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Windows Phone – How does it stack up


My intention for the past couple months was to purchase a new WP7 phone sometime after launch day and only use it through a WiFi connection so I could download/review software and comment on other aspects of the OS. I am really happy (sort of) with the way my Tilt2 is currently configured and it was doing everything I could ask of a phone. But yesterday, once I got that HTC Surround in my hand, things changed. Everything on the phone flowed so smoothly I knew I had to have one of these babies, like now!

I expected to keep the phone in WiFi mode, at least for a while, but when my AT&T buddy asked, “do you want me to change out the SIM”, I told him to go for it and decided it was time for me to be an early adopter still again. Keyed in my Windows Live ID and the phone was ready to go. That 10 minute drive back from the store was really tough, trying to discover the phone while staying in my lane. I will leave a phone review to someone else though. My focus here will be how a 50ish user, really imbedded in Windows Mobile/Outlook, etc., got through his first day with a Windows Phone.

ZUNE – The basic Zune install went pretty easy. The install did insist I update my XP machine to Service Pack 3, which I had been avoiding because I didn’t want to waste an hour, which is about what it took. I loaded the phone up with a bunch of music, video and pictures, lots of pictures, and that was all as painless as it gets. I like that WP kept my photos in the folders that I have on my desktop making them easier to locate. After setting up my Zune ID I was able to check for phone updates (there were none) and go to the App Store. Downloaded about 16 of DavidK’s 25 Top Picks along with a few things I found along the way, No glitches or bugs to speak of, as it should be. By the time I was done with the App Store everything was already loaded on my phone.

OUTLOOK CONTACTS – I have been using Outlook for at least 10 years and rely on it for everything; contacts, appointments and tasks. I already knew that WP does not sync directly with Outlook but figured there would be a reasonable workaround for someone who does not have access to an Exchange server. Did a few Bing searches for solutions and almost everything that came up had links to Google and GMail. I had no plans to go there (I thought Microsoft created Outlook) so after another half hour, decided to try Hotmail Connector. This is an Outlook plug-in that creates a sync folder so anything you drag into contacts or calendar will sync with Windows Live/Hotmail and eventually populate your phone. Dragging and dropping went OK, but if you have contacts listed in multiple categories Windows Live will simply duplicate the entries so I spent a bit of time clearing up the 100 or so contacts I wanted to sync. Then next problem was contact photos. Windows Live will not import photos from Outlook but they said (saying and doing are two different things) I could add them later. After an hour of trying everything I gave up on that and copied a photo folder I had, filled with contact photos, to my phone. I then had to link the photos, about 50 of them, with each individual contact. A little harder to do it from the phone side but at least it got done. Windows Live desktop still does not show contact photos but I really don’t care. The whole process was convoluted and it will get worse as I add new contacts to either Outlook or WP. I am not liking this.

OUTLOOK CALENDAR – Hotmail Connector created three calendars; Jim’s Calendar, Birthday Calendar and Holiday Calendar. The same three were created in my Windows Live desktop, but no birthdays showed up in Windows Live (although they did appear in Outlook view), on the desktop or the phone. Holidays did show up in Windows Live desktop but not on the phone. I manually added birthday info to some contacts and the dates were represented by a little icon (no text) but still nothing on the phone. I eventually “manually” typed in all the birthday and holiday events in Windows Live (duplicating the entries) which made them appear on the phone. I assume it has something to do with recurring events that WP simply does not recognize. Again, I don’t know why the creators of Outlook could not create a simple sync mechanism. I assume (hope) Exchange handles this differently, but if they want to restrict WP to only Exchange users, they are really narrowing the field.

OUTLOOK TASKS – If you use them, like I do, you can forget about it in WP. Nada. I downloaded a trial of a Task app from the App store and will give it a whirl but I am already going through Outlook withdrawal on this new phone. At this point I may consider using my Tilt2 as a PDA (no SIM) until I can figure out how (if) Windows Phone is going to help organize my life. Overall, I think the WP Calendar app is only a tad better than the WinMo version. Totally unreadable text appears on calendars in month view and it you pinch to zoom, the calendar does not grow, but Agenda view, sometimes on the right day, and sometimes not. I guess Microsoft assumes that people who are going to use Windows Phone are very, very organized, with incredible memories and don’t need any help. Interesting how the platform shifted from PDA, to PDA/Phone to Phone/PDA and now to Phone/Media Center. Wonder if I can pickup a Palm Pilot at Odd Lots.

