So after wanting to try out Windows Phone for a while I finally took the plunge and bought an LG Optimus 7 last week. Having had a few days to play around with the OS and its features I thought I’d note down some of my early impressions. I’d like to apologise in advance for the lack of images. Among it’s many missing features WP7 doesn’t appear to have an easy way to take screenshots.
WP7 definitely has a unique style and in my opinion it looks fantastic. It’s very stripped down but at the same time the use of large fonts and simple text is very stylish. It makes WP7 stand out from the crowd while at the same time being very easy to use.
It’s also incredibly smooth and flowing in operation. Things like scrolling are much more fluid and responsive than on either iOS or Android. Despite the frequent animations I also I haven’t experienced any lag so far.
I also love the use of horizontal scrolling to view more information as opposed to using tabs like iOS and Android. It just feels more natural to scroll left and right to see more information.
My Optimus 7 has physical back, start and search buttons and I never stopped trying to press the start button to wake the phone from standby. Is this feature too obvious? It feels so natural to just expect it to work and having to press the power button on the top is decidedly inconvenient in comparison.
The one big omission that everyone goes on and on about and having used WP7 for a few days I can really see why. The lack of multitasking really brings down the experience of using apps in comparison to navigating around the actual OS. It didn’t take long for the constant reloading of apps to make my patience wear thin.
Apps also seem to take quite a while to load. From tapping on my Twitter live tile it took ten seconds for my (old) stream to appear and then a further seven for it to update. It also has to refresh if the screen turns off and you switch it straight back on. In this instance it took around eight seconds to be back up and running.
I really like the Zune music app and prefer it to the Android and iOS default media players. There’s actually a great Android copy in devlopment by the supremely talented Federico Carnales of LauncherPro fame which I’ve also been using on my Desire.
I particularly like how the music controls pop up at the top of the screen whenever you push the volume buttons, even when music isn’t actually playing. A small detail but very useful in practice.
The Zune desktop app is also pretty good and the ability to sync over WiFi is a boon. Apple would do well to add this to iOS but we can only dream.
Given the presence of a physical search button it’s fairly clear that MS is keen to push Bing on WP7. I was therefore hoping to be pleasantly surprised by its utility but came away fairly unimpressed. Bing seems to do a decent enough job of searching for things online with results listed under the categories of web, local and news.
The problems arise when you want to search for information actually stored on the phone. This is something I do fairly frequently on Android and iOS as I often find it quicker to just search for a contact or app then navigate around to find it. Unless I’ve missed a trick, WP7 seems to lack any sort of univeral search.
Hitting the search button from the start screen simply brings up a Bing web search box. Trying to type in a contact name, calendar entry or app yields no results. Worse, even when in the calendar or messaging apps hitting the seach button still takes you to Bing web search. You can at least search for contacts in people hub but you have to navigate there first.
This just seems like a big fail to me. Smartphones are veritable mines of information and accessing date quicky and easily is crucial. WP7 doesn’t help you to do that. It dramatically reduced my productivity in comparison to Android and iOS.
A fairly minor point but I know but when you press the WiFi toggle it takes around two seconds for it to switch to the on position. I know it doesn’t sound like much but in practice I’d always hit it again thinking that my touch hadn’t registered, only for it to turn back off!
I really like how whenever you’re on a call the status is always visible at the top of the screen (kind of like Android notifications but without pulling down the curtain). Whatever you’re doing a quick tap takes you straight back to your phone call.
The integration of Facebook throughout the OS is pretty awesome. It’s great to be able to go to the People hub and check your Facebook news stream or go to a contact card and view that person’s Facebook updates. Similarly, I found it very useful to be able to go to the Photos hub and view online photos from Facebook and Windows Live. It’s also nice touch to have write on wall as one of the options when viewing a contact.
I know HTC went down this path a while ago with Sense but Microsoft’s implementation is better integrated and executed. I can’t wait for Mango to do the same thing for Twitter. Android does offer some of this but iOS lags way behind.
Poor loading times aside the official Twitter app is also quite laggy. For some reason the scrolling which is so smooth throughout the OS is extremely jerky and unresponsive in the app. I’ve been informed by @rowiapp on Twitter that this is down to apps not using the same “stuff” as the OS but that this should change with Mango. To be honest I’m hoping that the promised Twitter integration in Mango negates the need for a separate app entirely.
Not being able to receive notifications for new mentions and direct messages also limits the app’s usefulness. This again links to the lack of multitasking.
The browser in WP7 is apparently based on IE7 and, from my experience with Android and iOS, is definitely in need of an update. Websites generally display fairly well but the text just doesn’t look right. Screenshots would really help to demonstrate this but once again I can only apologise for their absence.
I’m also not a web standards guru but the apparent lack of HTML5 support leads to a few issues. For example when browsing m.hotukdeals.com I’m unable to login or search as hitting the respective buttons just has no effect. Again, Mango should hopefully fix this issue as its browser will be based on IE9.
Like the WP7 UI in general, the lockscreen is simple, elegant and useful. I like how the focal point is the wallpaper image but at the same time it provides you with the time, date, notification icons and calendar appointments. Android and iOS would do well to copy Microsoft’s effort.
I have mixed feelings about live tiles. On the one hand they’re not a particularly frugal use of space but on the other they do offer useful information and just look nice from an aesthetic point of view. Having the option to resize them would be nice but I’m not holding my breath.
WP7 has been around for roughly seven months and although there are a fairly decent number of apps available the ones that are important to me just aren’t available, at least not right now. Examples are Evernote, Readitlater, WhatsApp, Google Maps, Sky+, Foursquare. The list goes on and will vary for different people but these are some of the apps that I use every day and deem essential.
I really want to like WP7. It does have some great features and is just plain beautiful and fun to use. But from a functionality standpoint it’s lacking features which I need to be productive on a smartphone. It’s also lacking apps which I use everyday. Some because of lack of dev support and others because of lack of OS support.
Mango will apparently solve all of these issues with it’s 500 new features but in the meantime I can’t use WP7 as my everyday smartphone OS of choice. I really want to wait for Mango and see the improvements it brings but I’m also tempted to sell my Optimus 7 while it still has some resale value.