Windows Phone 7 impressions

I’ve had my new phone – an HTC HD7 “Schubert” for nearly four months now.

For the most part, I’m enjoying it – as a phone, it works fine. I’m still trying to get my fingers and thumbs to thump the keyboard in the right way to avoid making spelling mistakes. But that’s not too bad.

The screen controls – dragging, flicking, pinching and tapping my way to multi-touch success – work really intuitively, and I love the fact that I can take a picture within seconds of pulling the phone out of my pocket, while the iPhone guys are still fumbling through their unlock code.

Backing up / Updating

Updating is handled well, IMHO, with a link to your PC required, as much so that you can have a full backup taken of your phone, as it is to do with increasing the speed of the overall operation. If you’ve done like I have, and filled your phone with podcasts, video and music, this can take some considerable time to back up, which makes the update process perhaps a little too long. A future version of this might choose to ignore backing up those items on the phone which can be restored from the Collection.

I was thoroughly impressed with the speed by which the certificate update was shipped through T-Mobile. Obviously, with each carrier able to stop and delay any update Microsoft issues, this could become an issue in future. If I can’t rely on mobile devices within my organisation being patched against known vulnerabilities, I can’t comfortably allow them access to the network. Of course, you could level the same accusation against the iPhone in spades – after all, with all the jailbreaking that goes on with that device, what you have are a pile of modified systems, not managed or secured, and able to lie convincingly about security policies they have implemented.

Application selection

Much like other phones, it’s difficult to filter the good from the dross. Microsoft selects some good “Featured” apps, but I’d also like to see some means of better filtering on the app selection. Writing one reader program, and putting a hundred free texts into it, does not mean you’ve published a hundred apps. This is especially true for local TV News apps, Realtor apps, transport navigation apps, indexes of lawyers, blog feeds – yeah, really it’s especially true of everything, if that was ever a meaningful thing to say.

Having said that, there’s all sorts of cool apps available for the phone, and I’m sure that for all the apps I’ve found, there are equivalents on other phones, and that there are numerous exclusive apps only for this phone or that. I can say that I have not been disappointed by the selection of apps on my phone. I don’t find some niche apps, but then I don’t find those for the other phones either.

All the apps that you’d expect to find are here. Even Angry Birds now, which apparently have to be present for a phone to be considered complete. Of course, Chicks ‘n’ Vixens is available for the Windows Phone 7, but not for other platforms, so that’s a win.

Navigation

Once you’ve installed a few apps, the ability to ‘pin’ a number to the main menu helps enormously, but even so, it can be a trifle daunting to make your way through the single list of apps that you get when you wander off the main menu. It’d be nice to have the ability to group apps, and maybe to copy the Music folder’s ability to navigate by the initial letter of the album.

In its favour, however, the flick and tap technique is so intuitive and easy to use that this is almost not a problem at all. But that’s a very weak plus, compared to the effort it should take to implement a grouping / filtering feature.

Bluetooth

It’s an excellent feature, being able to use my Bluetooth headset instead of plugging into the phone. Sadly, it’s not exactly complete. I can’t tell you how startled I was to open up a YouTube video and find that, instead of privately broadcasting into my ears, it was actually making lots of noise that everyone else in the room (apart from me) could hear.

I thought that was just YouTube, because their app is quite frankly one of the crappiest implementations possible. I’d recommend the HTC YouTube app in preference, if you have an HTC phone.

Sadly, no. The phone does not transmit the audio from playing videos over Bluetooth to a headset. Perhaps this was intended to be a safety feature, so that you can’t try and watch a video while driving, but I think it’s important to recognise that many of us have Bluetooth headsets that we like to use while commuting. So, please, enable Bluetooth headsets for watching video, and don’t think about disabling it based on speed. Like I said, I use my phone to watch videos and listen to radio podcasts while I’m riding the bus.

I don’t know, perhaps the onus should be on the car driver to ensure the safety of himself, his passengers, and everyone else on the road. Someone who’ll try to watch a video while driving will also be texting while driving, shaving, reading a newspaper, applying makeup, solving a Rubik’s cube, etc. Yes, I’ve seen all this out the window of the bus – I even have a really blurry picture of the guy solving the Rubik’s cube, but focusing through two windows while going at speed isn’t the phone’s strong point.

Podcasts

Still where I spend a lot of my time.

Hand-made podcasts (not subscribed from a URL) are still supported like ***, and need some work. Think about audio books, radio shows from CD, ripped to MP3, etc.

No graphics, no navigation other than “scroll up and down”, no consideration to the thought that a podcast might be longer than about twenty characters.

Sorting of podcasts in the phone is in a different order from their sorting in the Zune software, so you can’t reasonably manage the relationship between your collection and the phone.

And once you have a podcast of several episodes, it is often (almost always) out of order. No respect for Track #, Part of Set or other ID3 tags that would allow the Zune software on the phone to figure out what order to play episodes in. My absolute favourite is when a podcast is listed in exactly reverse order.

In the same vein, it’d be really nice if you could cue up (or queue up) multiple podcasts to play one after another. You could call it, oh, I don’t know, a list for playing – List O’ Play, perhaps. I’m sure Microsoft could come up with a simpler term than that, if they were to only implement the feature. On a long journey, I’d like to be able to say “I want to listen to this episode, then that one, then this one over here”, and then put the phone back into my pocket, while I sit back and listen.

It’s clear that Microsoft doesn’t have a use-case around podcasts for the Zune or the Windows Phone 7, and that they don’t have any staff who actively use podcasts, or audio books, etc. While I appreciate that the goal with the Zune was to provide a music-listening experience, podcasts and audio books are also important ways to use a device that plays and manages audio. I’d like to see that taken into consideration.

Published Sun, Jul 24 2011 13:37 by Alun Jones

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