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Close up with Windows Phone 7

NEW YORK--I can say one thing with certainty about Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 smartphone software, introduced here this morning: It's no Windows Mobile 6.5.

Windows Phone 7 looks nothing like that woeful release or any of its earlier attempts at updating Windows Mobile since the turn of the century. Although WP7 runs on an updated version of the kernel software inside Windows Mobile, everything built on that foundation is new.

That's good. Microsoft needed to reboot its phone efforts, and a half-measure like Reseach In Motion's BlackBerry Torch wasn't going to do. But as a new release, Win Phone 7 also requires potential buyers to bet on two things; updates to fix bugs and fill in missing features, and an increasing variety of applications to extend its capabilities.

For now, here's what you get with Windows Phone 7:

att_winphone7_phones.JPG

* Of AT&T's three phones, pictured at right, the Samsung Focus (at the top left) seems the most straightforward. The LG Quantum, at right, offers a slide-out physical keyboard--but notice its bizarre exile of the Shift key to a small, out-of-place circular button. And the HTC Surround, at bottom, features a slide-out speaker that looks wildly practical. All sell for $199.99; the Focus will ship Nov. 8, with the others arriving "in time for the holidays." These phones will include a U-Verse Mobile app that pairs with AT&T's U-Verse TV service; if you don't subscribe to that, you can pay $9.99 a month to download (over WiFi, not 3G) and watch about 60 shows.

* T-Mobile's HTC HD7, seen in the photo below, will ship in mid November for an unannounced price (bet it comes in at around $200 too). This follows the Focus's design, except for its use of a bigger, 4.3-in. screen. World travelers take note: T-Mobile's usual, liberal SIM-unlock policy will apply to this model, meaning you won't be stuck paying its roaming rates overseas. Pay little heed to the Dell Venue Pro, a WP7 device--mentioned in the last paragraph of T-Mobile's press release--that will only be available online and in "select retailers."

* Yes, Verizon and Sprint aren't included. Microsoft product manager Greg Sullivan said WP7's first release only supports the GSM wireless standard used by AT&T, T-Mobile and most carriers overseas; a CDMA version compatible with Sprint and Verizon should arrive in the first half of next year.

* I saw surprisingly little carrier-installed applications on these things--and each had an "uninstall" command available. When I used that on one program, it was gone in about a second.

* Windows Phone 7 does multitasking like the iPhone, but less so. Microsoft expects most third-party applications to save their work and suspend their operation when a user does something else. WP7 provides software to allow background media playback, even for Web radio, but many other background uses will have to wait for software updates. This looked fast enough in demos; then again, doesn't everything?

tmobile_winphone7_hd7.jpg

* The user interface sometimes isn't--even the battery gauge and signal-strength display often vanish, reappearing when you tap the top of the screen. Simple multi-touch gestures and taps of large, clearly labeled links and buttons get most tasks done. But watch out for apps that only function in one screen orientation: I couldn't type in a new Web address in WP7's Internet Explorer browser with the phone held sideways.

* I only saw a handful of third-party apps, from such companies as Netflix, Twitter, IMDb.com and the Slacker Web-radio service. All looked remarkably like the core apps; there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of room for developers to show off (or screw up). Nobody would offer even a rough estimate of how many apps would be available for WP7 on Nov. 8.

* Battery life is a mystery too. That's usually not a good sign.

* WP7's Internet Explorer had no issues displaying the Post's site but flunked HTML5test.com's Web-standards trial, scoring 12 of 300 points.

* Bing Maps for WP7 is far inferior to Google Maps on Android. It doesn't provide turn-by-turn routing for drivers, transit directions for those on foot or cycling guidance for those on two wheels.

* Other features I did not see: visual voicemail to allow out-of-order playback and deletion of messages, "tethering" support to extend a WP7 phone's mobile-broadband access to nearby computers; text-to-speech software to read aloud new e-mails or text messages; copy and paste functions (though that's due in a free software update early next year); and support for video-conferencing software (notwithstanding the lack of front-facing cameras on the WP7 devices seen today).

* You can sync a WP7 phone with a PC running Microsoft's Zune software over a USB connection, or you can opt for a Web-based sync to Microsoft's Windows Live calendar and contacts services.

My overall impression: Microsoft has done a fine job of catching up to where the smartphone industry was in this spring. That may sound like a backhanded compliment--but last year's Windows Mobile 6.5 compared poorly to the iPhone of 2007. Will this reboot of Microsoft's smartphone efforts deliver enough value to stop the bleeding for the company? You tell me.

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 11, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, Mobile, Telecom  
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Next: A check-in at Foursquare HQ (and with founder Dennis Crowley)

Comments

Not sure why you didn't mention most of the main features of the phone. Office apps, Hubs, Live Tiles, Xbox Live, Zune subscription music, Social networking etc.
Apple charges you for Mobile Me while MS does all that for free.

Posted by: bobkemp2123 | October 11, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

forgot new main feature....REBOOT..BUGS

Posted by: rw62827 | October 11, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Is this what it's come to for Microsoft? Obviously there is missing information here but really- what do they do all day in Redmond? Why go for these phones? What makes them better than the driods or iPhone?

Posted by: DJMonet | October 11, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Windows Phone 7 is a great improvement over WinMo 6.5. I fully intend to upgrade to a device running this software. The GUI and functionality of the hubs/tiles seem so intuitive.

Rob, I feel that the features you mention this OS is missing aren't deal-breaking features to an average user. I'd also say that we'll see some of these things in Marketplace, with time.

