Microsoft made significant progress with its recent Windows Phone 7.5 software update, and a lot of people who try the OS seem to like it. The toughest part is getting people to try it in the first place, especially those who are wedded to iOS or Android. To give Windows Phone a fair shake, we had three LAPTOP staffers gave up their iPhones, Android handsets, or BlackBerries for a week. Here's what we loved about the OS, and what could use work.
Sherri L. Smith, Staff Writer (Switched from Android)
For me, owning an Android phone sends a message to the world -- I’m cooler than the BlackBerry crowd and I’m raging against the Apple iMachine. So I felt guilty leaving my EVO 4G (my first Android love) in my hotel room during CES in favor of a Windows Phone. However, the guilt quickly washed away as I dove headfirst into the HTC Radar 4G. The initial setup of adding the majority of my emails, social networking and multimedia accounts took between 5-7 minutes.
The display was fairly bright with sharp detail and vivid color. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom and double-tap were smooth with no noticeable stuttering. Scrolling was also pretty zippy and seamless. I was impressed with the clear audio quality, but it got slightly tinny at full volume. The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera took relatively clear, colorful photos with the flash engaged, but without it, the photos came back grainy.
The Windows Phone interface allowed me to integrate a number of my Windows-based accounts with their corresponding apps (Windows Live ID, Xbox Live, Zune and Outlook). As a gamer, the Xbox Live app was an immediate hit. I really liked being able to download and play Xbox Live games, catch up with friends and rack up some achievements on my gamertag. The ability to sync the Radar 4G with my Zune account and access my playlist was also a very cool feature.
The inclusion of Office Mobile and Outlook was a huge plus. Instead of having to make do with a demo version of Documents To Go, I was able to type, edit and share documents with Office Mobile. Combined with Microsoft SkyDrive, I could store photos and docs in the cloud for access on any phone or computer. Outlook patched me into my work email and calendar for steady productivity.
I was an immediate fan of Windows Phone 7.5’s Live Tile user interface. Instead of the static app icons seen on Android phones, many of the homescreen tiles had real-time updates and animations that made for a visually engaging experience. The ability to move the tiles around let me customize the device.
However, panning right to the app screen delivered flat, boring icons compounded by the fact that the app screen doesn’t break into manageable pages. It’s fine when it’s only 10-12 apps, but scrolling through 42+ apps became annoying. Android's app page layout is a more efficient solution for people like me that use a lot of apps.
Speaking of apps, in many cases, I preferred the Windows iteration of an app to the Android version. Similar to the Live Tile interface, many of the apps used bright, colorful tiles to create a clean, visual experience. Instead of scrolling up or down to access different areas of the app, Window Phone’s apps have a side-to-side navigation that takes getting used to.
The Windows version of the USA Today app was one of my favorites. Instead of Android's staid blue navigation bar and static list of articles, I was greeted by a large headline image from the top story and a large weather widget. The background image of a landscape of rolling green hills topped by a bright blue sky and billious white clouds was visually stimulating, as were thumbnail images for the photos and videos section. Overall, both versions of the app offer similar functionality, but the Windows version has a slicker, more reader-friendly interface.
Bottom Line: Overall, my week with a Windows Phone was fun and informative. I didn’t miss my EVO as much as I thought I would and since I'm overdue for an upgrade, I'm seriously considering making the switch. I found the interface to be zippy and intuitive. My only real gripe at this point would be the lack of apps. Overall, I would recommend Windows Phone for anyone looking for a solid user interface at an affordable price.
Oliver Renick, Intern (Switching from BlackBerry)
“Where’s the trackball?” That was my first reaction after trading in my BlackBerry for a Windows Phone, and it should demonstrate the technological level at which I operate on a daily basis. For me, stepping up to the HTC Titan on AT&T wasn’t just a technology boost – it was a lifestyle upgrade.
The Windows Phone operating system is about as far from BlackBerry OS as you can get. My Berry is a giant keyboard; my Windows is a giant, beautiful screen. Windows Phone works like a computer. BlackBerry works like a rusty lever-pull apparatus.
