Well after waiting nearly a month with no end in sight for T-Mobile to finally get some stock of the Desire HD, I caved and cancelled my contract. What prompted this? The new Windows Phone 7. I’ve fled back to O2 to get the O2 exclusive HTC HD7 and I must say upfront i’m very happy.
As a piece of hardware its a beautiful, beautiful fingerprint magnet. The massive 4.3 inch screen dominates the device, while not as vibrant as the Super AMOLED screen on the Sumsung Omina 7 its still lovely. Some reviews have expressed concern over the build quality of the device I have seen nothing to back this up, yes the back in plastic rather than aluminium but it still feels sturdy and does not creak. My only initial concern was the kickstand which surrounds the camera sensor however having lived with the device for a week I’ve been convinced that there is nothing to fear here. The kickstand opens and closes with a reassuring snap, I’m sure if abused it would eventually break away however that is true of any phone.
I picked my HD7 up shortly before going on the road for a week…this meant that if the setup didn’t go well it was going to be a difficult week. However I was pleasantly surprised, I signed in with a blank live id which has no associated email account for it to search, I then added my gmail account and was relived to see my contacts sync down to the phone. There have been mumblings of contacts not being synced from Google if they are not properly formatted, either my contacts are perfect (very unlikely) or these fears are exaggerated. Next up I added in my Facebook account, this is where the Windows Phone 7 Hubs feature comes into its own. As my Facebook friends synced with the phone it automatically integrated with my Google contacts where there was obviously overlap. This works surprisingly well it was even able to suitably match up account information for friends who have the same name. There were of course a hand full which have to be manually tweaked for people who I didn’t have complete information for (or had silly things in their Facebook name). Hubs makes navigating this aggregation of information really easy, when you first launch the people hub you are shown a list of all of your contacts, swipe to the left you a given a ‘what’s new’ feed with status updates from Facebook, swipe left again and you have a number of your recently accessed contacts. This panorama of data looks awesome while being beautifully functional. When adding a Google Account I also brought across my calendars, Microsoft has made a big deal about this one glance concept to determine where you need to be. Unfortunately if you have more than one calendar this isn’t quite true, only the default calendar for each account will be synced with the device so this means I have a bookmark to the Google Calendar page to manually check for conflicts. I hope this is one oversight that will be addressed soon.
Windows Phone 7 ships with a GMail application unfortunately I think it is by far the weakest of the on board applications. While the application looks stunning with animations for most actions its integration with GMail is very limited. There is currently no archive button, this alone is probably the single greatest annoyance for me, the only work around is to open the message, expand the context draw and move the message to ‘all mail’. Support is also lacking for labels, starring, searching all received mail and setting the outbound address on an email. Now it may be slightly unfair to expect Microsoft to implement such tight support for a competitors mail product when I have not used the Outlook/Live Mail client. However I really hope that either this app is significantly improved or a third party developer (Google themselves perhaps) creates a better implementation
The browser is a hybrid of Internet Explorer 7 & 8 and I must say I am really impressed, pages load quickly, pinch to zoom is buttery smooth and tap to column is great idea. One interesting niggle I did come across was with YouTube, Windows Phone 7 ships neither with Flash or HTML 5 support so YouTube was always going to be an issue. Ok it’ll just behave like Android and load the YouTube application with the desired video? Well yes you’re right it does however it will only do this if the browser is in ‘Mobile version’, unfortunately as this browser is a hybrid manner sites with hard coded browser agent settings do not know how to handle it resulting in being dumped into truely horrible site renderings (some people are reporting being given WAP compliant pages though I have not seen this myself).
The search experience on the phone in generally is wonderful, most places within the phone you can hit the hardware search button and be transported to the customised Bing search experiance. This gives you a similar data panorama we saw with contacts with ‘local’, ‘news’ and web’ all available with a swipe. Strangely one of the only places this doesn’t happen is in the browser, a tap of the search button here takes you to uk.m.yahoo.com ermmmm yeah so what happened there? I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be a concequence of a the O2 build I have, unfortunately there is no wayt to change this default at present so if i want to start a new search I am currently hitting the home button first to avoid the uglyness of the Yahoo page.
Windows Phone 7 uses the Zune desktop software to manage the device and as such has an inbuilt Zune application for enjoying your music, videos and podcasts. The Zune software has been migrated wonderfully and provides a really nice experience, combined with the standard 3.5mm headphone jack I have been largely ignoring my Zune in favour of the phone.
The Marketplace has finally landed in the UK, up until the latest Zune software release the Marketplace was off limit to any Zune users outside the US. I must say I’m very impressed its a lovely way to explore and purchase music. One thing I am disappointed by is the Zune pass, this allows you unlimited streaming access to music on the Zune Marketplace for £8.99 per month. Unfortunately this is lacking what would be in my mind one of selling points of this over services such as Spotify which is that US Zune pass subscribers are allowed to download 10 tracks per month to keep this perk is not available for UK users at the moment. From the app perspective in the Marketplace it is currently early days with the US launch expected later this month we can expect to see the number of apps rapidly increase. However currently the Marketplace is far from a barren wasteland with solid showings from Seesmic, EA Games, IMDB and Redbull providing glimmers of the future that the Marketplace will be able to reach once it moves past the 99p fart apps.
One of the hardware requirements that Microsoft placed on all Windows Phone 7 handsets is a minimum of a five megapixel camera sensor. Having just synced the pictures I took over the weekend I must say I am reasonably impressed. I have to confess I am far from an expert photographer but the quality and clarity of shots seems good from a phone, and that clarification is important there is some graining when looking at large blocks of colour (ie sky). The HD7 I have boasts a duel LED flash, unfortunately this is little more than an annoyance in low light as can be see from the sample photos below it has a tendancy to bath everything in a orangey light while successfully blinding the subject. The default for the flash is automatic so it is only used when required, having found the flash annoying I disabled it in the settings only to find that when the camera app is closed and reopened this default setting is restored. This applied to all of the settings for the camera including the resolution for the video camera which defaults to VGA 640x480 rather than 720P 1280x720. I hope that this is one of the first things that Microsoft addresses.
Another thing this device does well on is battery life, one day I took over 80 photos and spent a lot of time fiddling with the device and still had a half charge. The last few days have been a bit more ordinary 9-5 with some mail checking and calls and I’m seeing about three quarters charge after a full day. Obviously this battery is new so we will see how this stands up over a longer period but the initial signs are good.
Ok this post has had a lot of negatives in however I must say that without a doubt there is a certain buzz from using Windows Phone 7 that I never got from Android. Every person who has played with the device has commented how polished it feels and I hope we see Microsoft rapidly push updates to the software to address some of the issues which are being seen.