HTC Surround Review
So here we are finally witnessing the all encompassing reality that Microsoft's next-gen mobile platform powering the HTC Surround, and like most other big launches prior to this one, will be inspected from head to toe in an attempt to see how it compares or improves upon the current standing crop of competition. If there is one thing we have to say about Windows Phone 7 more than anything else, it has to be that it's extremely quick – and we mean exquisitely one of the most responsive platforms to date. The HTC Surround itself is running a current generation 1GHz Snapdragon processor under the hood which presents itself as being sufficient in dealing with the platform's intricate processes. Windows Phone 7 relies heaving on using various transition effects and animations to provide the end user an experience that's consistently uplifting.
At its core, the Metro UI provides a standard look and feel for the entire platform – which obviously translates to a unified experience that doesn't change from handset to handset. Depending on your taste, you might build a liking for the Metro UI since it employs a custom made Microsoft font which purposely allows words to run off the screen – so you'll have to do some scrolling left/right to completely read it. Think of it more like a homescreen with 3 or 4 panels to move through; that's what the Metro UI feels like. .
When you first gaze at Windows Phone 7 on the HTC Surround, you'll be looking straight at its homescreen which consists of various square and rectangular tiles, with some being dynamic and others simply static. For example, the “People” tile will continuously loop various contact photos which of course adds to the general appeal to the platform. Another, the “Me” tile will aggregate a variety of content, like status messages and recently uploaded photos to Facebook, which provides even more eye candy to the platform. Now the homescreen is only visible in portrait mode, and as you play around with other hubs and apps, you will quickly take note that it will only support portrait orientation in most places. You can add additional tiles, like a contact or an app, by essentially “pinning” them – which can generally be done by long pressing a specific item in the Start menu or other applications (orie bookmarks). Unfortunately, the system dictates the size of the tiles and there is no way to set it manually – so that means some hubs/apps will get more love with their rectangular size than others.
Social networking is undoubtedly going to be the heart and soul that enables us to personalize the device to our liking, while at the same time, allowing us to check up on the most important people in our lives. Similar to what we saw with the KIN platform, Windows Phone 7 ties in closely with Facebook and Windows Live, but unfortunately Twitter is out of the mix – for now. When you set up your social networking accounts, it'll automatically try its best to link existing contacts with the respective Facebook/Windows Live account. When you run the “People” Hub, it'll be the centralized area for you to get acquainted with the most up-to-date news surrounding your friends. You can view photos they've posted to their wall, see status messages, like something, and even reply with a comment. However, it still doesn't feel as tightly integrated as we'd like compared to other mobile platforms. Sure you can post your own status message directly in the “Me” hub, but it doesn't offer things like uploading a picture to a friend's wall or sharing web sites on your wall. Of course, this additional functionality will hopefully be integrated with future update, but for now, it does a decent job with it.
Notifications are accompanied by sound, and the different Live Tiles will let you know if there something new that you should be aware of. For example, an email inbox tile can display the number of unread messages that you have. With the lock-screen, the system continues to categorize a variety of notifications so you'll know exactly what they pertain to – like a Yahoo! email, text message, or Hotmail email.
Since there is a sense of linearity with Windows Phone 7, everything you do with the handset is recorded accordingly as you go – meaning that clicking the back/previous button will go to the previous thing you were doing. There is no full multi-tasking support available, but the back/previous button proves to come in handy in situations when you're trying to juggle a variety of things. For example, we found that while running the Twitt app, clicking a link in a tweet will open up the web browser, but when you click the back/previous button, it'll essentially bring you back to the state you were in previously in the Twitt app.
When setting up the phone for the very first time, it'll ask you to set up your email and social networking accounts. The platform will be able to sync existing contacts with Facebook, Windows Live, and Gmail. Although it's not perfect, Windows Phone 7 does its best in linking all of your contacts together, but thankfully you can manually link items yourself. You can add additional contacts to the handset within the “People” Hub, and much like other competing platforms, it offers a wide array of detailed information that can be associated with each person. From phone numbers to email addresses, it'll offer the bare essentials as well as unique ones like anniversary dates and significant others. Since there is no universal search, you can launch the “People” hub and hit the magnifying glass to look for a specific contact. You can essentially add as many contacts that the phone's memory can hold.
You can access voice dialing, which upon other things can perform a variety of actions from opening apps or performing a web search, by simply performing a long press with the Start button. Surprisingly, the client works rather well in recognizing specific actions like “Call Joe mobile” and we didn't find too many times that it faltered.
HTC was able to beautify Windows Mobile thanks its unique customizations found with TouchFLO 3D and eventually developed its current Sense UI. However, the core user experience with Windows Phone 7 is unchanged from handset to handset, but luckily they're still able to bring some Sense to the platform with the Surround's “HTC Hub.” Upon launching the hub, either from the homescreen or Start menu, you'll instantly recognize the all too familiar look of Sense. Since it's a location aware application, it'll display the time, date, temperature, and weather information of your current location. Essentially, it's the common Sense interface we're accustomed to seeing on other platforms – such as the weather animations that it plays when refreshing. If you happen to click in the area where the clock is located, it'll display to the weather forecast of the upcoming days – plus you can personalize it to show the weather conditions of various locations. Additionally, the “HTC Hub” enables you to fetch additional content thanks to some of the HTC featured apps that it showcases – like stocks, photo enhancer, and notes. Although we are greeted to that familiar Sense UI experience, it would've been nice to see the HTC Hub tile on the homescreen display some useful information – which would lessen the need to jump into the actual app.