Windows Phone 7 Walkthrough

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Introduction
This is a walkthrough of the Windows Phone 7 operating system. If you want to see how it performs on a real phone, feel free to check our HTC Surround Review and Samsung Focus Review.

Introduction:


If you're keeping a close eye over what's going on in the mobile industry (you most probably are, in case you're reading this), then you certainly know that we're living in a pivotal year for Microsoft's part in this business. It was only about a week ago when the very first Windows Phone 7 smartphones got announced, and we are just witnessing the official launch of some of those handsets. As you might expect, some people have already buried Microsoft's next-generation OS, saying that “the world doesn't need another platform”. However, bearing in mind that these words actually came from the mouth of Andy Rubin (head of Android OS), we did not want to jump to any conclusions before we actually got a chance to play with a WP7 device.

That time has come, so it's our turn now to say a thing or two about Redmond's new endeavour. In this article you are going to learn pretty much all there is to learn about the OS, as we are going to take a trip through its fundamentals and extra features that will either pay back to Microsoft, or, Heaven forbid, turn into the catastrophe that KIN was. For the record, we are not being pro-Microsoft, we're just compassionate, okay?

Windows Phone 7 – a different kind of phone?

Having played with a Windows Phone 7 smartphone for some time now, we can say one thing with a pretty high degree of certainty – Microsoft is serious about this. And this fact should not be overlooked by neither customers, nor competition. Sure, we all can have our doubts towards an eventual Microsoft comeback, as we remember the now considered dead Windows Mobile. Poor ole Windows Mobile... it tried to fit so much stuff in its relatively limited capacity that it eventually fell victim to an ugly and uninviting interface, lag issues and total lack of fun factor.

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Anyway, it doesn't take a genius to realize that Windows Phone 7 is a totally different story. Not only does it stay away from all WM, but it also manages to differentiate itself from the existing mobile operating systems by providing a new type of user interface. As it should, because everyone knows how tough catching up is going to be.

Basically, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 is centered around various hubs. Some examples of such hubs can be “People”, “Office”, “Games”, “Music and Videos”, etc. So, when you tap the “Music and Videos” button you won't be taken to a specific app, say, a multimedia player of some sort. Instead, you end up in an area where you can swipe left and right in order to reach different features (like the music controls) or content (like what's new in the Marketplace, or your song history).

That's how Microsoft's new platform works in a few words. We definitely find it innovative and refreshing, compared to other interfaces found on today's phones. That said, there is a slight chance of it being ahead of its time. And while this will probably become clear in a few months, there is still much to be said about Windows Phone 7. So let's not waste any more time and get down to business.

Home screen, main menu and visuals:

Like everything else in Windows Phone 7, the home screen has nothing to do with what was found in Windows Mobile. Well, maybe WM 6.5 had a similar idea, but that's as far as it gets. At first, you may think that the home screen is too simplistic, but it actually consists of the so called Live Tiles, which start to play image slideshows or display other relevant content as soon as you start using your phone. And this literally brings your home screen to life. We even think this concept could have been taken a step further, but this might happen through future updates or manufacturer customizations as well.

Your Live Tiles are arranged in a vertical list, with some tiles taking up twice the space of ordinary tiles. Scrolling up and down the list is so responsive and fun, that you can even fail to notice the fact that about a fourth of your screen real estate is left empty. That's a fact that seemed very strange to us at first, but we assure you – it actually doesn't matter. All the needed information is displayed inside the Live Tiles. The sweet part is that you can customize your home screen so that it contains only what is important to you. Rearranging tiles is very intuitive - you only have to tap and hold a tile and then drag it to the desired position.


When you swipe to the left, or click on the arrow residing in the upper part of the said blank area, you get to what can be referred here as the main menu. It consists of a vertical list of your apps and hubs. Although that we rarely had to use it, this is the place where you'll find your third-party applications. Of course, you can choose whatever you want from this list and take it to the home screen.


