My one-year check-in with my Windows Phone 7
It’s been almost a year since I bit the Windows Phone 7 bullet and put my iPhone 3G away. As a long-time Mac fan (our house is nothing but Macs) I wasn’t sure I’d last…
Contact & calendar management
Contact and calendar management is truly awesome as I wrote about previously. With the latest mango release Twitter and LinkedIn get brought into this unified system and messages that start with a text message can switch in and out of Facebook and Live Messenger as available.
What has this meant? Over the last year I’ve barely had to maintain contacts. Whenever I need to get hold of someone the information is there. If I want to see what they’re doing, it’s there. You can pin people to your start menu so having it automatically pick up a photo from a service is another bonus.
My Windows Phone is better for this than any other system I’ve used including my desktops.
Gorgeous user interface
The metro user interface is beautiful to use. It’s clear, fluid and fast and makes using the phone a breeze. You can see why Microsoft are adopting a similar user interface for their upcoming Xbox dashboard and seeing how far they can push the concept in Windows 8.
Such a bright fast user interface works best on the AMOLED displays such as that on the Focus – the LCD refresh rates on the HD7 for example seem to struggle with scrolling resulting in a shimmering on the screen.
- Maps now includes both turn-by-turn directions (although you have to tap the screen after each one) and a useful Scout function that shows you nearby places to eat and visit.
- Multitasking is a breeze, just double-tap the back button and visually pick the image showing the app you want to switch to. Not all apps support this yet but it’s getting better.
- Voice has been underplayed – it’s like a mini Siri that can do a few things by voice activation such as calling people, finding places with Bing, opening applications and sending text messages. Just hold the Windows key to activate and speak :)
- Power saver is a life-saver and something that Apple should be copying given recent iOS battery issues. It turns off wireless, email checking etc. either when you know battery is going or automatically when low and gets you through the tough spots.
- Background music means not only can you play music in background with the built-in Zune stuff but even third party apps like Spotify can too! The controls and track names will appear on the lock screen and slide in anywhere you adjust the volume.
Having a choice of hardware is great – you can pick the screen size (from 3.5″ to 4.7″), type, speed (1GHz to 1.5GHz) and specifications including slide-out keyboards, microSD expansion slots, a waterproof model and up to a 13.2 megapixel camera.
The negative side of having choice is that all the devices I’ve used have a combination of matt and shiny plastics none of which have the same quality feeling as the iPhone 4’s aluminum and glass. The LCD displays and the Super AMOLED with it’s PenTile display also don’t look as gorgeous as the iPhone retina display and has a sort of dithered effect with some solid colors when viewed closely.
Here’s hoping the Nokia Lumia 800 raises the bar.
Most favorite apps available
The thing that really made the iPhone were apps. The good news is the best ones are also on Windows Phone 7 too often making better use of the display through the metro style they adopt.
There are of course many extra great applications and games available in the marketplace and games usually count towards your Xbox LIVE gamerscore :)
Some notable omissions still exist including Pandora (can play on the site though) and Skype (only a matter of time given Microsoft’s acquisition).
Some cool extras
- Calendar can skip between months and years in month mode – just tap the month for a selector
- Calculator can turn into a scientific one when rotated left and a programmer one when rotated right
You can also check and tweak all sorts of settings via the diagnostic options.
Microsoft’s extra free apps
Microsoft put together a bunch of slick small free apps that perfectly complement the metro style look and feel. They include:
- World Clock – Lets you setup a number of clocks around the world. Useful if you often converse with people in other time zones.
- Tranlsator – Text translation tool that also pronounces translations between English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
- Weather – Simple and convenient weather application that supports multiple locations.
- Unit Converter – Translate between various lengths, areas, volume, capacity etc.
- Stocks – Keep track of your stocks and the indexes.
- Shopping List – Simple shopping list management.
The niggley bits
While most of the WP7 experience is great there are some rough edges that even Mango hasn’t yet sorted out.
Overly sensitive buttons
It’s actually great having a back button and prevents wasting screen on a back button like iOS does. The problem however is that both the back and search buttons are overly sensitive. It’s difficult to hold the phone in one hand and use it without your thumb hitting the pesky back button. It’s unfortunately something even the Xbox 360 slim picked up with the eject mechanism which is suitably annoying when putting away a controller.
Microsoft should add code to limit button presses to a distinct no-touch, touch for 0.4s, no-touch process.
For some reason the phone has only one volume control that is shared by both applications and the ring-tone so if you’re the sort of person who like your phone low and your music loud you’re going to be constantly shifting back-and-forth and in my case that results in either embarrassing rings when it should be silent and silent rings when it should be working.
The volume control needs to be context sensitive. When in an app or the background music player is active adjust the audio volume otherwise adjust ringer volume.
There’s no sound equalizer settings so if you don’t like the sound coming from your speakers or headphones you’re stuck with it.
Build in a system-wide equalizer that at least affects the background music player.