Three weeks with Windows Phone 7 – a Mac users perspective
It’s been a few weeks since I took up Microsoft’s employee offer of a free Windows Phone 7 (when you renew a 2 year contract) and combined it with AT&T’s offer of buy-one-get-one-free for my wife.
So how have things been going?
Compared to the iPhone 3G the Focus is much more comfortable.
The larger screen size means a wider and taller phone but with less surround it’s not unwieldy – far from it. In fact the phone sits far more comfortably in my hand than the iPhone did. This is partly because it’s a better match for the size of my hand, partly because it’s a little lighter but mostly I think because the bevel is a lot more subtle and less steep and awkward than the iPhone’s shiny-pebble inspired design.
On the flip side it does look and feel a little cheaper and less solid but a small part of that is because the back of the phone flips off like many other allowing you access to the battery, sim and memory expansion slot. The dedicated back and home buttons below the screen help keep the display clear of chrome and give the apps the space they need.
The major disappointment for me here is the screen. While it is very bright and has great contrast if, like me, you hold it rather close to your face you can see a dithering pattern caused by the unusual LED subpixel arrangement called PenTile on every colour except green. I’ve learnt to hold it a little father away as the text rendering is very nice otherwise but compared to a friends iPhone 4 the screen is a letdown.
Until you’ve used the Zune-inspired interface (part of an overall design strategy called Metro) it’s a little hard to put it into words. Static screenshots certainly don’t do it justice as it’s all about movement and flow in a way other devices aren’t.
Starting from a tiled home page that gives you a peek into your mail, messages, people and games through a gorgeous combination of animation, text and imagery that keeps the page feeling fresh and alive – a spirit that is carried through the rest of the device – not just with the built-in screens and features but also into many third-party apps (more on that soon).
In a way it feels like a window onto a bigger world behind it instead of a subset of that world crammed onto a small screen. It’s like the difference between a mobile web browser that scales in and out on a whole page versus a mobile-optimized page that lacks detail and finesse.
As many will know my wife and I are primarily based on Apple technology but even after a week with the Focus my wife announced (with a slightly sad face) that her iPhone 3GS felt old – even with iOS 4.1 on it. I have to admit the same feeling. Sure the iPhone is cure but the icon-and-list approach with the odd red circle to indicate some activity now lacks engagement.
Part of Microsoft’s advertising campaign has been the get-in-get-out approach and the home page and email works really well here. So much so that it’s broken my 3 year ritual almost instantly in that I now check my email on my phone each morning when I get up instead of using the laptop to do the same. If I can find a good Google Reader app then the laptop might not open until I get to work.
I had an initial worry when I first turned it on as there were a bunch of AT&T applications and tiles installed however it let me remove all the ones I don’t want or use (e.g. U-Verse) Score +1 for consumers over providers :)
I’m in a minority among friends as I actually like iTunes. It sorts, it plays, it lets me get audiobooks, podcasts and legal music quick and fast. I’ve also used it to rip a fair number of my own tracks from CD and bolstered my collection with tracks from Amazon MP3 sometimes (like their $3.99 Tron: Legacy deal). Sure I wish it allowed plug-ins for different music formats – I have a soft spot for chipmusic – but apart from that it’s been quite pain free.
iTunes however only likes to play with iPods, iPads and iPhones. Other companies have hooked their devices in unofficially in the past and Apple have been sure to quickly break it.
Thankfully Microsoft haven’t let the Mac fans out in the cold and provide the Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac.
The software does an okay job at sending music and videos from your iTunes library over to your USB connected phone although obviously DRM-protected content isn’t going to work.
What was disappointing however is even “Purchased music” from iTunes won’t actually play on the Windows Phone even though it syncs. I’m assuming this is a bug as there isn’t any DRM here (that is marked “Protected music”) and the file format is Dolby’s own AAC not Apple’s so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work.
It also won’t sync your Mac’s Address Book and Calendar’s directly however there is a way to do this quite easily indirectly – see below.
Enter your Facebook name and password and it will fill your contacts from Facebook with each getting their own ‘what’s new’ etc. Like most people this isn’t exactly what I want but I took the opportunity to prune 100 people I never speak to – an option also exists to only supplement existing contacts on the phone with their Facebook pictures and feeds.
