Bing and Zune

 
 
By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2011-01-04
 
 
 

HTC HD7 with Windows Phone 7: Solid Start, but Needs Something More


Windows Phone 7: Not a disaster!

Sorry, let's try that one again.

Windows Phone 7: A solid start.

Better. In the months leading up to Windows Phone 7's launch, any number of pundits seemed more than happy to opine that the chances of survival for the platform, once released, were equivalent to that of a turtle trying to cross six lanes of busy highway: Absolute zero.

Whether Windows Phone 7 can endure for the longer-term remains to be seen, but the hardware and software hitting the market in the platform's first iteration has more than enough to recommend it, at least in the context of the HTC HD7.

Windows Phone 7 forsakes the iPhone's and Android's grid-like pages of individual apps for a series of subject-specific "Hubs," meant to consolidate both applications and Web content into an intuitive and easy-to-access format. For example, the "People" Hub draws contact data from a number of online sources: with a few taps, you can see an individual's phone number, a link to their personal Website, and an option to write on their Facebook wall. In similar fashion, the "Music + Videos" Hub offers access not only to Zune media, but also online radio such as Slacker.

Hardware and Calling

As a phone, the HTC HD7 is a solidly built device with a 4.3-inch touch screen (480 x 800 WVGA) and a 1-GHz processor (Microsoft is keeping a tight leash on its manufacturers by imposing minimum hardware requirements, the wisdom of which seemed evident when the smartphone undertook its functions with little slowdown). The metal edges are nicely curved, and the back panel offers enough friction to prevent the smartphone from sliding off a table or out of your hand.

Tipping the scales at 5.7 ounces, the HD7 feels comfortable in one's grip; at one point, I spent 40 minutes with the handset pressed to my ear, without wishing I had used an earpiece instead. Sound quality for calls was crystal clear, and T-Mobile managed to not drop a single call over the five days of testing. The touch screen itself was pleasingly responsive, operating at what you might call the Goldilocks equilibrium: not needing too hard a press, nor activating at too light a brush, but seemingly just right for navigation.

Camera

Hardware-wise, the phone also comes equipped with a 5-megapixel color camera with auto-focus and dual LED flash, and capability for 720p HD video recording. The camera itself is capable of adequate but unspectacular images, both indoors and out, and the software offers a variety of options for those shutterbugs who like to tinker with effects, resolution, flicker adjustment and the like. Its Achilles' heel is the mechanical shutter button on the right-hand side of the device's exterior rim, which requires such a hard and decisive push that it frequently jostles your frame out of position-a software-based shutter button, like the one found on Android smartphones, would have suited much better. On the upside, you can easily upload your photos to the cloud.

Kickstand

The HD7's back includes a kickstand integrated into the camera aperture, which clicks out to rest the smartphone in landscape mode. Such kickstands are becoming standard-issue for more media-centric mobile devices like this one, which comes with a preinstalled Netflix app. Quality-wise, video seemed a little muddier than on some rival devices, such as the iPhone 4 (with its Retina Display) and the Samsung Galaxy S (with its Super AMOLED screen). As with most smartphones with plus-size screens, the HD7 also has a bit of a battery-life issue: More than once I found myself turning off the phone by midday to conserve power, after a fairly intensive few hours of Web cruising, e-mail answering and video-watching. For most users, though, a full charge may very well see them from dawn to dusk.   

 

Bing and Zune


Bing and Zune

Microsoft's massive investment in initiatives such as Bing pays off in Windows Phone 7. The phone's Maps app looks spectacular, shifting to a satellite view as you zoom closer to the ground. However, this element also comes with some kinks: I kept trying to navigate from Manhattan to Queens, for example, only to have the app's Directions feature repeatedly try to direct me to Long Island. Eventually, I had to activate Internet Explorer and use Google Maps. Other addresses proved less of a problem.

In a development that will shock exactly nobody, Bing is also Windows Phone 7's default search engine. One of the smartphone's better features is voice search, which seems responsive and relatively accurate. For example, when I told the device, "Chinese restaurant" while standing on a busy street in Midtown Manhattan during New Year's Eve, it heard me accurately; a few seconds later, I had a list of nearby eateries serving highly questionable egg rolls. Specific place names take a little work, requiring you to clearly enunciate clearly and loudly into the device, but ultimately work as intended.

Likewise, Zune is a very pretty piece of software for navigating through one's music collection. It earned high marks from critics when installed on Microsoft's Zune HD device, and the company wisely made little changes when porting it over to the Windows Phone 7 platform. But at least for the time being, Zune's lack of recognition could harm it with those used to iTunes or other applications.

Setup

It took me about five minutes to set up the phone with my Gmail, Outlook, Twitter (which requires an individual app download), Windows Live and Facebook accounts. Windows Phone 7 also ported over my calendar appointments without a hiccup. The "Metro" theme, familiar to those who've used the Zune HD, offers intuitive navigation and a handsome interface. 

Office

Windows Phone 7's most seamless feature, at least in this reviewer's opinion, is the "Office" Hub, which allows workers on-the-go to perform light edits on Word documents, Excel worksheets and PowerPoint presentations. Those items ported from my 15-inch laptop to the smartphone, via e-mail, with nary a glitch or a flub in spacing or formatting. All elements seemed right-sized on a 4.3-inch screen, and simple functions-such as italicizing-came off without those frustrating bugs that often grip first-generation software (the WP7 keyboard is also well-executed, even for big fingers like mine). Saving and porting those documents to e-mail was likewise a snap. For business users, Windows Phone 7 also offers integrated SharePoint.

 

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