Well, I actually wanted to post this some time ago, but as usual… So, I’ve been using Windows Phone 7 (or 7.5 to be exact) on my Nokia Lumia 800 for more than two months now, and I’m still in love with the fluidity and beauty of the OS and the phone. Thought I would just do a write-up on my mostly dead blog (and finish it before my exams start real soon).
The Awesome is
Part 1 part of a (most likely not-soon-to-come) series of posts about the platform. Here, I’ll talk about what I love about WP7/Lumia 800. I planned to have a numbered feature kind of thing, but I decided to scrap the numbers since I might add even more articles about WP7 in the future. That’s the plan, anyway.
As it turns out, this might as well be an in-depth review for Windows Phone 7.
TL;NGTR? (Too long, not going to read?)
Windows Phone 7, the OS
According to this PCMag reader survey, 78% of respondents chose WP7 for the OS. I’m not sure why the editor thought it was “the biggest shock”, since it’s pretty much the main selling point of WP7.
You might get an iPhone for the apps (and don’t mind paying for them); because every other person is using it; or because you like Apple. You might get an Android because you don’t want an iPhone; if you want a cheap smartphone; or on the other end of the spectrum, because you want the latest and the best-est specced phone. Some might get an Android for the OS’ customization options as well. But if you want to get a WP7, it’ll most likely be because it’s that. Windows Phone 7.
Then again, I guess this means that most people who get a WP7 get it because they know about it and want it; which leads to the biggest problem of the platform — lack of awareness amongst the general populace — but that’s another story.
There are 2 core aspects about WP7 that I love in general, as mentioned at the start: fluidity and beauty.
WP7 only supports single-core processors because Microsoft believes that it’s good enough, and it’s true. The OS is highly optimized, which is why you’ll find the word “zippy” in most WP7 reviews. Pretty much anything you do is fast and slick, from sending messages to internet browsing to running apps.
That said, your app experience is still based on the app, and although there are some apps which may lag somewhat, you can usually find replacements for that run better. The games I’ve played run well, just don’t expect every single app to be buttery smooth.
Interesting (maybe) side note: a search for “buttery smooth” has WP7-related posts in the first few searches/videos.
But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself at a carrier/OEM/Microsoft store. I was interested in WP7 to begin with, but after trying it out, I was sold (sold, because I previously considered getting an iPhone 4S instead). That happened in the first 5 seconds (no kidding), but your mileage may vary.
OR, you can check out this demo on your phone: http://aka.ms/wpdemo (this is a HTML5-based demo, which might not work that well on older phones?). There’s also Nokia’s Facebook app/page and Windows Phone’s main site. Android users can try out Launcher 7, which is a Metro UI launcher/theme. I’ve used it for a while on my friend’s phone and it looks more or less like the actual thing (i.e. good).
The first thing you’ll probably notice about WP7 is the Metro UI on the start (home) screen. I liked it when I first saw it, and since then it’s been carried over to other platforms as well (Xbox 360, the upcoming Windows 8).
Side note: its roots lie with Media Center and Zune; I liked the former (in terms of looks) but never really used it.
If I had to pick some adjectives to describe it, they would be: gorgeous, elegant and bold. I started liking WordPress blogs due to the minimalist and sophisticated look, or basically just how beautiful the themes were (most of them anyway) — the same goes for WP7.
The start screen is just a black background (or white depending on your theme) with your large, square, colored tiles decorating the page. Most are live tiles which display related information, adding functionality and beauty (more on that below). It might be a love-it-or-hate-it design though; some people might find it plain instead of clean.
Besides the start screen, the rest of the UI looks just as great. Somehow, I never really noticed it before this but apparently Microsoft uses the Segoe font in quite a number of its products. “Somehow” because I’ve liked the font for some time (before using WP7 at any rate).
Segoe is a beautiful font, and the WP7 UI also features great use of typography within menus as well. There are some stock apps that I like for their design in particular; I’ll mention them separately.
Some time ago Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak mentioned how he preferred WP7’s UI to Android’s; while he didn’t explicitly compare it to iOS, it sounds like he prefers WP7 to iOS as well… Or at least, in the looks/design department.
