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The Most Complete Windows Phone 7 Review

The WP7 has received mixed reviews from tech experts everywhere. Realistically, the only person who really has the right to have the final word on a phone is you, the person who needs or wants a new phone and is planning on getting one soon. So if you are one of these people, then go out to your carriers store, and find a Windows Phone 7 (don’t ask for someone to show it to you, find it yourself). If it is one of those fake phones, find someone or another place where they actually have fully functioning phones to play with. Play with all the phones that catch your fancy, whether they be Windows or not, and make your own decision. For those of you who don’t want to spend the time playing with phones, then you are in the right place. I, not a tech expert, but as a consumer have purchased a Windows Phone 7 and have become very familiar with it over the month that I have been using it. This is not a features or app review, but a nitty-gritty, full-of-details review. I’ll try to keep it organized so that you can skip over the parts that you don’t care about and just find out information on the parts you personally find most important. I encourage you to form your own conclusions and consider how all the following details would pertain to your personal phone needs.

 

Start Screen

So, first we’ll begin by examining the start screen. On the Windows Phone 7, the start screen provides plenty of information and at the same time allows you to display your own personal tastes and gives your phone an attitude that is a reflection of yourself. Similar to the Zune, you touch the start screen and swipe upwards on the screen to open up the home screen. If you swipe upwards slowly, you can see the home hidden behind the start screen as you scroll up, similar to the Zune HD. However, there is no longer a grey rectangle with an up arrow at the bottom. Again, staying in line with the Zune HD, the time is displayed with large numbers in large font along with the date. If you are used to military time, you will be pleased to hear that the time may also be displayed using 24 hour time in addition to 12 hour time. Of course, these are all things that you would expect to get out of your start screen, but here is where the main utility of the Windows Phone 7 start screen is really great. Any missed calls, text messages, or e-mails are displayed at the bottom with the symbol respective of the corresponding live tile (more on live tiles in a bit). Also, the next event you have coming up in your calendar is also displayed at the bottom always ensuring that you are staying on top of your most current schedule. If you are prone to using your phone as an alarm clock, not only is there an alarm clock app that is free to download in the app store, but your phone places a little alarm symbol next to the time, so if you are paranoid like me and are constantly paranoid as to whether or not you remembered to set your alarm, you may put your mind at ease by simply pressing the start button which may be located in different places depending on the type of phone that you have. You may choose from the very large selection of default background images to be proudly displayed at the start screen or you may take a picture or download one of your liking from the internet. Keeping security in mind, the option to add a password to get passed the start screen is available. Using the tried and true method of typing in a string of numbers, you may conceal the information on your phone by requiring a 42 digit or less numerical password. While this method isn’t broken, and doesn’t require much fixing, a bit or originality that can be found everywhere else on the phone would have been nice to be found here as well. However, I can’t really consider this to be a real complaint. Something that seems very insignificant like a start screen, in my opinion, is very important because it is one of the most viewed screens on your phone. The Windows Phone 7 has a great start screen and is perfect in many ways.

 

Home Screen

The home screen on Windows Phone 7 smart phones is unique in its design. While it isn’t perfect, it serves its purpose and adds a bit of fun to the overall experience. The home screen is comprised of customizable squares and rectangles that lead to further applications, phone functions and contacts. These squares are referred to as “live tiles.” They are called live tiles because many of them seem to be full of life and their very own character. To contrast, the iOS has a home screen of static squares that point to different applications with a few permanent buttons taking you to your music collection and settings to name a few. The windows phone features larger squares that are not always by any means static and boring. After syncing with your facebook, the first Live Tile that you will notice is the “people” tile. It turns into a 9 x 9 grid and switches out the profile pictures of your friends several times a second. Using this tile, I have found that seeing the profile picture of a friend that I had been meaning to contact and it serves as a simple reminder to ensure that I am up to date on all of my friends. If you are an Xbox live user, you will find the Xbox Live tile pretty cool too. It is an off color, green tile that proudly displays the Xbox Live logo. From time to time, your avatar will pop his or her head in and out making sure to push the logo out of the way. It is just a cutesy little thing that is nice to mention. The Zune tile will display a photo of the band or artist that you most recently listened to. If the picture is too large to be fit into a square, then it pans through the picture ever so slowly, but with enough speed to ensure that it catches the eye. One more notable thing to mention about live tiles is that any of your contacts may be stored on your home screen as a live tile. If you have a picture of that person on your phone or if they are a facebook friend, it will display a picture of your contact and intermittently hide it with their name. These live tiles seem to have a mind of their own and move in ways that are very pleasing to the eye and not ever really distracting. They are just nice little reminders that friends need to be contacted, that you xbox avatar is super cool, and that a band needs another listen. Of course, this is just a very small introduction to live tiles. There are seemingly limitless applications to how your favorite phone features and apps can display useful information that saves time by not having to touch them to open an application or another menu screen. A weather app, for example, displays the current conditions of your location straight to the live tile. In contrast, other phone OS application buttons are too small to be able to display any usable information.

