Saturday, February 26, 2011

Windows Phone 7 - a second look

For a few weeks I had now the HTC HD7 with Windows Phone 7, the new mobile OS by Microsoft. In my first brief note about the initial user experience, I noted many shortcomings, both compared with the previous version of Windows Mobile 6.5 and with the current other smartphones competition. So what remains of this negative first impression after a few weeks of use?

The overall resume of these first few weeks using Windows Phone 7 is that the update is urgently needed. This version of Windows Phone fall short on so many expectations. These are often quite little things, but sometimes also major issues. It makes you think if the engineers/developers have ever tested their product in a real life situation. Probably not.

Here are some of these issues:

- After making a phone call, any respectable phone shows the call duration. Not so Windows Phone 7. No display about the length of the call, neither in the call history.
- When a text message is received, many phones show a button to make a call to this number. Not so Windows Phone 7. The only option it to reply. No "call this number", no "store to contacts". This is absolutely inadequate. One clicks onto the sender, then one can make a call or store the number in the address book.
- the phone does only display battery status and signal strength on the start screen when switching on the phone. Afterwards only the clock is displayed in the top right corner. There would be space for a heading info line, but it is just plain empty. Would be very useful to have this info, especially when doing longer online sessions.
- the tap on the display sometimes does not work, especially when it is on a text link with small fonts. One almost needs to use a stylus to click the link then, as it would not react to the pressure of a finger. Has probably a technical reason: because the overall "click strength" is taken from the absolute number of active pixels being pressed; and since a small text has only few active pixels, this number is small. Would be better to have a relative measure. But this is just a speculation...
- the finger sliding is often interpreted as a side swipe instead of a vertical swipe, and then the page changes. This has been reported by many other people in a variety of apps. It could have several reasons: a driver problem of the display, a bug in the gesture API of Windows Phone 7, or an incorrect use of this API for detecting swipe direction by the app developers.
- Why is the battery strength only shown graphically and not as a numeric percentage?
- The Marketplace search returns too many wrong things. When I search for an app by a name, for example "Twitter" in the apps category, a lot of songs and albums also appear with the name "Twitter" in their name... this should be filtered.
- Many apps offered for Windows Phone 7 are inferior to their counterparts on other smart phones. This can have several reasons: Windows Phone 7 is new, so many apps are just in their first version, with updates (hopefully) to come. Or the Windows Phone 7 market is so small (3%?) compared to iPhone or Android, that the developers neglect it and put not much effort in. There are a few notable exceptions though.
- There is no synchronising of data/files with such files on a PC. When connecting the phone by cable to a computer, there is not much that can be done. I was hoping that I could drag some files over, or have some files automatically synced as it was great on the old Windows Mobile OS where Office files (for Excel, Word) could be automatically be stored, edited, and synchronised on both devices. This capability has now been lost and can only be sort of emulated via a much more complicated method through cloud computing. The Zune software synchronises music and video, but that I use almost never.
- No copy-and-paste. This makes it very difficult to edit Excel files, modify entries in the contacts list, etc. I cannot believe why it is so difficult to implement this feature? Also the first iPhone generation did not have this...
- The title headings of pages in apps use a very stylish, elegant, large font, but these titles stretch over several pages, therefore cannot be read fully on one page. This is especially annoying when the app only has one page, because the rest of the heading is just cut off. Here a bit more "function over form" would have been better.

There is something positive to be said about Windows Phone 7: it looks quite nice. The big tiles are more attractive than the icons/buttons of other phones, easier to touch. The also can show live content, although most apps still stick with a static image.

There is good potential: if all these little bugs/annoyances that I mentioned above are being fixed, and if there would be more options for users to create additional pages instead of just having one title page and one app page, then this may actually take off. Installing and updating apps works as smooth as with the iPhone.

So, Microsoft engineers, keep working and please produce an update soon (and without "bricking" it...) !

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