As mentioned, this is what you’ll see on your start screen. Some of the tiles are more or less static: settings, app shortcuts; some show basic information: Email shows you the number of unread messages and Marketplace shows you the number of updates available; and then there are those which show more information, or are more fancy: weather/news apps.
The often-used example is the Me tile, which not only serves as a shortcut to your profile (where you can check your notifications and posts you make), but it also shows SNS (social networking site) notifications when pinned on the start screen. Same goes for pinned contacts/group tiles, except those will show updates from your contacts. When there’s nothing new going on it’ll just show the profile pictures and names of your contacts (or if it’s a group, it’ll be a “slideshow” of profile pictures), but if there’s a notification the tile will flip to display the notification when it’s on-screen.
You can also pin items from other apps on your start screen, which is rather useful. For example, you could pin: 1) your favorite playlist so you just need to tap on it to play it; 2) a particular website you visit often; 3) weather information (in this sense it acts like widgets on Android); 4) arrival timings for a bus you take on a regular basis. Of course, all these depend on the app itself, but most utility apps will let you pin live tiles.
If you want to make your Start screen look even nicer, unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of customization. However, you can download apps like WizTiles and Skinery (more on that in the App Recommendations feature, coming at some point in the unknown future) which lets you customize tiles (in terms of pictures and shortcuts).
Social Networking+People Hub
When you first start up your phone, you’ll be asked to sign in to your Windows Live account, which will sync your contacts and calendar (besides your email). After that, you can also sign in to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (and other email) accounts, which will add contacts from there into your contacts list.
I believe Windows Live contacts (which are also your phonebook contacts, if you’ve transferred them over from another phone) will be linked automatically to SNS contacts if they have the same names/email etc. but you probably have to link some manually (one area which could be improved on).
When all that is done, your contact will contain information from all linked accounts (profile picture, email, phone numbers etc.), so you can access them on a single page. I didn’t bother with contact pictures previously, but now I like scrolling through my list and seeing profile pictures (pulled from their SNS accounts) on each contact. You can also add pictures for your contacts manually should you choose to.
Besides that, you can also access news feeds from the various SNSes through the People Hub. You can choose which SNS to view if you don’t want to get swamped by say, your Twitter or Windows Live updates.
I really only use Facebook so I’ll just comment on that. What you’ll see on your phone is more or less what you’ll see on a desktop browser. The important stuff like status updates, new albums/photos, links will be there, but things like profile/cover picture changes, certain app posts and photo tags won’t show up (some of those will appear if you go to a contact’s/group’s page though).
Posts from pages will show up, but you won’t be able to access the page, or groups for that matter. It’s mostly just for stuff you would do daily, so you can comment on a post, like, save and tag pictures, access links etc. although having more features is always nice. If you go to a contact’s page, you can see his/her individual updates, write on their wall and view their albums.
You can group your favorite contacts together, and view news feed updates related to just the group members; a great way to keep yourself updated with your close friends. You can also view their photos and send messages or emails to the group.
Since it’s all integrated, you’ll be accessing it with the standard UI, i.e. that sweet-looking black background with white text, or white background with black text if you’re using the white theme. Black looks much nicer though, plus it uses less battery on AMOLED screens. Pulling news is pretty fast, even on 2G, as compared to using the standalone Facebook app/browser.
Live Tile: slideshow of display pictures of your contacts (for the main People Hub tile). As mentioned in the Live Tiles section above, the Me tile and tiles for individual contacts or groups will display SNS notifications as well.
Stalking Keeping in touch with friends has never been easier!
I wasn’t quite used to the keyboard at first (they keys are just a tiny bit thinner than on the iPhone 3GS) and was quite prone to mistakes. Unfortunately, WP7’s auto-correct is less sensitive so it won’t correct as often. When it does, it’s usually correct though. But now that I’m more or less used to the keyboard, I like it a lot.
