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Windows Phone 7 In-Depth review

Contents:

  1. Windows Mobile to Windows Phone
  2. Introduction
  3. Workspace
  4. Phone functions
  5. Mail and Messaging
  6. The Screen Key
  7. Calendar
  8. Global Search
  9. Multimedia
  10. Marketplace
  11. Xbox live
  12. Multitasking
  13. Data Sync, Zune
  14. Browser
  15. Documents
  16. System Settings, Utility Apps
  17. Target Audience
  18. Bottom Line

Before getting down to Windows Phone 7 we shall make a few notes. Firstly, the reader must understand that Windows Phone 7 has nothing in common with the previous Windows Mobile platform besides the developer Microsoft. This statement has a special meaning for those who like me have been watching closely the lifetime of Windows Mobile from its early versions up to 6.5. The point is, Windows Phones 7 has an entirely different nature: it has been defined by other rules to perform tasks absolutely different from those WM has had.

Secondly, this review took a lot of time to release and there is a possibility that by the time it is out the OS has seen certain improvements. It is also possible that certain issues were overlooked, misinterpreted or explained vaguely. That is why I invite the readers willing to comment on, complement or correct the material to contact me at artem@mobile-review.com or post on the forum.

And thirdly, I am at a loss trying to define the target audience of Windows Phone 7. I say that in the very beginning of the article only to return to this matter in the end and try and solve the riddle: for whom?

Windows Mobile to Windows Phone

The rumors that Microsoft was working on a new mobile OS, as it often happens, had been circulating before the developer announced the system early last year in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress 2010. When I wrote this article I was, to be frank, impressed. The spectacular presentation worked magic (though Microsoft in this regard is far behind Apple) and Windows Phone 7 was talked about. A lot.

We may say that for Microsoft there was no transition from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone. These are different systems: the former had been developed over many years as a replacement (successor?) for PalmSize and was doing great for a few years. We all know only too well what happened next. The development of the system has been sluggish, the corporate segment appealing functions were being released, and, above all, hundreds and thousands of new application that filled in the holes of shortcomings and drawbacks of the OS functioning. The third party software is the main reason why Windows Mobile is still one of the most tweakable and function rich mobile OS.

So what is it exactly Windows Phone? In a few words, it is a "casual" system. I do not like this coinage but it fits best WP7. It is a minimum function system designed to be friendly with any user i.e. mass user, who may not have ever held a mobile phone before. This is the gist. A closer look: it is a Microsoft's attempt to create an Apple's iOS analog and back it with major manufacturers' contracts: Samsung, LG, HTC etc.

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Introduction

Talks about Windows Phone 7 soon after the release of the system changed their general tone from positive and enraptured to wary and frustrated. This is when everyone started to study the functions of the new system and find first drawbacks of WP7: lack of multitasking, no copy/paste, strict binding to the region of purchase and other details. Back then these were only rumors but then the first Windows Phone 7 devices went on sale and the rumors were confirmed. Some would say "Just remember the first Android version it was crude too" and would be mistaken. From this moment on I start my review of the Windows Phone 7 capabilities.

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Workspace

Lock Screen

The WP7 lock screen is an actual screen. I mean it is a full screen picture that you have to pull up to unlock the display. You may choose the picture in the settings: it can be one of the standard pictures or just any picture or photo you download.

At the bottom the lock screen displays the current signal quality, the type of the Internet connection (HSDPA (H) or EDGE (E)), pictograms of wireless connections, battery charge and time.

Here, above the system information icons, you also find music control bar. To see it you have to press a volume control button. This bar shows the current volume level, track controls, name of the track, playback time and also an icon indicating the current mode: with sounds, ring or vibration.

Besides at the top of the screen information about found Wi-Fi networks is being displayed or a part of new text messages, so can read a part of it without unlocking the screen

Just below the center of the screen the time and the alarm clock icon are displayed, below them day, year and month. At the very bottom are the icons of unread text messages, emails and missed calls. Icons for different mail accounts are the same except for mailboxes from MS (hotmail) and MS Exchange Server.

The lock screen may also display the upcoming calendar events. If there are several events the earliest ones are displayed. The theme, the venue and the time of the event are displayed.

In the settings you may specify the time before the screen locks with the following values: 30 seconds, 1, 3, 5 minutes or never.

You may also assign a password for the lock screen. In which case once you have moved the screen up instead of unlocking the phone will display a number pad you use to enter the password.

All in all, the lock screen is handy. You might only be disappointed with the size of the tiny icons that show missed events but that is it. You may use it to adjust the volume, control the music playback, glance at the current time and date without unlocking the phone.

Desktop

The workspace in Windows Phone 7 consists of two screens: the home (the left one) and the additional (the right). You may move between them by scrolling through or by pressing the arrow buttons. The home screen displays the icons of applications and services, though due to the size of the icons it is better to call them tiles. The tiles are arranged in two columns and their number does not seem to be limited. You may assign a tile to practically any sort of data: a tile that starts an application (i.e. a shortcut), settings or a specific internet page. You may also drag certain categories of pictures onto the home screen (e.g. Favorites) or a particular artist or a single music album.

You may scroll the tiles up and down, remove them from the screen or organize them, change their order. There are no fixed tiles so you may just remove all of them from the left screen.

I certainly like the tiles system. It is a great solution of displaying the most important information for you on a single screen, and this idea is not trite these are no widgets or static icons every tile is dynamic. Let us talk about it.

