Our triumphant return to Windows Mobile - Smartphone Round Robin

And so we've reached the end of the third annual Smartphone Round Robin. Windows Mobile and the HTC Touch Pro 2 and HD2 were given the what-for by the other Smartphone Experts editors over the past couple of months. We laughed. We cried. We saw some pretty damn cool phones.

Let's take a look back at what they had to say ...

(From left: Phil, Rene, Casey, Matt, Kevin, Dieter and Mickey Papillon)

The Reviews

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Android Central's Casey Chan

Android has an interesting position and, as we've said numerous times, is mirroring Windows Mobile in many ways. Casey summed that aspect up nicely.

Windows Phone OS is in a weird spot. It's not advancing as fast as users would like, with most users simply waiting for Windows Phone 7 to come out and hopefully blow them away, while others have already abandoned ship and jumped to other platforms. The problem, in my opinion, is the fragmented landscape of Windows Phone. And not just the different flavors you can get (6.1, 6.5, TouchFLO 3D, Sense, etc), but by just poking around the device you can reveal many different faces. Sense does a great job beautifying everything with widgets, only when it doesn't. Windows Phone 6.5 is nice and friendly enough, but dig a little deeper and it can sometimes scare the heck out of you.

And that's a problem that should sound familiar to any Android user. Android 1. 5 remains prevalent as the Nexus One launced with Android 2.1, and others are poised for upgrades. It's not the best of situations for developers, and it's downright confusing for consumers.

Welcome to the club, Android.

CrackBerry.com's Kevin Michaluk

Kevin had what has to be one of the best lines in all the Round Robin regarding the HTC HD2. And here it is:

If all smartphones in the 2009 Round Robin were women, then there's no doubt the HD2 was the tall blonde with big fake implants that all the boys kept turning their heads to get a better look at. It's not necessarily an attractive or beautiful phone that actually deserves the attention, but there's just no way you can't help but do a double take and stare at it.

Kevin's two major beefs with the HD2 were availability -- at the time of the Round Robin it was only available unlocked, and it wasn't announced until early January that it'd be coming to T-Mobile USA -- and its sheer size.

The first problem's taking care of itself. The HD2 is coming to T-Mobile USA, and it's even getting a spec bump, possibly in anticipation of a Windows Mobile 7 upgrade. As for the sheer size of the HD2, we've said it before: We get the feeling that HTC cranked out this monsterous device just because it could. It wanted to make the biggest, baddest smartphone on the face of the Earth, and so it did. And if European carriers wanted to pick it up, they could. Sure, it's not the most pocketable phone in the world, but it is surprisingly easy to carry around.

Nokia Experts' Matt Miller

Matt's an old-school Windows Mobile guy who's fallen in the the wrong Nokia crowd of late, and we can see why. It's an impressive platform. But he still has a soft spot in his heart for Microsoft fare. When Matt speaks, we listen. And you should, too.

Microsoft moves quite slow with upgrades to their devices and much of this is due to the way that their operating system is licensed to others and not controlled by them. ... This ... is what I believe slows down the updating of Windows Mobile devices where carriers often control much of the end user experience.

No arguments here, Matt. That's long been a problem for Windows Mobile, though we're hearing it will change with Windows Mobile Seven. Will Microsoft cut out carriers completely and issue the updates themselves, and in a timely manner? We certainly hope so.

Another couple of observations from Matt:

Windows Mobile has gotten more stable over the years, but I still see their devices freezing up way more than my Nokia devices ever do. A benefit to Windows Mobile is that you can customize them more than any other platform, right down to tweaking the core user interface and OS quite easily.

Yeah, apps freezing still happens sometimes. On every platform. Whether it happens more on Windows Mobile or just seems to remains to be seen. That said, we've found a number of custom ROMs (and even made some of our own) that greatly speed up the Windows Mobile experience.

The iPhone Blog's Rene Ritchie

Rene hits the nail on the head in discussing Microsoft's inability to integrate its services -- many of which are outstanding -- into Windows Mobile.

Microsoft isn’t one company, it’s multiple companies, 6 or so, and they don’t get along together. In fact, Microsoft is willing to sacrifice one to benefit another.

Maybe it's not so much sacrificing one arm of the company for another, but it sure seems like the left hand hasn't known what the right hand has been doing for a long time.

Again, that's soemthing that's changing. Some time ago the Zune team was split up. The WinMo crew got the hardware people, and everybody's been living happily ever after on the same campus in Redmond, Wash. That was a start. There have been other reorganizations, too.

Rene's other insight: Microsoft's apparent lack of passion. WinMo appears to be just another commodity.

I don’t think Steve Ballmer cares about Windows Mobile any more than he thinks Microsoft needs the mobile screen in their catalog. He’s smart enough to know the future is mobile and he wants Microsoft to own that future, but he doesn’t care about the end products to the degree that Steve Jobs cares about iPhone or the RIM co-CEO’s love their Berrys, or Jon Rubinstein poured himself into Palm.

There's likely some truth to that. Whether it's been an institutional lack of understanding, or an unwillingness to do so, those days are over, Ballmer has said. But Windows Mobile needs a public face. Somebody who can rally the nerds, attract the consumers and inspire the employees.

PreCentral.net's Dieter Bohn

We dare you to try to poke holes in Dieter's synopsis of Windows Mobile. Go ahead. We've been at it for hours. Instead, let's highlight his longing for Windows Mobile Standard, which largely lives on in name only these days.

Instead of making a big splash, [the HTC Snap] skipped across the water like a stone before sinking out of view as everybody - including Microsoft and their manufacturing partners - turned their eyes towards touchscreen devices. That's the way the market went, I suppose, but I find it a shame. When I think back over the many Windows Mobile devices I've used over the years, the truth is that my favorite device was the Motorola Q9h. Like the Snap, it was fast, capable, had a great form factor and an even better keyboard.

True, and that's a cry we've heard from many an WMExperts reader over the past year or so. "Oh, Microsoft, why hast thou forsaken me?" Will we see a resurgence of non-touchscreen devices with Windows Mobile 7? Not going to bet on it, as we all know which way the wind continues to blow. But it's an important market segment that we hope isn't ceded to the other manufacturers.

Bringing it home

So what did we learn? Outstanding hardware can make up for a lot. The sheer pixel power of the HD2's 4.3-inch, 480x800 capacitive touchscreen was like a Siren calling each of the other editors. You just couldn't avoid it. And just about everybody was in awe of the Touch Pro 2's keyboard. (As well they should have been.)

What will the next Round Robin bring? Hopefully a new operating system that inspires and isn't considered an afterthought by other smartphone enthusiasts -- and its parent company as well. Hardware will continue to improve, but it's in services and applications that Microsoft needs drastic improvement. We've heard rumblings that Windows Mobile 7 will impress. And come the fourth annual Smartphone Round Robin, we'll find out.

Phil Nickinson

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!