I spent most of the last week with my early demo Windows Phone 7 (e.g. WP7) phone as my primary phone. See I am a Verizon customer currently and therefore I couldn’t use Verizon on the demo phone (as it takes SIM cards and Verizon can’t spell SIM). So I took the opportunity while in Europe to get a pre-paid SIM card and use it as my main phone (since my Droid was useless there). You’re probably wondering what my impressions were? Well, two caveats to start with…I have bet pretty heavily on the phone so I am not exactly a neutral party, but I’ll try to be. Also, I’ve never owned an iPhone (AT&T is true evil incarnate) so take that for what its worth.
History with Android
I have a Droid (the original Droid from Motorola). I started with Android 2.0 and upgraded to 2.1 then 2.2. I’ve paved it a few times on 2.1 and 2.2 so I don’t think the experience I detail here has anything to do with upgrade paths.
When I got my Droid, I loved it. Really loved it. I like to say that after three days with my Droid, I figured out I could make phone calls too! I got pretty comfortable with the overall usage of icons + widgets to customize my phone. I liked this quite a lot.
That was early on. I started to notice that several apps that were running in the background (or more importantly running a service/agent in the background) would really impact the performance of the screen. It was annoying but not disruptive. In fact, until the 2.2 (Froyo) update this seemed to work pretty well. Since then my experience has gotten really bad. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to tracking down bad services and uninstalling certain apps that were killing my phone. The typical experience is unlocking the phone and waiting 5-15 seconds for the icons to appear. Spending an hour with tooling to figure out which service was eating my phone just sucks.
As I’ve talked about before with this blog, Android quickly started feeling like an old Windows Mobile device. The developers could really do whatever they wanted and as a user I was paying the price. Most of the apps that were a problem were trying to cover deficiencies in the device’s built-in apps (e.g. a SMS app that did better threading was one of the early culprits but needed a background service to watch for SMS messages coming in).
Another issue for me is that the Android doesn’t require a GPU so the performance of some games is merely dreadful and others are extremely dreadful. Angry Birds regularly stutters on me…this is a 2D game…it shouldn’t be that bad…but it is.
During this time I got my ex-girlfriend an Android (Droid Eris). Immediately I realized that this was not the same device at all. It was underpowered but more importantly, the operating system was completely different. Helping her out to find certain things in the phone (simple things like where the phone book or gallery were) was hard. Even the look and feel was different. This is because Android let’s the carriers and handset manufacturers to change the OS to their liking. Hrmph… I want a better experience…maybe the Windows Phone 7 will do that for me.
A Week with the Windows Phone 7
Big caveat, I have a pre-production LG device that is great to build apps for, but isn’t representative of the released hardware.
Once I arrived in Amsterdam, I hit my favorite phone shop in the airport and picked up a pre-paid SIM. I did not get Internet access on the phone (still depending on Wi-Fi for that). It was a cost thing than a limitation of the phone.
The first thing to really think about WP7 is that this isn’t the same experience you’re used to on an android. The pinned icon screen and moving icons around is very different. Also, there is a heavier use of the Application Bar on the phone. I like Android’s dedicated “Menu” button but for new users I think the Application Bar might make more sense. My ex-Girlfriend is still confused by the menu button on Android. A small data point but one that I noticed.
What I Liked Better
As a phone, I was really happy with the experience. Phone calls just work as expected. The phonebook and num pad both made it easy to make phone calls. Even after turning on “International Assist”. SMS was easy too. I found the threaded conversations better than the built-in Android SMS app.
I also loved the Email client on the phone. I am using the same backend for both (Google for Apps’ email hosting). I find the email on WP7 to be snappier and the Application Bar really helps with common tasks. Searching for emails on the phone (even when I didn’t have Internet access) was snappy and found what I needed. This was a huge benefit for me as the mail app on the Android depends on the cloud to work.
I really love the way that my online presence is exposed through the different hubs. The People hub is more than just a contact list now. It shows shared pictures, status’ and other information about my network. In the Picture hub, the shared pictures show up there too. So I am not looking at me, but my world (as it is online). I love this part of the phone. The ability to have pictures I take automatically moved to a SkyDrive or manually up to Facebook is cool too.
