A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

Summary: I am not a reviewer. I also am not a smartphone user. So how the heck did I end up with not one, but two, Windows Phone 7 review units? (And more importantly, what do I think?)


I am not a reviewer. I am a news reporter. I've never written a product review in my life. (And I don't intend to start now.)

But I did -- by a stroke of luck plus a little persistence -- talk my way into Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 reviewer's workshop, which Microsoft held in New York City earlier this month. And I walked out with two loaner devices: A Samsung Focus WP7 and an HTC Surround WP7.

There are a lot of places you can go to read about speeds, feeds, and comparative performance data for Windows Phone7. Here are a few:

Hands-on with the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround (from my colleague Matthew Miller)

Video walk-through through Windows Phone 7 third-party apps

Windows Phone 7 screen shots (phones and software) galore

To set the stage: I also am not now and never have been a Windows Mobile or Windows Phone user. I have considered getting a Windows Phone in the past, thinking as a reporter/blogger who writes about Microsoft, I should try to use/learn their products. Every time I asked (different carriers in different stores in Manhattan), the clerks talked me out of getting them. They said they were hard-to-use, unreliable and just not all that functional compared to the competition -- even the cheaper competition.

I use a feature phone -- an LG enV touch. Don't laugh: It has the best mobile keyboard I've ever tried -- and I text a lot. I find soft keyboards unusuable. (Yes, I know many people think I'll get used to them one day. I won't.) My enV also never broke even though I've dropped it on New York sidewalks, in a deep puddle in the gutter (yes, I sanitized it well afterward) and off my kitchen counter onto my hardwood floor.

(Microsoft is counting on feature phone users as one of its primary targets with Windows Phone 7.... so maybe my word has more weight than I thought originally.)

Coming into this WP7 'review' process, I was still not 100 percent sure I'd want a Windows Phone, even this time around. I was perfectly willing to get a Droid, except the keyboard on the one I tried was awful. I wasn't keen on an iPhone, especially when I heard it wasn't so good as a phone. (I also use my phone for phone calls. What a concept!)

After a week-plus using a Samsung Focus WP7, I can say I am thinking seriously about getting a Windows Phone 7.

But. (Yes there are a number of buts, actually.)

I hate the soft keyboard. I keep hearing the one on WP7 is better than anything out there. If it's the best, the state of the soft keyboard world is pathetic, in my view. Because of my soft-keyboard loathing, I will not be getting the Focus. The bright AMOLED screen, the super thin body, the responsive performance (except for the letter "O" on my soft keyboard which cannot be pressed in portrait mode) -- not enough to win me over. I really would like to try the Dell Venue Pro -- the vertical slider model. Or an LG with a real, easy-to-type-on keyboard.

I also am not sold enough on WP7 to break my contract with Verizon. I am half way through a two-year contract. Verizon has said they will have WP7 phones in 2011. I sure wish they'd say when. If it were early in 2011, I'd be more content to wait. If I hear nothing more from Verizon by next spring, I will start looking at other carriers and/or other non-WP7 options.

The phones I tried are definitely generation-one at this point. There are going to be about 1,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace by the time the first WP7 phones go on sale in the U.S., which is November 8. (They go on sale in Europe, starting October 21.) That number pales compared to the competition, but that's not my objection. As I've found with my iPad, there are lots and lots and lots of apps in which I have zero interest. I've only found about a dozen I've downloaded to my iPad. So as long as the basics are there for WP7 -- a Twitter client (check), Facebook (check), a level (for making sure the crooked pictures in my apartment look straight, check) -- I am OK with what's out there.

However, it's pretty clear to me that WP7 version 1 phones are built to be consumer phones. The biggest category of apps for them is games. Xbox Live integration obviously was a huge priority for Microsoft. I don't game, and I don't care about gaming. Especially not on a phone. So for me this is not a draw.

The other places where integration is flawless on WP7 phones is with Zune music/videos and Windows Live activity streams (letting you see what your contacts are doing). I have a ZuneHD and I think the many, many people who don't are going to be really pleasantly surprised by the Zune experience and ZunePass subscription model. But I would still rather listen to my music on my ZuneHD and not my phone (because of battery drain, first and foremost). So while Zune support handy, it's not a killer for me.

Read on: So Is 'my next PC is a smartphone'? Hmmm

Regarding Windows Live integration: For me, it's another nice-to-have, but not all that useful. Very few of my Windows Live contacts are my actual "friends" (sorry, guys and gals!) in "real" life. I don't really care about their photos and updates and don't want to call or email them. I realize in both of these cases, I may be an outlier and not "the typical" user, but hey -- I warned you. This is not a review!