There’s the suggestion bar which shows suggestions as you type (think Google’s auto-complete). It’s a great feature, and works well with how text selection is handled — you just need to tap on a word once to highlight it, and you can just type something to replace the word or simply select one from the suggestion box.
The keyboard has a separate button for comma, great if you’re a stickler for punctuation. There’s also a button for smileys. You can also add unrecognized words to the dictionary, although I miss the custom shortcuts feature in iOS.
Typing aside, Messaging also has built-in Messenger and Facebook Chat. You can see online contacts, and when you chat with them, all conversations (SMS/Messenger/Chat) appear in the same page so you can see all your conversations with a contact. Speaking of which, you can also view conversation histories (including emails) from a contact’s page. From there, you can jump to a specific message.
Live Tile: shows you number of unread messages. Emoticon also changes from :-) to ;-) and :-o depending on the number of unread messages. Apparently it also shows :-( if the message fails to send, but I haven’t gotten that myself.
Again, I like the Metro UI’s square tiles here, which are image/folder thumbnails in this case. Folders are displayed as larger-sized tiles and pictures as smaller (a quarter) sized tiles.
I love that sub-folders are supported on WP7; unless I’m very much mistaken it’s not on iOS — on iOS, you get albums which act as folders, but images from sub-folders (e.g. stuff that you sync from your computer) will just be displayed along with any other pictures in the folder. Thumbnails load instantly, even with hundreds of pictures, and scrolling through them is smooth as well.
Besides pictures you take with the camera, save from the browser/apps, and pictures that you sync with Zune, the Pictures Hub will also show pictures from your SkyDrive and Facebook albums. You can save photos from your online/SkyDrive albums to the phone, comment on them and tag friends, and also attach/share pictures from Facebook/SkyDrive when you’re using apps like Messaging, Email, WhatsApp etc.
You can also view your contacts’ and grouped contacts’ Facebook albums and tagged photos individually, or through the
news pictures feed. Other options include viewing pictures by date taken (only for those that are actually stored on your phone), accessing applications (more on this below) and favorites.
I don’t take a lot of pictures with phones myself, but for those who do, WP7 is a great platform for taking pictures. Firstly, there’s a dedicated hardware button for camera, which is a great shortcut. As with compact cameras, you can half-press to focus. Secondly, you can also take pictures when the phone is locked by holding the camera button (you can turn this off if you want to).
Last but not least, there’s a quick sharing feature. After you take a photo, you can switch to it (or other pictures in your camera roll) quickly through the camera app itself. There are the standard options to share, delete, auto-fix etc. and also a quick share button so you can easily post photos taken to a SNS. Additionally, there’s a setting to automatically upload pictures taken to SkyDrive.
On the topic of SkyDrive, it has recently been updated with a desktop app; that makes SkyDrive more useful in general, but especially so when it comes to syncing your smartphone photos. There are also apps for iPhone and iPad; Android users will have to use third-party apps or sign in using the web browser.
Live Tile: normally the Pictures Hub will display random pictures on your phone like a slideshow. If you add pictures to your favorites, it’ll display those instead. Also, whenever you go into the Pictures Hub, the panoramic background will also be chosen randomly from your list of favorites. You can also choose a static background for both the tile and inside the app should you want to.
Yet another stock app, but when you’re trying out a phone for the first time you’ll be trying out the stock apps anyway. Not to mention they’re actually good so you’ll probably use them often too.
Not to sound like a
broken recorder, but Calendar is another great-looking app. The Agenda pane lists all your calendar events; different calendars will show up with their associated color (you can change those), which looks really great with the dark background.
Looks-aside, you can sync your calendars from various sources, including Windows Live/Hotmail, Facebook, Outlook and Google. Facebook is also integrated here; when you tap on a Facebook event, you can view wall posts (and comment on them or post your own) and guests. You can set Calendar to only list events which you have responded to (in case you get invited to tons of random events). You can also add to-dos, which can be listed in your calendar.
Live Tile: shows the day, date and your current or upcoming event (including the location and timing, if they are specified in the event).
Another stock app (last one though), but it’s here for a good reason (as with the others). I probably don’t have to mention this by now, but as with the other stock apps, Email looks and works great.