The games I had installed on the phone worked great (with some small hiccupping in Bejeweled but I am not sure why since of the games I played, that was should have needed the smallest amount of horsepower). On the way from Amsterdam to Zeist (location of the conference) I had 40 minutes to kill and gained 25 XBox Live Gamerpoints. As an XBox addict, this was pretty awesome. I played with a number of the games and I was really impressed with most of them, but “The Sims” got me as its a pretty complete game for a phone (they’ve removed some features, but still).
I have a Zune, so the phone had to be as good as that for music…and it is. I like it a lot and it uses Pivot’s to help me find the right music or playlist to play. The Zune client allowed me to sync with the phone easily and mark what I wanted to move and it just worked. I was pretty impressed with the fact that when I had my Zune and my WP7 phone both hooked up (to charge for the trip) I could sync to both devices at the same time!
As far as apps on the phone, I am using most of the same ones I used on the Droid including:
I use all of these on my droid. None of these struck me as a port. They all embraced the Metro-ness of the platform (mostly to good affect).
Since this is a LG Phone, it had access to the LG App Store (yeah, manufacturer’s will have their own stores). The only app I really tried there was a Panorama Picture taking app that is awesome. It helps you by not only drawing where it thinks the next picture should be but also when you put it in frame it snaps the picture for you. Making panorama images has become a snap. The camera on the pre-production unit isn’t great so the pics aren’t terrific, but all the stitching was all done on-device…nice.
I tried the Netflix app while in Europe and it didn’t work as while on Wi-Fi I got the familiar “not in this region” result. Back home it worked great over Wi-Fi. Without a 3G connection to try, not sure how good it is in general. But their Metro-fied UI is really good for continuing the last thing you were watching (on another device). Sweet! It knew what episode of “The Office Season 6” I was on and suggested I wanted to continue it.
What Need Improving
When making phone calls in Europe, the phone didn’t know how to take a US phone number and know it was on a European phone network and do the magic to make the calls (“+1” FTW).
When playing music, I twice needed to reboot the machine to get the music to play. This feels like a hardware issue not a software one but I not sure until I get a real device to try.
On my Droid I love the homescreen widget that let’s me switch Wi-Fi, GPS and Updating on and off. I had to dig into the Settings to do this every time. Not perfect or show stopping but annoying.
The Marketplace is still getting confused about downloads and sometimes a download gets stuck. Updates are similar but that seems to be getting better (maybe a service problem not a client one).
Some apps can play sound even when muted which is confusing to me. I like Android’s multiple volumes that are contextual (e.g. Media Volume can be up so I can play music while the phone is muted).
What I am Missing
The biggest thing I am missing isn’t Android’s fault. I have a Motorola Droid and Motorola supports a couple of docks that are really compelling. The car dock automatically switches the phone into Car Mode which makes using it really easy. Likewise, the Alarm Clock makes it into an alarm clock for me (though the compelling part of that is to help remind me to charge it).
Another issue is Turn-by-Turn directions. I use my Android in my car a lot. And the Turn-by-Turn directions are exceptional. In fact, they are better than any TomTom I’ve owned. The traffic info is also really up to date when 3G is enabled.
Voice Search is important too. While the WP7 has this capability, Voice Search in the car is where the Android shines for me. Being able to say “Navigate to Sandra” or “Send SMS to Sandra” in the car is completely compelling. Until I get a good 3G connection, a car dock for a WP7 phone and a Turn-by-Turn app, I won’t know if I can replace this experience.
The only thing I noticed missing was “Angry Birds”. While most of my app usages are already met (see above) I expect the day to day apps I might use may be missing.
While there are a few missing pieces, the better experiences I see on the Windows Phone 7 make it an exceptional v1. When I think where the phone might be by a 2.0, I expect to be blown away. Remember, I am comparing the first release of Windows Phone 7 with a maturing Android OS.
Of the missing pieces, I expect the Marketplace to fill most of them. As mentioned above, most of my daily apps are already there and phone’s haven’t kicked off in the US yet. Wow.
What do you think?