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Windows Phone 7: The good, the bad, the unknown

image Having had some time to try Windows Phone 7, I can say that Microsoft’s overhaul of its mobile operating system – while far behind in the features and apps race versus iOS or Android – certainly has some points in its favor.

  • It’s hard to find an opportunity that Microsoft passed up to add some engaging animation or transitions.
  • The camera experience is par excellence, an especially welcome makeover from the confusing camera experience of Windows Mobile.
  • The software keyboard and typing experience are really strong, and software-typing on the Samsung’s Focus 4” screen was one the best software keyboard experiences I’ve had on a mobile device. I also like the novel approach Microsoft has taken to adding extra symbols, by providing a slide-in.alternative symbols. It may not be particularly intuitive or time-saving, but it eliminates the need to switch into yet another keyboard mode. In any case, it’s good news that Microsoft has a solid software keyboard since, like Apple and unlike Android, it won’t allow alternative typing systems such as Swype..
  • I also like the way Microsoft has implemented cursor insertion; this is key for devices that lack a separate control for fine cursor movements as present in Android and BlackBerry devices. Apple gets the edge for style, but the Microsoft approach is more effective than those of rivals.
  • While Live Tiles may not provide much more – and in some cases may provide less – at a glance information than widgets, Microsoft makes a statement – and removes some user customization work — by having them as the default display, although Android also allows you to mix and match widgets and launch icons on any home screen, and even iOS and BlackBerry show badges or numeric indicators on information such as how many e-mail messages you have.
    On the other hand, Windows Live Tiles also highlight the simplicity of having a simple list for applications arranged in alphabetical order. Apple has let us scroll through thousands of songs in the past, why not 100 or so apps?
  • Offering Find My Phone for free is a nice value-add that can bring some peace of mind. This is a sleeper feature.
  • This is an OS for avid Facebook users – no apps really needed for the core experience and no cumbersome “social networking” layers . In fact, Windows Phone 7 depends so heavily on Facebook for much of its social plumbing that it’s hard to imagine what the experience would be without it.

My main complaint at this point is the gargantuan font that Microsoft uses to label hubs and other cards. It’s stylish, and may be intended to span the panoramas of Windows Phone’s interface, but it consumes a lot of real estate. Also, while I have not played around a lot with Office, the file fidelity that Microsoft promises in round-tripping documents is offset a bit by the completely foreign user interface for Office apps.

Yes, the UI for Office-like apps is very different on other smartphone OSes as well, but it still seems like more of a departure here. Some of that may be because it’s Microsoft doing the diverging, because there is such a strong association with the interface that makes Office Office (as opposed to something like Documents to Go), or simply the novelty of the Windows Phone UI overall at this point.

And then there are the unknowns. One of the main ones for me is the hubs. On one hand, it is a more visual way to organize related apps and functionality than folders. However, I wonder how well it will scale. That, along with a lack of multitasking, is one of the issues that will be easier to assess as Windows Phone 7 attracts more applications.