You have a phone calls tile. If you do not have any missed calls you see an icon and the carrier's name inside the tile. As soon as you get missed calls their number is displayed on the tile. You may also drag a contact to the tile screen, in which case the tile will show in turns the contact's picture and the contact's name.

If you have a mailbox tile then it shows the number of unread messages for this account, the same with the SMS tile. Music and pictures tiles (including whole categories) display pictures in turns. The music tile displays pictures of the artists (downloads are automatic you cannot turn this option off); Pictures tile displays one of the pictures stored in the smartphone.

The calendar tile (which, by the way, occupies two square tiles) displays the week-day and the date, it also displays the closest upcoming event (theme and venue) if you have a memo.

The Marketplace tile shows the number of application updates available.

There is a strange issue: the whole tiles panel is shifted a bit to the left of the screen. This was probably done because of a single tiny arrow icon that brings you to the right screen. Why? What is the logic? I see no answers: the interface developers probably considered it acceptable to make the whole organization of the elements of the home screen asymmetric because of just one tiny button.

Let's now have a look at the right screen. Here we see a list of icons of applications and settings: an icon to the left and a name to the right. You may scroll up and down the list. You can drag any application from here to the left screen where it becomes a tile.

The uninstallation of application happens similar to iPhone: you have to hold your finger on the application icon on the right screen a pop up window appears where you may choose an action whether to place the application on the left screen or uninstall it.

How to customize the system screen? Well, as a matter of fact you cannot do it. You may only change two aspects: the arrangement of the tiles on the home screen and their color. And you may only choose among the fixed colors all very bright and, in my opinion, even toxic hues. At the beginning it seems fun but after a month of using you want to go for a neutral color ochre, brown or gray but they are not available. So I had to pick the pink and the green the calmest and the dimmest colors available.

You may also choose the background color black or white. Judging by the screenshots you may understand that, basically, you have no choice: the white background makes the screen way too bright and wearisome for the eyes. So there is only black left.


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Phone functions

Dialing and calls

The fastest way to dial a number in Windows Phone 7 is to press a contact tile and choose the needed number. Another option is to press the "Phone" tile and chose the number among the history, contacts or dial the number up manually.

There is no hard call key in WP7 smartphones as well as an immediate dial key. If you press the "Phone" key you see the call log where you can switch to dial.

Importantly, there is no Smart Dial function in Window Phone 7 one of the functions that have become a key feature of Windows Mobile OS for smartphones as well as later for communicators. In Windows Phone 7 you only have a basic key pad to dial a number manually.

The call window is displayed over the main interface. When dialing a number you see the name of the contact and his number.

During a call the duration of the call and the name of the contact are displayed as well as two buttons: one switches to the key pad, the other to the menu of additional settings: loudspeaker, hold, mute and add another or several interlocutors. The contact's picture is displayed only if you are having an incoming call (even if the phone is locked), during a conversation or outgoing calls no picture is displayed.

Besides the call window, its state is displayed above the system tray (if you e.g. have minimized the call window by pressing the Windows key).

If the phone is locked then during an incoming call you see the contact's picture, his name and his number displayed in a pop up window that you have to pull up to see the "answer" and "reject" keys.

There are no smart dial features as in Android smartphones here. E.g. if you are having an incoming call you cannot reject it and send an SMS at once you may only ignore it. If someone who called you is not in your address book the system will not hurry to invite you to save the number as a contact (as it is realized in HTC Sense Androids). And yet another issue: while having an incoming call you cannot use the phone in any way up until you either answer the call or reject it the call window cannot be closed or minimized.

Address book

The hub named People is the Windows Phone's address book. It has got three screens that you may scroll to the left or to the right, one displays the list of contacts, another displays the recent contacts in tile matrixes the way the home screen is arranged. And the third one called "What's new" lists all the recent events and activities of your friends on Facebook and Windows Live. It is a common events wall for new messages.

Now back to the contacts screen. At the top we may see a HUMONGOUS caption saying "people". I will start with it hubs in Windows Phone use captions with a gargantuan lowercase font e.g. people, marketplace and some other. And the lettering as compared to the rest of the text in the system looks something like this: people, marketplace

And the word never fits to the screen, in case of the marketplace we see only a half of the word. It is not a big deal but I do not follow the logic of the developers: some captions are huge and the others are normal. The contacts hub has got the oversized caption PEOPLE. The mail and messages hub has a much neater captioning of separate screens. The Marketplace hub huge, the Calendar hub normal.

And now the contacts screen: at the top there are two buttons "search" and "add a new contact", below is the list of the contacts. First to the left is a letter and below it are the contacts that start with this letter, to the left there is the contact's picture and to the right his first and second name. If there is no picture a gray square is displayed. The contacts are arranged by name and surname or vice versa. The system discriminates between the arrangement and the display mode you may arrange the contacts by name and display them by surname. I think it is very convenient. You can change the arrangement and display mode in the settings where you may also integrate your Facebook friends into the address book.

The contacts list has only 15-16 characters for name and surname, longer names are cut. To view a contact's full name you have to open the contact's card.

If you are scrolling through the contacts manually you will see no pop up alphabet to assist you. You have to press the letter captioning a contacts' block to bring up the alphabet and choose the needed letter.

The search in the address book works both for the name and the surname and once the results are shown you may narrow your search down by searching only specific accounts, in my case I could search separately among Gmail or MS Exchange Server contacts.

