 25GB cloud storage service if its use is limited on your own platform. 

Why do podcasts have to get synced through Zune?  Why is media synced through Zune?  Why the hell do I have to connect my phone to my computer to get media on and off?  With 25GB's of cloud storage, I should be able upload thousands of .mp3's and just have them show up on my phone.  I should be able to take a 800MB movie and throw it on SkyDrive and just be able to stream it to my phone whenever I want.  I just don't get it.  Ehh, it's your funeral Microsoft, I'm just a bystander.

No SD card support:  Since there is no way to easily get media on and off your Windows Phone 7 phone you would think that you would add files to a SD card and use that to transfer files right?  Well Microsoft gives you a big "F You" in that category as well.  No SD card support so EVERYTHING with media is transferred through Zune.  Bleh

Maps/Navigation:  Google basically put a navigation system in everyone's pocket with Android.  It is beyond easy to look up a business or address and get turn by turn directions through the stock Google Maps app.  On WP7, you get none of that.  You get maps and directions but nothing turn by turn.  Microsoft is on par with iOS in this realm by allowing maps and directions but you need to get a navigator in your passenger seat like you're in a rally race to make it work well.  By all means, hand your phone to whoever is riding with you if you want to navigate from A to B cause you will need 4 hands and two sets of eyes to do it effectively on a WP7 device.

Game support:  Basically, games on WP7 suck.  I don't own a XBox so the little avatar thing and achievements means nothing to me.  I owned an original XBox about 6 years ago and I only used that to play Halo with my brothers online.  I've basically lived and died on the Playstaion platform since the original Playstation came out in the mid 90's.  There is no real reason to go into gaming on WP7 much because you don't have many games and most of them are not very good on a WP7 phone.  All of them take 30 secs or more to load and they are all Blackberry quality at best.  Graphics suck, content sucks and if you find a cool game you don't have to pay for, let me know.  I can give you about 50 games on iOS and Android that all occupy time and don't cost a dime.  That's the key point to games on mobile devices right?  To occupy time and be time wasters.  Leave the long, drawn out games to the kiddos and give me something simple like 5 levels of Angry Birds to waste 5 mins in the Dr's office while I'm waiting to be called.  If I had time to go through 40 levels of a game, I'd have a dedicated device to do so.  I think that's the main feature of mobile gaming.  Something that is cheap and passes a few minutes of your time while waiting for something far more important in life to happen.  Give me something simple to pass the time, that's all I ask for.

I've mentioned a large amount of reasons why WP7 isn't a great platform.  I don't want to say it's a bad phone because it simply isn't.  It's a phone that hasn't matured into a phone that competes with Android and iOS.  It competes very well against RIM's BlackBerry OS7 devices so it compares very well as a second tier device.  I can't recommend this phone to anyone who has had an Android or iOS device.  If you've had a BlackBerry in the past, by all means, welcome the same phone with a cooler interface.  If you're finally getting rid of your RAZR phone, you can have a cool phone.  But if you've had an Android phone that works well or an iOS device and you don't mind the Steve Jobs, "you will have apps that I say you can have" mentality, stick with those devices.  They are far better platforms even if they both have their limitations and problems.  A WP7 phone is the next step up for people coming from messaging phones and BlackBerries.  I honestly believe this phone would be great phone for my girl and anyone else who wants a cool phone but isn't very compute savvy.  You'll love a WP7 device.

Summary, WP7 is a cool interface but it simply doesn't have the features to attract new people.  It doesn't have the mass appeal of a iOS device nor does it have the "do everything" appeal of Android.  If you purchase a WP7 phone, you have a cool phone.  I can only hope that webOS developers flock to the platform like Brandon Watson wants them too.

I'd much rather drive a really cool Porsche that I have to dump a quart of oil into once a week than drive a Ford Focus that doesn't do anything special because it doesn't do much of anything at all.  At least I can keep the fact that I need to add oil every week to myself and everyone still complements me on my car.  With the Focus, you can come and go and no one will ever really know you even passed by.  This is the same with WP7, Android and iOS.  My G2x may restart itself a few times a week and it may crash an app or two because I installed a crazy app that is messing everything up.  iPhones may be locked into Steve Jobs (and now Tim Cook's) world and not have the customization that Android allows but both iOS and Android are better choices in my opinion.  Neither are perfect but the benefits of owning each (Customization for Android and Apps for iOS) far outweigh their drawbacks.  WP7 is a good, solid platform that works pretty good.  But it works pretty good because it doesn't do much. 

My final opinion of WP7, Bleh, I'll pass.  Maybe the Mango update will change my mind but I doubt it.  I will however keep using this HD7 to see if my opinion of it changes.  I'm not going to give up on the phone just yet.

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