It also helpfully pulled in my Gmail contacts and in the cases where I have a contact card in GMail for somebody on Facebook did a good job of joining them up. Some it seems were automatic possibly based on email addresses and full names. Others had recommendation when I went to join that were always correct and in a handful of cases I just had to tell it which ones to join up manually because they had changed their name on Facebook.
In some cases I merged three cards for a single person – their semi-public Facebook profile and photo, their private telephone numbers from GMail and their semi-public Windows Live details for messenger and Xbox.
Finally I added my Outlook/Exchange account – all worked flawlessly and for each account you get to choose whether to bring in contacts and calendars and in most cases mail (but not for Facebook).
The result of all this is that my phone is now the best contact list I have on any device. It combines them beautifully in a way no other device I’ve owned has and not once in the three weeks since I set it up has it got confused, lost details or had sync problems.
Very sweet… unless of course your primary contact information is your Mac’s Address Book as any Mac-owning iPhone owners will be.
Getting Address Book contacts onto Windows Phone
Please forgive the SEO-tuned heading but I didn’t find any useful information online and want to share this simple technique with others :)
You’ll need a GMail account to make this work (it also works with Google Apps for Domains too), simply:
- Copy any important details from your GMail contacts manually into Address Book if you need to
- Wipe out your GMail contacts (you could always backup with Export first if you want but don’t re-import)
- Open the Address Book application and head into Preferences
- Choose the option to sync “On My Mac” with Google and hit configure to enter your GMail details
- Delete the GMail profile from your Windows Phone 7 and then re-add it (otherwise it won’t sync phone numbers)
This means you’ll have your Mac contacts at your fingertip in GMail so make sure your GMail account has a secure password and follow their steps to ensure your account is well protected.
Reception & call quality
I was nervous about getting back into bed with AT&T for another two years. I need coverage at work and home as I don’t have a dedicated phone at either location and many times AT&T had left me with only a single bar to get by.
I am somewhat confused that I get 3-4 bars on the Samsung Focus in both locations and I’ve yet to have the chopping up or disconnecting of calls that I attributed to AT&T when using my iPhone 3G. Stranger still is that when I have had 1 bar (one place in my apartment) I am actually still able to make calls without it cutting out or dropping. My iPhone taught me never to try with 1 bar…
Visual voicemail is gone as I guess that was an Apple exclusive but I’ve only had a handful of voicemail messages over the last 2 years so I doubt i’ll miss it.
The camera seems pretty good and has some HDR and anti-shake options as standard as well as limited bunch of image effects. It also does video but I haven’t tried that yet.
You sign into this with your Xbox LIVE credentials and once you’re there it’s not a far off experience from the iTunes store except that it has a lot less apps. While it’s good you don’t have to wade through so much junk to find good stuff there are some omissions too like Hulu and for many people they’ll be missing Angry Birds and their favorite games and apps. I also haven’t found a good Windows Phone-like navigation app although the built-in Bing app is no worse than the Google Maps app on the iPhone that occasionally gave me nonsensical (drive into the ocean) or wrong directions (Seattle hotel being off by 2 blocks).
On the plus side some favourite sites have their own apps and they have fully embraced the metro user interface to provide a great experience – these include IMDB, eBay, Facebook, Twitter.
The bad side here is that the marketplace you’ll be presented with is the one your Xbox LIVE account is associated with and once you’ve set-up your phone YOU CAN’T CHANGE IT!
For me this means I can’t get Netflix on my device as my Xbox account is set to USA. Previously Xbox didn’t let you change your country but recently introduced a facility to let you migrate your account to one of several new countries they now support. I’m hopeful they’ll let more general country changes next year as I’m not giving up my 8800 gamer score and cool gamertag (damieng) without a fight.
There are a whole bunch of extra things I haven’t covered here including the Bing maps, Office docs, Xbox LIVE, Zune and the various apps. I’ll either update this article or post another :)
I haven’t switched my iPhone on in three weeks. There are a few apps I do miss but they’re also on my iPad.