If you follow me on twitter or listen to the TDL Mobile podcast (check out show 53 where I share more thoughts on my experience with WP7), then you’ll probably know I’ve been waiting for the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) release before signing a new contract with my provider (O2 in the UK).  Well, with the launch on October 21 that day finally arrived and my HTC HD7 was duly delivered on Monday (25th October).  This post covers my first few days withe the device.  

Having used the Palm Pre for the past few months, it really does make you notice that huge 4.3″ screen on the HD7.  However, the phone is pretty thin so it hasn’t been a real problem transitioning to it, in terms of portability.  Build wise, it feels similar to the Nexus One I was using prior to the Pre, and that’s no bad thing in my opinion.  The buttons feel really solid and responsive, in particular the 2-stage dedicated camera button I’ve been keen to try out since I heard about it (and have to admit have used to great effect a couple of times already).

I watch a fair amount of video, so the kick stand is pretty useful – although angle wise probably leans the screen back a little further than I personally would like.  My biggest concern hardware wise is the battery, at a little under 1300mA it isn’t even as big as the Nexus One – and with a larger non-AMOLED screem I’m not entirely sure how this will pan out.  But so far, I’m already in a habit of charging my phone whenever I can (!) and so it hasn’t been a problem.  I think if I am travelling without access to a charger for a whole day, I’ll be sure to pack a backup….

So that’s my view of the hardware, there are many many reviews that cover this in far more detail so I’ll leave it at that in terms of my experience.  The key element I think you probably want to read about is the software and UI, so I’ll get right into it.

Initial set up is simple, and the interface is incredibly clean and fresh – just as I’d heard.  Several of the basic functions such as unlocking the screen, take their cues from elsewhere and so are very intuitive. Much has been made of the tiled homescreen, and I was keen to get straight into that.  And this is where things get a little different. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced in a mobile platform.  Although the differences are subtle, with the overall approach to view information based on “hubs” rather than “apps”, this actually changes the interaction with the device pretty significantly.  The people hub is a great way to who has done what recently regardless of where they did it – rather than looking at specific activity within the appropriate application (Facebook, for example).  That said, you can still view via apps if you’d rather and not everything is included yet, so twitter updates still don’t appear in the people hub, for example. So at the moment I’m still finding myself primarily looking at information via the apps rather than the hubs.  But as I get more time with it, I really like the hub approach, so as they integrate more information and as I get more familiar with this way of working I can see the platform really delivering value in this approach.  As I get used to the idea that information is left and right of the screen, I think that’s going to be very powerful and a possible differentiator to other platforms.

In terms of apps, I had heard good things and am pleased to say I don’t feel let down at this point. Again, bear in mind I’m coming from the Pre where the app catalogue is a little limited, rather than Android Marketplace or the Apple App store.   But I was pleased to find all the main apps available – an official twitter app, Facebook app, Foursquare app, Adobe Reader, numerous options for Google Reader, a Fgreat Flickr app and YouTube (although this last one is simply a wrapper to the mobile site and just about enough to get you going).  No kindle app yet, and some of the cloud services I use don’t have access via an app yet so not complete by any means, but a bright start for such a young platform.  And there are also some nice to have apps, including Last.FM, Shazaam, eBay and Internet radio. Plus some specific apps including photo enhancer and converter that make life more manageable on the move.  One final word on the browser. To me it’s OK, not the best I’ve seen on a mobile device so far in terms of performance, but clean and intuitive enough. In part it may be the lack of confidence in the IE brand I have from the recent past that means I would rather have some options. But no real issues with that. 

I haven’t really got into the XBox side yet, so I’ll report back on that in an update when I have, but at this point I’m pleased with the experience – I simply signed in with my XBox live account details and all my achievements and my avatar were pulled straight in.  May not sound like much, but cross platform integration is where the future’s at and this is the perfect example,  Worked seamlessly.

The Office hub seems like a great idea and the ability to have an experience where apps on my mobile platform integrate well with the desktop seems pretty compelling. However, I’m disappointed that there is only Skydrive integration for OneNote and not Word, Excel and Powerpoint (although I believe it is coming). Given the lack of apps to allow me to access my various clouds anyway, it would have been nice to have access to Skydrive at least via the office hub for those document types.  But all of this is more a result of me adopting a young platform.  I’m confident this functionality will come, more so than I have been with other mobile OS’s.  It’s great to see the building blocks are all in place, only some minor updates should be required to unleash the power of the office hub given my use of cloud services.  It should be said there is full sharepoint integration already, so if you use a sharepoint server this will be fantastic for you. I think that’s a brilliant feature as well, but just feel more is needed to open the office hub up to a wider audience.  So fingers crossed on that one.

Finally, I wanted to talk about music and video.  Now I’ve not use the Zune interface before and there’s a lot to like.  As a user of software including iTunes and doubletwist in the past, I really like the Zune interface a lot.  I love the fact that you can sync with multiple PC’s and the software is aware of this – marking storage on the device as used by another Zune connection.  This to me is the perfect approach. I also love the fact I can set up the phone to sync wirelessly, rather than requiring a cable.  Having used a Palm Pre and Nexus One, I do wish I did have a podcatcher that could deliver new episodes directly via subscribing to the feed, rather than having to be near a PC with Zune software, but that may come with an app and it’s much less restrictive than podcasts on the iPhone.   One gripe I do have, particularly having the HD7, is that they didn’t take the time to render the Zune interface in landscape.  When I set up my phone to use the kickstand, it’d be so much nicer to have the interface in landscape mode, but it just isn’t there which is disappointing.

A killer feature of the Zune platform is the ability to sync recorded TV.  Ian has mentioned this in the past when using his dedicated Zune device and the experience of it in action is fantastic.  We talked about this on show 53 and Jose pointed out the fact that the Media Center user base in reality isn’t super big, but for those that do use it this is a great feature and one I think Microsoft would do well to put front and centre – for the benefit of both platforms.  When I mentioned the feature to my wife, she immediately wanted one.

So overall, I concur with the general view that this is a real step in the
right direction platform wise for Microsoft.  My experience has been positive, although I’m still very much in the learning stage to get maximum use out of it.  But the great thing is, most of the apps I need or use are there and so I can continue to do things that I’ve become used to.  But as the platform evolves and I get more tuned into it, I’m really excited about the possibilities.  It’s nice to see Microsoft back in the game. 


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