The number of contacts is not limited (only by the memory available), a contact's card has a few basic fields: phone number, mail address, ringtone and the picture (you may assign unique picture to every contact). If you wish you may add additional information among the extra fields where you find other phone numbers: home, work, fax etc.; addresses: home, work; date of birth, children's names.

In Windows Phone 7 as well as in Android you may link contacts. To link several contacts or their cards you have to view a contact's card and press the central icon to open the linking settings. When a contact's card is viewed you see the link icon at the bottom and a number e.g. 2 meaning this contact is linked to another one.

What is a link? You may link one contact to another so that two contacts merge into one: one picture and a common ringtone viewed in a single window. The picture of the default contact is preserved while the picture of the contact you link is deleted as well as the contact entry itself. You will no longer see the second contact in the list.

There are a lot of ways to use this function e.g. to merge contacts of your married acquaintances. You may assign a common picture to them and even if they have different family names it is not a problem for searching: one name is associated with the other.

If you have more than one account then contact merging is automatic. On the one hand, this is nice: you simply set and sync your accounts and in a moment all your contacts are neatly merged. On the other hand, if you don't need this you will have to use only one account or otherwise the system will merge similar contacts anyway.

You cannot assign groups or categories in Windows Phone 7.

The Windows Phone address book does not support any universal formats of contacts so you cannot use your contacts elsewhere.

Picture assignment.

  • If you sync your address book with your Gmail account the pictures in terrible quality are also taken from Gmail.
  • If you sync your address book with MS Outlook or MS Exchange the quality of the pictures depends on the quality of the originals. Mine are all good so I have got good pictures in WP7 as well.
  • You may manually assign pictures in the address book to an already synced account. E.g. you may take them from the Pictures hub, crop them and assign to every contact. Wearisome but the result looks good.
  • If you have set up your Facebook account your contacts will be transferred automatically.

By the way, the People tile on the home screen is dynamic. It has nine icons of your contacts inside that are picked randomly.

Call log

The call log is very basic. You see all the recent calls, to the left is the common phone icon, to the right is the contacts name, a bit below the call type (incoming, outgoing, missed), the week-day and the time of the call. The missed calls highlight the name of the contact in a cheerful color (depends on the color of your OS theme).

The call list, apparently, only shows the calls for the last week. The calls from one contact are not grouped, you cannot look up any call details like e.g. the duration this function is not available. If you call one contact twenty times you will have twenty ungrouped entries in the list.

A click on the phone icon dials the contact's number; if you click his name you see the profile window. By the way, if a number from the call log is absent in your address book you will see the profile window anyway. That is, you may still choose an action: dial the contact or send an SMS.

Missed calls

If the screen is locked the missed call info is displayed as an icon at the bottom of the lock screen.

On the home screen a missed call is displayed inside the Phone tile. I think have mentioned that already. The system tray does not inform you of the missed calls. At first, it is kind of unusual since in any other system open source or proprietary the missed events are always displayed in the system tray.

Ringtone and Profiles

Windows Phone 7 does not have sound profiles. Moreover, WP7 does not discriminate between volume levels of multimedia and the phone. What this means? For example, you are listening to the music on a WP7 phone with at medium volume or lower, you are tired and going home.

At home you put the music on pause, you mind your business, set an alarm clock on your WP7 device and go to bed. And in the morning you are late because you never heard the alarm clock because yesterday you were listening to the music at below medium volume thus you could not hear the alarm clock. The same applies to calls: if you listen to the music at volume levels of 10-12 (out of 30) you may miss every call until you set the volume at 25 or higher.

The call volume can be adjusted during a conversation or a call, the volume slider is placed at the top near the common for the ringtone and media volume slider.

If you press the volume key you may in one click set the phone on vibration or ringtone by pressing the icon in the pop up menu.

In Windows Phone 7 you may not assign your own tunes to the ringtone or other events. You may choose the tunes for the ringtone, SMS or mail only among the standard sounds. Here should be a facepalm picture of a frustrated man. Because it is the XXI century when a user cannot even assign his own tunes to the events. To be fair I must add that in HTC Mozart that I am currently reviewing there are a whole lot of standard tunes you may choose (more than in any other phone I have tested), but this fact still cannot change the picture.

USSD requests

There are no problems with direct USSD requests but the system cannot process the requests with options and the consequent request. For example, I enter *100# to check my Beeline account balance in 5-20 seconds I receive a message with the numbers. But if I dial *102# to check my Megaphone balance I get a window with the list of options: one number to check the balance, another for the service guide and so on. But in WP7 there is no tool to process through such a USSD request. This means that the Megaphone subscribers cannot check their account balance with a USSD request using WP7.

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Mail and Messaging

New Messages

On the lock screen new messages icons are displayed at the bottom, on the system tray there are no such notifications. The number of new messages is shown inside the respective tiles: e.g. inside the Gmail tile, MS Exchange tile or the SMS tile.

SMS

The SMSes are displayed as chat lists; every chat is captioned with the latest message. In the common SMS window every chat displays the contact's phone number or his name, below the latest message or its part that fits two lines. Unread messages can be discriminated by the color of the message text below the contact's name: the unread messages have the color chosen as the theme color: red, green etc.

If you open a chat you may see the whole correspondence with the contact. At the top you see the contact's first and second names and under is the list of messages. If you press the contact's name you open his profile card. The contact's messages are aligned to the left and yours are to the right. Under every message there is the receipt or send time. Toy may delete or forward a specific message; you may also delete the entire correspondence with the contact.

