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Windows Phone 7 Technical Preview recap

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..

Positives

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.

Negatives

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.

The unknowns

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.

Cloud systems will play a large role in Windows Phone 7 as will the Windows Phone 7 Live, the companion website to WP7. Very little is known about this piece of the puzzle beyond what is should do.

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?

Overall thoughts 

Windows Phone 7 Series

Windows Phone 7 Series (Image credit: Microsoft)

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.

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!

16 Comments
  • the bgr review made a special note about the experience of actually making a telephone call in winpho7 as being rather klunky and complicated. of the reviews i read yesterday, theirs was the only review to mention anything on that topic. two features many reviewers wanted that i certainly do not want: threaded email - i hate what happens once you have 5-plus emails with the same subject line... unified inbox - i like keeping my various emails separate (work, play)
  • Would be great if it was just a toggle switch for either option. I saw them demo the phone ap during one of the videos on wmpoweruser and it is utterly basic in a simple way. I don't know how they could have gotten clunky or confused.
  • I liked how a couple of the MS employees had theirs set up. When you initially look at the phone you'll see everything that they have that's business related. Work email, office, contacts, etc. Then you flick the screen up and you'll see your personal stuff. Your pictures, xbox, and personal email. I've played with the dialer on the emulator. I'll have to disagree with BGR.
  • What makes no sense about BGR phone-call criticism though is that its main point, that when you open the phone app you see a list of recent calls...is exactly how the iphone works. Personally, I've never really cared about BGR, and after his tantrum Pre review I can't believe anyone does, but found his review kind of incoherent.
  • As Gizmodo put it: "The major problem with mail each email account creates a tile, almost like a separate app, and there's no unified inbox, so you have to go back to the start screen every time you want to switch accounts." One of the key efficiencies of current WinMo 6.X is the ability to swipe left/right to move to different mail accounts and SMS (Exchange/Gmail/Yahoo/SMS), which I tend to use all the time especially during busy times of frequent email/SMS such as during a conference communicating with colleagues. Without a unified inbox (which I'm not that interested in having), and without the ability to easily swipe between accounts, the need to return to the home page tiles for switching accounts gets less efficient for business users like me who remotely depend on their phone all day. Does WM7 help this need in any way that I'm missing?
  • Everyone is forgetting the notifications so if you're frequently communicating with colleagues the new messages will appear slightly on screen. Most average consumers don't use private/corporate exchange so simply forwarding email to a certain account works as an option too. I do this because there are some accounts I rarely use but there are others I check and use several times throughout the day. Most notably accounts that I opened a long time ago but have since moved on to say, gmail.
  • no big news from BGR.... What would you expect from an Apple appoligist??
  • What I found particularly interesting, is that there isn't any talk of an IM client? I love Windows Live IM on my phone. Use it a lot while commuting by train. Bing Navigation BETTER do multi tasking. Its really the only time I want it. I am often ON the Phone AND getting directions. And no turn-by-turn voice announced directions? That is just straight crazy. I do aggree that I'd want Twitter integration. Not by a client, but how they do Facebook. I agree with MS, that going to facebook, or twitter, is a waste of time. I've customized both, online, to only follow a few key needs, but a tile that pulls some key Twitter stuff, while also following twitters from my contacts. Is key. I guess the issue is then making ALL my twitter follows, contacts? Oh Good Lord NO. Just like folks complained about ALL your facebook "friends". I don't even know some of those "friends".
  • Does anyone know if voice command will make it to windows phone 7?
  • You can open apps, calls, search bing, bing maps, internet explorer url. Say pizza and it finds the closest one in maps+directions. Hopefully they add dictation to messages to! Translating app dictation that they included in de dev phones maybe?
  • With all the articles that came out this week, I recall one (on Gizmodo maybe?) that mentioned an emulator for WinMo legacy apps. Anyone else see anything like that?
  • It's been obvious for months now that WP7 at launch will be a solid mobile OS that basically won't appeal to power users who expect to have every or even most features of more mature OSes, but will have most of the features that the average consumer will want. They're starting from scratch and working on a solid base, carefully adding features as they tweak them to perfection versus tossing a bunch of features that are at times poorly-implemented as we saw with Windows Mobile. i'm looking forward to owning a WP7 phone at launch, but i'll still be carrying a Windows Mobile, Android, or Symbian device as a backup for those features i have to have. The one thing i'd love to hear more about is how MS plans to schedule updates to get the OS up to par with its competitors.
  • Twitter is no longer available to connect to through Windows Live(as of June 30) due to a policy change on Twitter's end...
    here's a link to a pocketnow.com article that has the email Microsoft sent out letting people know about the ending support for twitter
    http://pocketnow.com/thought/why-twitter-is-not-integrated-with-windows-...
  • Considering twitter is a free app download and it can be added as a hub, this should not be an issue at all. the one thing that is going to keep me buying a wp7 device (that i have been waiting for breathlessly) is the fact that it cannot be used as a usb device. I run a small IT Support business and this is a function that i used regulary. I had many users that needed drivers that i could not get if i didn't have my touch pro 2 on hand. If i purchased this device i would have to carry a wireless router and a wireless usb device to get what i need. IMO i would kill at this moment to have wp7 simply because it looks absolutely amazing. After reading the reviews, i think im going to wait for the OS to develop a bit more before i make the move. Until then, i will be using an (i hate to say this) android device. Sorry MS, but i am rooting for you all the way!
  • OEM's and carriers won't be allowed to muck up the WP7 software...
    Here is a link to a pocketnow.com article that states Microsoft's position on this:
    http://pocketnow.com/software-1/windows-phone-7-devices-wont-have-crapware
  • it seems the voice integration with Bing is something new that we might all really enjoy using. perhaps this bing and voice command integration is something worth highlighting in potential educational advertising? what other features are unique and that stand out as worthy differentiators to highlight is educational advertising???