EMAIL – The setup of my three active accounts went smooth as silk, although I did panic when I saw that I was syncing 663 “staff notify” messages. I did find some advanced settings for adding signatures, renaming accounts, etc., but the phone does not make all that obvious. Where settings were a big part of WinMo, WP appears to try to tuck them away somewhere, almost encouraging users to just stick with the defaults.

APPS – I played around with most of the downloaded apps, which were all a bit short on settings/options. I did notice one thing lacking, which I found really helpful using WinMo. None of the apps I opened give you any indication of how they work. And it’s not all that intuitive. Some apps swipe left/right and other have sub-menus hidden at the bottom of the screen. I really liked the WinMo Help app with the html files that developers would drop in along with the installation. I spent 15 minutes with a trial of PC Connector, and was about to give up when i realized all I had to do was swipe left/right to view the file tree for my desktop or phone. Guess I just need to get used to them but dealing with little “wordless” icons tends to slow me down. Speaking of help, I am really frustrated that there is no CD in the box, nor is there any place to download a PDF manual for the phone. The HTC site just links to a Windows page and while AT&T has a bunch of fairly well made tutorials, there is nothing like having a bible available to you 24/7, including lots of pictures, with or without a connection.

UI – The tiles look and work well. I was able to delete all the AT&T crap (at least out of my view) with a few flicks. I would like to see, maybe a Mail hub, where multiple accounts could be banked/accessed together. Now I have to tap Hotmail, read a message, go back to Home, tap AOL, read a message, etc. If not, at least allow the tiles to be made half size for things like mail, which only include a name and unread message count. I really do miss my battery bar across the top of my Tilt2, or at least a number reading of battery remaining. The little icon does not do it for me. Last night (actually around 4:30am) the phone started tinkling, which I suppose was a low battery indicator, but I have no idea what level triggered it. The on-screen keyboard is very responsive, almost too responsive, but I did have to turn off sound for key presses cause with the volume turned up, it sounded like a Maxwell House coffee commercial when I was tapping the keys, with different tones for different clicks. Everything moves very quickly on this interface, a whole lot different than my Tilt2 experience. Actually the only screen that’s slow to open is the HTC Hub, maybe because it’s updating, but I figure it is pulling up a big batch of resources. No way of telling of course.

SETTINGS – As noted, there are not a lot of settings to tinker with in WP.  For example, I can set how long the phone stays on before going to sleep, but can’t control how long it goes into a dim state, which is only a few seconds right now. Not enough time to keep the phone awake and maybe avoid an app closing. I also found the WiFi and BT toggles hidden within settings which just seems silly. So to toggle WiFi on/off, it’s; swipe to Apps, scroll to Settings, scroll to WiFi, and turn off the toggle. I pinned Settings to my Home screen to save a step but its still cumbersome, leading people to keep a radio turned on unnecessarily, which will drain your battery. Brightness was also a little odd. You can either leave the screen set to Auto or fixed at Low/Medium/High. They suggest setting the phone to Low to save battery, but at least on the Surround, that’s like walking into a dark room. Might be better on the brighter Focus. I think the 1 to 10 scale was a better option.

Joined Facebook and X Box Live today so I have dived into Windows Phone head first. I am going to try to let this phone and UI grow on me, but I can’t make any promises. I was really comfortable using WinMo, although the sluggishness and occasional freezes were frustrating. If I can last two weeks I figure it will be a keeper. Already noticed battery power vanishing, so I ordered a spare last night, along with a 3 pack of screen protectors. Don’t know if it was just my box, but no screen protector to be found anywhere. The AT&T store had a bunch of Focus accessories including protectors, but the HTC peghooks were empty. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long for a powered cradle, or maybe an extended battery and external charger to show up somewhere cause this baby drinks lots of juice, as I expected. My Fuze and Tilt2 both had 2000+mAh extended batteries, so I have become a bit spoiled.

Overall while there are some shortcomings, at least from my perspective, I am glad I have this phone in my hand. Don’t know if this is an iPhone killer, but it is definitely a contender. As the AT&T rep commented, now people actually have a real choice. He noted that Android is already starting to be labeled as an updated WinMo, with fragmentation, different UI’s, phone specs, etc. All things that become confusing for the average user. Time will tell if Microsoft can pull this one off.