For older messages not only the receipt/send time but also the week-day is displayed. For even older messages month/day/year are displayed.

You may read or write messages both in the portrait or landscape orientations. When you turn your smartphone the system automatically changes the orientation of the screen and the keypad.

A new message is by default an SMS. If you attach a picture to it is automatically converted to an MMS. And here lies an unpleasant surprise for WP7 users: the thing is in Windows Phone 7 you cannot add any other content to a message except for a picture no songs or videos or any other kind of data may be attached.

There is also another messaging peculiarity in WP7: as you write a message you do not see the character counter which is inconvenient. The OS only displays the characters number once you have exceeded 130 characters.

To choose the addressee of a new message you may start entering the name manually and the system will prompt you with the existing address book entries. You may still simply manually dial the number or press the plus icon and open the address book to choose the needed contact. You may send a message to one or many contacts.

In the settings you may turn the delivery report on. If the delivery report is after every sent SMS you will be receiving a text report stating the time of the message's delivery.

WP7 does not have common to the most phones templates like "Happy birthday!", "I am busy. I'll call you back" and so on.

In WP7 there is no such thing as "draft". You may not save a draft, moreover, if you are writing a message and accidentally press the Windows or Back keys that return you on the home screen the written text will not be saved you will have to put it down all over again. The only situation in which you can resume writing an SMS is after answering a phone call.

And my last point on the messaging. If you send an SMS but the delivery fails (you are in a tunnel or subway, the flight mode is on etc.) you will have to repeat the attempt manually. Delivery failed report is only displayed immediately below the message itself. So there are a lot of plausible situations when an SMS delivery has failed but you do not know about it because you never double checked the message.

Mail

Let us have a look at the mail system in Windows Phone 7. In contrast with Android there is no account grouping, that is, if you set up Gmail and e.g. Hotmail accounts they both will work through the same application. I will remind you that in Android there is one mail client for Gmail and another for the rest of mail.

I have already mentioned that you may drag every mail account as a tile on the home screen. Let us now look at one of such mailboxes.

The mail is sorted into a list; the HTC Mozart can display about five letters at once. Every entry features the name of the sender in large print, below is the letter's theme and its first line, to the right - the receipt time and week-day (for older letters).

How can we usually tell whether the letter is read or unread? As a rule, the unread messages are marked in a bold font and the read messages are regular or slightly grayish. So, generally, it is not hard to tell them apart. In WP7 an unread message differs from a read message only in the color of the theme's font. On the screenshots below the unread messages are those with pink themes while the read messages are with gray themes. I, personally, having used Windows Phone 7 for three months can still hardly tell which is which.

The mail is displayed as black text on the white background despite the whole interface operating vice versa (though you can set it to the same mode). It is a trifle but still you cannot change it.

You cannot set the number of messages displayed in the list. You may choose the period of time (in days) to sync and also the update frequency (every 15, 30, 60 minutes, manually or in the push mode). You may not set a size limit for specific messages the mail client will download both 1-500KB messages and 10MB giants. You may set up a signature for the messages you send.

You may mark the messages: you have to carefully press the empty space to the left of the needed message. Once one message is marked there will be a tick box next to every message that allows you to mark the messages. Besides, you may simply press the button at the bottom of the screen to bring the marking tool. You cannot mark all messages at once. You may mark the messages as read or unread, set or remove flags or put the "done" mark (a tick to the right of the name and theme).

If you open a message you see the name and the surname of the sender in large print at the top. Usually they do not even fit into the screen and you cannot see the full name of a person you do not know. E.g. if a Abraham Lincolnson sent a message to me I will only see Abraham Lincoln when I open the message.

Under the name there is the theme line, next is the receipt date, below are the recipients (you and other people if it was a multiple delivery). Under them are the attachments if any and the text.

Here lies another unpleasant surprise for an unprepared reader; well actually it is generally unpleasant. In WP7 you may zoom in and out the text of the message as in any other system you can make it bigger or smaller. Though unlike all the other systems WP7 does not re-align the scaled text, yes you've got that one right: if you have "embiggened" the text you will have to use horizontal scrolling.

You may read messages both in portrait and landscape orientation. Attachments are opened upon a click on the Attachments icon if you click on an attachment the download starts. You may not monitor the download progress and can only understand that the attachment is being downloaded by the Cancel button beneath it.

You may not specify a download directory - there are no folders or browseable file system. Subsequently, to view an attachment you have to open the message and click on the attachment. There is no tool that would allow you to browse through all your downloaded attachments or any download history for your mail accounts.

The downloaded attachments unlike those not yet downloaded are marked with an icon. The not yet received attachments have a common paperclip icon; the received items are marked according to the file type. Besides, WP7 cannot tell apart html messages (with pictures) and messages with attachments. That is, in the common message list you see the paperclip icon next to not only messages with attachments but html format messages too, well, there are pictures, and the system sees them as attachments.

If the system does not recognize the file extension or the file format you may not use such files in any way if you click on such an attachment you see a notification that the file cannot be opened. For certain typed of attachments the OS offers to download the needed application as, for example, for .pdf files.

In case of the Gmail account the system recognizes the nativelabels as folders. So you may view the labels you have. Alas, the system cannot work with neither MS Exchange Server folders nor with Gmail labels. That is, you may see the fodders but there are no messages inside and you cannot download them.

I suppose that the number of mail accounts is not limited. But, to be frank, I have only had four.

