Windows Phone

10 things to love and hate about Windows Phone 7

As with most phone OSes, Windows Phone 7 has some good features as well as a few shortcomings. Deb Shinder takes a look at the pros and cons.

I've been playing with an HTC Surround running Windows Phone 7 for a few weeks now, and I've found a lot to love -- and hate -- about the new phone OS. Certainly, in comparison to the old Windows Mobile, it's a giant leap forward in many ways. But at the same time, it also lacks some features that WinMo fans take for granted and will hate to lose. In comparison to iOS and Android, the results are just as mixed. WP7 does some things better than its competitors, but there are other areas where it seriously lags behind. Hence, it was easy to come up with a list of 10 things to love and 10 things to hate (at least for the time being) about Windows Phone 7.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Love the polish; hate the MIAs

For version 1 software, the WP7 OS is extraordinarily polished and well presented. Unlike Android, it doesn't copy the iPhone interface in any way -- the innovation shines through. It's obvious that a lot of thought was put into the design, and despite the "flat" two-dimensional aspect of the tiles, the smooth, sophisticated animations provide plenty of eye candy.

But it's still a version 1, and that means there are some important features missing in action, which will presumably be added in later versions. The good news is that Microsoft seems bent on rolling out the updates quickly; according to reports, cut and paste will be coming in January and we hope to see multitasking follow soon after.

2: Love the tiled homescreen; hate that it's not more customizable

The homescreen tiles that update their information (Figure A) make for an intuitive, friendly, fast-to-use interface. You can create tiles for applications, individual contacts, and even Web pages. But if you pin lots of things to the homescreen (as I tend to do), you'll have a lot of vertical scrolling to do.

Figure A

The tiled interface is great, but it would be nice if you could customize it more.

With only two tiles per row and all that wasted space at the right underneath the right arrow button, your homescreen can get long and tall quickly. It would be nice to be able to adjust the tile size and put three on each row. You can rearrange their locations, but I'd like to be able to make some tiles double size (as the photo tile is) and to change the colors of individual tiles to make them stand out more. As it is, you can change only the theme color that applies to all tiles, although some apps -- such as Facebook and the weather app shown in the figure -- have their own custom tiles.

3: Love the microSD support; hate that it can't be removed/replaced

One of the things I hate about the iPhone/iPad is the lack of SD or microSD card support. That's also something that I love about Android -- I can increase my storage capacity by simply buying a bigger memory card and plugging it in. Of course, we had this ability long ago on Windows Mobile.

Early rumors said there would be no microSD slot on WP7 phones. Then we learned that at least some of the phones did have removable microSD cards -- except that you couldn't remove them. At first, the story was that you couldn't remove and replace the card without doing a factory reset and losing all your data. That was bad enough. But later it came out that the cards are different from other microSD cards, and if you put a regular card in, the phone will fry it.

The hope is that card vendors will eventually market these Windows Phone 7 compatible cards and we will be able to swap out the one that comes with the phone for one with a larger capacity.

4: Love the column style layout; hate that it doesn't extend to all of the apps

Many of the Windows Phone 7 apps use a columnar layout that's familiar to Zune users. For instance, in the Facebook app that's shown in Figure B, the Facebook newsfeed has columns for Most Recent, Top News, Photos, Links, and Videos. You can swipe sideways to filter the feed by those categories. Likewise, the Twitter app has columns for Timeline, Mentions, Messages, and Lists.

Figure B

The columnar layout is great -- but why isn't it used consistently for all built-in apps?

The only problem is that not all of the apps use this column approach.

5: Love the email client; hate that you have to access each mail account separately

Thanks in part to the columnar approach mentioned before, the built in Outlook client works nicely. I love that you have columns to filter your messages; you can view All, Unread, Flagged, or Urgent, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

The email client is one of the nicest and friendliest I've used.

The message content renders nicely (including HTML mail) and is very readable. It's easy to reply or forward a message or delete it. If you have many folders, you don't have to download all of them. I like this because although I filter my mail into many different folders using Exchange rules, there are only a few of those folders I want to access from my phone. On the iPad or Android, I have to scroll through the whole folders list to get to the ones I want. With Windows Phone 7, pushing the folders button shows me only the folders I've chosen to download before. If I want to see others, I press the Show All Folders link.

Google Mail and Hotmail accounts can also be filtered and folders accessed the same way. Unfortunately, though, there is no option for a unified Inbox where the mail from all your accounts can be viewed together.

