3 Weeks With Windows Phone 7.5, Part I
You know I love my Android phone. It’s a great gadget that let’s me do everything and ever since I discovered Tasker, it let’s me do even more than everything. Still, it’s always great fun to play around with other mobile platforms and for the next three weeks I’ve been lucky enough to test a Windows Phone 7.5 Mange phone, the LG Optimus 7 E900.
But since the important thing here is the operating system, we’ll ignore the hardware whenever possible - one of the reasons why Android is frowned upon by some people is that many phones with crappy hardware have been allowed into the wild. For instance, what was HTC thinking when they released the HTC Wildfire? I don’t know. Of course, the OS and the hardware go hand-in-hand, but when it’s plausible that an issue is directly related to the hardware LG decided to use in the E900, I’ll look the other way.
One thing you won’t see in this entry is a lot of screen shots. Windows Phone 7.5 has the same issue that haunted Android for a very long time: There’s no easy way to take screen shots on the phone. This is the kind of missing feature that makes me want to punch myself in the face. Apple did this right from iOS 2.0, released way back then in 2008: If you want people to show off their cool, new phone to people in the interwebs, you have to make it easy for them to take screenshots they can share.
But let’s get started.
Even though I said I would ignore the hardware, it’s the hardware I will start with. The phone. It’s so tiny. To give you an idea why I feel this way, let me show you where I’m coming from now: My current phone1, the classic Samsung Galaxy Tab measures 7.48 x 4.74 x 0.47 (190.1 x 120.45 x 11.98 mm), while the Optimus 7 dwarfs in comparison at 4.92 x 2.35 x 0.45 (125 x 59.8 x 11.5 mm). The screen is also considerably smaller; 7 inches on the tab and 3.8 inches on the Optimus 7. Here’s a close-to-life-size picture of the two side by side:
It’s possible to place three Optimus 7 phones (horizontally) on top of the Galaxy Tab. As you can probably imagine, this is a whole new world for me - or at least a revisit to an old one - I’ve used the Galaxy Tab for about a year now and grown accustomed to its might. And size sometimes matters.
When turning on the Optimus 7 for the first time, you’re greeted with what has become familiar to everyone who has configured a brand new smartphone: Setting up an account. In the case of Windows Phone 7.5 it’s a Windows Live account, which will automatically connect you to Microsoft’s Windows Live services: Hotmail, Messenger, SkyDrive and Xbox Live. If you have more than one Windows Live account, it’s possible to configure them all. Hotmail is automatically set up and Messenger integrates nicely with the text messaging application.
Windows Phone 7.5 lets you connect your phone to a wide range of services, in addition to Windows Live: Exchange, Yahoo! Mail, Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and POP and IMAP e-mail. I configured pretty much everything except for Yahoo! Mail and Facebook, and setting up everything was a breeze. It’s only possible to connect to one Twitter and LinkedIn account, though, and I’m guessing the same limitation goes for Facebook. It is, however, possible to connect to several Google accounts.
The connected services integrate beautifully with the contact list application: Even though I’m connected to LinkedIn, I don’t want to pollute the contact list with every LinkedIn contact I have. Thankfully, it’s easy to hide all the LinkedIn contacts. But even though these contacts are not displayed directly in the contact list, the applicaiton will still enrich other contacts with information from LinkedIn. As an example, many of my Google contacts don’t have a profile picture. The contact list solves this nicely by adding the LinkedIn picture to the contact, even though LinkedIn contacts aren’t displayed in the contact list.
The only issues I had when connecting the phone to external services was that I couldn’t get any of the Exchange contacts to appear on the phone. But this might be cause by a setting on the Exchange server, and if not, probably something that would solve itself with a Google search. One other thing I usually do as my standard playing-around-with-a-new-phone-routine is to configure notifications, ring tones and whatnot. For some reason I was unable to find a ring tone that sounded like an actual phone. The ring tones ranged from porn background music to dance trance, but nothing that would make my phone sound like, you know, a phone. Even the ring tones titled “bell”, “classic” and “bling” didn’t remotely resemble a ringing phone. It’s not the end of the world, but a bit surprising.
After the initial setup you are taken to the desktop, or what is just called “start” in Windows Phone 7.5. It gives you easy access to the most frequently used features of the phone, but it’s possible to configure the start screen to fit your own needs.
One of the most noticeable things you’ll see on the start screen is how different it looks compared to the iPhone and typical Android phones. Gone are gloss and shadows. Instead Microsoft has created Metro, based on the design principles of classic Swiss graphic design. Microsoft’s design team says that the Metro UI is partly inspired by signs commonly found at public transport systems and that it’s designed to be “sleek, quick, modern” and a “refresh” from the icon-based interfaces of Windows, Android and iOS. Metro places emphasis on good typography and has large text that catches the eye. It’s very different, there’s no doubt about that.
Personally, I think Metro is great. It’s clean, simple and filled with tons of subtle animations that actually makes sense and hopefully don’t drain the battery too fast. The pre-installed applications that are designed using the Metro design guidelines look absolutely stunning. Both the People (contact list) and e-mail applications are a real treat to the eyes. Some external applications, like Spotify for Windows Phone is also designed using the Metro design guidelines and it’s great to both look at and use. It beats the Android version by a mile and a half and even has proper playlist folder support, which is missing on Android.
The problem with the design guidelines, though, is that they are just that: Guidelines. The majority of the available Windows Phone application are made by programmers like me, who tend to focus on the inner workings of the applications first, the functionality second and the visual design as a distant third. It’s a shame, because when you throw developer designed applications into a mix of stunning looking applications design with Metro in mind, these application looks horrible.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of Windows Phone 7.5 and there’s still a long way to go before the three weeks are up. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft has been able to create an operating system good enough for me to break away from my old habits and learn some new ones without me going all Trichotillomania.
Yes, I will continue to call it a “phone” even though I’ve never held it up to my ear when making a phone call. Hands free, people! ↩︎
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