James O'Neill's Blog

December 15, 2010

My review of Windows Phone 7 on the HTC trophy

Filed under: Exchange,Mobility,Music and Media,Office,Windows Phone 7 — jamesone111 @ 7:51 pm

I have already looked the move from Windows Mobile 6.5 to Windows phone 7, from the point of view of what’s gone. Now I want to look at what’s better.

The Trophy is the thinnest phone I have ever had, at 12mm. Its frontal area is fractionally larger than the Touch pro 2 I had before, but without the need to accommodate a keyboard, overall volume is down about 20% and weight down about 25%. By way of comparison it 3 grams heavier than the Iphone 4, and a whisker bigger in all dimension. It’s my sixth HTC device and the tidiest design, the finish feels nice in the hand, and the ergonomics are good; held in two hands – like a camera – the camera button is under right index finger, as it should be.  The camera has a 5MP sensor I remain to be convinced that the lens justifies even 5MP and an LED flash, so it is usable under more circumstances than its predecessors. The Touch Pro 2 had a second, front-facing, camera for video chat, but I never used it and so it won’t be missed..

Holding the device in the left hand to work with the right, puts the volume controls are under my thumb and (like the camera button and Power button) they work when the phone is locked.  When the phone is unlocked these buttons bring up a mini menu with Music player controls and access to the ring/vibrate settings; if the phone locks with music playing this menu appears when you tap the power switch – which is naturally under the index finger – so you can pause or skip tracks without needing to unlock the device.
By contrast, Mobile 6.5 devices locked out all the buttons  – even power – so the only way to silence one left on a desk to ring was to remove the battery. Now colleagues can turn a phone off or set it to silent and add a photo to remind you not to leave it on your desk when you go to meetings. You can enable Voice dialling while locked, on Mobile 6.5 you needed to add Voice command, now a subset of it is built in.

Music shows the change from previous Windows Mobile devices: Firstly Microsoft’s hardware spec demands a Micro-USB connector (which is becoming the standard for all phones), with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack: that means the end of HTC’s combination audio / Mini-USB connector which required an adapter to connect headphones. Pulling out the headphone connector pauses music (instead of blaring out to a carriage full of tutting commuters). And secondly the old devices tried to shoe horn Windows-Media-player into a mobile device:  sound quality was fine but the experience was way behind that of proper music player (which I never wanted to carry).  The new phone is a Zune:  Zune isn’t the market leader people who have them really like them, and I can see why.

Over the years I had grown used to the mobile mail/messaging, contacts and calendar applications being the round pegs of their Outlook equivalents hammered into the small square hole which is a mobile display. The same philosophy which got rid of Windows media player has seen these replaced with versions work better on a phone and took zero time to learn.

Volume, camera and power are mounted on the edge, on the front are three buttons which take longer to explain than to learn   “Back” and “Start” are the main navigation buttons going 1 step at a time or straight to the Start screen and “Search” which applications can use to start their own search (want to find a contact ? – Press search in people – it’s very intuitive), otherwise it launches Bing.  The search destination in Internet Explorer is fixed by the carrier: that’s out of character for the phone, you can remove the carrier’s or phone maker’s apps, but with Vodafone I’m stuck with Google in the all-new IE. IE supports multiple open pages, and “pinch zoom”: I’m still learning to tap accurately with a fingertip (the old touch screens worked with a fingernail or any stylus, the new ones don’t – though there are capacitive styli available to stop me obsessively polishing finger-marks off) so zooming in on a link is good and pinch zoom has come more naturally than using the on-screen keyboard.  Zooming is smooth and rendering is snappy which I attribute to having graphics acceleration as standard, rather than the faster processor. Competing phones have graphics acceleration but  introducing it piecemeal into Windows Mobile 6.5 (or earlier) wouldn’t have worked: the “Break with the past” means all apps can count on a certain level of graphics,  accelerometers and so on,  very little should be specific to one phone. Nowhere is the new hardware standard more obvious than in games. 

