Home Windows Phone 7 is Beautiful, But is it Usable?

Windows Phone 7 is Beautiful, But is it Usable?

The first day I used the HTC HD7 running Windows Phone 7, the new mobile operating system from Microsoft, I couldn’t log into Foursquare. A friend on Twitter told me the issue had been going on for almost a week. The Foursquare support Twitter account had tweeted to those who asked that the issue was “being worked on.” No ETA on a fix was given. There were few complaints. No one, except for Microsoft employees and a handful of brave early adopters, probably even noticed. After several more days, the login function began to work again. There was no blog post from Foursquare about the issue or its resolution.

Is this what it’s like to be a second-class citizen in a world dominated by iPhones and Androids? As I transition over to this new handset, that’s a key question I want to answer.

Mission: Really Use Windows Phone 7

During the outage, I discovered there were other third-party Foursquare apps to choose from, including a pretty great one called 4th and Mayor. Hmm, maybe Windows Phone 7 won’t be too bad after all?

I’m determined to find out.

My mission over the next couple of months, is to discover whether or not Windows Phone 7 is a usable device for early adopter-ish, Google-using, Android-attached smartphone addicts like me. Or you, maybe.

To conduct this experiment, I’m using HTC’s HD7*, a fairly high-end smartphone with a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 5-megapixel camera with support for 720p HD video, 4.3-inch high-resolution touchscreen, 16 GB of storage…oh, and a kickstand.

Early Press Surprisingly Positive

We already know that many tech journalists, including notable Apple fans, have said that Windows Phone 7 is a good, if not downright attractive, mobile operating system (OS). One review that stands out the most in my mind as I begin this transition is from TechCrunch’s MG Siegler who surprised his legion of pro-Apple supporters by writing “Wow, With Windows Phone 7, Did Microsoft Actually Bring a Gun to a Gun Fight?

“..Over the past few months, I’ve actually been pleasantly and continuously surprised by what I’ve seen of Windows Phone 7. My initial reaction? Impressed….I already like this better than Android.”

Just as shocking, noted Apple insider John Gruber even applauded Microsoft for trying something different.

“Good for Microsoft for starting over with a truly new UI and new developer APIs,” he wrote before delving into more critical thoughts.

But from a devout Apple fan like Gruber, the sentence almost felt like a compliment.

Then there was the incredibly comprehensive Engadget review from now-former editor Joshua Topolsky which included praise for everything from the Metro UI (“we happen to like the way it looks”) to the software’s responsiveness and speed (“the most accurate and nuanced touch response this side of iOS4”).

That said, Topolsky still found a few bugs and holes in the product, and concluded that the new OS felt as if it was “a good year behind market leaders,” mainly because of its lack of multi-tasking and copy-and-paste. An update bringing at least one of those features (copy & paste) happens to be rolling out now, however.

While I consider Engadget’s detailed review the definitive resource on everything there is to know about WP7’s OS, I like to approach these things from an end user standpoint by really living with the device. Not for days or weeks, but for months. And not just using the phone, but actually switching phones.

Wait, Didn’t You Just Switch to Android?

As those who read this website regularly know, I switched from iPhone to Android back in December 2010. Despite a little bit of cheating, I can safely say that I’m currently, and primarily, an Android user. I traded polish for power by moving to Android, I recently concluded. Overall, I’m happier to have access to Android’s better notifications, its widgets and the deep integration with Google services the platform offers, than the perfection delivered by Apple’s iPhone.

I use the Nexus S as my main device these days and I’m actually somewhat terrified to give it up – to test out this HD7, I’ll need to move my SIM card over to the HTC phone. (Both are T-Mobile handsets). I have to admit, the thought scares me as much as my first transition from iPhone to Android did. But I will suffer through… maybe I’ll even come away pleasantly surprised. Or maybe I’ll go running back to Android. Who knows?

Get Started: Apps and Customizations

For what it’s worth, the issue with Foursquare occurred at the beginning of my switch, while I was getting the HD7 device set up with my apps, settings and preferences. It was resolved at some point, but I’m not sure when because I haven’t made the full transition yet – that’s happening today.

I wonder, though: will other applications treat me as poorly going forward? What apps will I really miss by switching? What day-to-day tasks will be improved – or made worse – after spending time on this platform?

Before I can begin to answer those questions, I first had to configure the phone to my liking. And for me that means apps and customizations.

There’s a good number of popular apps in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, including several old favorites like Amazon Kindle, Amazon.com, Facebook, Flickr, Flixster, Netflix (hey, you can’t get that on Android yet!), YouTube, IMDb, Shazam, ShopSavvy, Twitter, WeatherBug and Yelp, all of which are now loaded on my phone in addition to Foursquare. There are also some seemingly fun Instagram-esque photo filtering apps like Colorizer, Bubblegum and Photo Enhancer, which I’m looking forward to trying.

Plus, Microsoft brings its own apps to the table, including Office, Bing Maps and Windows Phone 7’s many “Hubs” – the live tiles on the phone’s homescreen that organize updates from your social networks, messages, photos, games, music and videos and more.

In total, Microsoft says it now has 11,500 mobile applications available.

No Geeking Out with WP7?

The phone’s tiled interface is easy to get used to, simple, even a little elegant. It’s a big departure from screen after screen of apps like on iPhone, and live updating tiles like the one from WeatherBug can give you that widget-like feel you may miss from your Android days. However, I get the sense that I won’t be endlessly customizing and tweaking my phone, as I did with the Nexus S, which makes me a little sad.

But let’s be honest – many people don’t geek out with their phones to the extent of setting up profiles and using complex apps like Tasker for Android to automate every aspect of their device. They set up their email, install some apps and go about their life. (The horror, I know!)

Does that mean there’s no geeking out to be had on the Windows Phone 7 platform for smartphone addicts like me? That’s the message I seem to get from Microsoft’s ads, especially this clever one (below) which shows how overly engrossed we are in our devices – to the extent that we’re missing out on life itself.

OK, Microsoft, I’ll bite. Will Windows Phone 7 give me my life back, letting me “get in and get out” with ease? Do I even want to live like that?

Let’s find out.

Stay tuned.

*Disclosure: Microsoft provided me with the HTC HD7 for testing purposes.

Image credit: Red-tiled HD7, Engadget

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