6: Love the responsiveness of the onscreen keyboard; hate that it doesn't support Swype

I'm not a big fan of onscreen keyboards. Maybe that's because I'm used to typing 90 WPM or so on an ergonomic desktop keyboard and I hate the way the one-key-at-a-time method slows me down. The WP7 keyboard (Figure D) is very good -- for an onscreen keyboard. The keys are responsive and I make far fewer mistakes than when typing this way on my iPad or Android phone.

Figure D

The Windows Phone 7 keyboard is good -- for an onscreen keyboard -- but the omission of Swype was almost a deal breaker for me.

However, I fell in love with Swype when I got my Omnia II Windows Mobile phone and it's one thing I love about the Android phones. I can't enter text as fast on it as I can on a "real" keyboard, but I can go pretty darn fast. I don't understand why Microsoft didn't include Swype on the WP7 phones. For me, the omission of Swype was one of the biggest drawbacks to switching to Windows Phone 7. This is another case of having something I liked and used on my old Windows Mobile phone being taken away on WP7.

7: Love the responsiveness of the interface; hate the time it takes to load some apps

The WP7 interface is extremely fast and responsive to the touch, more so than most of the Android phones I've used and at least equivalent to the iPhone. Anyone who has dealt with the touch interface on a Windows Mobile phone is sure to be impressed. This makes navigation fast and easy.

But the time you don't spend waiting for the phone to respond to your touches is somewhat negated by the time you spend waiting for some apps to load. This is because of the omission of multitasking for third-party apps, which means they have to load each time you open them. I get annoyed at having to sit and wait for Facebook to load and open, or for the Web browser to open when I click a Web link. And no, it's not the AT&T network that's at fault; this happens using the phone in Wi-Fi mode on my network that has a 15 Mbps FiOS connection to the Internet.

I hate that the Vista/Windows 7 Mobile Device Center doesn't work with WP7. I could connect my Windows Mobile phone to my Windows 7 computer via USB, and through the WMDC, browse the phone's files like a drive. I can connect my Android phones to the computer via USB and they show up as a drive in Windows Explorer. I hate that Microsoft took away something so basic.

8: Love the convenience of the Marketplace; hate that you're forced to get your apps there

My first experience with the Apple App Store for my iPad convinced me that such a centralized repository is a great convenience for users, but it always left a bad taste in my mouth that Apple didn't allow you to download and install apps from other sources (unless you jailbroke the phone and voided your warranty). I like the Android Market better because it provides a place to easily get apps, but it doesn't try to monopolize that position; you can get apps outside the Market, as well.

The Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, shown in Figure E, works well. Apps are easy to find (perhaps because there aren't hundreds of thousands of them), and they download and install quickly without any problems.

Figure E

The Marketplace works fine, but I don't like being locked into it as the only place to get apps.

What I don't like is being locked into the Marketplace as the only source for WP7 apps. I much prefer the Android approach, which trusts users to decide for themselves what they want to install rather than allowing only those apps that have been approved by Microsoft. Soon after the launch, a group of developers released ChevronWP7 software that enabled users to install unapproved apps directly from their PCs -- but after a talk with Microsoft's Director of Developer Experience for Windows Phone 7, the developers announced that they were discontinuing the unlocking tool.

What does this mean? Apparently, Microsoft reps are at least open to discussing the possibility of officially opening the platform up to "homebrew" apps, in which case we would have one fewer thing to hate about it.

9: Love the social networking integration; hate the lack of control over what gets integrated

Social networking is all the rage today, and Microsoft recognized that and built it into Windows Phone 7. The People hub integrates your friends from social networks, such as Facebook and Windows Live, with your Outlook/Exchange, Hotmail, and Gmail contacts. It's a nice feature -- but it would be even nicer if the user were given some control over it.

For instance, I like having my Facebook friends show up in my contacts (People) list, but that doesn't mean I necessarily want the photos they post to show up in my Pictures app. Unfortunately, that's what I get. Other than that, the Pictures app, shown in Figure F, is pretty nifty.

Figure F

The Pictures app displays your photos nicely, but it also pulls in pictures from your friends' postings, which you might not want.

It would also be nice if more social networking services were integrated. Twitter and LinkedIn aren't; you can download apps for them, but their information doesn't show up in the People hub.

