Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Windows Phone 7 Review (From An iPhone User)

So I had a little extra money lying around recently after doing some side projects and thought I would invest in a new phone. After reading a lot about Windows Phone 7 (and using some of the demo models at the AT&T store), I thought I would give it a try. I ended up buying a Samsung Focus off eBay which keeps my AT&T upgrade eligibility in tact just in case Windows Phone 7 is not for me. After spending about a week with the phone, I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised at how well it works.

Let me start off by saying that I'm a long time iPhone guy. The iPhone was the first smartphone I ever considered investing in. I had seen the Windows Mobile and Blackberry phones of the time but was never impressed enough to purchase one. Before the iPhone, I would carry around my Nokia flip phone and iPod everywhere I went. When I bought my iPhone 2G in March 2008, it was the first time that I had one device that met all of my needs. Since that time, many competitors such as Palm and Android (Google) have entered the market promising to deliver a similar experience. Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's attempt to succeed in this market.

When you first see Windows Phone 7 you'll immediately notice that the interface looks much different than most of the other touchscreen phones on the market. Windows Phone 7 does away with standard icons in favor of live tiles. Live tiles are larger than icons which allows for information to be displayed without having to open the app. Most apps use these live tiles in a similar manner to the red number circle that you get on the iPhone when the app has a notification for you. Some apps are a bit more creative with this space. A good example of this is an app called SportsScores which allows you to display the current scores of your 2 favorite professional sports teams in the live tile. Another example is the calendar app which shows your most recent upcoming appointment. Overall I find that I like the live tiles more than the standard icons I had on my iPhone.

When I was playing with the demo units at the AT&T store, I didn't notice any sort of speed difference between Windows Phone 7 and the iPhone. After using it on a regular basis, however, I can now say that Windows Phone 7 (or at least the Samsung Focus) is faster! At first I thought it might just be the fact that it's still new to me but then I found this neat video on YouTube. Even though this is a time lapse video, the blog that I got it from mentioned that the iPhone 4 took 10 seconds longer to compete the same tasks.


You will notice that a lot of the speed difference in this video comes from the Facebook and Bing integration which helps tremendously with posting the status and getting the movie times. Even without those features, I still feel like I can get the same tasks done faster with Windows Phone 7.

While we're on the subject, the integration of Facebook into Windows Phone 7 is just outstanding. It seamlessly syncs your Facebook status updates, contacts and photos into hubs that are built in to the operating system. This basically makes the dedicated Facebook app obsolete (even though there is one available if you wish to download it). The People hub contains all of your contacts and status updates. This hub allows you to do all of the things that you would do on Facebook such as updating your status, reading your friend's status updates and commenting on what they have to say. All of your Facebook photo albums get added to the Pictures hub so that you can easily share them with others. Windows Phone 7 also allows you to directly upload pictures from the camera to Facebook without going to a separate app. If you're the type of person that just uses your phone for making calls, texting and checking Facebook then Windows Phone 7 might just be the perfect phone for you.

Speaking of the camera, all Windows Phone 7 models sport a 5 megapixel camera with flash. The camera seems better than the iPhone 4 camera if only by a little bit. The real difference is the dedicated camera button on the side of the phone that takes you immediately to the camera app. I'm sure many of you have had a least one experience of trying to take a picture with your iPhone only to "lose the moment" because you we're fumbling around trying to find the camera icon on your home screen. The inclusion of the camera button makes taking pictures a snap (no pun intended) and ensures that you will be able to capture those moments when they happen. Here's a Windows Phone 7 commercial that gives you an idea of how it works.


Another ingenious feature of Windows Phone 7 is the Xbox Live integration. If you're a Xbox 360 gamer like me, the platform allows you to import your account and earn achievements/gamerscore points on the phone just as if you were playing on your console. You can also modify your avatar, check the online status of your friends and send messages thanks to a free app from Microsoft called Xbox LIVE Extras which plugs directly into the Games hub. Microsoft has already released some exclusive Windows Phone 7 games (such as Hydro Thunder Go) and I'm sure that there are many more to come. Of course, this feature is really only important if you currently have a Xbox Live account or if you plan on buying a Xbox 360 at some point in the future.

Of course, there are some features that I miss about the iPhone since moving to Windows Phone 7. The biggest feature is the App Store selection. Apple's mantra of "there's an app for that" could not be more true. While you will find most of the major apps on Windows Phone 7, the platform is still fairly new and has not had the time to build up the same following as the iPhone. Some of the notable missing apps are MLB At Bat (especially during this time of the year) and Angry Birds. I'm sure that these apps will get converted at some point but the fact that they're not available now is disappointing.

Update (12/20/2011): Since the release of this article, both the MLB At Bat and Angry Birds apps have been added to the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Windows Phone 7 also lacks some of the same streaming and play options of the iPhone. For example, it's easy to find streaming video of live press conferences in iPhone format but almost impossible to find them in Windows Phone 7 format. The iPhone also gives you the ability to move forward or backwards in tracks by "scrubbing" to the point that you want. In Windows Phone 7, you must hold down the forward or backward buttons and release when the pointer gets to the spot you want. This is a minor difference but that doesn't make it any less annoying to me. Many of you might not use the 2x play option on the iPhone but I find it extremely handy for moving through podcasts while still listening to the content. Unfortunately this is not a feature that Windows Phone 7 has adopted yet.

My last few missing features are minor but should still be noted. Windows Phone 7 does not have a dedicated ringer on/off button like the iPhone. This is not a big deal for me as I generally leave my phone on silent but it could be a big deal for some. Windows Phone 7 also does not have a visual voicemail interface. There is a voicemail button that you can click that will take you to the AT&T voicemail menu but it just seems archaic compared to the nice visual presentation that you find on the iPhone. I've heard that this feature is an Apple exclusive but it's definitely something that should be ported to ALL smartphones. Another point, some apps on the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace also seem a little bit more expensive than their Apple App Store counterparts. For example, Fruit Ninja is $0.99 on the App Store but $2.99 on the Marketplace. This could be caused by the Xbox Live integration but it still seems a little shady to me.

Overall I'm more satisfied with Windows Phone 7 than I thought I would be. While it doesn't have all the features of the iPhone, the ones that are available are implemented well. With the Mango update coming for Windows Phone 7 this fall, Microsoft will be adding multitasking, more social networking support and a slew of other features that should make the platform a very appealing competitor to the iPhone. If you're in the market to buy a smartphone, give Windows Phone 7 a try. You might just be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

- Live Tiles
- Fast!
- Camera Button
- Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Integration
- Xbox Live Integration

- Lack of Apps & Games (MLB At Bat, Angry Birds)
- Lack of Streaming/Play Options
- No Dedicated Ringer On/Off Button
- No Visual Voicemail Interface
- Higher App Pricing


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