For example, selecting multiple emails (to delete, move, or mark as read/unread etc.) is easy — you can just tap on the left side of an email, or bring up the check boxes by tapping on the Select button shortcut. Swiping left/right in the top menu lets you view all/unread/flagged/urgent emails. When composing emails, you can attach files (well, only pictures as of now) from the app itself.
Jump to ~5:00 for the Email segment.
Also, you can search for text within an email’s body; not just for the subject or sender, and do so for all past emails (not just those synced to your phone) and across servers. This is subject to the email provider; ironically, this only works on Outlook and Gmail (maybe others too, but I only tried 3) and not on Hotmail… Unless I’m missing some setting somewhere? For what it’s worth I did go through the settings in Hotmail and skimmed through a few search engine results.
Someone mentioned in a comment (somewhere else) that you can search within an email on iOS, but I’ve tried it myself and that sure doesn’t seem to be the case; nor does it seem to be able to search in all folders. For reference, I was using the same search terms.
And then there’s Linked Inbox, which lets you consolidate multiple email accounts into one app shortcut. All your emails will appear in one inbox, although you can still view inboxes/specific folders individually. This helps if you have a bunch of personal addresses that you would like to keep track of, but not enough to do so individually.
Live Tile: shows you number of unread messages, as with Messaging. Also, if you open the app, the unread count resets even if you don’t actually open the messages, which is a nice touch (if you don’t read every new email). Messaging does that too, but it’s probably more relevant for Email.
For starters, I prefer the slide up to unlock here, as compared to the small swipe right to unlock bar on the iPhone (which is somewhat strange on the iPad, considering the screen size). I also like that it shows your lock screen image (i.e. wallpaper) in full, with pretty much no UI chrome; whereas on the iPhone there’s the black status bar on top and a semi-transparent, huge-ish bar for the time and date which doesn’t look quite as nice.
Another side note: although you can’t set the background of the Start screen on WP7, there probably isn’t going to be a point in doing so anyway, since the tiles take up a big part of the screen. Besides, the strong colors of the tiles stand out better on a plain black background.
On WP7, the time and date is displayed on the lower half of the screen in the big, white, lovely Segoe font. It looks great on darker backgrounds, but works just as well on lighter ones, partly because the phone darkens the image a little when you set it as the wallpaper.
Below that, you have your current/upcoming calendar event. Like the Calendar Live Tile, it also shows the location and timing of the event. As a student, I like being able to just check my lock screen and see the location and duration of my next lesson, but I’m sure others will find that useful too.
At the bottom of the screen, there are notifications for new messages, missed calls and new emails from up to 3 different inboxes. Or at least, I assume it won’t show any more given the amount of space on-screen.
If you’re playing music, the music controls also show up at the top of the screen, along with the artist and song information. Again, in that white text and chrome-less (and elegant) format.
By the way, that red background (which appears when you’re playing music through Zune, but not for third-party music/radio apps) “dissolves” into your wallpaper beautifully when you pause. The music controls will stay on the lock screen for some time, which is great for say, when you end your lessons and listen to your music on the way home.
*In case you’re wondering, the screenshots were taken with a screenshot capture app requiring a developer (or student developer) unlocked phone. WP7 doesn’t have a native screenshot function at the moment, unfortunately. Part of the limitations of the app is that screenshots are taken at lower quality, so the right image (lock screen with music playing) has the odd heat-map like pattern whereas the actual thing is more of a smooth gradient. Looks pretty nice though, as it turns out.
Certain apps, namely Pictures Hub and Zune (i.e. Music+Videos, but that’s a mouthful to say/type), have an “Applications” pane which lists related third-party applications. For example, Creative Studio (Nokia’s image editing app) and Fhotoroom (think Instagram for WP7) will show up in the Pictures Hub, and your YouTube and radio apps will show up in Zune.
Besides being able to access those apps from the hubs, there are added functionalities as well. For example, when viewing a picture, you can choose to edit it with the various apps you have installed; Zune will show your last played (through the apps) videos and radio stations in the history pane. You can also share pictures with third-party apps like WordPress and WhatsApp, besides the standard email and SNS options.
