Windows Phone 7: first review
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is an impressive step forward but can it challenge Apple and Google in the smartphone wars?
Windows Phone 7 is the slickest, most impressive version of Windows on a mobile phone that Microsoft has yet produced.
But that’s not saying much – and even if the actual quality of the operating system has much to recommend it, it offers little that will revolutionise the very crowded smartphone market.
There is, of course, a problem with reviewing any mobile operating system, because the software is so intimately connected to the hardware on which it is running.
Testing a nearly final build of WP7 on an HTC HD7, the impression was of a package that certainly felt more professionally put together than a typical Android phone, and genuinely rivalled the user experience of Apple’s iPhone. But WP7 did less than either of those.
So turn on any WP7 device and the home screen slides up to reveal a panel of large icons. These give access to the “hubs” around which the system is built – from “People” to “Pictures” or “Music and Video”.
Scroll up and as you come to the bottom of the list the icons above are compressed slightly; it makes knowing where you are in a list intuitive.
Menus throughout the phone, too, pirouette onto the screen in a way that is as smooth-looking as it is surely battery-draining.
On each screen, a top heading slides across, too – so you know you’re in any given section because you can see most of its heading, regardless of which sub-menu you’re actually looking at. It’s a neat touch.
Contacts information is integrated with social networks in a way that is more comprehensive than on any other phone I’ve yet used.
But as with so much of WP7, Microsoft has reimagined how a phone’s interface should look, rather than reimagining what it should be able to do.
Multitouch web-browsing is smooth, too, on HTC’s impressive screen, but that’s a feature that is increasingly standard across all platforms.
Indeed, web-browsing is as integral to a phone such as this as phone calling itself.
Microsoft also claims that it is with its Apps that it will make a real difference to how people think of their phones – rather than apps feeling like discrete parts of the operating system, they’re more comprehensively integrated into the OS.
So the Huffington Post app, for instance, looks like just another sub menu, with prettier pictures.
This again is neat – and surely the inevitable future for apps – but it’s a primarily cosmetic improvement. Of course, integration with Microsoft Office is impressive, and the HD7’s large screen makes it useful.
So what doesn’t WP7 do – there’s no portable hotspot functionality as there is in Android 2.2; there’s no synching with iTunes in the same way as with iPhone; there’s not even the free satnav to the same standard as Ovi Maps from Nokia.
Everything looks genuinely slick and stylish – but WP7 is neither cutting edge under the bonnet nor so effortless to use that it’s a plausible object of aspiration for anybody but a business person whose IT department won’t allow them a better option.