Windows Phone 7 hands-on
Earlier this week I got my hands on a Windows Phone 7 handset, and have been using it extensively over the last few days to get as familiar with the platform as possible.
It's interesting that Windows Phone 7, perhaps unlike Android, has managed to carve out a clear and distinct visual style that is clearly separate from the iPhone. A clear geometric design pattern is clear throughout, and there's a strong and rather novel emphasis on Application layout being horizontally delineated, which is quite distinct from anything that either Android or iOS attempts to do. For all of Android's strengths, one thing I feel it lacks is a clear visual distinctiveness amongst the OS and its ecosystem of apps; and this has in some part contributed to the deluge of apps ported directly from iPhone with little thought to the strengths and characteristics of the Android platform. This doesn't feel like something that would happen on WP7, and it's something I'm yet to encounter. Apps feel like they're designed with the strengths of the platform and the coherence of its UI in mind.
The most immediately apparent thing about WP7 is its love of squares: the home screen consists entirely of tiles of selected applications. Whilst lots are static, quite a few can show dynamic content such as the number of unread emails, or just alternating through photos of contacts. These "Live Tiles" are pretty much equivalent to a set of sylistically consistent Android home-screen widgets, and they're incredible!
I was also pleasantly impressed with level of integration the phone had with Google services: after logging in, contacts and calendar were both fully integrated. Facebook integration is also top drawer, importing Facebook contacts onto your phone and displaying a live stream combining both Windows Live and Facebook updates. This feature was sadly removed from Android back in 2.3.3 as part of Google and Facebook's escalating row over data access, so it's nice to see it here.
Another area where WP7 feels ahead of Android is mobile gaming: MSFT have thrown the force of the XBox Live brand at the platform, and a decent range of Live enabled games (with achievements) seem to be available (these include Plants vs. Zombies, the ubiquitous Angry Birds and Sonic).
Of course, WP7 has its fair range of faults too. Since it was released last October, consumer adoption has been rather slow, and this is reflected in the comparatively limited app ecosystem, particularly for larger and less agile companies. Given the way iOS advertises and sells itself so much on the strength of its AppStore, this will remain a Catch-22 weakness for the platform for the foreseeable future. The included Internet Explorer is also somewhat below par for performance, and IE9 Mobile, due to be released with the phone's Mango update later this year, unforgivably omits @font-face web fonts.
But it must be said that I've found my time with the phone to be an surprisingly enjoyable experience. I truly hope for the entire market that Nokia's decision to adopt WP7 as its primary smartphone platform increases the marketshare of Windows Phone. The software is incredibly sleek and classy, and the user interface the most pleasing, cohesive and smart of (in my opinion) any smartphone platform. Will it be replacing my Nexus S? Probably not. But I had to consider it, and that says quite a lot.
I was using an HTC Pro 7 handset during the course of this test.