Gadget reviewing is a funny business. Here I am about to write about something that has been covered extensively by full-time bloggers on other sites. Thorough just doesn’t begin to describe Engadget’s Windows Phone 7 review, so if that gives you a gut full of TL;DR, try Gizmodo’s quick points. Perhaps try this review on MobileCrunch if you want a middle-ground.
So what I’m going to do is pull out a few interesting points from those reviews, talk about the HTC 7 Trophy specifically, then cover some deep technical stuff that I’ve been discovering as a WP7 developer. I’m also open to any questions you might have about Windows Phone 7 or the Trophy itself.
Disclaimer: I have been loaned an HTC 7 Trophy by Vodafone and Microsoft. I develop software for WP7, iPhone and Android.
Reviewing the Reviews
Here’s some salient points from the epic reviews of Windows Phone 7:
- Stuff is missing. Engadget puts it best when they say “Microsoft has definitely laid the foundation for the next several years of its mobile play. Now it’s time to get the upper floors finished.” Extending their analogy, it’s like a half-finished shopping mall: what’s there is perfect in every way, the floors are polished, the toilets working and the plastic plants are shiny. But occasionally you come up against a wall of wooden panels blocking your way into the food hall that hasn’t been completed.
- MobileCrunch says WP7 passes the girlfriend test. This means it looks and feels good to non-geeks. Non-geeks are people who have no idea if or when their phone is “multitasking”. They have never felt the need to copy a URL into a Twitter message. This is a very, very important fact; the ratio of non-geeks to geeks is approximately infinite.
- Gizmodo says “Windows Phone 7 is the most aggressively different, fresh approach to a phone interface since the iPhone”. I agree. The similarities to the first iPhone are striking – the same shortcomings, and the same praise of a revolutionary and responsive OS.
To those points I’d add this: since the iPhone came out, several things have changed for me personally. Firstly, I stopped obsessively comparing reviews, and visiting phone stores looking for a phone that was slightly better than my Sony Ericsson or Nokia “smart” phone. I also became ultra-picky about the way each phone I reviewed behaved. I’d scroll the menus and lists up and down, looking for lag and juddering. Every phone that wasn’t an iPhone would do this. Windows Phone 7 doesn’t. It is the first phone OS that is as responsive and buttery-smooth as the iPhone.
The HTC 7 Trophy
As of writing, the only phone we can buy in New Zealand is the HTC 7 Trophy from Vodafone. It’s a phone that has a clear lineage back to the Google Nexus One via the HTC Desire. It has the standard 1GHz WP7 processor, and all the accoutrements you’d expect from a smartphone (GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth). A sometimes overlooked feature of Windows Phone 7 is the FM radio present in every phone.
The three compulsory Windows Phone 7 buttons are under the main screen glass, just below the 3.8” 480×800 display. The buttons are “soft” buttons (rather than physical clicky buttons), and give a wee haptic buzz when pressed. The soft buttons make the face of the phone very clean, but at times these buttons are hard to differentiate from the on-screen application bar present in some apps.
Battery life is iPhone-class, rather than Nokia feature-phone-class. If you’re using the phone non-stop for calls, WiFi, videos, etc. you’ll need to be charging every night, and possibly even jacking in to a USB port during the day.
There’s one minor “but” about this device: the HTC 7 Trophy has an occasional judder when scrolling. Something barely noticeable that wasn’t present in the prototype phones I used, nor any other WP7 device I’ve seen. It’s something that friends (who also have the HTC 7 Trophy) and I are trying to get to the bottom of. Our current theory is that it may relate to low battery charge. But then again the battery in my Trophy is currently below 30% and there is no juddering whatsoever. This is peculiar, and I’d love to hear from other Trophy owners if they’ve seen anything similar.
Tiny (and really, it is a curiosity more than an issue) niggle aside, the Trophy is well built, feels great in the hand, and performs outstandingly well.
Lock and Load
Since around August, I’ve been on one of the Microsoft “TAP” programs for WP7 developers. This is similar to the Apple developer program where iPhone developers get access to iOS beta versions before the rest of the population. What I saw there was that the functionality of the WP7 OS was locked in stone months before public release. Since then, the OS has become incredibly stable and fast.
It’s my belief (I’m guessing here), that Microsoft have branched a long time ago into the next release that will contain copy-and-paste (among other features), while spending time making the core OS utterly bug-free. This also explains how Engadget and others have seen a working version of copy-and-paste on Microsoft devices.
Overall, I like this approach. It gives me confidence.
There are two classes of Windows Phone 7 developers. I’m not talking about Silverlight and XNA. I’m talking about regular 3rd party developers versus carriers and OEMs. As a “regular” developer, I have access to a subset of APIs that lack (among other things) raw network sockets, and access to the camera stream. HTC on the other hand, have some sort of special development framework that allows them to do things like build a flashlight app that enables the xenon flash on the Trophy.
While annoying, I’d hazard a guess that this is one of the concessions Microsoft is making to pacify OEMs who would normally expect to customise the buggery out of their devices. My hope is these lower-level APIs will be eventually opened to regular developers, in the same way portions of the iPhone API have been progressively enabled.
Good and OK
There are also two classes of app turning up in the marketplace. On the one hand you have apps whipped up with little thought by developers out for a fast buck. Then you have apps that have been built with care and attention, a focus on performance, and great design that fits with the Windows Phone 7 Metro language. This is no different to the iPhone and Android world, but I’d warn you to read reviews and use the “Trial” option before parting with your cash.
For me, having Windows Phone 7 on a “real” device is a milestone. It’s the culmination of months of anticipation, putting up with a frankly butt-ugly prototype device, and wondering if the production devices would be significantly better than prototypes. They are. Apps run smoothly, and network performance in particular is greatly improved on the Trophy production device.
I’m excited that we have another player in the smartphone space. Competition is good. I’m also buoyed by the attention Microsoft has paid to the tiniest details of touch response and UI flow. If you’re a geek that needs multitasking and copy-paste, wait. If you live in an Apple ecosystem, get an iPhone. If you want ultimate control over your device (well, sometimes) get an Android. If you want a stable, fast, responsive OS with a great catalog of apps and games, deep Facebook integration, and a completely fresh look, get a Windows Phone.