BTW, the Samsung Focus seems to have a front-facing camera.

Posted by: se_coupe | October 12, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Smart phones need better accessibility, no text to speech? How about High Contrast Themes, or Text size managementin the OS?

Posted by: Hattrik | October 12, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

@Hattrik - I agree, accessibility is very important. Maybe that comes at a later date for the OS. I do think Apple has addressed this at least at a base level with the iPhone: http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision.html

As an iPhone user, I have to say I'm impressed with what Microsoft has done with this phone OS. It appears that they finally understand that the smartphone is not just a piece of hardware but rather part of a larger, connected eco-system in a person's life. I feel like handing the reins over to the Zune team for this effort was smart because they seem to have the right vision not only for the user interface, but for the eco-system as a whole. It's definitely not perfect yet, and they may be a little too late to the party at this point, but it's certainly the right first step.

Posted by: rhythmic_one | October 12, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Footpm | October 12, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Gee Rob, I see you're still so very dismissive with a twang of condescension still. Will you ever mature ?! You just casually remark that Vzn and Sprint aren't included as if you're discussing an event party or something as trivial. It's a BIG freaking deal that Microsoft made a ridiculous decision to disenfranchise the 55% of the US market that is CDMA!

How does Microsoft expect to recover ANY market share with such an idiotic strategy ?! I've been using a Touch Pro 2 on Sprint for over a year now. Do you really think that I and those like me are going to WAIT for Microsoft to service us sometime in 2011 ?! You're freaking delusional if you think so! That fouled-up strategic decision of theirs is the final straw that pushes us to Android, the EVO 4G in my case.

Oh, and yeh, WP7 won't accommodate 4G until when, 2012 ?! That kind of corporate idiocy is going to COST them further market share, not recovery. WP7 is doomed to the likes of its Zune and Palm, its market share will never make it out of single digits -- too little, too late.

Posted by: Eludium-Q36 | October 12, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Gee Rob, I see you're still so very dismissive with a twang of condescension still. Will you ever mature ?! You just casually remark that Vzn and Sprint aren't included as if you're discussing an event party or something as trivial. It's a BIG freaking deal that Microsoft made a ridiculous decision to disenfranchise the 55% of the US market that is CDMA!

How does Microsoft expect to recover ANY market share with such an idiotic strategy ?! I've been using a Touch Pro 2 on Sprint for over a year now. Do you really think that I and those like me are going to WAIT for Microsoft to service us sometime in 2011 ?! You're freaking delusional if you think so! That fouled-up strategic decision of theirs is the final straw that pushes us to Android, the EVO 4G in my case.

Oh, and yeh, WP7 won't accommodate 4G until when, 2012 ?! That kind of corporate idiocy is going to COST them further market share, not recovery. WP7 is doomed to the likes of its Zune and Palm, its market share will never make it out of single digits -- too little, too late.

Posted by: Eludium-Q36 | October 12, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Mr Pergaro will never mature. He suffers from Apple elitism. I propose he no longer be allowed to review any products other than those from Apple. His condescending attitude should not be allowed in a "news" paper.

Posted by: timmdrumm | October 13, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

So ... where's the innovation? Like most of Microsoft's products, it is hard for me to see this going anywhere. Microsoft seems to always be playing the game of catch up and not a very good one at that. Why anyone would opt for Windows Phone 7 over an iPhone or Android phone is beyond me.

Posted by: dlwilson70a | October 13, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

@Eludium-Q36: Easy there. Don't attack Rob! He's just doing his job. :) I happen to think his posts are always well-written and he always communicates his points with reason. In this case, the fact that Verizon and Sprint are not getting any WP7 devices makes sense to me. In my opinion, the user experience for data on those networks isn't as desirable as what is available on AT&T and T-Mobile right now. When 4G is available on both of those networks, I'm sure Microsoft will make phones available ASAP. Let's also remember that Microsoft is being much more involved in the hardware development of these phones - they now require certain hardware in every phone (i.e. 1 GHz processor, touch screen, etc.). Microsoft is only trying to guarantee, if you will, a pleasant user experience. For now, they can achieve this level of quality on these two networks.

With Microsoft's huge advertising budget, I think they will be able to gain market share. They now have a highly attractive product that quite possibly could be perfectly timed. With Android (and Apple) introducing smart phones to more people, giving those people another option, one that happens to be quite familiar because of its name, can only be good. Also, the GUI is different enough that that alone would be an attraction to a lot of people. Quite honestly, iOS4 and Android are very similar when you consider the home screen layout and capabilities from the home screen. Windows Phone 7 has a unique home screen - one we've never seen before.

I look forward to see how the launch of WP7 goes this holiday season.

Posted by: se_coupe | October 13, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I was worried that there would be no interest in WP7. Guess I shouldn't have...

@bobkemp2123: Did you miss the WP7 post I wrote a few hours before this one, discussing those features?

@se_coupe: Nope, only one camera on the Focus. See Samsung's specs and (Post alum) Sascha Segan's write-up about the phone.

@Footpm: Good catch. Link is fixed now.

@Eludium-Q36: I've never before seen somebody use so many exclamation points while accusing me of immaturity.

@timmdrumm: You haven't read the stuff I've written about Apple lately, have you?

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 13, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I watched the balmer show and was amazed that there was NO talk about the mobile Internet, NO word about IE. Doesn't Microsoft get it? The major app on all 'smart' phones is the browser.
I know they have problems because they are not a webkit or html5 supporter, but they have to at least show some gumption.
Ah well, guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

Posted by: jsfain | October 15, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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