While it is obvious that Windows Phone 7 has a pretty simplistic interface, we have to note that the OS feels extremely polished when it comes to animated transitions and other eye-catching goodies. For example, almost all tiles you'll encounter (live and not live) act as 3D surfaces that tilt just slightly in the direction to the area in which you press them. For instance, if you touch a tile in its upper right corner, it slightly tilts towards that direction. It is a very cool touch to say the least, which makes the platform feel finished.

People Hub:

Eye-candy aside, let's turn our attention to the functional side of Microsoft Windows Phone 7. A pretty good place to start is the People Hub, which, as you might guess, plays the role of a phonebook. Indeed, we would not be wrong if we think of the People Hub as a very advanced phonebook. It is similar to HTC Sense's contacts app in Android (in terms of capabilities), but what makes WP7's one different is the style and presentation. First, you naturally have a list with your contacts. In addition to your SIM and phone contacts, here you can also integrate contacts from Facebook, Windows Live, Outlook or Google. Fortunately, Facebook contacts automatically get their profile pictures assigned to make your phonebook a bit more colorful and enjoyable.


Choose a certain contact, and you will be provided with options to call, text, send email, find on map, and write on wall (if it's linked to a Facebook account). Swiping to the left will show you what is new with this contact, with the info coming straight from Facebook. If you want to have ultra-quick access to a certain contact, you can "pin" it to the home screen. Adding a contact, on the other hand, is done by pressing the plus button located on top of the phonebook list. Then you can very easily add/choose a photo and fill in all the needed details about this person. You can enter a lot of info about a contact, but the available options are not as great as they were in Windows Mobile. Anyway, we doubt that someone would actually miss the option of storing the names of the children of the assistant of your contact.

Finding a contact is a pretty easy stuff and can be done in two ways. The first one is by clicking on some of the letter tiles in the phonebook list (they serve for better organization of the alphabetical order). Upon clicking some of those, you are presented with an a, b, c... set of keys, which contains the first letters of your contacts' names. This is a search method common to GPS units and is also found in Nokia's touchscreen phones. The other way is by clicking the search key, which lets you search for first or last name by typing.

While in the main People Hub view, a swipe to the left will take you to your Facebook news (in case you've linked your account). Another swipe will let you see the recent contacts you've called/viewed/texted.


As a whole, we appreciate the integration with Facebook, as it provides the user with some deep functionality and at the same time doesn't clutter the interface.

Messaging and Email:

Written communication is an important part of business. And since Microsoft has a strong business-oriented past, we did not expect anything else than the best in the non-verbal communication area. There's not much to say about regular messaging in Windows Phone 7. It is probably as good as it gets with your text correspondences displayed in threaded view, while options like adding additional recipients or media files are just a tap away.


The email client works great. As soon as you've entered your account details, your emails start to populate the app. Everything works buttery smooth. Unfortunately, you do not get a universal inbox like in bada or iOS, so your different inboxes are displayed as separate apps/tiles. Still, this isn't much of an inconvenience really. In your list of emails you can easily notice details such as who has sent you the email, a short preview, whether or not there's an attached file and the date on which you've received the mail. Once you open an email you get a nice HTML view so that you don't miss a thing of the content.


Swipe gestures again work well for you here as a swipe to the left will leave you alone with only your unread messages, and yet another swipe will take you to the urgent emails.

Strangely, when you press the attachment key you don't get the option to attach an Office file. Instead, you're being prompted to select a picture from the gallery. Thankfully, you can still choose to send an Office document via email through the Office Hub. Why this option is lacking in the email client we don't know, but it would be nice if we see it added soon.

Organizer:

Another area where we expect a respectful performance by Microsoft's latest and greatest invention is the organizing capabilities. Starting with the calendar, we are once again presented to the new clean look of the OS. You can synchronize it with Windows Live, multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts and Google Calendar, with the latter having to go through an Exchange server as well. It is a good touch that you can color-code your different calendars for better organization.

You switch between Agenda and Day view with a simple swipe, and by pressing an on-screen key you get into Month view for a better overview of what's ahead. We noticed that your appointments are market in the respective dates in Month view, but this should have been executed in more intuitive way. Right now, appointments are market with an incredible smallish text, which you can sometimes even fail to notice. Because of that, you'll always have to enter the specific day in order to see what tasks await you there.