While the home screen is useful and has many fun features, there are just a few little things that I don’t like. In commercials or pictures on the internet, you have probably seen home screens with live tiles in many different colors. That is because you have many many colors to choose from, like: magenta, purple, teal, lime, brown, pink, orange, blue, red, and green. The color you choose doesn’t just choose the color of the live tiles, it pretty much chooses the color for everything. It would be nice if you could choose a color for your live tiles and a color for your text, for example. Another thing that I personally don’t like is that you can’t have a background. Of course, you can download an app that enables you to have a photo or a color other than black or white (don’t use white because it wastes your battery). If there was the choice to have a background, I would also want an option for clear live tiles. These aren’t really complaints, but there are just a few quirks that many people (including myself) expect to be able to have when they purchase a new phone, like a custom wallpaper.

 

Contacts

Making phone calls and sending texts are two of the most common uses for cell phones today. A few years ago, back when cell phones weren’t as common, I simply had to remember the phone numbers that I needed to use at any given moment. Now, I can barely remember a phone number because my phone does it for me, and this Windows Phone 7.5, does the job well. By touching the people tile you can access your contacts. You have the option to store names, mobile/home/work phone numbers, several e-mail addresses custom ring tones, addresses, websites, birthdays, notes, anniversaries, significant others, children, office locations and job titles. I doubt there is very little else that you could want to store about the people in your life, and even if there is a field that you want to have but isn’t available, you can simply store it as a note. Browsing through your contacts is as simple as browsing through your collection of albums. The Zune style contact organization is amazingly simple and beautiful at the same time. Large white font against the black background next to the photo vividly displays the name of the person you are seeking. Searching is also a breeze. Zune lovers will be glad to see that the first letter search tiles are available when searching for contacts. For Zune virgins, a quick runthrough of this idea is that each of your contacts are listed in alphabetical order grouped by the first letter of the person’s name. In front of each group is basically a mini live tile with the first letter of all the first names in the group. For example, there will be a mini live tile next at the top of your contacts list with the letter A on it. By touching that tile, the screen fills up with every letter of the alphabet. By touching the letter corresponding to the letter of the first name of the contact, it automatically takes you to that group. If that is too complicated, press the integrated search button to find the contact you are looking for. Don’t forget that you can place your contacts on your home screen as a live tile, making it the new “speed dial” of our generation.

Facebook syncing is a good thing for some people and a bad thing for others. If you sync your phone, it also syncs all of your facebook contacts whether you want it to or not. This is where the bad part comes in. If you have 6738245 friends on your facebook and you only personally know about a hundred, you will be very frustrated when you are looking to call your friend John Smith and you have to sort through a hundred different John Smith’s to find the specific one you want. You can go into your settings menu and reverse the contact syncronization process, but this simply removes all of your facebook friends from your contacts. At least you can sync your facebook and choose what information you want permanently integrated into your phone. With your facebook synced, whatever your friends are willing to share with the public is easily viewable from your contacts list. Once you select a contact, their picture will be enlarged three fold and their most recent facebook status will be displayed right next to their picture taking your stalkability to the next level (if you are in to that kind of thing). Below their picture is call, text, e-mail (if available) and write on wall (if available). All of this falls under the heading of “profile.” By swiping your finger from left to right, you will display the “What’s New” section that displays recent wall conversations, posts, and pictures. This almost eliminates the need to download a facebook app all together. I would like to see Twitter integration and the availability of facebook contact deletion in future generations of the Windows Phone OS. Other than that, the simplicity of the Zune sorting is what makes finding contacts a pleasure.

