Windows Phone 7 OS review: From scratch

GSMArena team, 08 October 2010.
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Final Words

Windows Phone 7 is a great OS. Windows Mobile tried to squeeze a desktop-like OS in your pocket but that never quite worked. The seventh iteration of Microsoft’s mobile operating system takes a different approach – instead of loads of features through a complicated (and not very well thought out) user interface, it puts simplicity and usability first and then tries to add as much functionality as possible without making a mess out of the whole thing.

And it has worked – Windows Phone 7 looks like nothing we’ve ever used before, yet we never felt lost or confused. The most obvious thing works 80% of the time and the few tips sprinkled here and there taught us nice but not so obvious tricks without getting in the way.

Speaking of looks, Windows Phone 7 has unique aesthetics. Parts of it are absolutely gorgeous. It stays away from the faux 3D look for interface elements and instead keeps things flat but visually appealing. It’s the kind of look you’d find in a magazine or a well designed minimalist web site.

Sure there were some of us that didn’t like it. All the superfluous animations, UI elemnts flying in or out, they seemed too much at times. Not to mention those big headings that never did fit on a single screen.

Well, for those of you that feel attracted by the new Windows Phone looks, we’ll just say you’d be glad that it not only looks good but it’s also really simple to use. All the UI elements are designed so that the essential things draw your eye in while less important bits and pieces are smaller to avoid distraction.

But this level of simplicity is also limiting. Sure, you can do most things alright but some things are just out of reach. Copy and paste for one (though that should be available in early 2011), even the limited number of colors for highlighting in Word, the inability to manage files that the phone doesn’t support and so on.

It’s not just the UI limitations though – the OS has limits too. We couldn’t even connect the phone in mass storage mode and the lack of Flash or Silverlight in the web browser was disappointing. To get rid of multitasking after all these years is a questionable move too, but not necessarily a deal breaker. It didn’t get in the iPhone’s way to success, did it?

Hubs are a great idea that will reduce the dependence on multitasking – a hub will aggregate related content from different apps, so there’s no need to switch between them. However, we’re a little worried that they might go the way of the Live folders in Android. They were another great UI idea, but most vendors and app makers tend to keep their content to their own apps.

The same thing might happen to Windows Phone 7 and its hubs – there are plenty of reasons for app makers to want you to use their app rather than have it share a hub with multiple others apps (brand recognition, ads, you name it).

If Microsoft was to put Windows Phone 7 on phones of the Kin kind, they would have been a hot sale. Great interface with seamless Facebook integration sprinkled with a few other handy services like the Zune Marketplace and SkyDrive.

However, the imposed minimum hardware requirements for a phone to qualify for WP7, practically guarantee that each and every one of them will be an expensive high-end phone.

And if you’re paying big, you’d expect high-end functionality. But Windows Phone 7 falls short of expectations on several occasions – Android 2.x and iOS 4.x will wipe the floor with it as far as power users are concerned.

For Facebook, web browsing and music though it’s the cream of the crop. There are no WP7 phones officially unveiled yet so we can’t be certain of pricing, but carrier subsidies will probably be a must.

And while 1GHz CPU and a high-res screen command a high price right now, Microsoft has its eye on the future. In a couple of years those minimum requirements will move to the mid range and Windows Phone 7 will have had time to make its name as a guarantee for a solid user experience.

So, in the short term WP7 won’t overshadow Android or iOS, but it will be big in the future. Some market analysts even predict that it will push Microsoft’s mobile OS market share to iOS levels by 2014 (with 2010 all but gone, that’s just 3-4 years in the future).

Now we just have to sit tight and wait for the official WP7 unveiling event this upcoming Monday, on 11 October, 02:00PM, London time. You can bet we’ll be covering it for you.

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