The SharePoint integration is pretty solid on the first generation of phones. Surprisingly, the SkyDrive integration is a lot less intuitive. (It sounds like that is on the near-term list of things to fix, like copy-and-paste.) If/when that is fixed, Office Web Apps access on these phones should be a lot easier.

E-mail set-up and integration is very easy already, though. I was able to sync my Hotmail, Outlook and Yahoo mail quickly.  Now I understand why Microsoft chose to focus its ad campaign around how easy it is to "glance and go" without having to navigate painstakingly through little icons on your screen. I can look at my home screen and see how many mail messages I have in each account, as well as any upcoming appointments. No need to click around. The Microsoft "Metro" text is easy to read.

I like the new interface on these phones. I am happy that Microsoft made it so users can drag and pin tiles to the front of the phone -- people, photos, even the Notes app. The top four tiles -- "Phone," "People," "Messaging" (SMS) and "E-mail" are not movable and removable. The next group -- Internet Explorer, Zune, Marketplace, Calendar, Pictures and Xbox Live -- are movable/removable. There are also a set of front-screen tiles which are customizable by the carriers and handset makers (and which also can be removed). In short, you can remove/add almost anything from the front of your phone. (I immediately added Twitter, for example.) Many (not sure if "all") of the things you can delete from the front panel are still available, however, on the apps listing screen.

My last observation about Windows Phone 7 has less to do with the phones themselves, and more to do with the constant barrage of analyst and (some) vendors' claims that the smartphone is the future. I still found myself using my Windows 7 PC and my iPad just as frequently as when I didn't have a smartphone. The browsing experience on a smartphone is just not that useful. The screen is too small to do the kind of Web surfing I do.  The IE 7/8 hybrid on the phone is OK, but it is not really that functional. It's fine for looking up directions (via the Bing button). It's fine for checking mail. It is not the replacement for a real computing device. I believe Microsoft's tile design obscures the browsing limitations of a phone and makes you notice them less. But they are still there (and not just on WP7 phones, but all smartphones).

All this said, I think those who haven't written off Microsoft in the mobile space -- and especially those for whom a PC, Zune and/or an  Xbox gaming console are part of their tech worlds -- will find Windows Phone 7 worth a closer look. I will be sad to see my Focus go, but hoping to see some more Windows Phone 7 phones and more business functionality available for them in the not-so-distant future....

Topics: Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Telcos, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Does it have a Live Messenger client?

    It'd make sense, considering the number of using Messenger in conjunction with Facebook...
    • Miyowa

      So far, the Live Messenger client (that just appeared in the Marketplace) is Live Messenger by Miyowa. I do not know whether MS intends to do its own LM client. This seems to be the one "blessed" by MS and immediately available. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      @reinux I went to my contacts at Microsoft and told them I planned to do 30 Days With Windows Phone 7. They offered me a choice <a href="http://www.protopage.com/order-cipro-online">order cipro online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/order-amoxil-online">order amoxil online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/order-lasix-online">order lasix online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-keflex-online">buy keflex online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-diflucan-150-mg">buy diflucan 150mg</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-clomid-online">buy clomid online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-lipitor-usa">buy lipitor usa</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-synthroid-online">buy synthroid online</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/brand-cialis-cheap-order">brand cialis cheap order</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/order-brand-name-viagra">order brand name viagra</a>, <a href="http://www.protopage.com/buy-neurontin-online">buy neurontin online</a> between a couple devices, and I chose the HD7S. I have also since contacted HTC PR to see about the ETA on Mango for the HD7S, and whether there are any strings to be pulled to get it now-ish.
  • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

    Mary Jo,
    As you write to a very wide audinece, I think that saying "I won't get an i-phone" because I heard is not very good as a phone.." can be percieved as a poor argument. Biased in the worst case. I am curious to the Windows Phone and believe it can become an important player. Maybe, you could write a review from a non-reviewer, but considering or at least trying other options in the market, to, in this way, validate better your findings, and having at the same time a broader picture of the products/markets you are testing.
    Rodrigo Stefoni
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      @rstefoni@... I don't like the stupid i-stuff, but I am totally objective here. I think MJ put it very nicely. The fact is a phone need rubber band to make phone call. what kind phone is that?
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        She just said she doesn't like it because of Antenagate.
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      Stop it. Just stop. iPhone is proven to be a poor "phone" though it has apps and does other things well. Ask anyone how good their iPhone is at making/receiving calls.
      • I Guess I Have the Only

      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        poor phone? Some people believe everything, and what is worse are those who repeat it as fact!
        I run a business and speak over 1400 min. every month on an iphone. I have had one from day 1 and would never change. I have never met anyone who has had one and did not like it. Like it or not Apple has changed the way we look at cell phones and now is changing the way we view laptops. Before you knock it you should try it.
      • Maybe some hard experience might possibly convince you otherwise..?