Adding an appointment while in Day view is very easy. Similarly to Android, you only have to select the desired hour, then input a subject, some other note if you wish, and you're all set.

Another basic, yet always crucial feature is the Alarm. Setting an alarm just couldn't be easier than what you get in Windows Phone 7, and thanks to the nicely animated interface it is also a fun thing to do too.

Windows Phone 7 is stuffed with other ordinary features like a calculator, but for additional productivity tools you'll have to spend some time in the marketplace. And of course, why should you have a handset full of stuff you don't need/want. What you want you can find it in the marketplace... in theory at least. But we'll get back to the marketplace in a while, let's first see what Microsoft managed to create out of one of the industry's lamest browsers – Internet Explorer.



Internet Explorer:

To Microsoft's shame, its browser has been replaced by third-party solutions in its own phones (phones using its OS that is) for quite some time. This was necessary because Internet Explorer has always lacked in many aspects when compared to the competition.

Ladies and gentleman, we now feel confident enough to state that the guys from Opera can now take well-deserved rest, because the all-new Internet Explorer, coming with Windows Phone 7, is, shockingly, one of the best browsers ever put in a phone. There, we said it!

Okay, it might have taken them quite some time to figure out how to do it right, but now they have really nailed it. Well, there are some small tweaks that could be done to enhance the experience a bit, but still, pages now load very quickly, while scrolling and zooming are buttery smooth. Speaking of zooming, you can do this by either double-tap, or pinch-to-zoom. The thing here is that the double-tap method works as accurately as on the iPhone, making it equal to the best in that respect. Actually, the same goes for multi-touch-aided zooming, which lets you pan the page around while in the middle of a zoom function, identically to Safari. Pages, of course, render as on a real computer.


The user interface is also an important part of a mobile internet browser. There are good and bad things we can say about the one of the new Internet Explorer. First off, we don't like that there is no full-screen option in portrait mode. Fortunately, you can view web pages in full-screen when in landscape mode, but then another issue arises. There is no address bar at the top, meaning that you have to return to portrait mode to enter a new web address. This isn't a big deal, since switching orientations is very snappy, but still we cannot see a clear reason why they didn't put a simple address bar at the top of the page. However, Safari isn't without its issues either, as it lack a full-screen mode whatsoever.


Internet Explorer lacks Flash or Silverlight support, which is on one hand unpleasant, but on the other, it guarantees its flawless operation, so we can live without it. Android has the advantage here, but we shouldn't forget the fact that scrolling when a Flash element is present is far from smooth in Google's OS.

Anyways, the browser naturally supports tabs as well, and you can open quite a few of them without a hitch. Switching from one tab to another gets done really quickly.


So, if we have to rate the mobile OS's browsers, we would say that Safari and Internet Explorer (as found in Windows Phone 7) have the lead, followed by Android and webOS. Who would have thought!

While we are on the topic of internet, pressing the search key will bring up Bing search. It's only natural that we see strong Bing search support in Windows Phone 7, with all those beautiful images  accompanying your search actions. Additionally, you are presented with three interesting facts related to the image, so you might even widen your knowledge base, who knows.

Office Hub – a mobile office or what?

The Office Hub is probably a place where future Windows Phone 7 users will spend quite a lot of time. And unlike what we experienced with Microsoft's great new browser, we were a bit underwhelmed by what we found in the Office Hub.

The panoramic user interface is great for the purpose. Swiping left and right to navigate between the different Office Mobile features feels great. Your first stop is OneNote. We have no complaints about it whatsoever. You are presented with some quite satisfying note-taking options (like image and audio attachment), and once you're ready with a note, you can email it, or pin it to the desktop... the home screen, that is.


