7 days living with...Windows Phone 7

There's been a lot of talk about WP7 over recent weeks about its impact, or failure to impact, on the mobile market; reports of sluggish sales and problems with its first major update not having helped the fledgling operating system.

So as part of our "7 days living with..." series here on Pocket-lint, we thought it would be a good opportunity to test what the OS was truly like to live with for someone who's never used it before. Me, as it happens. So, it's come down to the job of one Mr Crompton to bring you my experiences as I eat, sleep and, yes, poo Windows Phone 7 for the very first time and for an entire week.

Why was I chosen? Well, although having a play with iOS and Android is necessary for my job, I'm the only member of the PL team that doesn't actually use a smartphone 24/7. I use a Nokia N81. It's what technically used to be called a smartphone but what probably wouldn't do so well in a modern day mobile IQ Test.

All the same, it's not long into the future that normal Nokia users like myself are going to be presented with this strange and (maybe) wonderful software option on our familiar hardware. So, this is my experience of what it might be like to make that switch.

Monday

The handset sent through is an HTC Mozart and, as I unwrap it, my immediate impression is of the quality build of the phone. I'm hoping the OS will do it justice.

As it turns out, WP7 in the flesh is initially a little disappointing. I keep flicking through the two screens - main hub and the list of content that you can "pin" to the main hub - in the vain hope that some other super-exciting panel will miraculously open up before me. It doesn't.

All the same, I stick in my SIM and go about adding contacts and the like.



That part sorted, I shove the phone on my desk and, actually, end up forgetting about it for the rest of the day, that is until a receive my first call. As I go to hang up, I notice something rather curious has happened to my contacts on the list - they've been duplicated. Many, many times. It seems to be something to do with syncing Google accounts but it doesn't explain the apparent random element of some contacts being duplicated just twice with others up to a ludicrous six times. Definitely some teething issues and I'm beginning to miss Symbian's simplicity already.

I'm not quite sure where the blame lies but I'm getting a nasty feeling it would all run a lot smoother if I just caved in a started a hotmail address. I turn off the phone.

Tuesday

Putting the previous day's experience behind me and determined to get some decent use out of what is clearly a quality HTC handset, I gird my loins and go about resetting the phone. On syncing this time, I make sure I untick the box asking about Google contacts. Much better. With the confidence of that success under my belt, I go about customising and loading a few music albums and generally trying to make it my own.

It starts to look quite nice actually; some pictures, the odd app shortcut and some album art and this is definitely not what I took out of the box.



As I have plans to take a bus into town later that day, I set about transferring some Sherlock Holmes plays from my PC for some on-the-road mystery, intrigue and all the rest the comes with the game being afoot.

Syncing content through Zune on a PC is an absolute breeze and super speedy, meaning that I'm able to download the content with plenty of time to spare. This is not a piece of desktop software I'd be using otherwise but it's so much nicer to run on Windows 7 than iTunes is. I'm beginning to see some advantages of this ecosystem thing.

Wednesday

So, it turns out that I don't actually use the phone at all until the end of the day. When I do pick it up, it's because I'm sent out onto the street to get a take-out curry and, while I'm waiting around, I decide to give a few of the app games a whirl. Hmm, not too many of them. I settle on the excellent Sky Diver Classic.

Bit bored of that, but the baltis are yet to turn up, so I start looking for somewhere else I could have bought this curry from that perhaps wouldn't have me sitting around quite so long. I fire up Bing maps and it's actually rather good. Never spent much time with it before but, as one might expect, the integration's pretty smooth and I can quite clearly see that next time I'll be trying either the Prince of India or Rajah. However, I will be giving Currys electrical store a miss. Thanks all the same, Bing.

Still no tucker. Hmm.

Thinking of which, it might be worth looking up a way of working all this ghee off. Now, I could go straight search but there's no one else around, so I decide to try out the voice entry. "Ping Skills," I pronounce as clearly as I can without alerting the attention of the restaurant staff.

The result is dubious at best. Rather than getting a few pointers on performing topspins against chop, I'm directed to links relating to "Asian babes" with certain specialised entertainment skills. Not quite what I'm after.

At this point I should mention that the lack of Flash is really grating; the UI, although simple, I'm finding very intuitive and I can cope with Bing search but the fact I'm unable to get the full fat Internet is a real put off.

Thursday

Ok, today I'm getting into this whole smartphone thing. I'm finding myself checking my phone every hour or so. This is that habit of grabbing pretty much any excuse to pick up your phone that proper smartphone users talk about.

On my 10th check of the day, I take another gander at the oft maligned Marketplace. People tend to focus on the fact that there's not that many apps but it's the price hike that knocks my socks off! You're looking at firm favourites like Doodle Jump and Harbour Master coming in at £2.49.