 

E-Mail

This is where I see the most improvement is needed. I am a hardcore Gmail user, and I’ve participated in the Google e-mail revolution since its inception. I am constantly plugged into my e-mail and it is the full motivation for me to even to want to own a smartphone. Unfortunately, whether you use Gmail or not, the integrated e-mail app displays it in a format that seems to be most compatible with Outlook. You have the option to set your phone up with a Windows Live, Outlook, Yahoo, or Google account. There is an “Other” and “Advanced” option that allows you to view any other e-mail account as well. I know that this e-mail problem can be easily solved by just logging on using the browser and saving the link as a bookmark, but that isn’t as fun as using an application. If you are a Gmail user who archives everything you don’t need anymore but enjoy being able to access your past e-mails at anytime, you will be dissatisfied because you can only search things that are in your inbox. If you search Gmail in the app store, the first entry is “Sexy Babes FREE”, second is “Lingerie FREE,” and Gmail Inbox Feed. However, this Gmail app doesn’t even let you view your mail, it just tells you when it arrives. So, there is undoubtedly more work to do for e-mail compatibility. If you aren’t picky at all, and you don’t care about archiving or indexing old e-mails, you will be absolutely fine. Another plus is that your contacts can be imported from your mail client. You can link multiple e-mail inboxes into one live tile, which makes asymilating multiple e-mail clients easy.

 

Internet Browser

The internet browser is typical among smartphones today. One area that I see lacking is that not all phones have support for 4G. For people who have owned a phone and regularly used it on a 4G network, this may be the deal breaker for you. However, in the future, I do see newer, more attractive phones with much better internet network browsing capabilities. If you no longer have unlimited data, don’t worry because the phone supports WiFi well. I have had no problems whatsoever with the WiFi and I have it constantly turned on. With the Mango update, you can activate the battery saver feature which turns off your WiFi when your battery becomes low to ensure that your features won’t always eat up all of your battery at a much more accelerated pace. The browser is very close to a Zune browser, but instead of touching the word “internet,” you touch a live tile called “Internet Explorer.” Although IE has accumulated a bad rap that eventually led to losing half its market share to Firefox alone, the browser is your standard run-of-the-mill browser and I haven’t seen any catastrophic security failures like the IE of the past. You can have up to six web pages open at any given time. In a very no-frills fashion, touching the tabs button at the bottom of the page opens a small thumb nail of all open webpages and gives the option opening or closing any webpage. It also has many standard features, like a favorites (which is preloaded with a great selection of websites that odds are, you already use) and recent pages. As long as you remember to clear your cookies (or block them) and history (or block it too) from time to time, you won’t need to download any additional browser as this one gets the job done. In my opinion, the browser itself is adequate.

There is a quick Internet search feature that has its own pros and cons. By going to the home screen and hitting the dedicated search button at the bottom, a Bing search page is very quickly pulled up. For regular Bing users, you will be glad to see that the changing scenery on the Bing home page will follow you to your phone with the informational touchpoints included. Unfortunately, for dedicated Google or Yahoo or any other search engine users, there isn’t an easy setting change that can fix this. You have to use the Bing search, otherwise, you will need to point your IE browser to your favorite search engine and access its queries from there. Another great feature from the search page is the voice search feature. By touching the speaker icon at the far right of the search bar, you are prompted to speak into the handset. Just say what you are looking for and it will pull it right up. I have had a good experience with this and I have found it to be generally accurate. Keep in mind, I don’t have a thick accent and I always try to speak very clearly. This may be something that you want to try yourself to make sure it works the same way for you. While this may not be even remotely as cool as the SIRI found in the new iPhone, it works for what it was intended for. We can only hope that further innovation is just over the horizon for this speak and find technology. One peeve I have with the search engine is that you have to ask it to show you the entire search querie. At first, it only shows the top 5 or so results and then you must touch an additional button to get to where you need. The last thing I need is another step between myself and the information that I am seeking. Other than that, I think that the on board search engine works great. I’m glad we get all of the great features of Bing in a small, bite sized package that works nearly perfectly.

 

Apps

Apple and Android phones are extremely appealing to smart phone buyers because they have an extensive library of extraneous applications to choose from. While their application support is what has drawn many of their buyers and eventually lead to their current success, creating an app store similar for an up and commer in the smart phone market is a double edge sword. The reason for that is people want the biggest and best apps, and developers want to make money off of the biggest and best apps. Since there aren’t very many people currently with the Windows Phone, primarily due to its late emergence into the market, there isn’t much money to be made in developing apps. It a vicious cycle. People don’t want to buy the phone because there aren’t enough applications, and developers don’t want to make many apps because there aren’t enough people who own the phones. Somewhere down the line, something has to give in order for success to be had. Microsoft has made some great strides in making the developing and porting process very simplistic to invite people into the developer game, and it shows. A lot of the apps are very crude and basic in nature, and this can be attributed to the lack of skill in the developer. But as we all know, time and experience are very powerful forces that has the chance to enhance the quality of the applications as the developers get a bit more practice in. As of now, the Windows Phone does not have any “game changer” apps thus far, but as we look into the future, we have no problem betting that one will come out very soon.

