Hands-on with Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 is clean, user-friendly and works well, but is missing copy/paste, third-party multitasking and Flash support

To compete with Apple's iPhone and the Android army, Microsoft needed to pull out all the stops to sell Windows Phone 7 to the masses. Windows Mobile has a miserable reputation as being not user-friendly and slow. Throw in the Microsoft Kin failure, and you've got a lot of skepticism surrounding Thankfully, Microsoft completely ditched the often frustrating, always sluggish Windows Mobile experience. Windows Phone 7 is a brand-new OS and Microsoft deserves a clean slate.

For the most part, Microsoft succeeds in delivering a user-friendly, socially-connected operating system. Windows Phone 7 nicely balances business and fun with Office, XBox Live and Zune integration. But the exclusion of copy/paste and universal search are annoying oversights. I'm also not thrilled with the fact that Microsoft opted not to go with third-party multitasking. This instantly puts them behind Android, which does support third-party multitasking.

Getting Started

To get the full experience of Windows Phone 7, you'll need a Windows Live ID. Your Windows Live ID will be your one log-in for your XBox Live, Zune and Hotmail or MSN accounts if you have them. You'll also need to make sure that the Windows Live IDs associated with your Zune account and XBox live accounts match or else you won't be able to use all of the features on your phone. I already had a Zune account, but I don't use Microsoft's e-mail services nor do I own an XBox. Setting all of this up under one XBox Live account took a bit of time and in a weird way, I felt like I was signing myself over to Microsoft.

The Lock Screen provides a useful at-a-glance view of any new activity on your phone. New voicemails, text messages and e-mail messages will show up here. The Lock Screen is also the only place on the phone where you'll be able to set a wallpaper image.

Swiping up brings you to your Start screen. I have to admit, the Start Screen isn't the most attractive homescreen in the world. Your screen is made up of what Microsoft calls "Live Tiles," which are constantly updating with new content. For example, the People tile shows pictures of your contacts while the Calendar tile displays new appointments. The XBox Live tile shows your avatar bouncing around. Overall, it is a unique way to display updates and information on your phone.

You can easily arrange the Live Tiles by pressing down on one of them. A small thumbtack icon will appear in the corner of the tile while you drag the tile around determining where you want to place it. If you want to get rid of a Live Tile, you simply hit the thumbtack. Like I said, the Start Screen isn't the prettiest, but I appreciate the minimal approach Microsoft took here.

Swiping left brings you to your full list of apps. Again, Microsoft takes a very minimalist approach here. The icons and text are clear and readable and the list is easy to scroll through. Speaking of scrolling, you'll feel like you're doing a lot of scrolling throughout the entire Windows Phone 7 UI. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as scrolling is pretty speedy, but it is sort of a weird approach to navigation.

This minimalist approach changes when you start delving into the Hubs. The Hubs aggregate information both native on your phone as well as from third-party apps into one single destination.

Zune Player and Media Hub

While the Zune HD standalone MP3 player might not have taken off with consumers, I'm glad to see it continue to live on in Windows Phone 7. The Zune player interface on the phone and the features in the PC client are gorgeous, user-friendly and a refreshing alternative to iTunes. Unfortunately, you're going to have to download the latest version of the Zune desktop client (the current one won't sync with the phone), but this process is pretty quick. Just go to Zune.com to download the latest version and you'll be up-to-date in minutes.

Games Hub

As I mentioned earlier, I don't own an XBox or use XBox Live so I tested out the Games Hub using both the account of heavy XBox gamer and a newly-created account for myself. My colleague, the gamer, was really impressed with how tightly XBox Live on the phones integrate with his XBox Live account on the console.

As a casual gamer, I was pretty impressed with a few of the games I tested on the Focus and on a pre-production unit earlier this year. The graphically beautiful IloMilo cleverly uses the hardware's built-in accelerometer as you attempt to unite two pixie-like creatures (aptly named Ilo and Milo) in a dangerous, twisting maze. And lucky for AT&T customers, this very addictive game will be free to Focus owners through the end of the year. Another fun game is Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst, a tower defense game which utilizes Bing Maps.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of a few XBox games and XBox Live integration on the phone.

Messaging and People Hubs

The software keyboard looks a little on the small side, but I was pleased with how well it works. It is very accurate and speedy and I was able to bang out a long e-mail pretty quickly. The keyboard also helpfully provides a ".com" shortcut when you're entering an e-mail address or Website.

The People Hub is your homebase for e-mail, text messaging and Facebook. "Contact cards" aggregate your friends and colleagues contact information with data from their Facebook and Windows Live accounts. While there will be a standalone Facebook application for Windows Phone 7, you can update your status from the People Hub as well as view your friends' status updates.

Photo Hub

The Photos Hub is probably my favorite Hub on Windows Phone 7 as it is more than just a gallery. The Photos Hub brings together photos associated with your Windows Live and Zune accounts with the photos taken on your device. One cool feature is the ability to

E-mail and Calendar

When it comes to e-mail, Windows Phone 7 really shines. The interface is clean (again, going with that minimalist approach) It supports a wide-array of account-types including the standard POP3/IMAP as well as Exchange, naturally. Again, Microsoft goes for the minimal approach here in terms of interface. At the top of your inbox you can swipe between all, unread, flagged and urgent messages. I was able to download both text and image attachments from my e-mails with no issue.

Office Hub

The Office Hub, as to be expected, is better on Windows Phones than any other mobile operating system. OneNote, Micrsoft's version of Evernote, lets you jot down notes and associate images with them. You can view, edit and create documents in Word and Excel. You can't create PowerPoint documents, however; you're limited to just editing and viewing. I'm not sure why you'd want to create a PowerPoint document on your phone so this isn't really a big deal to me. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Office Hub coming later this week.

Internet Explorer

Overall, Microsoft has done a good job with this version of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer supports tabbed browsing (up to 6 open windows). In the Settings menu, you can specify whether you want the browser to load mobile or full sites. You can also bookmark pages or pin pages to your Start screen for easy access.

Internet Explorer unfortunately does not support Adobe Flash 10 content, HTML5 or Silverlight, which puts it behind other mobile browsers. Adobe has said that it is working with Microsoft to deliver Flash to Internet Explorer, but neither company has commented on when that will be rolling out. It is also unclear whether Microsoft will allow consumers to use third-party browsers.

Conclusion

Microsoft has done an excellent job with Windows Phone 7 when it comes to user interface, performance and functionality. The real question is whether it will be able to win over consumers. At this point, I'm not sure. The missing features are big disappointments and set the OS behind both the Android army and the iPhone. It will really depend on whether Microsoft can deliver the content--apps, games, music and video. I'm hoping they can.

Tags consumer electronicsMicrosoftPhonesWindowssoftwareoperating systems

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Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)

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