Here we are, together again. Welcome to the second installment of the week long trial run with Windows Phone 7, courtesy of the HTC HD7 on T-Mobile USA. If you’ll recall, the first article focused on the hardware, what I liked about it and what I didn’t, as well as outlining some of the things that may, or may not be, deal breakers for the consumer looking for their next device. This time around, we’re going to take a look at the software, and see how Windows Phone 7, as a whole, has been stacking up for me over the last few days. Keep in mind, though, that this is not our traditional SlashGear review. You can find the international HD7 review here, and the T-Mobile USA device’s review right here, if you’re interested. So, if you’re wondering how Windows Phone 7 has performed for me so far, with regular usage, then jump on past the break to find out.
Software is a touchy subject nowadays. It used to be that many people didn’t put all that much stock into what, exactly, their phone could do, as long as it made calls, and could send text messages. But, as smartphones have become more prevalent in our world, the software, and what it can do, is front and center when someone is looking for a new phone to buy. Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS, and now the evolution of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7. (Yes, there are more out there, but I’m just not going to list all of them.) If you’re buying a phone, you know what you want it to do, more than anything else, but there have to be extras, too. Some platforms offer more than others, whether that’s due to a marketplace where they can download third party applications, or just simple touches to the user experience, as you use the device.
In the case of Windows Phone 7, there are so many subtle tweaks to the Operating System itself, so many aesthetic flourishes, that it’s usually hard to look away. Practically everything on the HTC HD7 is “alive,” in one way or another. From the Live Panels on your homescreen, to even just the loading indicator that pops up at the top of the display. There’s always something going on, if you’re using the device. The graphical enhancements, which some may think would make the device slow down, are way more of an improvement than a hindrance. I’ll be perfectly honest with you here: when I saw all of the graphical things going on in Windows Phone 7, I originally thought that the devices would run so slow, despite the 1GHz processor standard under the hood, that it wouldn’t be any fun to use, let alone watch.
I was wrong.
Obviously, user interaction with the device is going to vary, and if you’ve got yourself a Windows Phone 7 (in particular, the HD7) and you’re seeing some slow down, then I’m sorry — but I’m not seeing any. Any at all, in fact. Applications, both native and third party, open so quickly, and with such a visual pleasing fashion, that I rarely ever want to put the phone down. And no, it’s not just me being lost in the visuals that I forget, or don’t realize, how long it’s taking the application I’m launching to load up. Things are just fast on the HD7, and I’m thoroughly impressed.
But, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, though. As Microsoft has said in the past, there is no support for third party applications to run in the background on a Windows Phone 7 handset. And yes, that does put it pretty much at the bottom rung of smartphones out there right now, especially considering Apple has already made their claim into the multitasking world. Other competitors, like Android, webOS, and BlackBerry are built around the idea of multitasking, and so it’s strange to see Microsoft coming out of the gate without support for it. Yes, it may help battery life, but it’s still just a strange nuance that, even after a few days, I’m not completely accustomed to.
Furthermore, I’m finding some very interesting things happening through my daily usage. For example, the Facebook application is the only application that I’ve found that will ask me if I’m sure that I want to exit the application. I’ve went through several different ones, different games, and none of them ask me that question. It’s just the Facebook app. And since I know that it’s not running in the background (it isn’t), I have absolutely no idea why it happens. Oh, and if you don’t hit the ‘back’ arrow to leave the application (“Are you sure you want to exit?”), and you hit the Windows key to go back to your homescreen, you can still access the application from its saved spot. It will resume right where you left off.
I’m pointing this out, because we know that Microsoft designed the system to save the state of a particular application in the background, not keep it running. I’m also pointing this out, because I feel like this may be the reason why Facebook is asking me if I’m sure I want to exit the application. This would make sense, but other apps, like a Google Voice application, doesn’t ask me that when I exit the app, but if I hit the Windows key to go back to the homescreen within the app, it will indeed save its state while I go and do other things. I really don’t know why it happens, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s still enough to make me look at the screen every time it happens, and I can feel my eyebrow rise.
There’s one other thing that makes me scratch my head in confusion, and it has to do with me hitting the ‘Back’ button at the homescreen. If I didn’t leave Facebook and exit the application (“Are you sure you want to exit?”) properly, then if I hit the ‘back’ key, I will get back into Facebook. Okay, that’s fine. But, if I do exit the app, and I’m back at the homescreen and hit the ‘back’ button, I’m taken to a blank screen. It’s completely dark, and nothing happens. I can see the time at the top-right of the display, but the rest of the display is black, and as far as I can tell, the device is just kind of sitting there, thinking. Trying to figure out what I want it to do, or what it wants to do. In that time, which usually lasts anywhere between 3 to 5 seconds, I’m left wondering what, exactly, is going on. I can stop it short, if I were to hit the Windows key, but if I don’t, I’m left at that empty screen, waiting.
I think this is Windows Phone 7 trying to find an application, which it believes could be saved in the background, and its running through its resources trying to find it. But, when it ultimately doesn’t find anything, I’m brought back to the homescreen, as if nothing happened. I should also point out that this doesn’t happen every time, which just makes me more confused. It seems to be random; almost by accident.
I think I should take a moment here, and talk more about that visual polish I was hyping up earlier. As you probably know by now, you can change the colors of the Live Tiles on the homescreen. Microsoft gives you two themes to choose from: dark and light. The light theme is super bright, if you’ve got your display’s brightness all the way up and you’re in a dark room. I’ve chosen to go with the dark theme, and I usually change my Live Tiles every once in awhile. So far, I think the dark theme with the lime tiles are my favorite. But, changing this color isn’t just changing the tile colors. No, you’re actually altering the accent color of the entire phone, so anything that is accented by the color, like the threaded text messages, will be that color of choice. If you wanted, you could make your entire phone pink. A small, yet noticeable, part of that is the loading bar, which will also change colors depending on your color choice.
Furthermore, window transitions are silky smooth, and fun to watch. Even moving from the main homescreen, to the applications list version, and then back is something fun to watch. Or, moving from the messaging application, and back, over to the calendar. Everything just has that subtle and interesting aesthetic tweak to it, that when I’m using the phone, I find my eyes are attracted to naturally. I feel like it’s a new and refreshing way for people to use their phone, and interact with it. If you’re having fun just navigating your phone, why put it down?
And, watching the Messaging Live Tile change its face, with more messages that you receive, is fun, too.
Should all the graphical flourishes be enough to make someone want to buy the phone? No, probably not. But it doesn’t hurt. The truth is, I find myself using the phone more and more because I don’t get bored going from one screen to another, or one application to another. There are screen transition animations on a lot of different mobile Operating Systems out there, specifically Android and iOS, but none of them are as interesting, or full-fledged as those found in Windows Phone 7.
There are a lot of aspects to the software, and it may take all day to write down every little thing that Windows Phone 7 does, or doesn’t do. A lot of those software features are tied to native applications that Windows Phone 7 features, like their email, messaging, and Music & Movies. But, I don’t necessarily want to take up all of your time, so I’m going to bring you the applications side of all this tomorrow. Right now, it looks like the Marketplace isn’t completely overwhelmed with applications, so there will be a few in there that should interest a few of you out there. Or not, your call.
So, stay tuned, as my week long tour of the HTC HD7 from T-Mobile USA continues, and I investigate Windows Phone 7 on a far more personal level. Oh, and if you want to see the software in action, and you didn’t want to go through the review I linked to up there, then you can check out the walkthrough we posted along with the review below, which is a good run down of the software, all quick like.