Mailboxes update in push mail mode if this function is supported by the account. Among them: Gmail, Exchange accounts and probably some others. You receive messages from such accounts within 10-20 seconds after they are sent to you.

You may search the list by the name, surname, theme or the message's body (search all the text, not just the list caption). The new system cannot search among the messages on the server (for MS Exchange Server) as WM could.

The search is live the results are updated with every new letter you enter.

MS Exchange

There is a system of invitations. If someone sends you an invitation you can view it and by clicking on it go to the calendar. However a click on an invitation does not create a note in the calendar. Besides the mail you can sync the address book and the calendar. Also WP7 features search on the server but I could not get this function working. So the OS cannot search servers for letters. You may choose what kind of data you want to sync with your MS Exchange account: mail, contacts or calendar.

Mail Viewing

The mail client displays both standard messages and html messages without any problems. In case of html to download picture first you have to click on any picture inside the letter and then they start downloading.

Working with Text inside a Letter

In the upcoming WP7 update we will see the copy/paste function. That is, you will be able to copy a text and then to insert it somewhere else e.g. in a document or in the address bar of your browser. It happens like this: when you click on a word a copy icon appears that allows you to copy the selected text to the buffer; to the left and to the right of the word are the arrows by dragging which you can select and copy bigger passages.


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The Screen Key

The key pad in Windows Phone 7 is an epitome of simplicity. There are four lines of characters and no additional symbols: one button one character. There is a key that switches to typing of additional characters. There is an emoticon insert button, the Space key, Backspace and Enter.

In the landscape mode the key pad becomes a bit wider but does not take the whole screen's width. So there is no significant difference between the portrait and the landscape orientations of the key pad they have the same level of typing comfort.

When you type a character it is displayed in the pop-up field right above the key, so when you cover a key with you digit you can always see the character you are typing.

A key stroke is confirmed by a sound without vibration, at least not on the phone I have been using for testing WP7. The key pad differs depending on the fill-in field. For example, for text messages there is the smile insert key left to the Space key, in the browser the same key stands for quick insert of ".com" and if you press and hold the ".com" button for about a second you will see a pop-up menu where you can select the domain: .org, .edu, .net.

If you press and hold a word in the fill-in field you will see the cursor that you can use to fix your typos or just move through your text to add or edit something.

It is yet premature to be talking about the system of intellectual typing. What I have seen is not very functional, when typing you the system prompts you word variants and if you press the space button after typing you the first word in the list will be inserted. To keep the word you typed you have to press the space after it. You cannot add new entries in the dictionary.

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Calendar

You can have the calendar as a tile on your home screen where it will take the whole line i.e. two standard tiles. It displays the current week day and the date, also the closest event if any.

In the calendar you see the list of events for the current day sorted by time, or the list of events for the closest date that has one. The common event list displays their names, time and the venue. To the right of every event there is a color mark that denotes to which of the synced calendars the vent belongs to. I used the standard @live.com calendar and my MS Exchange Server calendar. You can choose the colors yourself from the small color range. You can also hide one of the calendars.

You can also view the calendar in monthly form. In which case the current day will be highlighted and the events will be displayed in a microscopic type illegible due to its size.

When you add a new event you can choose the topic, venue, the account it belongs to, the beginning time, reminder and the status. Besides you can add a note and contacts from your address book that will receive invitations by mail to partake in the event.

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Global Search

In Windows Phone 7 the concept of the global search is different from that in Android or S60. I will remind you that in robots and in Nokia smartphones this search works throughout the whole contents of the phone i.e. contacts, browser, applications (only names), music, Youtube etc. in WP7 the global search is limited to the internet but with several categories: news, web and the local search. The latter looks for results close for your location (the smartphone uses GPS to locate you).

There is voice search for the English language. The search window greets you with a picture with a few facts about how it works an interesting idea.

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Multimedia

In the Multimedia and the Marketplace chapters we will have to use only screenshots made with a camera. The problem is: taking screenshots in WP7 is only possible when the smartphone is connected to a PC via Zune in which case the music, video and pictures on the Marketplace become inaccessible.

Music

The Music+Videos hub consists of several screens. The main screen is called Zune and it displays links to music, video, podcasts, radio or the store (Marketplace). To the right there is the screen that shows the playback history of albums and videos. Next to the right - the new albums and videos screen. All the information is presented in the form of tiles like on the home screen. On the one hand it looks nice: you see the album covers and neat titles inside the tiles, the background is a downloaded picture of a frequently listened to artist. On the other hand, it is too basic and not functional.

Take the history screen: what do we see? Just 4-5 tiles with album covers and we cannot view a detailed history. The same with the recent downloads screen.

Let us now look at the Music link. There are several screens here: Artist, Album, Songs, Playlists, Genres. Inside a category the music is arranged by the title as a list. In the Artists screen to the left you see the album cover (or a gray square), to the right the album title and below it the artist name.

As well as in the address book if you press a letter before the list you will launch the alphabet screen where you can select the needed letter (if no artist name starts with a certain letter it is not displayed). There are no other options to search for music in WP7 i.e. you cannot simply press the search button and find a song.

The system works fine with ID3 tags, there are no problems with the Cyrillic alphabet as well,

During full screen playback you see the album cover, the elapsed and remaining time, and the artist and the song names. There is a nice feature in WP7: below the current track you can see the following three tracks in the queue. At the bottom you see the controls: rewind, forward and play/pause. If you press and hold the REW or FF buttons you move within the track. Here you will find an unpleasant surprise. The WP7 music player does not have the playback slider. So you cannot move to a certain part of the track by pressing the playback line. If you want to skip to the middle of the track you will have to press and hold FF button until you reach it.

