A long time ago I was a Windows Mobile user, in fact an even longer time ago I was a Palm Size PC user. I went from a Casio device to a Compaq iPaq to a Treo and finally a HP Windows Mobile device, I got to the point I couldn’t stand Windows Mobile anymore and moved to an iPhone (via a brief spell on Android) and I never looked back. During this time I also have had a Zune 30 and a Zune HD which I use everyday for music and podcasts and have kept one eye on the development of Windows Phone 7. With the release of the Mango update I wanted to see how far Microsoft had progressed with Windows Phone and how it stacked up against the iPhone.
I picked up a HTC HD7 of eBay so that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be throwing to much money away (which may have been a mistake, more on that later). The hardware is very nice and its 4.3 inch screen makes the the iPhone screen look really small, I am not going to go to much into the hardware as I wanted to focus on the operating system. I updated the the phone to Mango using a method described in this post.
The first thing I noticed is how clean the UI feels, right from the lock screen it feels modern and fresh. You can tell Windows Phone has been inspired by the Zune HD and this is a good thing, things like being able to pin items to the start screen is great and it means you can go directly to a an artist or playlist.
I added my Facebook, Twitter, company email and TDL email and pinned them to the start page, with the live tiles its really easy to see your unread emails and tiles like the calendar show your appointments and make good use of the screen. I love being able to pin a user to the start screen or create a group and pin the group to the start page. The whole operating system seems to be geared around your data and moving away from individual apps, the people hub is a great example of this, it pulls data in from Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and email address books.
The last time I used a web browser on a Microsoft phone OS it was Windows Mobile 6.5 and it has terrible, things have certainly changed and on the 4.3 inch screen web pages look great. In a side by side test my iPhone 4 opened pages up a little quicker than the HD7 but there was not much in it. As with the iPhone you can pin pages to the start page as well as having favourites and tabbed browsing. The email client again is a please to use, it supports threaded messages, has a lovely clean layout and has full exchange support. I can’t say it better than the iOS email client but it works great.
One thing that I do find really annoying is when you launch an app from the start screen e.g. Twitter and then go to another app to switch back to the app you have to hold the back button down so you can toggle between open apps, this works fine but if you launch a running app from the start screen it seems to reload the application rather than task switching which caught me out quite a few times, hopefully this can be fixed soon.
When it comes to music, videos, podcasts and pictures its almost exactly the same as the Zune HD which is great but I do miss the what’s new list on the home screen of the Zune HD, its in the Zune section of the phone but it would be better if you could pin it to the start screen. The music playback controls are on the lock screen, so its easy to pause or change tracks without having to unlock the phone. The music experience on the Windows Phone is probably one of it best features, not surprising considering its Zune heritage, the layout of albums and artists is a lot more visual than on the iPhone. As with music the pictures section of Windows Phone looks great and really brings the pictures to life, it links with your Skydrive and social networks as well as pictures from the camera and transferred from the desktop.
The Office integration is very impressive, being able to edit Word or Excel documents directly on phone is not something I thought would be of much use but it handy to be able to check formulas in Excel documents or quickly update a Word document. The Skydrive storage is also handy for sharing documents, it would be nice if you could switch out Skydrive with Dropbox as I use this for my file synching.
Other parts of the OS like the Calendar looks great and work really well, Windows Phone supports multiple calendars and does everything you expect in a calendar.
A smart phone OS lives or dies on its app support and this is something I will look at on a future post, there are some apps that are essential and some that are nice to have and I think it will be the apps that make or break the whether i could switch permanently to Windows Phone.
In summary I like Windows Phone more that I was expecting to, I knew that the Mango update made the OS was significant I love my iPhone but there is something about Windows Phone that is appealing and I am really enjoying it. The fact that I would consider using it over my beloved iPhone shows how good of a job Microsoft has done with Windows Phone in fact I am begining to wonder if I didn’t make a mistake getting one of eBay and should have gone all in and got the new HTC Titan or waited for a Nokia phone.
For now I am going to be switching between phones and once I have iOS5 on my iPhone the situation could change again.
HTC HD7 with my trusty Zune HD