The fun stops once you get to knowing the new Word Mobile. Stuff like word correction and find is present, plus there's even the option to place comments, but when it comes to formatting, available options are as scarce as hen's teeth. Since they are so few, we can list them here: bold, italic, underline, strike-through, increase/decrease font size, along with three highlight colors (yellow, green, red) and three font colors (orange, green, red). That's it. No insert image or table, you can't even change the alignment. Pretty weak stuff, to put it mildly; and it seems like Quickoffice will have to intervene.


Of course, you can also create, view and edit Excel files. Thankfully, there are some decent options here with regards to the functions, where some advanced choices are available. You can also apply filters to cells and format them as currency, date or percentage type cells. General functionality here is still limited though, as there are no handy features like insert/delete row or column, while text formatting capabilities in Excel Mobile are as scarce as in Word Mobile.


PowerPoint support is present in Windows Phone 7, although you are only allowed to view and edit presentations, not create them. Sadly, by editing options here we refer to text editing.

With Windows Phone 7, you can also work with Microsoft Office SharePoint servers, to enable easier collaboration with your colleagues.

Bing Maps:

Using Bing Maps in Windows Phone 7 is really a joy. Panning the map around is very smooth, same as pinch zooming. The available options are pretty standard – you can search for a specific location, go to you position, and get directions from A to B. Unfortunately, there is no support for voice-guided directions so far.


Once you open the additional options menu, you're then allowed to clear the map of markers, as well as switch to aerial view (satellite view).

Searching for POIs is very intuitive, of course, and once you open a POI in order to see more details, you are presented with the exact address, an option to get directions and a phone number. You can also pin a certain POI to the home screen, as well as share it via text or email.


As a whole, we really appreciate the cool visual presentation of Bing Maps, which makes for one pleasant and seamless experience. It now seems that the only notable missing feature is voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. We hope that we'll see this feature make its appearance in WP7 sooner than later.

Marketplace:

Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile had an unexciting lifespan in the Windows Mobile 6.x days. Thankfully the company has reworked its application so as to make it more comfortable and easy for customers to discover and purchase new apps.

First, you are treated to the main content categories in the Marketplace Hub - applications, games and music. Swipe to the left and you'll get acquainted with the featured stuff.

Back to the categories screen – this is where you'll also get to access the available updates for your downloaded apps. The number of available updates is also displayed on the Marketplace live tile.


Enter the applications screen and you'll see which are the current top items, what's new, what's featured, what is... kind of super-featured, and finally a list of all the categories.

In the games menu, you're presented respectively with Xbox Live-enabled titles, the current top offerings, the new stuff, free stuff, and finally, all categories.


This is how the app content is organized within the new Marketplace and we have to say that it's definitely fun to browse through different apps. With regards to their quantity, we cannot go as far as to say that there will be an abundant amount at launch, but it will surely not feel like a wasteland.

We feel very positive towards the Zune Marketplace that is integrated in WP7. It sports an attractive visual presentation, with a different panoramic background almost every time you enter, depending on the featured artist. Additionally, it provides information as to which are the new releases and top albums. Finally, you can browse through all offerings by genre. The Zune Marketplace allows you to listen to a 30-second sample of a certain song. Which further solidifies its stable performance.



Camera:

The stock Windows Phone 7 camera interface is well-balanced. While it is in unison with the rest of the simplistic interface, it still packs some advanced settings such as white balance, contrast, saturation, different focus and metering modes, as well as anti-shake. It is also up to you whether or not to leave the flash on/off or in auto mode.


Microsoft has thought of a great user interface here that is completely in line with the rest of the good stuff that we witness in Windows Phone 7. It is the way you can access your image gallery from within the camera app. You can simply swipe to the right and you're already scrolling through your images. Once you're ready, swipe your way to the rightmost part and you are back in the viewfinder, ready to take some more works of art. It's really an illustrative example of the technological advancement that we've reached not only in desktop and laptop computers, but in smartphones as well.

Of course, it would be up to the manufacturers to take their pick between a really capable or just a mediocre sensor (of at least 5 megapixels that is). In terms of video recording, pretty much all Windows Phone 7 smartphones are expected to support shooting in HD 720p resolution.

