First Look: HTC 7 Mozart

The HTC 7 Mozart is going to be half of Orange’s offering for Windows Phone 7 in the UK. It is an exclusive handset, so if you want the particular features that this phone offers, you’ll have to do it via Orange. The other Orange handset is the Samsung Omnia 7. We’ve seen the HTC 7 Mozart before, but only briefly at a group preview behind closed doors, and we decided to wait until we’d had the phone in our hands for longer than 10 seconds before passing any sort of judgement.

HTC has split its offerings three ways: the HTC 7 Mozart with Orange, the HTC Trophy with Vodafone and the HTC HD7 with O2. Each operator has exclusivity, which ultimately means that unless you want to switch to a new network, you’ll have limited choice when it comes to which Windows Phone you are going to get.

Of course, HTC isn’t the only manufacturer, you’ll also get LG and Samsung in the mix - and eventually Dell - and we wouldn’t be surprised if more manufacturers appeared later in the year or early 2011. With Microsoft dominating the user experience, technically we could see a number of handset manufacturers joining the fray.

Being limited in which handset you get might not make that much difference, because essentially Microsoft have kept Windows Phone 7 on a tight leash. Andy Lees, president mobile communications business at Microsoft, today said that Microsoft wanted to be “accountable for the total experience”.

That’s a bold move from a manufacturer that in the past has seen some of the greatest benefits from the value added features that manufacturers added. The greatest ever Windows Mobile device was HTC’s HD2, heavily layered with HTC Sense, obliterating the Windows Mobile 6.5 OS lurking beneath. But that’s history, as Ashley Highfield, MD consumer and online at Microsoft UK said today that the approach with Windows Phone 7 is about a, “relentless focus on the consumer”.

The HTC 7 Mozart is every bit an HTC phone, externally, at least. It sees the aluminium unibody design we’ve seen on the likes of the HTC Desire and HTC Legend, and more recently the HTC Desire HD. The anodised finish feels luscious in the hand, every bit as strokeable as the Desire. The slight oddity, however, lies around the back.

Two corners of the handset are formed from black textured plastic. This doesn’t detract from the overall look and feel, but it is slightly odd. We assume that it is to avoid any sort of signal problem like you get on the iPhone 4. As a result, we can’t help feeling that from behind it looks like a pair of metal pants pulled over a black rubber bottom. Let’s hope that image doesn’t stick in your mind too long, but take a look at it.

As we’ve become accustomed to from HTC, the build quality is excellent. The handset is free from creaks and everything seems tightly put together. There is no avoiding the fact that it looks and feels like a premium device, from the body work to the screen, it is a good looking handset, baring a resemblance to the HTC Desire, which it now rivals.

Around the front you get yourself a 3.7-inch, 800 x 480 pixel resolution display. This is the resolution of all the current Windows Phone 7 handsets, and the experience across handsets is very similar visually. The Samsung Omnia 7, the other Orange handset, has an AMOLED display at 4 inches.

Needless to say it packs a punch. There may be little difference across the Windows Phone 7 range, but that’s almost a positive thing: all the handsets look excellent, which was Microsoft’s intention. Across the bottom of the display are the regulation three buttons: back, “Start” and search. At first you might find yourself scratching your head looking for a menu button, as we did, but it takes almost no time to find your way around.

Of course this is territory where we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve had some time to live with a handset and find the real quirks. But when we dived off to find a Wi-Fi network, we had no problem navigating to the settings menu, or finding the camera, or browsing Windows Marketplace. These are encouraging signs from a new operating system. Microsoft has struggled with ease of use in the past and things appear to be different with Windows Phone 7.

Windows Phone 7 was silky smooth to navigate, we found the on-screen keyboard to be hugely responsive, as responsive as we’ve found on our favourite Android handsets and the iPhone, but we’ll reserve final judgement here too: there may be a few oddities hiding in there that we need to route out.

With differentiation closely tied down, the HTC 7 Mozart doesn’t have much scope to stand out from the rest of the bunch. But flip the handset over and you’ll find an 8-megapixel autofocus camera, backed by a Xenon flash. This positions the HTC 7 Mozart as more of a “camera phone” than most of the other handsets. Whether the specs result in images of notable quality remains to be seen and is something we’ll look at when we get the phone in for a full review. We did fire up the camera and found the interface was simple to use and flipping over to the camcorder offers up 720p video capture, keeping pace with other smartphones on the market.

With Microsoft ruling with an iron fist, differentiation also falls into individual hubs. In this case we have the HTC hub and as soon as you open it you are greeted with a familiar clock. Within the HTC hub you’ll be able to get to those applications that HTC is going to offer you and they all have a familiar feel: 3D super-animated weather, stocks, notes, amongst others, and a Sound Enhancer App.

With a name like Mozart, sound has to come up somewhere. The Sound Enhancer App lets you customise the sound profile, taking advantage of Dolby Mobile or SRS technologies. Whether that actually makes any difference or not remains to be seen, but it is in these little details that you’ll have to decide which Windows Mobile 7 phone is for you.

Those who are serious about their music might gripe at he 8GB of storage and wish for more, but for those in the UK you’ll be seeing the integration of Zune and with Zune Pass you’ll be able to stream all the music you like. Of course you also get that Xbox connection too, although these services will probably grow as Windows Phone 7 matures.

Verdict

With all the announced Windows Phones coming with similar spec, we expect the experience to be very similar. This wasn’t the case with Windows Mobile 6.5, where a wide range of hardware specs meant there were Windows Mobile devices that were good, and those that were absolutely shocking.

We suspect that the real battle will not be within the Windows Phone offering, but against rival devices. Can the HTC 7 Mozart stand up against the likes of the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and iPhone, all in Orange’s portfolio?

Things look extremely positive. The hallmarks of Microsoft’s past have been wiped away and from our time spent with the handset today, it looks like it is time to take Windows Phone seriously.