10: Love the business applications; hate the lack of tethering

Those who use their phones for business will be happy to have mobile versions of Microsoft Office apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- as well as excellent SharePoint integration. The Office apps aren't as full featured as I might wish, but you get spell check, you can change font colors, and once cut and paste is added, you'll be able to do a pretty adequate job of editing documents.

But there's a feature missing that many business users have become dependent upon: tethering, which allows you to connect another device, such as a laptop or tablet, to your phone's 3G Internet connection. Applications such as WMWiFiRouter let you do this with Windows Mobile, and many popular Android phones have the feature (called Mobile Hotspot) built in, although you have to pay an extra fee to the carrier to use it. Even with the $20 (Verizon) to $30 (Sprint) per month that the carriers charge for this feature, it can save you a lot of money if you travel frequently and are used to paying $10 to $15 per day to access airport and hotel Wi-Fi networks. I hate not having that option with a WP7 phone.

Summary

The above represent my own personal top 10 loves and hates in living for a while with a WP7 phone. Depending on how you use the phone, yours may vary. Gamers will love the Xbox Live integration, whereas those who do a lot of picture taking with their phones will probably hate that the camera settings don't seem to "stick." For instance, if you change the resolution so the photo file sizes won't be so large, after you close the camera app and reopen it, it's back to the highest resolution again -- at least on the phone I tested, and I've read others' reviews that mention this same thing.

As in any relationship, you have to take the bad with the good, and in the case of WP7 I think the good outweighs the bad, even in this first version. However, given Microsoft's past patterns, I expect v3 to be the point at which this phone becomes really awesome -- assuming the company stays committed to the platform.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

17 comments
Flickyflocky
Flickyflocky

Hi Debra, Nice article. We are working on solving issue #2 with the Pin To Start app. This app allows users to create custom live tiles and set shortcut for each. Check it out http://www.pintostart.com/. If MS did everything, there wouldn???t be a need for apps. MS also announced that Copy & Paste is coming in the next release. For #7, MS has announced that apps will load faster in the next OS release. Thanks

ChaseSmithProductivity
ChaseSmithProductivity

Howdy! On point 5 about a unified inbox, why not setup filters on your email accounts for information you absolutely want to receive via mobile and then have it go to either a pre-existing email or create a new one specifically for that. That way you would be able to have all your email accounts filtered into one that you can access. Sure it isn't perfect but it's not a bad solution until they address the issue, assuming they are interested in addressing it at all. Chase Smith http://www.chasingproductivity.com

devmgs
devmgs

I still feel having android as my choice rather than a wm7. It gives me more freedom and even allows me to develop my own programms which can fully integrate with the android services. And many off the appson market are free or add supported.

jchase520
jchase520

I started developing apps, and after finding out MS and Apple both charge $100 a year to develop apps on top of the fee's and percentages, I have decided I wont be developing apps for the iPhone and WP& either. Android and blackberry are the only ones that care about giving open source and indi develoeprs a fair chance to distribute there apps.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

One day Microsoft decided it wanted to be more like Apple. It may not look like an Apple product, but the way their business is being run is looking a lot more Apple like. The lock-in to the one Microsoft-approved market place for apps should be a clue. Developing apps for WP7 is actually more of a hassle than developing for the iPhone.

yobtaf
yobtaf

I'm a big iPhone fan and will probably never have person knowledge of a WP7device.But I'm always interested in knowing what is going on with the competition. That said, I would like to point out to any Trolls lurking in the shadow, how nice it is not to have any nasty comments that serve no purpose. I can't read any Apple articles that aren't polluted with hate trolling, Just saying.

ISeeYou
ISeeYou

The biggest problem with the Windows Phone 7 (and you'd better fix it soon if you want to take the biggest slice of toast) is to provide direct synchronization with Outlook (Contacts, calendars and tasks), and no longer bent on doing everything through of the cloud. They may have seemed a good idea to do so, but when in all forums claimed the option to sync with Outlook directly (without going through the cloud without exchange), when Android once had the same problem and after many claims to have solved the end of the phone manufacturers, strive to make the same mistake, and try to tell users how they should want to use your phone as a bit of an attitude is arrogant and unwise. Today, if you use Outlook, Windows Phone 7 is not a phone for you. Go to iPhone or Android.