One advantage that the Windows Phone has over other phones is Xbox live exclusive capabilities. You are able to connect with your Xbox live friends through your phones internet service and play with your avatar. What you also get are a host of games developed by Microsoft’s xbox division. The Xbox 360 console through live has an extensive library of lower budget titles and puzzle games that feel very clunky with a controller and don’t look so great 20 feet away from your television games. Games like Hexic and Bejeweled fit this bill perfectly, and it is a relief to see these games ported to the correct media: Windows Phone. Giving eager game developers a new toy to play with is not only beneficial to the future of xbox live media on the console and phones, but it also gives consumers a plethora of great games to play when great battles against boredom are wanted to be waged. Another reason to love the live capabilities on the phone is because it can greatly enhance your gamerscore. Achievements are built into each Xbox Live game that once reached will actually update your gamer score to give you an edge over that guy who plays the single play on every game ever made. Microsoft has also promised that multiplayer gaming over xbox live will be supported on the Windows phone in the near future.

One bone that should be picked with the apps is its organization. The home screen with the live tiles works great, and there is no need for change in that department. However, not everything belongs on your home screen because not everything is as important as your most important contacts and email accounts. Where they are placed is very inefficient and is at the heart of why other phone operating systems are successful. The whole purpose of the iOS, for example, is to organize the applications very nicely and neatly over several screens (depending on how many apps you choose to have) where you may place your favorites on the front and your least favorites in the back; this is a very simple concept that works well. Microsoft is trying to distinguish themselves from the iOS’s by making an organization method that is much more userfriendly and beautiful. They did just that with the live tiles, as they work perfectly. However, the apps that don’t belong there are simply put into a list with everything your phone has to offer making things really hard to find at times. I don’t think that a switch should be made to conform to what consumers have already chosen as “the right way to do smartphones” is a good decision for Microsoft, as the live tiles are gold. However, I would argue that some changes could be made. First, there should be multiple screens of live tiles. Have a main screen for live tiles, a secondary screen for live tiles, a tertiary screen for live tiles, and so on. Once an item has been placed into a live tile screen, remove it from the additional applications list to help alleviate some of the clutter associated with this current system. Then allow one screen of additional apps that don’t really fit in with any of your live tile screens that follow the current alphabetical list system. This would be a more perfect system for organizing apps on our phone.

 

 

While great apps are few and far between, many consumers will be turned off by the windows phone. In the market today, for success, you need fast internet capabilities and great apps. The games are great, but not everyone is a gamer. I’m hopeful for the future of the app store, but until then, the windows phone will live and die by the double edged sword that is providing applications to a smart phone consumer base.

 

Zune

The remnants of the Zune players of old will forever live on in the Windows Phone OS as a great feature that will impress onlookers for as long as the iPod software remains as stale as it has been for years. The Zune of old took all the great features of a stand alone MP3 player and did one thing different: made it look beautiful. If you are a Zune fan, what you find within the Zune player may actually surprise you. Consider the home screen of the Zune HD. Music, videos, and radio – yes, those are all useful to find on the start screen. However, marketplace, apps, internet, and settings are found elsewhere on the phone. The marketplace gets you to the apps, and your apps can be stored just about anywhere you like. Internet is a live tile named “internet explorer,” and the settings are found elsewhere too. So for the Zune designers, they were looking at the same picture just with half of the colors. With this, the developers made some key changes that retains most of the Zune’s identity, while at the same time making it new.

Once you sync your phone to the Zune software on your computer, and open the Zune application on your phone, you arrive to an already familiar, yet abbreviated, Zune start screen. Instead of the deep black backdrop where white font sits beautifully over the darkness, you see a photo of the band you were listening to last instead. While this is great, not all band’s pictures look nice in the upright vertical screen position. You will not see the favorites and recent in the background similar to how the HD was set up, instead you see other sections lurking off to the sides begging you to swipe the screen to that direction. Swiping left to right brings you to the history page. The most recent album you had been listening to takes up most of the screen, taking up the space of about 4 live tiles. This is nice if you ever pause what you were listening to you because can’t miss it when you access the Zune again to find that song you were listening to. Below this are live-tile-sized album covers of other recently listened to items. Swipe once more, and you’ll come to another screen called “new.” This shows the most recently downloaded songs by their album covers and makes them ready for easy access. With the Mango update, this is compressed into one screen instead of two, which previously made finding that newly downloaded song extremely tedious and at times confusing. Once you hit the music button, all of the familiar music browsing options are available, and it is through this that Zune will never be forgotten.

