Fanboy, while poorly defined, is probably the most common among the many pejoratives flung my way by coprophagous internet monkeys. Despite my teflon exterior, some of that shit sticks, yo. In pursuit of some balance, I’ve lent a Windows Phone 7 device to Dylan Reeve. You may have heard him as a guest on New Zealand’s best podcast, or via his A Social Video project. Dylan is a fellow tech geek, but doesn’t really hold a phone preference. Forced at gunpoint, he’d probably admit to batting for the Android team.
Once I get the phone back from Dylan, I’m going to find a less geeky subject to join us on the precarious see-saw of internet opinion, because God knows you’ll only be happy when I’m suspended in mid-air, unable to climb down for fear of injuring the poor delicate Android users on the other end.
Without further dalliance, let me hand over to Dylan, unedited and unabridged:
My smartphone experience is a little different to many others – I started with a Nokia 5800, then moved through two Android phones in reasonably quick succession. My main phone now is a Samsung Galaxy i5503, which is a entry-level Android 2.1 phone.
So with that in mind I’ve been an interested observer of Windows Phone 7, and was happy to spend a little while rocking the LG Optimus 7Q. What follows are my thoughts about the phone, itself, Windows Phone 7 and, unavoidably, my comparison of it to the Android and Symbian phones I’ve been used to.
My very first impression of this phone upon using it seriously was that it’s heavy, and pretty big compared to my current small phone. It’s also well engineered – despite having a sliding keyboard it feels solid and well built.
I’d have to characterise my overall Windows Phone 7 experience as frustrating. I like many aspect of the concept of the operating system, but in practice there were many things that annoyed me.
So first, we’ll start with what I do like (some of this will also be revisited in the “don’t like” section)
- User Interface – The overall Windows Phone 7 UI is consistent and uses common gestures and concepts throughout, this even extends into many of the apps.
- Design Concept – WP7 has a bold design. Square, two-colour, large strong sans-serif fonts. I like the way it looks.
- Good Core Applications – The built-in apps such as email, browser, calendar, messaging are all well designed and easy to use. I felt no need to seek alternatives.
- Dedicated Buttons – I hate Apple’s anti-button ethos, using the iPad annoys the hell out of me for having just one useful button! The WP7 back button is especially welcome. Camera and search buttons are also nice.
- Camera – The camera was great, as well as nice 5MP stills it will also record pretty decent 720P video.
- Keyboard – The LG Optimus 7Q has a slide-out keyboard. It’s a nice feature.
Now on to what I didn’t like so much
- Speed – Despite having better hardware that all the phones I’ve owned previously this phone constantly felt slow. Coming out of lock especially, but also within apps.
- No Multitasking – I thought MS was mental when I heard WP7 was not going to have multitasking. I was willing to believe application hooks and saved state might make it okay – it doesn’t.
- Search Button – I like that is has the button, I don’t like the implementation on this phone. As a touch-button it’s easy to accidentally hit (especially while using the camera) and it dumps you out of what you were doing and into Bing.
- Apps – It’s still early days of course, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge variety of apps in the Marketplace. I tried all the free fully-featured Twitter apps (only 4) and none really suited me.
- Unintuitive – Despite the common swipe-to-next-page convention throughout the system it’s not always intuitive or obvious that what you’re looking for requires a swipe to the left.
- Settings – One of my favourite things in Android is the ‘Menu’ button, it is used within apps to display a contextual menu, which will usually include access to settings. There’s no similar convention in WP7. It can be hard to find settings, or impossible from deeper in the app.
- Status – There’s no persistent status bar. In many apps it seems to be impossible to see battery status, signal level and time. Sometimes it can be revealed with a downward swipe, but not always.
- Design Concept – It’s good, but it quickly gets broken.
- Keyboard – It’s good that it has a keyboard, but the physical design isn’t quite right. The Shift and Function keys especially are awkward and small.
That’s the summary. There are obviously heaps of little details, so I’ll go into a few things, mainly about the things I struggled with.
We’ll start with Multitasking, it was my biggest issue. I’ve been used to be able to effortlessly switch apps in my various smartphones, as well as leave applications running in the background (Twitter as an obvious example). While most apps seem to do a good job of saving state, there is significant startup times usually. For example to get from browser to the my Twitter timeline in Beez (the client I used most) would take no less than 8 seconds plus however long it would take to actually load the stream.
Which brings me on to speed – I don’t know why, but everything seemed slow. It takes a while to load apps, and then often a while to draw the user interface stuff, and then a while longer to populate it. I’m fairly sure hardware wasn’t an issue, but not sure what is going on in the OS that made it so slow.
The design concept of Windows Phone 7 really stands out in the shiny-curvy design of most other mobile platforms. It’s bold and simple. The primary pinned application icons are white line-art on a solid background, and the background accent colour can be changed. But that’s doesn’t last long – very few apps seem to conform to this idea, and as soon as you start pinning third-party apps to the homescreen you end up with a multi-colour patchwork. Even the core setup breaks this – Microsoft’s XBox Live and Office icons flout the style.
So? I like it in theory, and it’s a very capable platform overall, but for me it just wasn’t quite right – the balance of like vs. frustrate didn’t pan out. Perhaps new versions may improve some of these issues?