This is my first phone without built in games;  odd as Microsoft positions it as consumer more than corporate, but it means that people will find their way to the Market Place. Plenty on offer is free, and most paid games and apps have demo versions. The quality runs from truly great to truly lousy. Videos and music are downloaded in the same way as software, all three can be driven from the phone or the PC Zune software. I blogged early in the life of Vista that Windows had what it took to handle podcasts, it was just ugly and buried: finally Microsoft has decent podcast support through Zune. Microsoft are pushing Zune pass, all you can eat music streaming for £8.99 a month – which works from the Xbox, Phone or PC – as well as traditional purchase and download

There are some new look and feel elements, so besides the search button, when the built-in apps produce a long list – like songs or people – they break it up by letters: pressing a heading letter displays the whole alphabet, as a “jump-to” list To listen to “zest” or phone “Zoe”, a couple of taps saves a long scroll. It will be interesting to see how developers stick to the style – I  compared two Sudoku games one would look wrong on anything but WP7 and another looked like a port by people who hadn’t seen a finished phone. Chunky tiles on the start menu make simple targets to tap on)Word press have copied it for their newly launched app.) I already think of the icons interface we’ve grown as the Windows 3.1 program manager, the phone’s start menu is like what we’ve been used to since Windows 95/NT 4. “Start” button jumps to something like main part of the menu; and “All Programs” is off to the right. I looked in settings, for “Uninstall” without success: taping and holding anything brings up an action menu (think “right-click”) for a  program this has options to uninstall, pin to the start menu or write a review for Marketplace.

There is a distinction between Marketplace apps and the built in ones; the latter can run in the background (and update their tiles)  downloaded ones deactivate when they lose focus – although the phone locking doesn’t count. Storage for apps is compartmentalized –so a rogue app can’t do much damage, but the Trophy’s storage device isn’t removable (it is on some WP7 devices, but the phone does some weird magic with the file system, so the card won’t work anywhere else). There is a hack to make Zune files visible from the PC, but it can’t see any  other “compartments” The Zune software will only sync Music Videos and photos, Contacts and Appointments need to go via Exchange or Windows Live.

One-note syncs with Windows live, which is great, but you can only to get something from the other office apps to your PC via SharePoint or by mailing it to yourself. The button attach inside mail only offers photos. I had a look at the developer tools and there is no API for add-on apps to e-mail an attachment or to upload / sync to Windows live and so on.

These are among the things which I hope to see fixed in an update early in 201.1 Paul Thurrott has a long list of What needs to be fixed in Windows Phone, here’s my cut down version of his list.

  • Add Copy/cut/paste
  • Allow Custom ringtones, notifications, and alarms
  • Support Multitasking for Third-party apps
  • Appear as a camera to  photo importing applications, e.g.  Windows Live Photo Gallery
  • Allow Zune PC software to be extended to Sync 3rd party file types.
  • Allow third party services to integrate hubs; The Pictures hub should share with and see photo services and Twitter should be able to add people to the people Hub
  • Support all the policies in Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)  instead of just a subset
  • Provide Access to Microsoft services in all supported locales (Voice search with TellMe is US only)
  • Provide a  service like MyPhone for Mobile 6.5 to deliver Cloud-based backup
  • Provide Windows Live SkyDrive in all of Office Mobile
  • Provide Developer APIS for all functions (speech, mail attachments, live sync)

Most of the list can be summarized as (a) Improve support of cloud services (or the Services themselves) (b) make it easier to get stuff on and off the phone (c) Allow developers to do more. The updates will come when Microsoft declares them ready, not when/if the device makers and carriers get round to it, and yes that’s another plus about saying goodbye to Windows Mobile 6.5

December 6, 2010

Bye bye Windows mobile, hello Windows Phone 7

Filed under: Mobility,Windows Phone 7 — jamesone111 @ 2:45 pm

The postman delivered my new Windows 7 phone on Thursday. My choice of the HTC trophy was coloured by: what’s available now, which carrier give a good signal at home  (I can only get a usable Orange signal upstairs) and price. I got the phone, free on a £30 x 18 month contract with an allowance of 500MB data 100 voice minutes, and 500 texts but the first 10 months are half price. A Total of £330 over 18 months seemed a good deal: the process gave me enough for another post.

The first impression of the phone is fantastic and the upside will also get it’s own post – here I want to talk about the change: I liked Windows Mobile 6.5, on my HTC Touch Pro2. That’s not surprising, in 2000, got the first “Pocket PC”, an iPAQ 3630 (actually made by HTC) which followed by Orange-supplied SPV (the HTC “Canary”)  C500 (HTC typhoon), E650 ( HTC Vox).  The Touch pro 2 ran old Pocket PC apps and with a few things turned off it looked like Pocket PC 2002. but that’s not an automatic condemnation, its still a darned good phone.