Video

There is a video player in Windows Phone 7. You can watch videos in the full screen mode, move between scenes by pressing REW or FF. as well as in the music player there is no playback slider so you cannot skip to the needed part. There are no settings available in the video player.

Photos, Pictures

There is the Pictures application for viewing pictures. You can drag and drop this application on the home screen - its tile will display a random picture every few days, you can also drag a specific category of pictures on the home screen e.g. Favorites. When you open the Pictures hub you see a screen with links to all the pictures arranged by dates and the favorites. You can scroll through the screen and go to the frequently viewed photos, the last screen shows the Facebook feed with uploaded pictures.

While viewing pictures you can scroll through them with your digit to the left and to the right. Do not be surprised that I mention such a trite function: you could not do that in Windows Mobile 5 or 6. If you press and hold a picture for a couple of seconds you will see a pop-up window where you can choose one of the actions: add to favorites, delete, upload to SkyDrive (virtual storage for live.com subscribers), share the picture with others (send by mail or upload to Facebook). You can also set any picture as the background for the lock screen.

You can zoom in or out the picture by pinching the screen. You can view pictures both in the portrait and the landscape orientations. There is no slide show feature in Windows Phone 7.

Video Streaming

Windows Phone 7 cannot stream video out of box. There is an application called YouTube on the Marketplace, but as it turned out it is just a link to the mobile version of the service. So any developer can upload any application and call it Skype or YouTube.

However, there is an application that allows you to watch YouTube you can find it in the HTC phones that has actually created it for WP7.

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Marketplace

The application store is one of the most important constituents of modern smartphones that, I believe, every OS now has (or most of them). For iOS it is AppStore, for Android Market, for S60 Ovi. Even Windows Mobile 6 had its own app store called Marketplace that, however, has never been popular among WM amateurs.

The Marketplace hub is divided into three screens. The first one features the categories (applications, games, music), the second one the recently added applications and the third one an application or an album ad the picture of which is set as the background for the Marketplace hub.

Back to the first screen: here you see three links: apps, games, music. If you click the Apps you see the applications screen where they are divided into categories: all, games, entertainment, music&video, photo, lifestyle, health&fitness, finance, travel, navigation, social, productivity, business, books&reference. Why do we need the Games category since we have just selected Apps (no the Games) I do not understand. Moreover, if you jump from the categories screen in the Apps tab to the Top you will see, guess what, games as the number one. I can only say what the hell? Why do I see games in the Top? If I see three categories: Apps, Games and Music and select Apps wishing to view applications and not games I keep seeing Games in the top. Why?

And yet another not very pleasant feature of Marketplace: the search works for all the contents and you cannot filter it. That is, you cannot search only games or only music. The result is a lot of unwanted stuff in the search results on the Marketplace. For example, I type in Skype and get two pages of some music albums called Skype and even some artists. Naturally, you won't fid the Skype application it is simply not available on WP7.

About the application info screen: at the top you see the name of the application, below it the icon and the price. If it free the price is shown as 0.00. Next you see the rating and the summary. The summary is very brief you can press a link below it to see a detailed description of the application.

Then come the screenshots: if you press one you can view it full screen and scroll through the others. Below them are the users' comments and their rating of the application. Below it you see a list of similar applications a useful feature, I think.

And at the very bottom the buy and try buttons. An excellent idea you can try out any proprietary application before purchasing it by downloading a demo.

To rate an application or leave a comment you have to click on the list of comments where you will see the fill in field and the rating bar.

Marketplace Applications

I think it is necessary to tell what useful stuff Marketplace has already got and what is yet missing.

So there is: Twitter, the official app and some alternatives, Facebook, VLC player, a lot of weather apps, reading software (which are not very convenient so far).

There is not: Skype or any other popular messaging services clients like ICQ, Jabber etc. there are no alternative browsers so far and this is bad, taking into account the limited functionality on the standard Internet Explorer.

There is lot of junk applications which are actually not even real applications but merely links to websites. There are applications that turn out to be music albums, and there are albums that turn out to be just single tracks. And as of today it is just a big mess making it difficult to find something useful. For any search request of a popular application you get a few pages of junk, unwanted links, albums, some playlists and artists and you will miss the necessary application in most cases.

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Xbox live

The Xbox Live hub is practically the Games tab from the Marketplace but with different looks and a few extra features. The main screen displays invitations from your friends to play a certain game. The second screen your collection of games, the third screen the gaming news, the fourth you Xbox Live profile. I will be honest and say that I was not able to test the capabilities of this part of the OS and cannot really assess it. I suppose if you have a lot of friends using WP7 who play games it will be a lot of fun to play together - this OS has a tool for this the Xbox Live service.

In your Xbox Live profile you see your friends, the list of the installed games and your scores.

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Multitasking

There is no multitasking in this OS. To be precise there is a feature of caching some data before an application closes and fast recovery of the cache when the application is restarted. In practice everything depends on the application. The ones I have come across on the Marketplace are: the official Facebook application and some other utility applications but none could save the session before closing.

And there is another issue of third party software notifications. Let us make up a John Citizen who has decided to create a nice application for WP7 the key feature of which will become a hub on the home screen with dynamic contents: e.g. he wants to create an upcoming movies' informer that displays the picture of the closest event.

