December 18, 2010

Windows Phone 7: Beating Expectations

Years ago, when I was on my T-Mobile Dash, I would purchase a new phone every quarter or so, just to see if something better had come along. Always, within a week or so, I returned it and went happily back to my T-Mobile Dash. Then came the iPhone, which I instantly fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever give it up. Then came the Samsung Focus, one of the first Windows Phone 7 phones and I haven’t turned my iPhone 4 back on since. It’s not all I’d hoped for, but it’s damn close!

Meeting Expectations

Let’s check my list and see how WP7 did:

  • A calculator, including scientific features: check.
  • A battery that lasts 24 hours: no. Unfortunately my Focus is as power hungry as any smartphone.
  • An easy, high-quality way to run the music through my car stereo: sorta. I can attach the phone to my car stereo, but it’s through the headset jack, so the quality isn’t what it should be and I need a separate attachment to charge, which causes interference on my radio. Much less than ideal.
  • Easy airplane mode: check.
  • Great auto-correct on my soft keyboard: yes! The Samsung has a soft keyboard, although other models have hard keyboards for you folks that want them (both landscape and portrait). Not only is the auto-correct generally correct, but it shows the list of words it’s gonna guess in case I want to pick one myself and, after I’m done typing, I can go back, pick a word that didn’t come out right and select a different guess or type it again myself. Brilliant!
  • Copy-paste: not yet, although I’m sure we’ll have it soon. BTW, I’m not on the WP7 team and have no special access to what is shipping or when. I just have faith in the team.
  • Full calendar support:
    • Sync’ing with Exchange and not Exchange: check.
    • Recognition of phone numbers and addresses w/ links: check.
    • Reply All to an appointment: check. In fact, there’s even an I’m running late” button. Sweet!
    • Show my appointments on the home screen: big check! Not only is my next appointment shown on the home screen, but it’s also on my lock screen along with the meeting duration and location.
    • I only have my calendar appointments in one calendar, but if I wanted to spread appointments across multiple calendars, it’ll overlay them.
  • Wireless sync’ing to my PC: check! This was a stretch goal when I wrote it, but it works like a charm.
  • Tethering: sorta. Out of the box, it doesn’t work, but apparently there’s a hack I can try. I haven’t.
  • Turn-by-turn directions: sorta. AT&T ships a turn-by-turn directions app out of the box which you can activate for $10/mo, which isn’t worth it to me compared with the less functional free app. Plus, there seems to be no integration of AT&T’s map app with the rest of my phone, e.g. clicking on a location link doesn’t bring up their app and I can’t choose a route to one of my own contacts. In fact, with the lack of copy/paste (right now), the only way to get an address into the think is to type it. Ick!

    Further, I really don’t like the built-in maps app for directions. Too much screen real estate is occupied by the directions and not enough to the map. Also, I really want to see the yellow dot and my next turn, but those are very, very difficult to get on the screen at the same time. That should just happen for me automatically.
  • Pandora playing in the background: no. Not only is Pandora missing, but 3rd party music apps don’t run in the background, which I really miss.
  • Install apps from other sources: no. There was a side-loading app out there, but it’s down now. Right now, it’s $99 for developers to side-load and no one else.
  • Let me install extra memory: check, although only for selected models (my Focus is one of them) and only if you’re willing to reset your phone. Since the Zune software doesn’t seem to do full backups, that might be a painful process, but when the WP7-Certified SD cards out, that could be up to 32GB of additional memory, which will be worth some trouble. Right now I have more good stuff I want to load onto my phone than will fit.
  • Let me replace the battery: check!
  • Great audio and ebook reading experience: not yet. I haven’t tried an audio book on it yet, but I don’t see Windows Phone 7 mentioned on the site. I do know there’s no Kindle software on the phone yet (apparently it’ll be there RSN), but until then, I don’t know what the reading experience is except for browsing the web.
  • Phone-wide search: no.
  • Full contact look-up: check, including Exchange lookup, although the search only seems to get names and not other things, like notes, which I miss. The Exchange contact lookup does include details that other phones miss, however, like their office number.
  • Good camera (and flash): almost. The camera is 5MB and the video is there and there’s a flash, but the quality could be better. My iPhone 4 spoiled me here.
  • Apps I can’t live without:
    • Evernote: no, but OneNote is way better.
    • Social networking clients: check, including deep FaceBook integration.
    • Unit and Currency Converter: check.
    • Flashlight: check, although I want an app that turns my flash on — now that’s a flashlight!
    • TripIt: no, but there’s My Trips, which shows promise, and, which works well.
    • Flixster: check.
    • OpenTable: check.
    • UrbanSpoon: no.
    • Mint: no and there is no mobile version of, so I really miss this.
    • Shazam: check and it’s integrated with the Zune marketplace. Half the songs I want don’t show up when I search for them, though, so that’s not cool.
    • Skype: no.
    • Tetris: check.