It’s still fairly basic for now, and as far as I know it’s only for stuff like the above-mentioned (pictures, Zune). Inter-app access will be a improved in Windows 8 though, so hopefully that should translate to WP8 as well.
One of the things I like about Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) titles on Xbox 360 is the trial feature, which is basically a demo of the game. There are 2 key points to it though — 1) all (at least, I’m 99% sure it’s for all) XBLA titles have trials and 2) to upgrade to the full version of the game, you just need to pay for it. This means that you get to keep your progress in the trial, including any achievements you earn.
Trials are a big part of the WP7 marketplace too; Xbox Live-branded games include a trial option, and other app developers can do so as well (many do). For utility apps, this means that you can, say, set up your account or tweak the app settings in the trial as you like, and be carry them over if you choose to upgrade, instead of starting over in a new app.
iOS (and presumably Android) does this through in-app purchases (IAPs) but most developers seem to prefer creating a free/lite version of the app and a separate, paid app. In some cases the data is stored on the company’s severs (e.g. Words with Friends) so that wouldn’t be a problem, but I definitely prefer the usage of trials.
Technically trials are similar to IAPs since you’re essentially buying an unlock key, except that your account will be linked to the full/paid version (for a lack of better phrasing). If you re-install the app, you’ll get full access instantly; whereas for IAPs, you’ll have to download both the app and the IAP. Although you won’t be charged for the IAP again, the trial system definitely feels more reassuring (and generally more preferable).
WP7 has a Battery Saver function which disables services that use data in the background: notifications, email syncing, Messenger/Facebook Chat, Live Tile updating and other background tasks. You can still use data; you just have to do it manually, like in the case of syncing email. Browsing the internet or using apps still work as normal.
There’s an option to turn it on automatically when your battery is low (20%); this helps to give your phone some extra juice. You can also turn it on manually any time. When plugged into a power source, it turns off automatically and your email/apps will continue to update.
This works like a cross between Flight mode and turning data off completely in the sense that your data connection will be off unless you’re using it actively, and you can still use cellular features (calls, messaging) normally. If you’re the type who sets your phone to Flight mode when you’re sleeping, you can use Battery Saver instead.
Besides that, Battery Saver also shows your estimated time remaining. This is based on your previous usage patterns; if you’ve been using your phone a lot you’ll get a certain amount, but if you start using it less it’ll recalculate to give a more accurate timing. Technically this might use more battery, but my phone can last a full day on moderate to heavy usage anyway (seems to be, and should be, the case for WP7 in general).
Nokia Lumia 800
And finally we come to the handset itself. As with the OS, I was really keen on the 800 when I read the articles and saw the videos about it; I was also sold just as fast when I tried it out myself. With a beautiful OS, you’ll want a beautiful phone to go with it, and the 800 is a no-brainer.
Most WP7 handsets are pretty much recycled models of their Android counterparts, which makes them look generic. Sure, the Lumia 800’s and 900’s designs are based on the N9, but depending on your country, you probably won’t see too many of those around, if at all. More importantly, the 800’s/900’s/N9’s design is also far from generic to begin with.
I normally go with dark colors for my electronics (actually, for just about anything) but the 800 was an exception. I am also not the type to stand out (nor do I like to) but the Cyan 800 just looks so much better than the Black (I’m not a Magenta person). When I bought my phone, the glossy White version wasn’t out yet, but that looks sweet too.
The 800 features a unibody polycarbonate body; the Cyan/Black/Magenta versions have a texture that is somewhat matte-ish. It’s not only a pleasure to hold but it also feels extremely sturdy. The white version also has a unibody polycarbonate, but instead of a matte finish it has a glossy one. I really like the matte feel on the Cyan, but the White 800 feels great to hold as well, and possibly a tiny bit sturdier.