To do so, Johnnie will have to create his own server to answer the requests of the user's phone every time the application needs to update its contents or add new information in the hub tile on the home screen.

After the application sends a request to Johnnie's server, the server will have to reroute the request to a special MS server, wait for response and send directions to the application to display new info. This is the policy of third party software notifications in Windows Phone 7.

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Data Sync, Zune

The simplest way to sync your contacts and the calendar as well as your mail in WP7 is MS Exchange Server. That is, if you have a mail account on Exchange you will be able to easily sync it as well as your address book and the calendar with your WP7 smartphone.

However, the main means of syncing for Wp7 smartphones is the Zune application. By means of which you can transfer music, pictures, video and podcasts from your PC to your phone. I will leave the functionality of Zune for a separate article. You cannot use Windows Phone 7 phones as a mass storage device you connect your smartphone to your PC and Zune automatically syncs the phone library. Basically, it is the same principle as in the iTunes+iPhone system.

We could spend a lot of time arguing whether it is good or bad that inWP7 you cannot simply transfer your music as to a flashdrive. You will have to launch Zune first, add all the necessary music to its library and then transfer music from the Zune's library to the phone. You cannot install applications using Zune.

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Browser

I am ready to forgive a lot for a good browser. And I suppose a similar thought was used when Apple was developing the first iPhone that despite all the growing pains had a really good browser from the very beginning. But Microsoft stands its ground as the developer of the most bizarre browsers and the WP7 browser proves it. Let us start from its structure and functionality.

You can start the browser by clicking on the tile on the home screen. You can also have any favorite web pages as tiles so you can go straight to them in a single click. Very convenient.

At the top of the browser there is the address bar and the refresh/stop button. I have to make a note here: the address bar is only displayed in the portrait orientation. If you turn the phone and the browser switches to the landscape mode you will not see the address bar this is inconvenient. For example, I have loaded a page and to read it I switched to the landscape mode. I have read for some time I accidentally press a link. Usually it is sufficient to simply press the stop button in the address bar and continue reading. But in WP7 in the landscape mode there is simply no such button you have to turn the phone to see the address bar and press stop, turn the phone back and continue reading. And anyway, as a rule it is usually more convenient to use the browser solely in the landscape orientation, which is impossible in Windows Phone 7.

At the bottom of the browser there are three buttons: add to favorites, view the favorites, go to the open pages menu. The Add to favorites button allows to type in the name of the site and mark it as a favorite. By pressing the Favorites button we go to the screen that displays the favorite sites as a list there is no arrangement, categories or search. If ou scroll through the screen you will see the history also as a list. You can delete all the history by pressing a single key at the bottom of the screen. You cannot delete separate links.

In the open pages menu you see a matrix on mini thumbnails of the sites. You can open the pages by clicking on the thumbnails. You can have and switch between up to six open web pages.

Flash

The browser correctly (dynamically) displays Flash banners and ads but this is where support for this technology ends. If you try to stream video on youtube.com or rutube.ru or play Flash games you will be notified that you are using an old version of Flash or Flash is not installed.

Search

By calling the context menu you can search the open page. The search works for all the text, the found word is highlighted in green or if there are several results in yellow. You can use the back and forward buttons at the bottom to move between the results.

Page Display

The standard Windows Phone 7 browser cannot fit the text to the screen. Any modern mobile browser can fit the text to the width so you could read it from the screen of your phone. If you zoom in or out the browser realigns the text to the width of the screen. But WP7 browser cannot do that. The result the text is fit to the width the time you open a page and will remain like that. If you zoom in nothing changes and to read you will have to use the horizontal scroll. As for the rest, I have no more complaints about the page display.

The indicators of the position on the page are two thin ribbons to the right and at the bottom of the screen. You can what part of the page you are now viewing. It is convenient when you have zoomed in a lot and want without rescaling to move to another part of the page.

The maximum zoom of the browser is excessive you can zoom in so much that you will only see a couple of words on the screen. The size of the pictures does not change when you change the scale.

When you type in an address the system assists you the browser offers you variants from the list of the pages you have visited.

Cookie

The browser supports cookie, this allows you to keep your identity on different sites, forums and not to enter passwords every time. The information is saved immediately upon entering of the data without any confirmation dialogues.

Settings

There a few settings available for the browser. You can enable cookies and keeping history of the sites you have visited to enhance the predictive options in the future in Bing. Besides you can select the display mode (mobile view or standard) or delete all the history.

Downloads

There is no separate menu for downloaded files in the browser. The WP7 browser does not have the concept of the download. The thing is, if you try to download a file that is not supported by the system (e.g. an archive), you will see a notification that this file format is not supported and is not available for download. If you download a picture it will be saved among the pictures, and you will be able to view it afterwards. If you download music you can listen to it while it is still being downloaded. That is all you can do with a song if you close a window with a downloading song you will not be able to restart it you will have to download it all over again.

Performance

The browser works fast and in terms of the speed I have no complaints.

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Documents

Windows Phone 7 has a preinstalled Office hub. It includes the document editor Word, the tables editor Excel, Power point for viewing presentations and OneNote for putting down notes.

On the Documents screen you see all the created and viewed documents and Excel tables, also here you see the Create new document or table button, you can mail any document or delete it from here.

While editing a text you can change the font and its properties (italics, underline, crossed) and its color. You can also select the highlighter color. There is also the undo button.

