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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 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!

17 Comments
  • Hey Phil! Nice work. I have to say as someone who has a thirst for smart phones and their usefulness I loved the Round Robin. What seemed apparent is that they are all getting close in terms of ability with unique strengths and weaknesses across platforms and form factors. I came over from a Palm 700p to a Samsung Omnia because I couldn't w8 for the Pre Plus to come to Verizon. What I've found is a phone OS that REALLY works for me both work and personally. In that we are hooked to exchange and Microsoft Office at work my phone easily handles those tasks. With Opera and Skyfire browsers, Kinoma Play, facebook and Twikini apps, I can get all the media I can eat. Here's to next years round robin and WinMo 7, particularly since my new every two will be ready for renewal! Of course winning a new smart phone from the Round Robi would work for me too! can you say HD2? Sexy works for me! Bring on the fake bazongas! LOL
  • I didn't understand Rene's input -- she didn't seem to be reviewing a phone or a phone OS. Sounded more like a review of MS and Ballmer instead.
  • some good points raised by the other revewiers - i hope msft is also reading. this year we'll see the differences between apple, android and winmo interfaces become less and less important as they increasingly look the same. what will increasingly become important is each platform's ability to easily and quickly link to a constellation of online integrated sevices. - apple has itunes as its hub
    - android connects to all the google servicwes
    - winmo (we hope) will become the easiest way to get to msft online contenet and services. i for one hope that winmo 7.5 will come out inside six months of winmo 7. does anyone have any information on that?
  • I still don
  • I completely agree with Rene. Licensing Exchange Direct Push to the iPhone (followed by S60, Android and WebOS)? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! That might have made MS Exchange Server look more attractive but they completely obliterated WinMo's biggest advantage in the enterprise arena. If we take a look at WinMo 2003 to 6.5, it is evident that MS has no vision and no passion for the OS. The WinMo teams really needs someone to "rally the nerds, attract the consumers and inspire the employees." As for non-touchscreen devices, I don't think they should support it. At the very least, don't try to make WinMo 7 an OS that supports all devices. Remember the saying, jack of all trades, master of none.
  • I have enjoyed this years round robin, many of the reviewers were on target with their observations of Windows Mobile, Powerful, ugly, in need of updating to be attractive to consumers and great hardware. After updating my phone to a Tilt2 I wonder where we would be without HTC making such great devices. Thanks for all your hard work.
  • Over in the New York Times op-ed section today, there is a must-read article by Dick Brass describing the internal problems at MSFT. Mr. Brass was a VP in the Tablet group, and he describes how different managers at MSFT will sabotage the efforts of other groups, and how they essesntially have driven out innovation at the company. It's very interesting reading.
  • Nice work.
    This is the first time I checked the round robin, and I really please enjoy the info, videos and reviews.
    No bias, really good info, podcast is great, I ask some questions a get reply with very helpfull information...keep the good work.
  • Its sad but as a winmo user i pretty much have to agree with everything that was said... It does seem that MS is not fervent in their progress of winmo. Its been a long slow road from Winmo Smartphone edition to 6.5 but how much has REALLY changed? I will never jump winmo ship however as I love the possibilities of the OS, I just hope Win7 doesnt remind me of an icrap.... i mean iphone :)
  • I loved the editorial.It is very interesting.Thank you for the information.ugg boots sale|uggs|uggs sale|cheap mbt shoes|mbt shoes|nike air max|gucci shoes|air jordan shoes online payday advance.
  • interesting thoughts all around. funny how the apple blogger thinks MS should get a Steve Jobs. Personaly I hope that in reinventing the mobile os wheel, MS stays true to what we enjoy: flexiblity, choice, and a powerfull tool. These rumors of no multitask are very alarming.
  • First of all I would like to say great job on the round robin. As other comments have said, these issues are real, and we are all aware of them. However, I also noticed a new underlying theme, respect. Many of the quotes showed light on WinMo's ugly spots. But they did so in an "I think you're ugly. but you've got talent!" sort of way. Despite the ugglies, WinMo users have seen many blessings recently. The release of Skyfire v1.5, brought flash 10 support. And with the hd2, true power was shown! With the touch pro 2, we saw good design, and a very functional keyboard, go a long ways. But whats wrong with all that great innovation??? NONE of it has came from Microsoft! WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN WITH WINMO 7? A couple of things need to happen for microsoft to make us all smile. First, video codecs and drivers must be brought up to this decades standards. Windows media player (or Zune player) need to support many many codecs out of the box! Video playback must be improved and not left up to OEMs to work out driver issues (poor HTC, does such a great job on hardware then the firmware just isnt up to par). Second, use windows update!! Dont limit your users to crappy, slowly rolled out, OEM updates. When you have a fix or an addition, make it available for download. If the user wants it they can get it. Also, windows updates could also look for application updates as well. We don't always need to update the OS, sometimes we just want to know if we have the latest Bing, windows live, and other apps are up to date. Third, add a new category to the Microsoft app store, FREE! And don't charge developers to upload/update these types of apps. Why does the iStore have over 100,000 apps? Because a good deal of them are free, and some are even useful, and a very few are both. Windows mobile has lots of apps that fall under both categories.... You just have to search for them... Not apealing to the casual smartphone user. Fourth, dont do anything d
  • in the end windows mobile will only get better from here on out. Can't wait for windows 7:)
  • The Round Robin was great and helped me out a lot in understanding the different operating systems.
  • I am sure that nexus one will improve through initial updates. First update of it made it a multi touch supporting device. I think this is something that really matters. It is first step of google in market so it will take sometime.
  • I have to say that this is by far better than any review for any phone. Or should I say this is the way to review a phone
  • I still love iphone no matter what