Microsoft is sometimes accused of putting compatibility before progress in desktop and server OSes: but that’s OK if the original design assumptions still hold. Xbox 360 runs games written for the original Xbox even though the processor changed from a Pentium chip to PowerPC . Window phone 7 is unique among Microsoft platforms in not running applications from its predecessor: assumptions from the early 2000s don’t work today.

  1. Personal Digital Assistants are a PC in your Pocket. I wrote about that before. The iPhone is closer to the iPod than an iMac. When Microsoft people were asked about a “Zune-phone” they always said “We’re not going to make one” – the new phones are Zunes made by other companies. 
  2. Greater choice must be better. Microsoft  has been selling operating systems to OEMs since the early 1980s, so that was the natural way to sell a mobile OS. But the freedom of specification that PC makers enjoy causes fragmentation in mobile devices – a common OS doesn’t iron out the differences to the degree it does in PCs.  Apple’s attitude of “We will have one consistent platform, and if you don’t like it, buy from someone else” worked. Microsoft didn’t dictate specs to Windows Mobile device makers – perhaps as a legacy of the DOJ experience, and got an consistent platform. For example the my 2 previous HTC phones fed audio out through the USB connector; you needed an adapter to use your own headphones. Windows phone 7 audio uses a standard jack.  It also standardizes the USB connector as Micro USB (I would have preferred Mini USB).
  3. The phone companies rule. I remember asking back in about 2001 “Why not have a Microsoft branded phone, manufactured by, say, HTC”  the answer was “Carriers wouldn’t take it”.  When Orange launched the SPV I defended their right to determine what could run on it, but carriers testing and signing apps was a horrible model.  They dread being “dumb pipes”, but when carriers change software in the name of differentiation it is usually for the worse. Use the iPhone as a way of thinking customer views of carriers “added value; when it was exclusive to 02, did people ask “What shall I buy to exploit O2’s differentiated network ?” and end up with an iPhone or was it “Which carrier can sell me an iPhone ?”.
  4. The world of 2002 wouldn’t let Microsoft say “Applications for devices running our OS will all be approved by and bought through us” which is what Apple did, and the model is accepted now, people are even talking about desktop Windows or Mac OS having an “App store” in future versions; I can’t see either being closed to non-validated programs (that’s all ones you use now), or regulators allowing Microsoft to take a cut of all sales onto Windows PCs. But why shouldn’t Microsoft (or Apple) sell third party applications they’ve validated for their platform ? Small vendors might prefer that to handling distribution themselves.

Windows Phone 7, then, comes from a recognition that the world has changed (how much of that change would have happened without Apple is unknowable): a panic reaction to iPhone as device would have been quicker, but doomed to fail . But some things I’ve grown used to were lost in the change.

Not a “Storage device”
Active sync exposed the whole file system of a Windows Mobile device to a PC, so copying files in either direction was easy. The  Touch pro 2 could act as a USB drive and plug into the  Xbox 360 (or an in-car device) to play music; I even used it as installation media. The Xbox didn’t recognise the Trophy: the Zune software syncs music, pictures and video (but not Calendar and Contacts from Outlook on the PC) without exposing the file system. A known hack for Zune devices works on WP7 , but it doesn’t show everything all of which means, among other things, there is No method to install ring tones, so much for personalization.

No Internet connection sharing: this in Windows Mobile 6.0 and possibly earlier. The Trophy is the first Bluetooth phone I’ve had which doesn’t support the “dial up networking” profile where dialling *99# on a pseudo modem brought up an internet connection. That means sorting out a dongle for the handful of times I need to connect my laptop over 3G.

Still on Bluetooth profiles there is no keyboard profile support, and no keyboarded devices have arrived yet, one must use the on-screen keyboard. that’s step into the unknown; I loved the built in keyboard on the last two Windows mobile devices, and through Ctrl + X,C & V combinations it provided cut and paste – missing for now from Windows Phone 7, not that I used it much.

Voice command.  was an add-on for windows Mobile, Voice control is built in to Windows 7 but with less functionality – in particular it won’t read the calendar or play music from a voice command, and the Internet and map searches use TellMe which is a US only service – at least for now.

Even without Tellme, the mapping application is nice but it is a route planner with GPS assistance but there’s no true satnav – third parties haven’t launched yet.

Finally Microsoft MyPhone backed up various bits of my old phone, and the new  WindowsPhone.live.com does extra things (like remotely locking the device),  but currently backup and restore are missing.

In short – and after more than 1000 words, that might seem ironic – everything I liked about Windows mobile has gone (along with the stuff everyone else hated) – so why on earth do I like this device ? And that’s what the next post will be about. 

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