| | 11-08-2011, 12:24 PM #1
My Thoughts on WP7 (keep in mind I am coming from webOS)
I won’t go into all the benefits, but as a consumer, I am glad that there is consistency between Windows Phones. It is a lot of work to switch platforms, and I wouldn’t relish the idea of that same stress in simply moving between devices as could be the case with Android.
Aesthetically, Windows Phone looks great; I think it is the best. I have a feeling the black borders are easier on the eyes. The general UI of swiping left/right through different categories of info is awesome. For example in the email, swiping seamlessly between “all,” “unread,” and “flagged” is much better than finding and carefully tapping buttons (or worse going through menus). Multitasking is no webOS, but I like seeing the whole app more than iOS’s little icons so I am satisfied with the Mango multitasking UI.
Built in functionality
Out of the box, Windows Phone has a ton of functionality that other platforms would require numerous apps to replicate. Integration with Windows Live services, Google accounts, Facebook, twitter etc. is great. No “Google sync” apps needed here (much like Webos). Also Bing has the functionality of many apps, with built in Vision (for identifying products of translating text), Local Scout (which finds restaurants, local events, shopping etc. and provides maps, contact info and reviews), and a musical search (like Shazaam). MS Office probably deserves its own heading, but integration of that is another example of how well Windows Phone can stand on its own feet.
Apps are not as crucial on Windows Phone, but there are tons of them and many of the big names. Apps are a personal thing, but I can get several good Bible apps, the Overdrive Media console (for downloading audio/ebooks from my library) and other handy little apps such as kids’ games. Also, it is great that most apps seem to have “free trials” even if there isn’t a free-version of the app. I am impressed and content with the Windows Phone App Marketplace.
I give the virtual keyboard on Windows Phone two thumbs up. I often type in portrait mode even! The accuracy is great (I understand it dynamically predicts the key you will press and enlarges the input area), the autocorrect is good and the suggestions are helpful (after one letter it often suggests the right word). I can’t compare too much to iOS or Android, but with my limited experience with them I am certainly pleased with the Windows Phone keyboard.
This may sound funny given my love for webOS, but I think dedicated buttons are very useful on a phone. Having a camera button, back button, search button is very helpful. The camera button is especially nice for capturing spontaneous moments (it can take the phone straight to the camera from being locked). I do wish there were a mute switch though!
I have a Samsung Focus with a large beautiful screen wrapped in a light sleek body which in my opinion is much nicer on the hands than the heavy, cold, sharp edged iPhone 4/4s. I would prefer physical buttons (despite the beauty of capacitive buttons) and coming from a Palm Pixi I really miss a keyboard, but that is actually a positive for Windows Phone! That is because there is hardware choice. Physical or capacitive buttons, keyboard or not, smaller or larger you have a better shot at getting the combination you prefer.
I admit that I am very attracted to Siri. I longed for voice controls in webOS and was never satisfied. However, the voice control is quite sufficient in Windows Phone. It may not be Siri, but WP7.5 speech commands even have a few advantages: non-dictation commands can operate without a data connection (i.e. calling someone or opening an app), it can open apps, it automatically reads you back your text message before asking you if you want to send, it can automatically read you incoming messages (both useful when driving), you can indicate you want to call “on speakerphone,” and compared to Siri, Windows Phone’s voice control is more to the point (Siri is a little verbose which I am sure becomes tedious after the first few days).
I know there are surely other neat things about Windows Phone. For example you can create contact groups and email/text the whole group easily at once. For business users the ability to send an “I’m running late” notice to all the attendees of an even in the calendar with a tap could be useful (not so much to me). However, I won’t belabor this section because I don’t have enough experience with Windows Phone to know and because I am sure every platform has little benefits unknown to most of their users.
Not enough tiles on the start screen:
There is only room for 8 visible tiles (max) on the start screen without scrolling to see more. By comparison, iOS fits 16 icons plus 4 on the bottom. Now to be fair, WP7 needs less apps accessible because the tiles often integrate the functionality of several apps (i.e. people) and the Bing button integrates the function of many apps as well (see positives above). Still, I wonder why MS wasted so much space on the start screen with the large black strip on the right side, some on the left and some on the top.
There is little point in me making suggestions, but I would encourage MS to adopt a ‘collage’ approach (see attached image) to tiles in which they take different sizes such as rectangles, big squares and small squares, perhaps with a smart algorithm which fits your tiles together in the most optimum way based on the tiles you want visible on the start screen as well as the kind of info they might display. In any case tiles which display no info should be small, (like icons) so there is room for more tiles. An email tile could be short and wide to offer preview text of the last email. Photos/people could be big and square…you get the idea.
