Maximum PC received our first official retail-ready models of Microsoft’s new Windows Phones. We've spent time with the HTC Surround, the Samsung Focus, and the HTC HD7. A full review is pending, but for now, here are our initial thoughts and reactions.
Hot potato: Just like the iPhone and Android devices, setting up Windows Phone was easy. One concern we have is that while we were setting up our email and Facebook accounts (we set up 4 different accounts to stress test battery life), our HTC Surround became uncomfortably hot. This is likely a result of the CPU working overtime to stream hundreds of email messages and social network updates. We haven’t witnessed these heat levels in the either two phones, and we haven't witnessed heat issues on the HTC Surround since.
Hardware: As we write this, we've been able to spend time with the HTC Surround and Samsung Focus for AT&T, and the HTC HD7 for T-Mobile. With a slide-out set of stereo speakers and Dolby support, the HTC Surround feels like a bit of a gimmick; we thought we'd get rich tones and deep bass out of it and were mistaken. That said, the Surround has a nice sturdy feel that we appreciate. HTC's HD7 has a similarly nice heft and a slightly bigger screen and form factor, and it (thankfully) lacks the slide-out speakers. At first blush, the Samsung Focus has the nicest screen of the three phones we've been testing. It's also significantly lighter than the other two phones, although a shiny plastic finish makes it slippery, which concerns us.
Average keyboard: The Windows Phone 7 OS’ default virtual keyboard is nothing to write home to your mama about. It's not bad, thankfully. But it’s average in every regard, and feels a little cramped.. The error recognition functions much like it does on the iPhone and Android, but the keyboard itself feels small-ish. We also miss the ability to hold down a key in order to generate a symbol such as an exclamation or question mark. Ultimately, it's neither bad nor good. We will say this, however: After 72 hours of usage, it does adapt quite well to your thumb strokes. When we switched between devices, we found that the least used phones were a little harder to type on, thanks to the adaptive A.I.
Social Networking integration is top-notch: We understand that not everyone is into Facebook, but the WinPhone OS’ take on social networking is refreshing an represents a leap forward for mobile operating systems. Instead of silo-ing Facebook status updates into an application, Windows Phone 7 funnels this information into its own “People” channel. That’s pretty great—it allows you to quickly and easily catch up with your friends with a single swipe of your finger.
The interface rocks: Within seconds of using WP7, everyone in the Maximum PC Lab became an instant convert. We’ll caveat our comments with the fact that we haven’t spent more than a week total with the interface, but our initial reaction is that this is a revelation. Microsoft has taken the spirit of the Android interface—dynamic widgets and the status bar—and combined this with a more uniform design aesthetic. The end result is a more symmetrical experience that’s also easier to decipher. Plain English trumps obscure icon every time.
Key app concerns: There are more apps available than we would have expected upon launch. (For a complete listing, click here.) There are 20+ games and a slew of crappy hustle-oriented productivity apps that you shouldn’t waste your ducats on. There are a couple of glaring omissions, however. First off, there are no Google apps here at all. That means no Google Maps, no Google Voice, and no Google Docs. (An above-average third party Google Voice app titled GoVoice is available, however, and provides basic Google Voice functionality and archiving.) Also conspicuously absent: Instant Messenger applications of any variety.
Great Map application: As detailed in the video above, the default Windows Phone 7 Map application is pretty great. It's snappy, accurate, and detailed.
It’s not that customizable: We were surprised at how little time it took us to penetrate the depths of the WP7 operating system. Simply put, there’s not a whole lot of complexity to Windows Phone. Our take is that, for mobile phones, this is a good thing. Ultimately, we just want our phones to work and work well.
Zune integration is great. Okay, we'll admit. We're one of the few people in the country who actually uses Zune. And now - finally! - it's paid off. We now have access to our entire Zune library and ZunePass allows us to stream a virtually unlimited amount of music off the Zune servers. At $15 per month, it's not free, but it works and works well. The other nice thing about the Zune client is that it servs as our syncing client for the phone and our PC. Auto-syncing is nice because it means automatic back-up of data, and the Windows Phone OS will automatically transfer pictures from your phone to your PC when sync occurs (this can be turned off). One other nice thing about the Zune client is that your WinPhone can automatically sync with your home PC wirelessly via your network anytime you plug it in. This may not matter to some people--Maximum PC's big boss Jon Phillips, for example, prefers to handle his syncing manually. But Android users who wished they had a native sync client are now officially jealous.
Do you have specific questions you want answered? Chime in below and we’ll do our best to sort everything out over the next few days.