I always put cases on my portable electronics, and the 800 is no exception. The best part is, it comes with a soft case from Nokia which matches the color of your phone, so you can still display that beautiful Cyan color. The texture also feels somewhat the same as the phone itself, i.e. it’s also good to hold. The case is also form-fitting and wraps around your phone nicely without adding too much bulk, although this means that it can be a little hard to take it off and put it back on (for whatever reason you need to).
Besides the vibrant AMOLED screen, it also has Nokia’s ClearBlack display, which makes it easier to use your phone outdoors (scientific explanation here; diagram included). Even on low brightness level (I keep all my devices on low, even my PC) I can read the text on my phone outdoors just fine, in all but the brightest sunlight (squinting or setting to medium works though). For your information, I live near the Equator, where the sun shines… A lot.
Besides the hardware, there are also a number of great Nokia apps for WP7 — Nokia Maps, a great alternative to the standard Bing Maps and Local Scout (which only supports some countries at the moment); Nokia Music lets you buy music and listen to pre-defined playlists, which you can download for offline listening; Nokia Transit lets you (and helps you) plan your routes using public transport (only for supported cities though); Nokia Drive is a voice-guided turn-by-turn GPS with full offline support and downloadable maps. There are more apps available but these are probably the main attractions, and of course, they’re all free for Lumia owners.
There are a number of other great features that WP7 has, I’ll just list some of them here, as well as those that I don’t use as much.
- I mentioned about SkyDrive integration with the Pictures Hub previously, but you can also stream .mp4 videos on your phone using SkyDrive too. The integration isn’t quite there yet, as is the case for music (you need third-party apps), but that may change in WP8.
- Another area with SkyDrive integration is Office, which you can use to edit/view OneNote (great note-taking app), Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It also syncs with Office 365 and SharePoint, if you use those.
- Local Scout (~7:33 in video for Local Scout segment): I mentioned Local Scout a few paragraphs above, this lets you search for nearby places of interest. Sadly, this only works in some countries, but like I said, Nokia Maps is a great alternative.
- Bing search: this is where you access Local Scout, but you can also search for web (through Bing) for sites, news, images etc. You can do so by typing, through voice, or using Bing Vision. Vision lets you scan QR codes, bar codes, and things like book/DVD/CD covers. Depending on your country, for the last few you have to change your language settings (specifically the browser and search language) to, say, English (United States) though.
- Besides that minor annoyance, it works pretty well, and picks up images fairly quickly. You can also scan for text and translate them, but your mileage may vary. There’s also apps like Microsoft’s Translator for that. And then there’s music search, which works like Shazam/Soundhound — if a song is playing you can let your phone “listen” to it and search for the song. Not sure if you have to change the language settings for this as well, but you might need to change your Zune settings too (because I don’t have this option).
Here’s a one-liner summary of the things I mentioned; you can also click on a specific section to jump to it.
Windows Phone 7, the OS: See below.
Fluidity: OS runs fast and smooth, as do apps in general.
Beauty: Start screen and UI look gorgeous.
Live Tiles: Looks nice as well, and also provides useful information at a glance.
Social Networking+People Hub: Probably the best social networking integration on any platform.
Messaging: Great keyboard; Messenger and Facebook Chat integration are a plus too.
Pictures Hub+Camera: Quick access to camera and sharing of photos.
Calendar, Email: Both look and work really well.
Lock Screen: Lack of UI chrome makes the wallpaper look nicer, and it also shows your calendar information and notifications.
Inter-app access: Provides shortcuts for certain actions.
Trials: Best way to try out an app before buying, and continue using it thereafter.
Battery Saver: The name speaks for itself.
Nokia Lumia 800: Like the OS, bold and beautiful (and sexy).
Others: SkyDrive integration, Office, Bing Search/Vision, Local Scout.
I wanted to write a short (shorter than this anyway) post about this at first, but there ended up being so much to talk about. Part of the reason for writing this (besides “for fun”) is because I’ve seen a lot of stuff about WP7 on the internet that are inaccurate, untrue, or just plain rubbish, even on generic tech websites *cough*.
If you think I made a mistake, left out something or disagree otherwise, feel free to comment. Of course, if you agree, drop a comment too!