Living Life With Windows Phone 7 - A Hands On Look From a Real Owner

Novemeber 8th marked Microsoft's re-emergence in the smartphone space with the debut of Windows Phone 7. Microsoft isn't new to smartphones; their Windows Mobile operating system has been powering phones long before companies like Apple and Google joined the fray. However, somewhere along the lines Microsoft fell behind in modern phone making trends. Windows Mobile just wasn't as attractive to people in post iPhone world.

I know Microsoft's former Windows Mobile based phones well; I used one until just a few weeks ago. I'll admit I held on to my trusty AT&T 8525 much longer than I should have, but I was really excited to see what Microsoft was going to do with Windows Phone 7. So I waited... and waited, and waited some more. Did I mind the wait? Well, not really. For as much flak as Windows Mobile gets, I found it to be a pretty damn-good device.

Even after the launch of Windows Phone 7, I was a little torn. I was really hoping to move to a different carrier. My time with AT&T hasn't been horrible, per say, but when my wife and I moved, we went from good coverage to "meh." Unfortuately, Windows Phone 7 is GSM only for now, which means AT&T or T-mobile, both of which have mediocre coverage in my neck of the woods.

I was also freaked out by Microsoft's omission of three major features I've become accustomed to on my current Windows Mobile phone: the lack of direct sync with Outlook, USB Tethering, and custom ringtones. There's more missing, a lot more, but these three really mean a lot to me.

So, I spent a long, long time evaluating other phones. In fact, I came really close to buying an Android Phone, the HTC Desire, on the regional carrier US Cellular (who I promise I'll switch to down the road if they have a phone both I and my wife really want). I looked at the Droid Incredible on Verizon, and the EVO 4G on Sprint (who's $10 monthly surcharge for "advanced phones" was a real turnoff). I also considered Apple's iPhone 4, something everyone looking at a smartphone at least needs to look at.

Eventually I caved and bought a new Windows Phone 7 device. A Samsung Focus, to be exact, while my wife opted to go with the LG Quantum. The Focus is a super thin bar phone with a 4" Super AMOLED bar phone, with 5 MP camera and 8GB of storage (someday expandable, but more on that in a separate hardware review of the Focus). The Quantum is a QWERTY slider with 3.5" LCD display, 5MP camera, and 16GB of storage.

Why I bought Windows Phone 7

A lot of people have asked my why I went with Windows Phone 7 instead of the iPhone, Android, or Blackberry. It's a fair question, and a question I often ask others when they finally chose one particular phone over another. However, I typically get non-answers like "because it's the best," "my friend has one," and "I don't know."

I know exactly why I bought Windows Phone 7, and it's not because it's the best.

It's no secret that I do tend to gravitate toward Microsoft products. I've used them for years, and I'm generally not steered wrong. It's only natural to gravitate toward a company or brand that has been good to you, which is why happy Ford owners tend to buy more Fords, and why Apple folks tend to stick with Apple products.

On Apple specifically, it's also no secret that I'm not their biggest fan in the world. Their products are fine. In fact, I've recently aquired a Mac Mini to get better aqauinted with their core product. It's their CEO and business philosophies I don't care for. Still, I'm not ignorant of the juggernaut that is the iPhone 4, the vast sea of third parties supporting it, that brilliant high-res IPS LCD screen, and more accessories than you can shake a stick at. I seriously considered it, given its ability to directly sync contacts and calendar with Outlook, even though I'd be a huge hypocrite had I actually bought one.

A Few Reasons Why I didn't buy the iPhone.

For starters, it had no discrenable flow from action to action. It's a constant barrage of launch this app to do this, back out, launch this app to do that. Windows Mobile gave me some needed information front and center just by looking at the home screen, from my next appointments, time, battery info, tasks, emails, etc. The iPhone is a barren wall of icons, and icons that spill out more icons. There's very little usable information at a glance.

iTunes. It's an application that doesn't get along with me. It's big, cumbersome, and performs terribly on PC. The thought of using it on a regular basis isn't appealing.

I'm accustomed to a hardware keyboard, and I type pretty well on them.  A 3.5" screen and on-screen keyboard just wasn't working for me; I found the iPhone difficult to type on with any accuracy. Now, I ultimately chose a phone without one, but I found the larger screen size on the Focus easier to type on than the iPhones

The App Store is another one of my hot buttons. I've come to accept the fact that walled gardens with strict entrance requirements do offer some tangible benefits for owners, particularly since the Android Marketplace has become a cesspool of nasty software. I do like the fact that iPhone apps are screened for stability and security, protecting users from the shady software writers out there. Apple has taken it too far, screening applications not only for bugs and criminals, but also for moral values imposed by their CEO. No emulators, no Apps that duplicate functions Apple already has software for, no adult stuff, no Flash, no Silverlight, etc. There's a lot of good software left out simply because Apple says no, for no truly legitimate reason other than, "because Apple says so." I'm not comfortable with that.

This is a less tangible reason, but I also can't ignore the fact it didn't feel like "me." It's the same iPhone everyone else has; from the size and color, to everything else about it. To make a Trek reference, I just don't feel like an individual when I hold or use Apple products. It's like I've stepped into the Borg Collective. Fortunately, resistance in this case is NOT futile.

A Few Reasons Why I didn't buy an Android Phone

On paper, Google's Android OS is a near perfect fit for me. It's far more open than the iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and Blackberry, allowing developers to distribtue applications through a variety of means. It has a lot of developer support; less than the iPhone, but 100,000 apps is far more than I'll ever be able to browse through... let alone use.

Google's also on a development rampage with Android, hammering out new builds and features constantly. I'm drawn to platforms that are constantly evolving and improving. I also enjoy Androids "tinkerability." One of the things I loved about Windows Mobile was that I was in complete control, basically being able to change just about anything and everything I wanted to.

In the end, Android had a few severe flaws that really turned me (and my wife) off.

First, my wife and I both found the shopping experience frustrating. Regardless of the fact that Android is a complete phone OS in and of itself, each manufacturer/carrier has their own modifications they make, which in many cases radically alters the entire user interface of the phone. In other words, everyone has a plethora of Android devices, but the experience on each of them is so radically different, and (in most cases) worse than the stock Android experience. So often I would find a hardware form factor I liked, only to realize that I hated the look and feel of the phone.

Another gripe with carrier/manfuacturer modifications is the bundled crapware included. Don't ge me wrong, I understand why its there and what purpose it serves. Honestly, I don't mind if you want to preload 40 different things, even if those things are self-serving. What's a huge, huge no-no for me is not giving me the choice to remove it (which I found to be the case on many, many different Android models).



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