What the Web is Saying: Windows Phone 7

WindowsPhone7

Hot on the heels of the death of its Kin phone line, Microsoft is scrambling to get Windows Phone 7 (WP7) ready for its October launch. The company has said it is sending out “thousands” of preview phones running Windows Phone 7 to developers to get them producing apps for the new platform. A few phones were sent to the press, and reviews are appearing of the new mobile platform, so we’ve rounded them up for a Windows Phone 7 version of What the Web is Saying.

The phone sent to reviewers is a test phone from Samsung, and Microsoft says it will never be released to consumers. It sports a 1 GHz processor — the current superphone standard — and WP7 runs very fluidly. The entire interface is designed for smooth touch operation, and the WP7 interface seems to be a cross between the much lauded Zune HD, and the not-so-great Kin. The WP7 home screen is a set of user configurable “tiles.” There are tiles for email, contacts, music, photos and other similar functions. Tiles can be moved around at will, and as many of them as desired can be placed on this screen.

What the Web is Saying

Now, on to the reviewer roundup! Response to the new platform is cautiously optimistic, with a few exceptions.

ZDNet has the most comprehensive review of the lot, with fellow podcast host Matt Miller producing a big review of WP7 including several videos of it in action:

The current experience is amazingly stable and fluid and I am quite impressed with what they have done. It has taken some time and they were pretty much out of competing for customers for most of this year, but it looks like they will come out firing with all they have this coming holiday season.

Engadget also took a long look at WP7, and the reviewer is definitely impressed with how intuitive the interface is to operate:

Still, those issues aside, Windows Phone 7 is easily the most unique UI in the smartphone race right now, and the real perk here is that it doesn’t just seem like an arbitrary decision to make things look different than other OSs — there is real purpose and utility to a lot of what Microsoft has come up with.

GartenBlog is where analyst Michael Gartenberg posted a reasonable look at the new platform from a user’s standpoint. Overall he likes what he’s seen so far, but wants to see how the platform unfolds:

There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered about Windows Phone 7. What will application support look like? Lack of apps for things such as Twitter or RSS reading make it hard to fairly judge the OS at this point. Likewise, final hardware and carrier partners, marketing and messaging all will help decide just how well Microsoft has done here with their efforts. That said, I like what I see so far and it looks like Windows Phone 7 has what it takes to silence many of Microsoft’s mobile critics.

Wired praised the interface, but questioned the reliance on the Zune Marketplace in its short review:

Major, major improvements here. Because the applications are laid out in what Microsoft calls “Tiles” (really, these are customizable icons that can be manipulated on the Start screen), navigating the OS is exponentially more simplistic than previous versions of Win-Mo. The focus on mining social networks and address books across platforms for contacts is definitely not a new idea (Palm OS hello!) but for Microsoft it’s a pretty big jump in the right direction. Still the lack of any kind of real app store is a major hindrance.

CNET mostly likes the WP7 user experience, although the reviewer found it inconsistent at times:

What’s interesting about Windows Phone 7, though, is, at times, it feels like you’re getting two completely different experiences on the phone. The Start screen/menu list, and some apps like the phone dialer, e-mail inbox and calendar, are completely minimalistic, while other aspects of the phone, like the aforementioned hubs and multimedia features, are more sophisticated and elegant. It doesn’t hurt the navigation, per se, but is [sic] doesn’t really make the phone feel like a cohesive unit either.

Slashgear used lots of photos, but the reviewer makes it clear the competition is already beyond this first version of WP7:

In other ways, though, while it differs significantly from Windows Mobile, it’s very much a v1.0 product; that might have been enough to compete strongly against early versions of Android, say, or iOS, but, by the time Windows Phone 7 devices reach the market, Android 2.2 will be mainstream and iOS4 firmly entrenched.  That’s strong competition, even for a company with the relative might of Microsoft.

BGR offers the most negative preview of the lot, although the reviewer found the music player to be very nice:

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. The tiled homescreen seems a little too constrained and boxed in for us, and the non-frills design approach actually left the handset menus and navigational elements feeling bare and unfinished, rather than pure and unaltered. Not having any sort of menu for hoping back and forth between applications hampers your every day usage, and the animated transitions also start to feel old pretty fast. For a phone that was made from scratch and started on after the first iPhone was introduced, and for a phone that’s not even in market yet, it unfortunately in our view falls short.

The one consistent sentiment coming through in these early looks at WP7 is that Microsoft has designed a thoroughly new interface that is easy to use. It is a very early version of the platform, so hopefully the overriding concern of reviewers over the lack of basic functionality (like Twitter) will be addressed prior to launch this fall. It is refreshing to see a smartphone platform provide a new way of doing things, much as Palm did with webOS. But the devil is in the details, so we’ll have to see how WP7 unfolds as launch date approaches.

Image credit ZDNet, BGR

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

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