All the same, what I will say about the WP7 app choice is that there seems to be a lot less crap - especially when I think about how many useless bits of software, downloaded for the obligatory 59p, that are now hanging around lonely and forgotten on my iPod.

Something I've also been a bit concerned about is the whole privacy issue. I wasn't that sure how I'd feel about giving all these bits of third party software the okay to help themselves to my personals. As it turns out, despite the clear message on download that a particular app will gain access to pretty much everything on my handset, my curiosity about just how useful and life enhancing that little packet of software will be makes me give in pretty quickly. So much for those principles.

Friday

Although I've become quite fond of both the HTC phone and WP7, I wouldn't say we're in love just yet. And as such I haven't yet taken to waking up next to it. That is until this morning. That's all down to last night's bedtime appaganza.

I awake to the chirpy bleep of the Mozart and my gruff mood soon disperses. The phone says it's Friday. I believe it. On top of that, there's actually quite a lot of useful information I can make out through bleary eyes as part of Microsoft's whole "glance and go" ethos - time and date, emails, messages and texts I haven't got round to reading, and calendar entries as well. I like that.



It's one thing to have a little toy to play with, but having all the info on hand without needing to go into the phone for information is good. All the same, I nip in to change the homescreen colour.

Saturday

I'm out and about most of the day, and not being terribly religious about carrying a mobile with me at all times, it ends up being quite fortuitous that I remember to pocket the HTC Mozart at all.

Walking through the park a shower of rain descends producing a cracking rainbow, and although only lasting for a few seconds I manage to grab a pic with the dedicated camera button on the side of the handset. It's particularly nice as I notice that the 8-megapixel snapper has caught the end of the rainbow. More to the point, it's actually come out in a way that's not all that easy to manage on a camera. Good stuff.

Although it's quite possible that I would have managed to take the shot in time if I'd been using a different OS, the fact that Microsoft has made all WP7 devices with a dedicated camera button means I could get the shot fast and that's no bad thing. The interface for swiping to previous shots from the camera viewfinder is also very nice - intuitive, fast and easy to use.

Sadly, there's still no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead, I find the park's over-flowing dog-shit bin - Mother Nature it seems is not without a sense of humour.

Sunday

As I come to the end of my 7 days with Windows Phone 7, I'm reminded that we have some friends coming to lunch and it's my job to take a trip to the shops. Usually when I go through what to get from the supermarket I'll either commit it to memory and forget some ingredients or I'll scrawl it down on a piece of paper. Today is different though. I'm now a trained smartphone user. This time, my first point of call is my phone, and in a kind of perverse experiment I go about finding Office, specifically OneNote, to jot down all the bits. I even bullet point them for clarity.

I do take a brief look through the other Office offerings; Excel, Powerpoint and Word are all present, although I have to say I don't delve too deeply. For a heavy business user, however, it could be a real treat.

At the supermarket walking down the aisles I'm conscious that I look a bit of a t**t as gazing into a smartphone whilst shopping isn't part of my usual retail routine. Not to be put off, however, I persevere and even dutifully stop to cross out each item as I go using the format function.

I have to say that the use of WP7 in no way enhanced my shopping trip, and in fact only acted to its detriment due to the time it took to refer to and alter the list. Sorry Office but give me a pen and paper any day of the week.

Conclusion

Having spent a good chunk of time with Windows Phone 7, I have to say on the whole I'm impressed. And I've put my initial reservations on the lack of customisation (compared to Android) down to my misunderstanding of what I'm presuming Microsoft wanted to achieve - balance.

There's a balance that seems to have been struck between a flexible system that can be customised - to a degree - and a more rigid and but easily accessible one; some middle ground between Android and iOS with a good promise of Windows and Xbox compatibility thrown in.

For my part, I started this 7 days using a Nokia phone which to all intents and purposes suffered from internet impotence - this suited me fine; the N81 does the basics well and was tough as old boots. After using WP7 for 7 days, after the initial syncing stumble, it's been very easy and frustration free and I hardly missed my old handset; the Mozart is decent, the OS accomplished, and apps - although expensive - numerous enough and of a good enough quality to keep me interested.  

All the same, when I do eventually go cold turkey, I'll be happy enough to go back to using the Nokia or an up-to-date feature phone, just because I've no particular appetite to fritter away my pennies on apps I don't need.

That said, WP7 strikes me as a great OS for those entering into smartphone shenanigans for the first time. I can't imagine that iOS or Android users would be keen to make the switch but there's plenty for Nokia users to look forward to if they're willing to keep an open mind. Quite how the Microsoft/Nokia merger/take over effects the success of the system is another thing though.