Two weeks have passed since I received my Windows phone: The HTC Titan (a.k.a. Eternity). Now it’s time to lay down my 2 cents about it. I’ll only speak about the WP7 system, as the hardware specs aren’t really special anyway (most smartphones have dual-core CPUs and can record video in 720p nowadays anyway).
The first thing that strikes you when giving it a look is its size. It is enormous, by any cellphone standards. Although some people might see this as a nuisance, I like it. In fact the size was one of the reasons I chose this one over the HTC Radar. Apart from the fact that bigger is better when browsing the net or watching movies, I also had a problem with most smartphones’ virtual keyboard; in most cases, it was impossible for me to write a SMS message without making a very large number of spelling mistakes, mainly due to pushing 2 keys at once. Due to Eternity’s big screen, typing is much easier as keys have more space in between them.
In past times, I’ve tried working with a few Android devices. I also tried one of my coworker’s iPhone 4. In both cases, I got lost after 10 seconds. With WP7, I was able to set up and get everything working without having to google anything or ask someone the infamous question “what do I do now?…” Windows Phone 7 has a very big plus for its very minimalistic and (most of the time) intuitive interface and unlike Android, for example, which has over 9000 versions out there, when you jump over on a friend’s phone, the settings, apps and everything else will be in the exact same spot as it is on yours. Setting most stuff, starting from ringtones, theme and ending up with email, facebook and even WiFi Access Point mode is just a matter of 3-4 sweeps and taps. No hidden stuff, no jailbreaking needed, no bullshit. For the more “niche” stuff (e.g. XMPP), there are a ton of apps to choose from, some free, some paid.
Speaking about the marketplace, the good things about the WP7 one is that a) every paid app can be ”tried”, as in, you can download it and run it a limited number of times (~50) to evaluate it prior to buying it and b) every developer has to pay in order to become a WP7 developer and publish apps, which means that the market doesn’t get clogged with a gazzilion rubbish apps made by Garrage Joe from the Tinyville trailer park.
There’s alot of built-in functionality by default, such as facebook sharing of photos, office documents support (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), Bing voice search, automated translation of text on an image taken with the camera (this one is my favourite!). One other thing that I love about it is how it groups my contacts. It automatically matches the numbers I have in the phonebook with the respective Facebook profiles, so when someone is calling me or texting me, their facebook profile shows up on the display. Also, if a person messages me through SMS and then picks up the chat on facebook, MSN or Google Talk, the chat is threaded in the same discussion, not separated ones.
Despite its good parts, it can be clearly seen that WP7 is still young and fresh on the market. There are a lot of rough edges and tiny annoying bits that simply shouldn’t be there.
For example, you can’t access the contacts on your SIM card. You must first import them all. This can be a pain, as the operator countless and useless service numbers are imported as well. Besides, if someone else wants to use his/her SIM card to make a call, it’s next to impossible.
About calling, yeah, you will shortly notice that “calling” has just become an application on WP7. Basically, the “phone” part of this gadget is just a tiny piece of the puzzle. If 10 years ago you spoke of “a phone that can send e-mails“, now you speak of “a small laptop that can make and receive phone calls“.
Another thing that pisses me off about this phone is that all images that are uploaded are scaled down in both resolution and quality. With Facebook, that’s fine, but with SkyDrive and e-mail, I don’t really see the point! The only way to get the pictures (which surprisingly are very good, for a cellphone!) is through Zune, which brings me to…
Zune! I don’t know what made Microsoft think that making an iTunes clone was a good idea, but they did. Granted, most people say that Zune is better than iTunes, but for me, a person who never used any of them, it’s awful! First of all, why do I need to organize my stuff into libraries? (documents, music, videos, pictures, etc). Why can’t I just take any file from the computer hard drive and just dump it on the phone? And why do I have to use just Zune or the Mac Connector? Why not make it appear as a mass-storage device? It’s retarded and only probably fully understood by retarded people…
Speaking of retarded, another “feature” that falls in this category is running applications management. Again, for some reason, they ditched the plain old “close application” behavior for the iPhone retarded “background app” behavior. This would be pretty ok, if task switching would work well, but using that damned “Back” button sometimes just has a totally unexpected and inconsistent behavior when switching between apps.
The ugly thing about this thing is… well… it’s not a phone anymore. Considering this a phone is just like going to do your groceries in a helicopter. First of all, there’s the issue of battery life. By cellphone standards, it’s dreadful. If you have 3G and WiFi active, facebook connected and 3 email accounts, the battery won’t last more than 30 hours. And don’t think you can play too much with it, because if you’re used to checking facebook once every half hour and speaking with your friends whenever you stop at a red light, the life of the battery goes down to 14-16 hours easily. Yes, you can deactivate all those battery-eating things to get half a dozen extra days, but then you’ll just end up with an oversized and overpriced cellphone… pointless!
But this is not a WP7-specific problem. This is a smartphone-specific problem. This is not a phone. This is a very slick and simplified laptop. If this had a physical keyboard, it wouldn’t even be called a smartphone… it would be a netbook. Thus, one has to treat it as such. I still use my 9 years old Siemens S55 for phone calls. I use the Eternity as a laptop with a 3G data plan. When I get to work, I plug it in. When I get home, I plug it in. That way, I never have to worry that I’ll run out of battery and for those times when I need to go somewhere with no possibility to get a socket for more than a day, I have a 6600mAh external battery pack.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are a lot more things that are good, bad or ugly about this system, but the bottom line is this: It’s simple to use, it “just works”, and it’s not full of hidden switches which require you to get under the hood. Yes, it is annoying at times and most of the time you will be laughed at by others for using a Microsoft product, but the truth of the matter is, it’s perfect for someone who doesn’t want to complicate their life and also doesn’t want to get the “Oh, an update! Just $49.99!” feeling.
But most of all, if you’re interested in a phone, just get a phone. WP7 was never intended and will never, ever be a phone OS.