Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Windows Phone 7 first impressions

I've been spending a couple of hours today with the Samsung i8700 Omnia 7 courtesy of Three UK. The Omnia 7 is one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices, based on the new operating system written by scratch by Microsoft. As a once long time Pocket PC and then Windows Mobile user, I can say for certainty that Windows Phone 7 is nothing like its predecessors. The only thing it shares is the Windows brand name.
Windows Phone 7 features completely different UI, not only from Windows Mobile but also from the majority of mobile OSes like iOS, Android and Symbian S60. The launcher is divided into two parts - the front 'home screen' which has live tiles (or widgets) that can be customised by the user, and the program launcher which lists a list of applications installed in alphabetical order. This makes up for the basis of what Microsoft dubs the Metro UI.

The Metro UI is slick, quick, uncluttered, easy to use and designed to operate with fingers. It is inspired by public transport signage and International Swiss typography movement. It is sleek, it is new and it is stylish.

Most of the built-in apps is engineered using a design called hubs. Hubs are basically large panoramic apps. Here you can swipe left and right or tap to go through the different pages within the hub.

The social integration is brilliant. Once I managed to get my contacts on it (I will get back to this), the OS integrates my contacts with those of my Facebook contacts providing easy visual updates on my friends. Now if they only provide integration with Twitter - that would be insane. The Marketplace is good too, with plenty of nice free apps like the Huffington Post (which isn't merely a glorified RSS reader/bookmark like BBC News app). It is dead easy to use too. I downloaded 20 apps in 10 minutes. Why can't Nokia do something like this for the Ovi Store?

Most of the paid games I've seen include trial versions, so there is little harm in downloading and trying out before deciding. The Xbox integration includes Gamerscore and Achievements.

Getting contacts on it was a pain, but do-able. Windows Phone 7 does not sync with Outlook, at least not directly. This is a major fail to me, and I do not understand how and why Microsoft would not support syncing with their own product. Still I managed to get them on, but not without first downloading Outlook Connector, syncing my contacts to a Hotmail account and then finally syncing from there to the phone. If you are an Exchange user, then good for you. Outlook will sync fine without these steps. So dear Microsoft, not everyone wants to use the 'Cloud', especially when there's a perfectly good USB cable in front of me.

Input is via a virtual QWERTY keyboard. There is no haptic feedback, though feedback is provided through audible feedback. Each key presses is different from the last as Windows Phone 7 has eight variations of key press samples played in a loop. It isn't a massive different, but subtle. I find the audible feedback irritating, but have no choice but to leave it on because the keyboard does not support haptic feedback. Auto correction and suggestions can be turned off if needed.

Internet Explorer is a massive improvement over the older versions found on Windows Mobile. Rendering is rather slow, though is accurate. Panning and scrolling is supported, as is pinch zooming and multiple tabs. In addition to saving a site as favourite, it can also be pin to the home screen. Flash and Silverlight is not supported, and there is no text reflow.

Bing Maps is fast and easy to use. Maps can be toggled between vector mapping and aerial (satellite) view. Zooming is via pinching. Step by step directions is supported, though there is no voice guided navigation. It is a good effort, but still lacking behind Google's effort with Maps on Android and Nokia's all you can eat navigation Ovi Maps.

Now for some really bad stuff. No multi-tasking. This is to me, inexcusable. Yes, there is some form of multi-tasking, but really, no more than what you would find in any typical feature phone from the past couple of years. You can listen to music while messaging - nothing new with that - even dumb Sony Ericsson and Nokia S40 phones can do that. But what about tweeting and using last.fm at the same time? Nope can't do that. Casual users migrating from feature phones may be able to put up with that, but I can't imagine plenty of power users will like the idea of a dumbed down experience.

Another is copy and paste. I know some would say that copy and paste is due next year, it's been promised bla bla bla. Well until it does, Windows Phone 7 does not have copy and paste. There is no excuse here not to have copy and paste, absolutely none especially for a 2010 OS. There are also plenty of other dislikes with Microsoft's new mobile OS - the lack of tethering, no Bluetooth file exchange, no video call, no file manager, no USB mass storage, no support for own ringtones etc.

If in 1-2 years time Microsoft can implement those missing features, this can be a killer OS. Right now it isn't ready just yet, at least not for those accustomed to traditional OSes like Windows Mobile, Android or Symbian. The Metro UI and design language is simply stunning, but it would be ashamed if Microsoft doesn't improve on what's underneath it. It deserves better.

I will be keeping the Samsung Omnia 7 for two weeks. If you have any questions about Windows Phone 7, just ask away in the comments section or on twitter.


Anonymous said...


Adonis said...

Contacts was pretty easy for me. I just added my Gmail account and all my contacts synced over.

Jon said...

Maybe I should export my contacts over there... Would at least prepare me for Android.