Right about this time is when I received the HTC HD7, unboxed it, and started playing with the Windows Phone 7-based device. I thought it was only fitting that I timed the final article in our week long look at the device around the same time I first got my hands on it. We started with the hardware, and then we took a look at the software. Lastly, we took a quick glance at the applications available for the device, both natively, carried-based, and third party. All in all, while there have been a few hiccups along the way, the HD7 has managed to not suck after a week of usage. But now, as we wrap it all up, we're looking at arguably the biggest feature of the device: Xbox LIVE integration. So, is it everything I thought it would be? Or is it just another feature that has a lot of potential, but isn't worth the time right now? Find out after the cut.
Aside from the Zune Pass on my phone, there wasn't a single feature that I was looking forward to more than Xbox LIVE on my Windows Phone 7 device. While Apple is making significant headway into the mobile gaming market, I felt like Microsoft already had the base, and that they could easily succeed where Apple and company were still trying to make ground. So you probably won't be at all surprised to find out that Xbox LIVE was the first Hub that I accessed, after the device turned on. I played around with the interface for awhile, noting that, just like every other aspect of Windows Phone 7 (as I would find out over the next few days), it's just too beautiful to look away. Swipe left and right to find what you want. Easy, simple, and aesthetically pleasing.
Simply put, Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone 7 is awesome, and it's only going to get better. With the development community where it's at right now, and seeing that mobile games are a huge hit, I find it almost impossible to believe that game developers out there won't want to focus on the Xbox LIVE functionality within Windows Phone 7, and make the best games that they can. Simply put, the hardware, with its minimum specifications and standard Operating System, much like what you see on Apple's side of the street, means that developers have a wide open opportunity to make some great games, and include standard integration with Xbox LIVE.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, you get to tie your Xbox LIVE GamerTag to your handset. You get to change your Avatar's clothes. You get to see, and message, your friends on Xbox LIVE, to see what they're up to, what games they're playing, and keep up with their Achievements. And yes, you get your own Achievements, too. So, if you happen to be playing Bejeweled Live, you earn Achievements as you play, and those go right along with your total Gamer score. It makes for an engrossing experience, and one that I find perfectly emulates the experience of Xbox LIVE on the Xbox 360, but on a smaller form factor.
As far as games go, there's plenty to choose from. However, my favorites happen to be Bejeweled Live and Max and the Magic Marker. If you've never played Bejeweled, it's a simple enough idea: drag colored gems so that they match other colored gems on the board. Connect more than three at a time, and you get special, more powerful gems. It's simple, but addictive.
It's after I played Max and the Magic Marker for awhile, that I realized that I'm going to fall in love with the games here, and having Achievements just makes it so much better. In this title, you're a kid with a magical marker (as if you couldn't tell from the title of the game, right?), and you have to use that marker to interact with the levels. That means getting across large gaps, catapulting yourself over ledges, and making colored boulders to help you along your journey. I was surprised at how enjoyable the game was, in the end.
But, there is room for improvement. There are a few games out there, but the truth is, there's not a lot of games. And, there's even less that I, in my honest opinion, actually looked interesting to me. I'm sure there's a few titles out there that are just as fun as the two games I just mentioned, and I may be judging them too hastily, but I've only got a week! If you've got yourself a Windows Phone 7 device, I highly recommend jumping into the Xbox LIVE Hub, and having way too much fun.
I knew before I took on this project that, at the end, I would have to sit here and tell you, honestly, if I think that Windows Phone 7 can compete in the mobile market. Does it stand a chance against Apple's iOS, or Google's Android? Where does it stand against HP's webOS, or Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS? Well, I can tell you this: it's a fighter. And, it has more than a fighting chance to make itself known in this ridiculously cramped, complex market. But, you know what? I think Windows Phone 7 has enough flash, speed, elegance, and everything else that someone could want in a mobile Operating System, that it could, indeed, usurp Android and iOS for the throne.
But, it won't be easy. But, that actually has nothing to do with the OS itself. It has everything to do with the fact that Microsoft came out of the gate swinging, but unfortunately, the general populace believes that they are already behind. There's not enough applications in the Marketplace. There's no Copy & Paste. You get the idea. And, unfortunately, that's a real dampening force on Microsoft, because they've got a great mobile Operating System here. It's light years better than Windows Mobile, and yes, I'm saying that completely from a consumer standpoint. I'm not a business person, so I can't sit here and tell you that it's better in that department than anything else. But, if I had to make a guess, I would tell you right now that Android and iOS work just as well as Windows Phone 7 would in a business setting.
Yes, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 has a few sections where it can improve, and there's obviously some bugs that need to be worked out. But, their hard-headedness towards mandatory hardware requirements, along with a mobile Operating System that is so gorgeous, sleek, and easy to use, may mean that, sooner than later, Windows Phone 7 pops out heading for first place.