Pictures:

The Pictures hub is the place where, naturally, you'll find all of your pictures. Here you can view all of your content, sort it by date, or view your favorites only. There's also a section of the hub entitled “what's new” that is reserved for Facebook (and Windows Live) integration. In “what's new” you can track all the latest photo activity going on with your Facebook account. Strangely, we couldn't find a way to selectively view albums/photos of our Facebook friends. We were only capable of seeing the latest activity.


Anyways, viewing photos is what it should be – you can scroll through images quickly and use pinch-to-zoom or double-tap to get a closer view. If you wish, you can easily upload a photo to services like Facebook or Windows Live SkyDrive (online storage service by Microsoft), again giving us a hint that Microsoft's new mobile OS is a bit more consumer-oriented.

Music + Videos Hub:

The Music + Videos hub doesn't need much introduction. This is where all the partying happens and we have to say that Windows Phone 7's way to get things done is very suitable for the job. It is really fun to see the artist you are listening to take up the background space with a panoramic image – it immediately makes the experience better than what you get on most of the competition. Until now, music players featured a big album art at best, but now Windows Phone 7 takes things to the next level by making the whole experience more interactive and absorbing.

Besides the playing track/video, in this hub you will also find some other data like a history of the media that you've consumed (gee, we hate the sound of that). From the menu you can jump to your music library, videos, podcasts, FM radio or the Zune Marketplace.


Overall, we are perfectly content with what we discovered within the Music + Videos hub, so we expect many hours of entertainment going on with the help of it.

Games Hub:

Finally, the good stuff – games! You have probably heard of the Xbox Live integration with Windows Phone 7. Indeed, thanks to the Games hub you will be able to do stuff like personalizing your avatar, track various achievements and scores, as well as see requests.

What's important though is your game collection, where the games that you own reside. Thankfully, most Xbox Live-enabled titles are available as demos, so you can try before you buy. We tried a couple of games and while we cannot say that we are blown away by what we saw, we have to admit that Windows Phone 7 supports fine gaming. It will of course be up to developers to take advantage of this new playground, but all in all entertainment options will surely be quite a lot with WP7.


From the Games hub you can also visit the Marketplace if you want to add some fresh titles to your game collection. As with the rest of the apps, the catalog of games is not that great as of now, but we can only expect it to get bigger and bigger with time, that is, in case Microsoft wants its Windows Phone 7 OS to be relevant when it comes to apps and games.

Conclusion:

Now that we've walked through the entire OS, it is judgment time, right? As always, we'll be honest and to the point.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft proves that it is not the stagnant giant not capable, or not seeing the need for a change. Really, who would have thought that the Redmond-based software developer will successfully do what seems to be the hardest step sometimes – start over from the beginning.

Not only has it started from scratch, but the OS the company has built is surely a great product that is already a worthy competitor in the smartphone market. But will it be enough in order to shake iOS's well-established base, or Android's ever-increasing momentum?

In terms of pure software experience, we believe the answer is “yes”. Windows Phone 7 provides a fun to use interface, which really feels next-gen, while its multimedia and internet capabilities are among the best in class. Well, it will take it some time to catch up with the Android Market, let alone the App Store, but who knows, if everything goes according to plan, the Markeplace might grow to a respectable size pretty soon. In terms of hardware though, the new platform will of course be dependent on the devices that manufacturers will produce. Microsoft, however, seems to have learned from Apple in this case, providing manufacturers with minimum hardware requirements for their phones. This will guarantee a smooth and seamless performance on all devices that choose to carry Windows Phone 7. With this move though, Microsoft makes a statement that it wants its piece of the high-end cake, leaving the lower end of the smartphone spectrum to be occupied by Android, at least for the time being.

That said, we feel very positive about Windows Phone 7. It marks the long-awaited return of a once pioneering player on the field, only this time, it seems it's here to stay.

This was a walkthrough of the Windows Phone 7 operating system. If you want to see how it performs on a real phone, feel free to check our HTC Surround Review and Samsung Focus Review.


Windows Phone 7 Walkthrough Video:



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