I love my Windows Phone 7.
Of course, you might assume that I’m biased because I work for Microsoft. And maybe you’d be right, except that I’m very picky about my phone and won’t use something that’s crap. When I started at Microsoft, I tried Windows Phone 6.5 in the form of an HTC Touch Diamond, and it was an absolute disaster. Only hours of battery life on standby, had to hack the registry, crashes… after 2 weeks I gave up, returned the HTC, and bought my first iPhone 3G.
Since that was my first smartphone, I had the requisite shiny happy love period where I stared longingly into its screen and stroked it as if it were the cat in Dr. Evil’s lap. Over time, though, performance deteriorated. Last August, my iPhone 3G broke, so I bought an iPhone 4 instead of holding out for the Windows Phone 7 launch. But my iPhone 4 was a bit… persnickety. Often stopped checking email and requiring reboots, which is pretty much failing at its primary purpose (you didn’t buy your smartphone because it was good at making calls, did you?)
So when the launch rolled around and the Samsung Focus became available, I took advantage of Microsoft’s employee phone deal for WP7 and grabbed it for free. And it rocked my world almost immediately.
Here’s the thing. iPhones, obviously, are good at apps. But the OS doesn’t actually offer much in the way of an actual experience. The launch page is just a bucketful of icons, which is a missed opportunity. No matter what I wanted to do, it was usually several pages away.
The Windows Phone had my heart at the lock screen. First of all, the typography is pretty. But more importantly, the lock screen contained USEFUL INFORMATION. Showing my next appointment and the location of said appointment is nothing short of magical for me and saves me tons of time at work.
And then we have those lovely email notification icons at the bottom of the lock screen. The net effect of those notification icons is ironically that I spend less time using the phone. Which is what I want. I want my phone to get out of my way. With the iPhone, I had to unlock the phone to see how many emails I had – and then as long as I was in there I’d get distracted and start ignoring the real people around me… now, if there’s nothing new on the phone I see that immediately and, usually, put the phone away again to rejoin the world.
Then, the home screen. Live tiles (dynamically updating parts of your homepage) are great. Why didn’t Apple do that from the beginning? Seems like something they would have done. Weather at a glance instead of opening the app, for example. My traffic app even shows a little screenshot of the current traffic. Again, it becomes less about the phone and what it can do and more about getting me the information I want as fast as possible. This makes me happy.
I like soft keyboards because my hands are tiny (my ring size is considered a child’s ring size), so I never had a problem with the iPhone keyboard. But the WP7 keyboard… magic again. It’s so much more flexible with the autocorrect – on the iPhone it only ever gave you one correction option. WP7 has predictive text and those suggestions save me time. Plus the keyboard just FEELS better. My first Windows Phone met with an unfortunate marine accident in Orlando, and when I borrowed my boyfriend’s iPhone to search for an AT&T store the keyboard immediately made me feel cranky. It felt unresponsive and dead.
Moving on… hardware. I love the freedom of the removable battery and the gorgeous screen on the Focus (the black is SO BLACK that it is nearly indistinguishable from the bezel!). But all Windows Phones have the hardware back button in common – which took some getting used to, but as an acquired taste I highly recommend it. And the hardware search button, which is far more useful than I thought it could be (and it comes with those beautiful Bing homepage images too!) The Samsung also turns out to be surprisingly durable – I’ve dropped it so many times that if it were an iPhone, the screen would be useless by now. Just not waterproof. (Sigh.)
The recent Mango update (Win Phone 7.5) brings with it all kinds of awesome… Multitasking is actually the least exciting part of the package for me. Big wins? Text message voice dictation (amazingly accurate). Search app replaces Shazam (which was always slow and buggy), barcode scanner apps, AND visual translation apps all in one. And for those of us with mandatory passcodes from our workplace Outlook servers, there’s another lovely feature where I only have to reenter the passcode if waking the phone up after more than 10 idle minutes. So if the screen turns off to save battery, I’m only a swipe away from where I was. And the deeper Facebook and Twitter integration means I spend less time waiting for those apps to load, which was not insignificant. I’ve fallen in love with the phone all over again.
The main thing that I think Apple still manages to do far better than WP7? Phone backups. We all know that it takes forgoddamedever to back up our phones in iTunes, but it is for a good cause. When my first iPhone 3G failed under warranty, I got replacement hardware, synced the phone, and I basically had my old phone back. All the texts, the apps, the settings… magically restored en masse. It was incredibly painless given that it was a complete hardware switch. Windows Phones, on the other hand, only back up the settings when you’re upgrading the OS. Oh, sure, we sync photos and music and videos. But there is NO WAY for me to get the data from my old phone, stored in Zune, onto the new phone. I’m forced to start from scratch. The submerged phone eventually came back to life, and I’m probably going to keep it just because it has sentimental text message histories locked within its memory banks. Microsoft, PLEASE follow Apple’s lead and come up with a more robust backup solution.
Wherefore Android, you ask? Android feels like Windows 3.0 to me. No thought given to task flow or ease of use. Just power. Yuck. But the competition is good, and it goes both ways. The iOS5 update incorporated more than one feature that WP7 offers, and I’m sure it’ll go back the other way too.
And that “marine accident” put my phone-love to the test. When folks ask if I like WP7, I tell them that I had an iPhone 4 and never looked back after getting my Windows Phone. I’m hopelessly in love with the Windows Phone. But when replacing my broken phone last week, I had to pay full price and thus could have chosen any phone in the room. And with all that flexibility, I didn’t think twice about buying the exact same phone, a Samsung Focus. (Not for ease of migration – I had to start from scratch!) That phone is “home” for me.
As it happens, one of the other talks during my block at Interaction ’11 was from another Microsoftie, Mike Kruzeniski, describing some of the design considerations they had for Windows Phone 7. If you’re curious, you should check out the 20-minute video of his talk. But be warned: more than one person has been converted by this talk. You may just find yourself buying a new phone for Christmas.