Windows Phone 7 Review round-up

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Thinking about investing in a Windows Phone 7 handset? Not sure what the fuss is all about? What Mobile has reviewed all five handsets and given an outline of WP7 in one go.

(First printed in the December 2010 issue of What Mobile)

At first glance, Windows Phone 7 may not look that enticing, especially when you’ve possibly got bad memories of Windows Mobile.

However, What Mobile can say that it’s definitely something you need to try out. If Microsoft has taken the time to scrap everything and start over, it’s only fair to give it a chance.

Even before you start to look at the features, apps or games, you must understand the ‘Start’ screen. This is the gateway to everything on your phone, and it’s this part of the phone that will allow you to get the most from the handset.

From the screen images, it doesn’t look like much more than a menu made up of tiles. However, these tiles are incredibly powerful tools giving you instant access to media, apps, galleries, albums, individual friends and web pages. Application developers can also create their own tiles to go with their apps, giving at-a-glance information in much the same way as a widget on an Android or Nokia homescreen.

As you navigate around the menus and ‘hubs’ , you can choose things to pin to the start menu – just like using Windows 7 on a PC.

What’s more, even though there are five phones to choose from (and we’ve reviewed them all), each must confirm to a minimum specification,
known as a ‘chassis spec’. In the coming months, Microsoft will create a number of specifications, including low-end models and tablets. For now, the chassis spec in use requires the use of a 1GHz application processor, 480×800 pixel capacitive touchscreen, at least 8GB of internal storage space, plus the usual features on smartphones like GPS and Wi-Fi.

Another useful feature that is a requirement on all Windows Phone devices is the quick-start camera. Even when locked, every phone must be able to fire up the camera in under five seconds by holding down the camera button. This means no more fiddling around with unlocking and PIN code entries to take a picture (although a locked phone will only take photos, not allow you to view them).

This does mean that Windows Phone 7 models won’t be selling this Christmas around the £100 mark, but it ensures a level of quality control that would be envied by Google, having seen Android being rolled out on devices across the board.

Making things simple

Microsoft had a simple aim when it started working on Windows Phone: keep things simple. This is reflected in all of its applications. You won’t find loads of icons that you need to recognise and remember, but rather the use of different colours. Gestures and pressing in certain places on the screen will access shortcuts that, once mastered, will work throughout the phone – and hopefully on third party apps too.

Keeping things under control

Apple has proved that a level of control can be good for the overall user experience, even if it has many detractors who prefer openness (and have probably jumped ship to Android). Microsoft is somewhere in the middle, allowing people the freedom to develop and release apps, but putting some restrictions on how they should look. Microsoft also restricts multitasking support too, reserving it primarily for its own applications, while cut and paste won’t arrive until early 2011.

There’s also no ability to drag and drop files to a Windows Phone via USB, due in part to the file structurer of the internal memory. Instead, you must sync your content (pictures, videos, music etc) via the supplied software on your PC, or the beta-release software for the Mac (which syncs using iTunes and iPhoto).

Windows Hubs explained

Marking a big difference to how other smartphones operate are the Hubs, which separate individual tasks on your phone in a logical manner. It’s what makes Windows Phone so unique.

Office: This lets you edit and view documents and sync content ‘in the cloud’ with your Windows LIVE SkyDrive.

Games: In conjunction with Xbox LIVE, this hub manages your games, avatar, scores and contact with other players.

Music + Video: Bringing Zune to your mobile, you can access online music, FM radio and manage video. Content can be synced via your PC or Mac, or downloaded wirelessly over 3G or Wi-Fi.

Pictures: View the photos you’ve taken, synced from your home computer or the latest albums on Facebook.

People: Perhaps the most important hub of all, People will bring your contacts together from a range of sources, including social media updates and photos. Besides having a simple way to update your own social networking feeds, you can easily select any contact and view what they are doing. With a simple ‘pin to Start’ selection, you can then keep up to date from the Start screen.

Marketplace: Windows Mobile never really had many apps, and many were grossly overpriced. It didn’t inspire confidence in Windows Phone 7 getting the big name apps, but it is happening – and quickly too. The Marketplace app store has now exceeded 2,000 apps in a very short space of time and is growing rapidly, including a decent choice of Xbox LIVE games.

Anything purchased on one Windows Phone device can be accessed on another when you use the same Windows LIVE account. While you may not be planning to own two handsets, this will become a useful feature when we see tablets appearing in 2011.

The Windows Phone 7 handsets reviewed