While creating or editing a table you can switch between the sheets of the document (also available foe .doc files), choose the cell format and apply filters.

This application supports Microsoft Sharepoint Server 2010 you can participate in editing or viewing of documents on the server without downloading it to your device. The Office hub also features the OneNote screen. Here you can create different notes. Also by means of the Office Hub you can view Power Point presentations.

There is only one way to transfer documents from your WP7 phone to your computer mail it. You cannot just copy it from or to the smartphone by syncing it with Zune. There is simply no such option.

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System Settings, Utility Apps

In this chapter I want to briefly review the basic system settings and the preinstalled utility applications such as the alarm clock, calculator and others.

Settings

The settings window consists of two screens: one for system settings and the other for the applications settings. The system settings include: the ringtone tune and the screen theme, enabling the flight mode, selection of a Wi-Fi network (there are no available settings for this interface) and enabling/disabling Bluetooth (no settings). Here you can also set up your mail accounts, the time and date and the key pad settings.

On the second screen you can adjust certain applications. In particular: there is one setting for the games (enable Xbox Live service connection), two settings for the IE browser, and settings for messaging all the hubs: People, Office, Phone, Pictures, Music. We have already discussed the settings for these hubs above.

Applications

Alarm Clock. You can have this application as a tile on home screen. If the alarm clock is on the tile will display besides the icon also the ON sign and the time it is set to. You can create over ten alarm clocks. When you create an alarm clock you can choose the time, repeat (single, on the specified week day or every day), the tune (from the standard) and its name. When the alarm clock is on you won't see its schedule and I really like this feature on Android. You can turn on and off any of the created alarm clocks by pressing an icon to the right of its name.

Calculator. In the portrait mode it is a basic calculator, in the landscape mode it has more advanced scientific functions of calculating degrees, logarithms etc.

Maps. A map viewing application, you can create routes and search for addresses a Google Maps analog.

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Target Audience

In my opinion, a Windows Phone 7 smartphone can be used as a very simple tool for phone calls and messaging

I cannot imagine WP7 today as a gaming platform for a number of reasons. Firstly, because one of the demands for WP7 phones are the sensor buttons below the screen. Can there really be a console with sensor buttons? Secondly, the current condition of the Marketplace, unfortunately, demonstrates that millions of developers are not eager to develop new or port existing games to WP7. Yes, there are some major companies that in partnership with MS develop new games for the system but their number is insufficient.

A WP7 smartphone won't do for businessmen as well. Because there is only basic support for MS Exchange Server, and there is no third party software that would expand the functionality, because there is no even a tool to work with mail attachments, or download and work with archives and many, many more other reasons.

It won't do a as a smartphone constructor Well, I think you get the picture an OS without multitasking is hardly a good choice for those who want to adjust the system to his taste. The corollary is Windows Phone 7 is a system for calls, for people who need a simple phone.

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Bottom Line

Before getting down to reviewing Windows Phone 7 I had used WP7 based smartphone as my main phone for about two months. I believe this term is sufficient to make present my opinion on the OS.

If you consider Windows Phone 7 devices as simple phones the situation looks tolerable. You can make calls, receive and send messages, read mail and documents and even surf in the Internet. Today practically any phone can do that. As well as Windows Phone 7.

If you consider WP7 devices as smartphones the situation looks grim. Even the most basic functions are realized quite primitively in Windows Phone 7.

This is a brief enumeration of the drawbacks I feel obliged to note (in the order of gravity):

  • The hiding system tray with all the essential information, time, the reception quality. You have to launch the system tray every time you need it, it does not display the missed events. I might add that WP7 is the first OS that does not have a system tray – an essential interface element.
  • You cannot assign your own tune as the ringtone.
  • There is no multitasking – practically every application has to be restarted very time you go to the home screen.
  • There is no text alignment to the width of the screen – neither in the browser, nor Word, nor the mail client. If you zoom in – you have to scroll through the text both horizontally and vertically.
  • You cannot see the call time in the call log.
  • In the music and video players there is no playback slider – you cannot jump to a particular part or time of the track or video.
  • In the phone dial screen you cannot find the needed contact in just a few clicks (no SmartDial) as you can do in Windows Mobile or all Androids and HTC phones.
  • You cannot type in a new URL, refresh the page or stop loading in the landscape mode of the browser (there is no address bar in this orientation).

Very soon the first Windows Phone 7 update should be out. Certain issues will be fixed, like, for example, the Marketplace, the illogical search in the app store, copy/paste will be added, but most of the drawbacks mentioned in this review will still be there.

Let us have a comparison in terms of culinary. It will be easier to describe the nature of WP7. There is iOS by Apple a simple and delicious dish ready to be served. There is Android: in its first versions Google offered not the dish itself but its components that you had to put together, stir and get a good meal. There was Windows Mobile Microsoft offered the users not yet ready components but raw ones. But ones properly cooked and assembled and you had yourself a delicious dinner you could have without worrying about your health.

Let us now have a look at the dish called Windows Phone 7. This time Microsoft claims that it is a very simple and tasty dainty. But it turns out it is merely a semi-finished product and however hard you try you won't be able to make yourself anything edible because the products need to be processed back at Microsoft first. And though they say that the system is good and is just being refined: "Bon Appetit, cheres users!" We can only reply: "No, thank you".

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Artem Lutfullin (artem@mobile-review.com)
Twitter
Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 14 March 2011

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