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.


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.