The switch between the two is dramatic because it essentially skips an evolutionary step. The ubiquity of the iPhone makes for a smooth transition for even the most archaic phone owners – that’s arguably Apple’s greatest strength. Google’s Android, while different from iOS in content, has a very similar layout.
The Windows Phone design is extremely vibrant, full of window panes with big fonts and minimal images. Instead of GUIs and pop-up options menus, Windows favors lists and side-by-side screens. There is certainly a learning curve for Windows Phone. As I’m used to clicking on discrete and obvious icons or buttons, it was initially unclear how much of the text - or simply, colored boxes - can be interacted with. As it turns out, a lot of the elements can be clicked.
The interface is similar to a laterally moving slideshow, so navigation is reserved to just swiping and scrolling. As such, applications don’t feel separated from the main menu, and it’s easy to move back and forth between programs.
Consolidation of information and streamlining of social feeds is Windows Phone's bread and butter. While BlackBerry can conduct a search through social accounts like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Windows takes all the information – I’m still mystified how it got my old phone contacts – and consolidates the info into a single contact (sometimes two). Having all of my friends' updates in one spot supplies an incredible amount of breathability in an otherwise oversaturated pipeline of incoming social media litter.
RIM still takes the cake in the quicker delivery of messages. The notification bar of my BlackBerry is always on time (when service isn't down) and is a one-glance way to see if I’ve got mail.
The stark design and overwhelming functionality differences that elevate Windows Phone high above BlackBerry overshadowed any inconsistencies in call quality. My first call on the HTC Titan was dropped and at times my voice was choppy – though this could be a result of the service change from Verizon to AT&T for this experiment.
Bottom Line: I’ve used iOS and I’ve tested many Android devices. Neither is like Windows Phone. Though WP7 may not be a better technology than those two, it is superior to BlackBerry.
Davey Alba, Staff Writer (Switching from iPhone)
Windows Phone has sparked an almost cultish appeal among folks who work in the tech industry, prompting others to wonder what the attraction is. So when I had the opportunity to do a story on the experience of being a “Switcher” to the Windows Phone, I jumped at the chance. What follows is the opinion of an avid iOS user after substituting her iPhone 4 with a Windows Phone 7.5 handset, the Samsung Focus S.
Before I begin, I should share that I'm an apps addict. I have more than 300 apps on my iPhone, all fastidiously arranged in their neat little folders, covering 3 screens on my device. In fact, I’m the designated Apps Girl in the office. Whenever a new or exciting app makes a splash in the market, I’m the writer who will cover it—searching, downloading, testing, crashing, complaining and updating.
So now that that’s out of the way, how did I like the Windows Phone? The initial impression whenever I fire it up is always the same: “Whoa. Cool.” It’s the reaction you’ll get, too, when you show it off. The user interface looks fresh and friendly. Colorful tiles flip and bounce, short of sparkling and winking at you. The hardware was solid, too. “Play with me!” the Focus S practically screamed. And that I did, as soon as I got my Windows Phone, until 3 a.m.
But like a bubbly new pop song that you initially enjoyed, then thought was okay, then after the 500th airing on the radio made you want to throw the hunk of metal across the room, Windows Phone’s gloss wore off.
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the Samsung Focus S started to blur, because of the apps. It’s not that the platform doesn’t have any. The OS just doesn’t have enough—especially for an iPhone gal like me.
Have you found an awesome vintage car on the street? Tough luck; you can’t Instagram that. Want to listen to a song while you’re waiting for the bus? Well, you can’t on Pandora. HBO Go? More like HBO No-Go. Other apps are just iOS-only— for example, Flipboard, the best social magazine app out there.
Bottom Line: As more and more people are dazzled by the Windows Phone UI’s slickness, Microsoft could start to close the app gap with Android and iOS. Nokia's scale will certainly help attract more developers to the platform. But at this stage Windows Phone’s offerings can’t plug the app-shaped hole in my heart.