One of my favorite features about the Zune was how you were able to change songs and adjust the volume by simply pressing the button on the side and swiping up and down for volume changes, and left and right for song changes. While different phones may vary, the one I am using has the rocker buttons that seem to be an industry standard. This is flawed, however, because you can only adjust the volume and is a step backwords as far as innovation is concerned. While listening to music, you may access the start screen and a small drop down at the top will appear displaying the artist and song title while providing options to pause or move left or right in your current playlist. The adjustment buttons are small and you only have a small window of opportunity to adjust your music selection based on how your phone is set up via the sleep timer.

In my opinion, the Zune is present, but it seems like an imposter. Yes, you can listen to music and watch videos, but it just doesn’t feel the same as the Zune HD I expected it to be like. I’m hoping that future updates will bring back more of the Zune’s identity and consider the usability and beauty with each innovation cycle instead of raw features. But in actuality, this is why this phone is referred to as “The Windows Phone” instead of the “Zune Phone.” Were it otherwise, many people would cry foul at the lie discerned in its title.

 

Messaging

Text messaging is one of the most used features on a phone nowadays. Windows Phone 7 satisfies this craving and does all the things that you’d expect right, but all the fancy stuff needs a bit of improvement. WP7 uses a really simple chat room style text message communication profile, that features word bubbles (minus the bubbles) in the color that you have chosen for your live tiles. Thanks to Mango, you can now tell the difference between the messages you have sent and the messages you have received as the outgoing messages are a few shades darker than the incoming messages. In the dark ages before Mango, I’d frequently get confused between who said what at times. When you touch the messaging live tile, you have two options at the top of your screen. The first, just as you’d expect despite the cryptic name, is threads, which is the actual meat and potatoes of the text messaging plate. The next is online, which when allowed, gives you the ability to communicate with friends via facebook chat. Here you can actually set your chat status (away, busy, available, etc.) and see who else is online so that you can bug them on the go. This is a great feature that I see having a lot of potential when lesser popular chatting mediums, such as google chat for gmail, is thrown into the mix.

The feature that needs most improvement is the voice texting feature. It seems to be extremely similar to the voice searching feature through bing, but I’ve learned that the way we utilize the two differ greatly. When we voice search, we have no problem concisely and clearly communicating the three or four key words that enhance our ability to actually stumble upon what we are looking for. When we try to have a conversation, especially one riddled with the grammatical shortcomings of text messaging, the voice texting feature is a complete failure. Another problem that I have with it is that it assumes you are done speaking very quickly. Again, throwing out 3 key words is simple and can be thought up very quickly thus beating the clock. However, when we are thinking of what we are saying as we go along, we communicate much too slowly for the phone to be satisfied. The phone allows you to hit the Go button or pause for a second or so. Needless to say, room for improvement in this department is necessary in order to keep up with the new features of the iPhone. The messaging feature works, and there is little need to improve up on it, but innovation is another key factor to drawing in more users and this is where the WP7 seems to fall especially short.

 

Final Word

The windows phone is an extremely well put together device that I expect will very soon rise to the top for its beauty in user friendly technology and innovation. Current lack of 4G capabilities (which are coming soon!) and a small application store are definitely detractors when juxtaposed with the likes of iPhone and Android. However, the Windows Phone seems to have a little extra hint of spunk, something that can’t necessarily be quantified or conveniently defined, that simply makes it stand out and want to be used. Microsoft is constantly trying to push newer and better ways accessing the technology that we use every day into newer and cooler devices through outstanding software that fits perfectly with great hardware. While it isn’t perfect, it’s certainly different. It is currently an underdog that, once given the chance to show what it can do, many people will be wanting to root for it. We will always find bugs and shortcomings in our devices just so long as we are human enough to form opinions about what we do and do not like. It is so important that before we put a pen to that paper for that two year contract to knock a hundred bucks off the phone we want, we make sure we choose the absolute best phone to serve us for that length of time. While your next phone might not be a Windows Phone, I strongly suggest you at least give it a try in the store before you sign your life away. As many people may find other options the better choice, the sheer potential that these Windows devices have represent the canvas upon which success and many happy smart phone users will be painted. Our devices can be as original as how we live our lives.