Windows Phone 7, the new operating system with which Microsoft has rejoined the mobile phone market, is “novel,” with some nice and attractive features that distinguish it from the mobile OSes of market dominators Apple and Google. But it’s not enough to make consumers with an eye on the iPhone, or an Android-running phone, rethink their affections.
That’s the verdict from Wall Street Journal tech editor Walter Mossberg, who spent some time with the Samsung Focus and the HTC HD7-two of the nine devices that Microsoft plans to release with the operating system in 2010. The Samsung Focus will be available from AT&T and the HTC HD7 from T-Mobile, each for $200 with a new contract.
Mossberg, focusing on the OS and not the phones’ hardware, noted that Microsoft had plenty of time to study the successes and failures of its rivals’ devices, what with Windows Phone 7 arriving more than two years after the first Android-running phone and nearly four years after the introduction of the iPhone. And still, he indicated-while the OS does show some nice ideas-Microsoft managed to leave out features that have become more or less expected.
“These missing features include copy and paste, visual voice mail, multitasking of third-party apps, and the ability to do video calling and to use the phone to connect other devices to the Internet,” Mossberg wrote in an Oct. 21 review. “The Android phones and the iPhone handle all these things today.”
There’s also the problem of applications, or rather, lack of applications-a problem that every manufacturer looking to follow Apple’s lead has faced. Google managed to ratchet things up quickly, and is now at nearly 100,000 applications on offer, though Apple’s App Store now holds closer to 300,000. At launch, Microsoft will have approximately 1,000 applications for sale-a number the company has said it hopes to quickly increase.
What Windows Phone 7 does have going for it is an attractive user interface that relies on dynamic “tiles” instead of application icons. There are also “hubs” for categories such as entertainment and contacts that offer “personalized, updating information,” Mossberg said. It also has built-in versions of Microsoft Office and Xbox Live, and interacts with Xbox gaming consoles.
There’s also a “nice feature that allows the camera to be used quickly, even if the phone is locked. And search works particularly well, including a mode that allows you to enter search commands by voice from any screen,” he wrote, listing items in the plus column. “Phone calling also worked just fine, with few failed calls, good voice quality and easy connection to a Bluetooth device I tried.”
But, he added, “I couldn’t find a killer innovation that would be likely to make iPhone or Android users envious, except possibly for dedicated Xbox users.”
Windows Phone 7 may get Microsoft into the game, but for now it’s “inferior” to the iPhone and Android-running smartphones, Mossberg reported. “It’s simply not fully baked yet.”
Reviewers around the Web more or less echoed Mossberg’s opinion.
PCMag.com‘s Sascha Segan called it “definitely a Version 1.0,” and Cnet‘s Bonnie Cha, while finding it “mind-boggling” that Microsoft could leave out such fundamental features as cut and paste, called Windows Phone 7 “fresh, fun and functional.”
Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky, in a deeply thorough review, had plenty of nice things to say about the OS. He was “extremely impressed” by its touch responsiveness and speed; found the keyboard to be “really, really good”; thought Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 is “pretty amazing”; and called its integration with Office “awesome” and a feature that “could almost singlehandedly make these devices impossible to ignore for serious business users.”
But while applauding Microsoft for an “outstanding job,” Topolsky, like Mossberg, found “there are holes here as well.” Overall, he found Windows Phone 7 to be about a year behind its competitors, which he added shouldn’t be a deterrent from checking out devices running the operating system.
“Microsoft has definitely laid the foundation for the next several years of its mobile play,” Topolsky wrote. “Now it’s time to get the upper floors finished.”