Technical Preview units of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 have landed in the hands of a number of tech writers. The hands-on time these writers spent with the Technical Preview devices provided a good bit of insight on Windows Phone 7. After spending most of the day reading their observations, a few conclusions quickly come to light.
Throughout the reviews the positives and negatives on the Technical Preview units were fairly consistent. We found a lot of what we already knew, some affirmations on what we suspected and a few new things.
Follow the break to see what we pulled from the hands-on time these fortunate few have shared with us.
As Mal mentioned earlier, we'll let the review stand for themselves. Agree or disagree, these reviews represent each individual writer's observations and impressions. Each did a good job of pulling what we've seen on Windows Phone 7 over the past few months under one roof and offering constructive observations. That being said, here is what we saw that stood out amongst these reviews..
The overall feel for the Technical Review units were positive. Matt Miller over at ZDnet, on the overall user interface, wrote,"There is swiping and panning, elements that flip in and out and zoom in and out dynamically, and motion control that is more fluid than ANY smartphone user interface I have ever used before." This is consistent with everything we've seen so far with Windows Phone 7.
The WP7 Hubs also drew high marks as well. Bonnie Cha of CNET commented, "it was absolutely wonderful to be able to do so many things from one place, without having to launch several different apps..."
Vincent Nguyen from Slashgear, on the Hubs, wrote, "On the face of things, pulling together similar content is hardly a bad idea, and the galleries – with their mixture of local and online media – work well. What’s lacking is breadth and customization." That may be one of the largest hurdles Windows Mobile users will have to overcome, the lack of customization. You can change the color patterns but beyond that Windows Phone 7 will rely more on substance than style.
By no means does Metro lack style but coming from a system where cooked ROMs to third party user interfaces such are available, Windows Phone 7 could come across with a little vanilla taste to it.
Other positive comments included:
"Microsoft is clearly-and finally-heading in the right mobile direction" - PCMag
"It (WP7) looks like a substantial improvement for Microsoft" - Wired.com
And the more interesting comments:
"I look forward to Windows Phone 7 with a dash of excitement, and a heaping cup of wariness. Tinkering with Windows Phone 7 is like finding out that the little girl who was kind of a punk to you in second grade somehow managed to grow up kind of cool — and to top it off, she’s actually sort of hot." - MobileCrunch
Email and something new
The hands-on observations confirms that Windows Phone 7 will sync with multiple Exchange Servers and email sources. Some aren't fond that you can't pull everything into one In-Box. Each account gets its own In-Box with in turn requires a separate tile if you want to pin it to the Start Screen. This can clutter your Start Screen quickly.
Asides from the lack of a unified In-box, email was well received as was the calendar and browser.
While most of the information presented in these reviews confirmed what we've seen over the past few months, one new feature emerged, "pocket to picture", that is connected to the camera button. As described by Paul Thurrott, "This button is particularly genius, because it connects to a new software feature in Windows Phone that Microsoft calls "pocket to picture." So even if you've locked your phone, you can tap this button and take a picture, almost instantaneously." This will be very useful in capturing those spontaneous moments in life that nobody will believe happened unless you show them a picture.
Some mentioned the hardware specs that confirm the lack of expansion memory and that devices will have a minimum of 256mb RAM and 8gb of storage. Cameras will have a flash/light and devices will have a minimum of five hard buttons. A hardware keyboard is optional and allowed which will open the door to allow manufacturers to go beyond the "black slab" design.
The reviews of the Technical Preview Windows Phone 7 weren't without criticism. BGR stated, "We liked using the OS in general, though the experience for us felt a little too much like our time using the Microsoft KIN 2". There are similarities between Windows Phone 7 and the KIN but is it WP7 taking from the KIN or the KIN taking from Windows Phone 7? Could the KIN have been an elaborate (all be it expensive) test of the social networking features present in Windows Phone 7?
While we knew of the strong Facebook integration with WP7, just about everyone noticed the lack of Twitter and MySpace integration. With the popularity and dependency many have with Twitter, we agree that WP7 needs to at least add Twitter into the mix (Edit: Twitter will be available, but through Microsoft's Live services which act as a proxy and of course there are no less than four confirmed 3rd party Twitter clients in the works. --Mal)
Other criticisms that rang with consistency was the lack of cut/paste, multi-tasking with third party apps, and the inability to use the WP7 as a USB drive.
Microsoft has all but guaranteed cut/paste is heading to WP7 but the "when" is still a mystery. The lack of this feature was a major criticism of the iPhone and to see Microsoft omit the feature doesn't do the cause much good. While you might be able to hold a Windows Phone 7 in either hand without dropping calls, not being able to cut/paste will definitely put a target on Microsoft's back.
Mult-tasking has been beaten like a dead horse and if a need develops for a third party app to have multi-tasking, I'm sure the possibility will be taken under consideration. Windows Mobile users have gotten used to having apps run in the background (sometimes frustratingly so) and it will be another aspect to grow accustomed to.
The inability to use the internal storage as a USB drive will put more pressure on the cloud services that are to be associated with Windows Phone 7. I will miss the convenience of have a portable, expansion card that can go from phone to phone. Hopefully, Skydrive will do the trick.
While these reviews have shed a great deal of light on where Windows Phone 7 development is at, there are still a lot of unknowns associated with Microsoft's new endeavor.
Then you have the wireless providers. How much latitude will they have with Windows Phone 7? Will we see any bloatware to muck things up? Will everyone offer a Windows Phone 7 device or will the initial launch be restrict to a few or singular provider?
Then there's the hardware questions of what will the final devices look like and who will offer them. We know HTC, Dell, LG, and Samsung are on board but who will be first?
I think Matt Miller summed things up nicely in his opening sentence. "Welcome back into the smartphone arena Microsoft, it looks like you have a serious challenger entering the ring and I will definitely be purchasing a device as soon as I can.". I'm sure he won't be alone in line when Windows Phone 7 finally hits the shelves.
While most were impressed with the progress Microsoft has made, everyone recognized that work is still needed. And that shouldn't be such a surprise being that they were reviewing preview devices that hasn't been fully developed.
WP7 is a work in progress and what progress that has been made is impressive. Fan of Windows Phones or not,For Microsoft to start with a clean slate and have a working device in the hands of developers in such a short time is impressive.
There is a measure of apprehension amongst the writers on whether or not Microsoft can pull this off. Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo writes, "If anybody can do this, rebuild an empire from less than nothing, it's Microsoft. Patience is perhaps Microsoft's greatest virtue, but sheer greed is what it needs right now. Making Windows Phone something that people want to buy is going to require the most herculean effort the company's made in a long, long time." Microsoft shouldn't see the Fall launch as a finish line for Windows Phone 7 but rather one leg of the journey. I agree that patience is needed from Microsoft but it's also needed from the consumers and market.
Consumers shouldn't expect to see a finished, complete product with no room for improvement (or growth) when Windows Phone 7 hits the shelves later this year. What we should expect is a functional device that is a strong foundation for Microsoft to build upon. Based on what we've read in the reviews of the preview devices, that expectation should be easily met.