Windows Phone 7 Review Roundup

By  Martha Walz — November 02, 2010

The first Windows Phone 7 device isn't set to be released in the U.S. until next week, but several reviewers have gotten their hands on demo devices over the past month. The initial responses are mixed, with high praise for Microsoft truly coming up with a unique new OS of its own, but also with some confusion, as there is a distinct lack of features considered standard on today's smartphones.
 
"Windows Phone 7 is a smartphone platform that's...designed from the ground up for a finger-driven interface. It's built to be clean, attractive, and consistent," says Peter Bright of Ars Technica  in his 18-page review of the new OS.
 
"The good news is that the software is generally a winner: fun, easy to use and not just another iPhone wannabe," says Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg
 
This sentiment is echoed by Walter Mossberg, All Things Digital. "My conclusion is that Microsoft has used its years in the smartphone wilderness to come up with a user interface that is novel and attractive, that stands out from the Apple and Google approaches, and that works pretty well," he says.
 
David Pogue of The New York Times agrees, to a point:  "It's a complete rethinking of app phone software design. Somehow, Microsoft has...[come] up with a fresh, joyous, beautiful new software design that doesn't look anything like iPhone or Android," he says. "Windows Phone 7 shows some real genius, but it is missing an embarrassingly long list of features that are standard on iPhone and Android."
 
Read on to find out what else they had to say about the new OS, with specific focus on its enterprise features.
 
User interface
Instead of being application-driven like iOS and Android, Microsoft has designed its new UI in a completely different way.
 
"The most striking thing about Windows Phone 7's interface is how different it is from anything that preceded it or which it competes with," says Harry McCracken of PC World
 
"The difference is apparent from the moment you power up a Windows Phone," agrees Bloomberg's Jaroslovsky. "Instead of screen after screen of application icons, as with the iPhone and Android phones, you're presented with a set of colorful rectangles Microsoft calls 'live tiles.'"
 
These tiles are large, colorful buttons on the home screen that are dynamic, active components which incorporate live data. They let you know, for instance, the number of unread e-mails or text messages. The phone tile shows missed calls. And in the case of the calendar tile, it shows the details of the next appointment in your schedule.
 
"Tiles can do more than just show a number, of course," explains Bright of Ars Technica. "Pin a website and the icon becomes a miniature screenshot of the site. The calendar tile shows you the time and subject of your next appointment, obviating the need to actually open the calendar application to find that out."
 
"The idea here is to let you get at information quickly, sometimes without loading an application at all," echoes PC World's McCracken. "And for the most part, WP7 does indeed feel fast."
 
The overall UI navigation was intuitive and easy-to-use for all reviewers.
 
"The interface is minimal: unnecessary chrome has been stripped away in order to accentuate the information," comments Ars Technica's Bright
 
"Day to day use inside of this UI has been solid," says Joshua Topolsky of Engadget. "Microsoft actually created a fairly intuitive, tightly woven operating system."
 
Topolsky was also pleased with the touchscreen.
 
"We're still extremely impressed by the software's touch responsiveness and speed," continues Topolsky of Engadget. "In fact, this is probably the most accurate and nuanced touch response this side of iOS4."
 
E-mail
E-mail is a standard smartphone application, and Microsoft got it right with its support for multiple Exchange accounts. The only downside that reviewers mentioned was the lack of one unified inbox for all e-mail accounts.
 
"The presentation of e-mail is simple but effective," says Bright of Ars Technica. "I was overjoyed to see that multiple Exchange accounts were supported."
 
"The e-mail program syncs with a variety of services, but lacks a unified inbox, so you have to clutter your Start screen with separate tiles for each account," explains All Things Digital's Mossberg
 
"We would like to see an option to have multiple items inside of one tile (not dissimilar from the iPhone's new folders) where you could bundle things like your mail accounts into one place," says Topolsky of Engadget. "Of course, it would be preferable just to have a combined inbox."
 
Web browser
Web browsing on Windows Phone 7 is supported through Internet Explorer, Microsoft's own browser.
 
"Web browsing on Windows Phone 7 is actually a really pleasant experience," says Engadget's Topolsky.
 
However, there is no support for Flash, Silverlight, or HTML 5 video. In addition, there is no dedicated YouTube app.
 
Instead, says Engadget's Topolsky, "[Windows Phone 7 relies] on an interpreter which is part of the video hub to play back YouTube content. Unfortunately, every time we tried to watch something, WP7 attempted to download the YouTube software and failed, so we were unable to test the functionality. For those of you looking for any kind of streaming video playback on these devices, right now you're kind of out of luck."
 
Apps
Microsoft expects that its app store, called Marketplace, will have around 1,000 apps when the first phone is launched in the U.S.
 
"Marketplace worked fine and has a nice try-before-you-buy feature for some apps," says All Things Digital's Mossberg.
 
However, the reviews were mixed on whether the OS is good or bad for third-party app developers.
 
"The OS provides a coherent interface that's a solid model for third-party developers. As with Apple's iOS, apps that pick up on design elements that are already there have a head start," says PC World's McCracken.
 
Engadget's Topolsky disagrees. "First, there are basic problems with the way in which Microsoft allows developers to use the WP7 platform. Because there's no multitasking here, not only do apps not run in the background, but they can't even sustain themselves during a screen lock. This is incredibly frustrating, as app load times on the platform are somewhat lengthy for most of the third-party titles we tested."
 
Office
Microsoft's Office integration on Windows Phone 7 is one of the key points that makes it stand out from its competitors and makes it a true enterprise device.
 
PC World's McCracken wasn't impressed, however. "Office Mobile feels underpowered, except for the ability to add notes to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files (useful for collaborative editing) and to view documents in outline form."
 
While Engadget's Topolsky agrees , he says the fact that Windows Phone 7 supports SharePoint servers is a plus when it comes to enterprise users. "Indeed, Windows Phone 7 supports SharePoint servers, which'll undoubtedly come in handy for some business users," he says.
 
Lock screen
The lock screen is a unique feature that Microsoft has brought to its new mobile OS, and it seems that Microsoft hit this one spot on.
 
The New York Times's Pogue explains, "Without even fully waking the phone, you can see the date and time, your next appointment, and how many new messages await (e-mail, voice mail, texts)."

"The rationale behind the lock screen is simple: it should show you essential information at a glance," explains Ars Technica's Bright.  "This is information people use time and time again every day, so it should be readily accessible."

There are a few features that Windows Phone 7 lacks that all reviewers noted. There is no copy/paste functionality, no folders for organizing applications, no multitasking, no tethering, no video chat, and no video voice mail.

"And unlike iOS, webOS, Android, and even BlackBerry 6, there's no universal search option here to help you quickly find what you want," comments Engadget's Topolsky. "That's one thing we didn't expect to find ourselves missing, but became very noticeable very quickly."

All reviewers agreed that although Microsoft needs to fix these issues before its first major update, the success of Windows Phone 7 is yet to be seen.

"Because Windows Phone 7 is, essentially, an entirely new smartphone platform, it will take a while before we have any sense of whether and how quickly third-party developers write apps for it," says Bloomberg's Jaroslovsky.

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