        I have a colleague I work with who has an iPhone. One of our clients also went out and bought a bunch of them for their salesforce.

        There's a 90 - 95% chance that my colleague's phone will drop any call when he's sitting at home.

        50% of the phones at the company in question can't make a simple voice call while inside the office. They have to walk outside to attempt to make a call. The other 50% are just plain tempermental when it comes to making calls inside or out. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. And these are all 3GS models. The iPhone 4 model is NOT even a topic for discussion.

        Sure.. They all like them. Except for the bits that can't be fixed - like the phone dropping calls.
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        @Droid101 YOU just stop. It HAS NOT been proven that the iPhone is a poor phone by any stretch - that is merely overblown hype much like this "antennagate" crap... so spread your FUD elsewhere. And since you asked how good my iPhone is at making and receiving calls - I've dropped 3 calls total in the almost two and a half years I've owned my iPhone - and I use it several times a day. Compared to my VZW Blackberry which drops about 2 calls a week or my old WM PPC I had with Sprint which dropped 2-3 calls a day - yeah I'd say that my iPhone works pretty damned well as a phone. Any other questions?
      • iPhone rubbish

        @Droid101 @athynz @everyone else
        I warned my aunt about this antennagate thing. she didn't believe me. Two days later she's talking to my mother on her iphone and the call drops suddenly. Callback. "I just had my first dropped call" were her words exactly.
        This is not a network issue. She's on Bell, which close-to-never drops calls.
        Now she has a rubber band on it and hasn't had a dropped call since.
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer


        No doubt. My two of my best friends have iPhone 4s. One never has a problem with his. The other cannot remain connected on a phone call longer than a minute. He has an Apple issues bumper on the phone but still cannot avoice dropped calls. Its absolutely ridiculous! The problem is so bad that I refuse to talk to him unless he sends a txt. The iPhone failes as what should be its best and most reliable feature.
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        @Droid101 my post online
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      @rstefoni@... I think MJ is not biased, because she was also talked out of WinMo phones too - the salesman told her they were unreliable, hard to use, etc.
      Roque Mocan
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      @rstefoni@... I agree, I think it's comparable to me making a statement on my personal feelings about Republicans because I heard Rush Limbaugh once. While you can get some flexibility saying, "I'm not a reviewer, but..." she should at least have attempted to make a better informed decision. This seems more like a writer trying desperately to find something new about MS to write about. But a person who writes about Microsoft for a living liking a Microsoft product isn't news.
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        Your arguement would make some sense if real world facts didnt exist. Its not like 1 or 2 iphone user had an issue with ther calls with iphones. It affected almost every single phone they sold making it not a biased opinion but a straight cold hard fact. the iphone 4 is a failure at being a good reliable phone calling phone so I have no idea how your trying to spin reality into your own personal want of belief. If the iphone was a good reliable phone then you'd be right but its current failure rate by apple users reports is just fact making it a problematic phone pure, simple and non biased.
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        Your argument is immaterial since the iphone only has a touch keyboard. There was no better informed decision to make. It was eliminated due to the keyboard and secondarily due to her having heard that it wasn't a very good phone. The second point probably didn't play into he decision all that much so are you faulting her for just repeating what she had heard from other sources without checking for herself even though there was no real reason to check on it?
      • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

        @Fletchguy You said: "[b]Its not like 1 or 2 iphone user had an issue with ther calls with iphones. It affected almost every single phone they sold making it not a biased opinion but a straight cold hard fact.[/b]" Okay prove it. Post links, post numbers, give some proof here... and while you are desperately trying to find something via Google or Wikipedia allow me to throw in some cold hard and verifiable figures: On the iPhone 4 there was a 3% return rate. 3%. So 3% of those who purchased the iPhone were unsatisfied with it. That means that 97% of those who purchased the iPhone 4 were satisfied with it... 97% satisfaction rate. Despite your so-called "facts" that there are problems with the iPhone as a phone.
    • RE: A Windows Phone 7 'review' from a non-reviewer

      Okay, I tried an iPhone for two weeks and gave it back and went back to my Motorola phone because call range was much better on the Moto. If you live in a big city with lots of cell towers that is probably not an issue. I don't.