Tiles are slow to give information/No notification area:
Tiles are supposed to be able to give more info than an icon. Well, they do…but informative tiles (like accuweather) need to flip over to give you other information and waiting for a tile to flip defeats the purpose of ‘glance and go’. For this reason they are a poor substitute for a notification area.
Maybe if the tiles flipped faster it would work better (or if they flipped within 2 seconds of being ‘visible’ on the screen)
No universal search:
Oh how I long for Just-type from webos. I could pull up a contact or call/text someone by simply typing in the first few letters of their name and clicking the appropriate action (i.e. type “jim” and click “call Jim mobile 403…”). Now these phones lack a keyboard, though this isn’t strictly a flaw of WP7 since there is the Dell Venue Pro for example. Still, iOS has a universal search which makes finding contacts and apps easier. The lack of universal search makes calling someone somewhat complicated.
If I want to call someone on WP7 I must use the following steps:
1. Push power button
2. Swipe up lock screen
3. Tap on “People”
a. Swipe to “all” if not already there (it remembers where you were last)
4. Tap search
5. Type name “jim”
6. Click “Jim Jones”
7. Click appropriate phone number “call mobile”
1. Push power button
2. Swipe unlock gesture
3. Type name “jim”
a. Click the appropriate “jim” if more than one
4. Click appropriate phone number
1. Push button
2. Swipe to unlock
3. Swipe left to spotlight search
a. Click the “x” to clear last search to get a blank search box if necessary (seems to remember last search sometimes which is silly)
4. Type name “jim”
5. Click on “Jim Jones”
6. Click on the appropriate number “call mobile”
Again, if MS would simply program the search button to bring up a universal search which would then return options including a “Phone” heading in addition to the Images/Web/Local etc. headings then it would be far more useful.
Limited and Difficult Homebrew:
I know now how good I had things with WebOS’s homebrew community. It took an enormous amount of work and stress to unlock my Rogers Focus so that I could enable the Internet Sharing/tethering (I should give Windows Phone another negative for the fact that I had to do this…Rogers encourages tethering and the Focus HAS it built in so I can only blame Microsoft). This may get better now that Chevron is releasing a new unlocking tool and hopefully they will emulate some of what the webOS community did. With zero Linux/programming ability I had patches and homebrew apps on my Palm Pixi in no time and could add more as easily as opening the Preware App.
I won’t belabour this, but it is quite frustration to have to navigate into a “settings” app at the bottom of the long list simply to turn wifi on or off when there are indicators when you tap at the top of the screen. Those should be interactive and take you to you cell or wifi settings (or let you deal with them right there). By the way, I know you can add shortcuts to the start screen, and I do have one for wifi…but that shouldn’t be necessary especially given how precious the tile real-estate is.
Another issue is that the phone-app opens to ‘history’ instead of the dialpad which seems odd. Additionally, there is no ‘search’ within the phone app to search for phone numbers, you are just deflected to the “people” hub to find contact numbers. On webos, when searching in the phone rather than in contacts, only contacts with numbers show up which can be nice when many contacts (especially Facebook) lack numbers.
Finally, I was disappointed to realize that there is no mute switch on Windows Phones. I thought every phone had a mute switch! I don’t know about android, but I webOS, backberry, and even minimalist iPhone all have physical mute switches. That is handy when you want to mute and unmute your phone on the fly or even in your pocket.
There are many positives for Windows Phone as I listed above. It is fast and responsive, beautiful, and full of useful features. However, in my opinion a few of the negatives such as the way notifications are done, the limited number of tiles visible, and the lack of universal search are significant because they strike at the day-to-day usefulness of the phone. It is also unfortunate that the negatives are aspects of the very things which make Windows Phone so great (for example the UI). Nevertheless, I think Windows Phone could retain its unique beauty if it made the simple changes I mentioned (‘collage’ start-screen, Bing universal search, refining the notification/flipping properties of the tiles or adding a notification area).
If I sound a little disappointed, I admit I am a little. But that isn’t necessarily because iOS or Android are better, I’m fairly sure the latter isn’t and I am sure I would have frustrations with iOS. I think I am now realizing how useful the features of webOS really were. For example, I always wondered why they advertised a little thing like 'Just Type' so much…now I know. But back to Windows Phone, although I am a little frustrated by the number of steps required to say, make a call and by the underwhelming usefulness of live-tiles, I am glad that it has sync/integration, a great virtual keyboard, lots of apps, the metro UI, and I believe it has momentum and an innovative future.