blotto5
blotto5

ok so you had a little problem with the zune software that couldve been worked around if you had known more advanced features in the software, but thats no reason to just outright say having to sync through zune software is a pita. i can tell you that zune is way better than bloated itunes. my only gripe with it is that it doesnt sync everything on my phone like apps contacts and calendar if it did that i would be in love with my phone

Evil Magician
Evil Magician

It's unfinished. It's half-baked. Therefore you will spend years waiting for missing-in-action features to be fixed. You want HTML5 support? Windows Phone 7 gets that late in 2011. Other features may only get added in 2012. Why bother with this Windows Phone 7 bag of pain? Android and iPhone have those features now.

jdr_03
jdr_03

Are you serious? I downloaded the tools and was developing in less than an hour. The transition of development project to the market was extremely fluid. I don't know how easy it is for Apple's market, but if your app isn't close to being offensive and is correctly coded to follow the WP7 guidelines (perhaps standards is your issue?) then you can go from concept to market extremely quickly! Sure, the % cut MS takes sucks, but Apple does that to so how can that be the deciding factor between the two markets?

david.hunt
david.hunt

My data is my data and I don't want it in someone's "cloud", even transitionally as it moves from a phone to a PC. Mt HTC Desire syncs Contacts and Calendar with OutLook directly on my laptop via USB. That is what I want. It is a pity that Android / HTC have not yet achieved the level of synchronisation that Palm had :-( but then no smart phone manufacturer seems to understand the PDA requirement. Maybe it has to evolve all over again :-( I live in hope, but meanwhile have to write my own sync scripts or procedures for other data and apps. To me WP7 is just gasping for breath and will probably find some niche until MS finally give up. I cannot believe that today a new smartphone OS is released without Cut/Paste and multi-tasking. That's just base functionality! I've looked at the WP7 UI and tried it for a few minutes, but it just does not excite me. I like the "HTC Sense" UI on Android. It works well for me and allows me to group shortcuts and widgets to suit my use cases.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Once enterprise devices makers make it available on their devices, which can often take well over a year of testing once released, it will be popular for enterprise use. You have to remember, these enterprises are STILL using the latest PalmOS and Win Mobile 6.5 with 512MB devicesas nothing else meets their demands. They have no desire or need for 18GB music and game toys. There's a huge market on the higher end for Win7 that iOS and Android have yet to even begin being considered for due to their limited capabilities. Android and iOS don't even BEGIN to have the most basic features many enerprises need.

gak
gak

Microsoft is giving away (pushing into everyone's hands?) development tools for Windows Phone 7 and there are no complaints that it is hard to test on a real phone. If it is easy to install your own app, it is equally easy to install everything else. It looks like Microsoft is protecting brain dead users from malicious developers, that is, doing a good thing (for the sake of variety, I guess). Apparently the "hackers" agreed with that. The app store does not look like a lock-in to me. It looks identical to what I have with Linux - either install what is in your distribution repository quick and easy or do at least SOMETHING yourself.

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

I wonder how much of the "I love the UI" that I hear (from some people - though there are others who say the opposite) is due to the human tendency to enjoy anything new? Not trolling, just curious. E.g., after having lived with it for a while (like, months, not a weeks), will the tiled home page really seem that much better than the iOS or Android UI?

fybcdave
fybcdave

The best part of Windows Mobile was the stylus data entry option. I don't like any typing input on a mobile phone. Text recognition was better than typing, especially when taking meeting notes and having them "readable" and distributable at the end of a meeting (try that on an iPhone?) Without text or voice recognition, the difference becomes questionable between platforms. Since my phone carried Office files when I was away from the laptop, that was the only other advantage, for file compatibility. Anyone else feel that this is a serious step backwards for MS?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

In order to tackle the Enterprise device marketplace, Janam, Symbol and others will create a touch system, just as they always have. It takes a long time to clear intricsincally safe standards, medical standards etc. though. They still use operating systems that many don't realize still exist, as everything else just doesn't meet industry demnands for retail, education, medical, petrochemical, manufacturing, federal government and related applications. You aren't about to see iOS or Android used in an oil field! :D Once manufacturers get the approval/go ahead, touch interfaces, handwriting recognition etc will be seen also. Man I love those tools, nothing better than writing in my own handwriting or sketching on the screen and having it converted to true type and line drawings to become a printable PDF ready to send. It's an a massive marketplace that so many IT guys stil don't even recognize as even existing. These devices usually skip right by IT department approval though, they are usually just given the devices to connect and maintain once they are bought.

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