Stuff I Forgot To Ask For

I believe that the universe gives you what you ask for and in this case, even if I didn’t get everything, there was even some stuff I forgot to request:

  • After have a unified inbox, I miss it now that it’s gone. Of course, I never had the unified inbox I really wanted, but I can keep hoping.
  • I didn’t know how much I’d miss DropBox and Pandora til they were gone. There is a frontend for WP7 that works with my DropBox account called BoxFiles, but it doesn’t actually let me read any of my files, so it still has some room for improvement. Also, does not have anything like the same kind of algorithm for picking songs for me that Pandora does, so I’m missing Pandora. I have come to really like Slacker for music, however.
  • I didn’t know I wanted a browser that supported HTML5, ES5 and CSS3 until I started working in that field.
  • I can’t seem to make MMS work on my phone, although other people can, so I assume it’s an account issue. I’ll keep trying.
  • Fast application startup. Some do, some don’t. I wish they all did.

Beating Expectations

Seriously, ever day is something new and cool on this phone. I continue to get blown away by features I never thought I’d want that have really changed how I use my phone:

  • The way OneNote works is game changing. I keep lots of random notes about things and to have the phone seamlessly sync with the web and my PC is wonderful. The web site needs search and the phone needs better auto-sync’ing (right now if you don’t press the Sync button sometimes, you can get sync conflicts more than you expect), but it already works so well, it’s hard to complain. Plus, you can pin favorite notes, like your grocery list, to the home screen. Beautiful!

    I am a paid Evernote user, but free OneNote is better. The PC client is 10x better for keyboard users (i.e. me) and it’s free, assuming you have Office.

  • Live Tiles really do get me in and out faster. I know the commercials are there as marketing, but I really love seeing how many unseen (not unread) emails I have and the latest picture from my roll and the latest updates from my favorite contacts and the latest weather and my next appointment and and and…

    In fact, I like Live Tiles so much that I wish the little screen to the right of the home screen used them, too. I’d like to just have a set of Live Tile screens arranged horizontally where all my installed apps live, just arranged in priority order according to my own design. Getting rid of the long list to the right of the home screen would be very appreciated.

  • Automatic uploading of pictures to SkyDrive is so cool!

  • The Back button. It works so well that browsing from apps to web content, e.g. following a link from an RSS reader or an email, feels like an extension of the app itself. I had no idea how much I liked it til I picked up an iPad and it wasn’t there.

  • It is amazing to me how well voice dialing and voice search work. That alone cuts down on half of my typing on the device.

  • The quality of the calls is 10x better than my old phone and the number of dropped calls is 10x less. There ain’t nothing wrong with AT&T. Since I work from home and have no land line, this makes a huge difference in the quality of my life.

  • The Bose Bluetooth works very well with WP7. The pairing is seamless, the call quality is high for both parties, the volume buttons are on the hardware and easy to use, the in-ear fitting is solid and comfortable with no need for an over-the-ear hook, it charges quickly and it shares the micro USB connector with my phone, so I can share the cables. And, unlike the Jawbone, the quality of the audio is good enough to enable voice dialing, so I can really do the hands free thing that Oregon and Washington require by law.

  • Trial Mode means that I can try nearly every app in the app store! If you’re an app dev, it’s your job to ship your app in trial mode and make it so compelling that I’ll beg to pay for it and WP7 encourages that, which is good for consumers. Win-win.

  • I was never an Instapaper user til I got my WP7. Now, when I find something on my phone that I don’t have to read, I can mail it to my Instapaper email address and read it later with the Text view, which looks great on my phone. Or, if I press the Read Later button in IE9, then I’ve always got plenty to read on the go on my phone. Between that and the RSS Feed support in Outlook that sync’s automatically through Exchange to my phone, I’ve always got plenty to read, which I so love.

  • It seems like a small thing, but I love being able to link multiple contacts together from Exchange, Live, FaceBook, etc., into a single contact so that my searches find the person I’m looking for, not the 5 people that my phone thinks I might mean.

  • Another small thing, but it means that I don’t miss meetings, is the snooze button on my appointments. I thank you and my boss thanks you.

Where Are We?

According to my math, I got a little more half what I asked for, but true love can’t be measured in percentages. Of the features that I’m missing, only camera quality, copy-paste and Kindle are things I actually miss from my iPhone 4, and two of those are supposed to be fixed in software RSN.

On the other hand, my Samsung Focus has giving me more than a dozen things I never thought to ask fore and really use. The full calendar support, contact linking, voice dialing (with great Bluetooth support), voice searching, the auto-correct on the keyboard, the location and phone number recognition and OneNote sync’ing make this phone a delight to use every day.