Microsoft has finally launched its long-awaited new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7. Five devices with UK operator deals were unveiled at the 11 October launch, along with the Dell Venue Pro, for which we're still awaiting carrier details.
HTC has three handsets in the frame. We've already taken an early look at the HD7, which is exclusive to O2. Next up is the HTC 7 Mozart, which is an Orange exclusive. Our sample handset, which was made available to us before the official 21 October on-sale date, did not carry the final ROM. However, it was near-final enough for us to give it a thorough testing.
The HTC 7 Mozart is very neat to look at. Microsoft may be talking up the consumer aspects of Windows Phone 7, but this handset would not embarrass a professional.
The 3.7in. HTC 7 Mozart has a classy unibody aluminium chassis and features an 8-megapixel camera with Xenon flash at the back
The HTC 7 Mozart has a unibody aluminium chassis which adds toughness and gives it a classy look. The aluminium extends around all four edges of the handset and onto the backplate, where it meets two rubberised plastic sections at the top and bottom. The top section houses the camera, while the bottom one slides away to reveal the battery and the SIM card slot. The arrangement is not dissimilar to that on HTC's Android-based Legend, which also has an almost-all-aluminium chassis.
The sides of the HTC 7 Mozart are relatively uncluttered. There's a camera button on the right edge, a volume rocker and a microUSB port on the left. The top has a 3.5mm headset jack and the on/off switch.
The screen isn't the largest on a Windows Phone 7 handset — the HTC HD7 has that distinction with its 4.3in. display. But the Mozart's screen is a decent 3.7in. across the diagonal, putting it on a par with the popular Android-based HTC Desire. The resolution on all three handsets is 480 by 800 pixels, which is well suited to viewing web pages and other rich visual content.
The fact that the HTC 7 Mozart's screen is capacitive and supports pinch-to-zoom is a real boon when it comes to focusing in on the detail of a complex web page. We found the zooming motion itself a little jerky, but hopfully that's due to the fact that our review handset did not feature the final ROM.
There are on-screen keyboards in both portrait and landscape orientations, and both are comfortable and responsive to use. The portrait-mode keyboard is small, but typing errors were not a serious issue for us even here. We understand that Microsoft has done some careful tweaking so that the software anticipates the letters you're likely to need to tap next, making their hit zones proportionately larger than less likely letters.
Entering text is a fiddly in one respect, though. Android keyboards have a tap-and-hold feature to access secondary functions. To enter a '/' for a URL, for example, you tap-and-hold the 'l' key. On the HTC 7 Mozart, however, you have to go into a supplementary keyboard to get this and other characters, which is slightly irritating.
Beneath the screen there are three touch-sensitive buttons, which are one of many parts of Windows Phone 7 handset design and specifications that are required by Microsoft. There's a back button on the left, a search button on the right, and a Start button in the middle. The latter takes you to the main handset screen, the search button opens up a Bing search menu (and does not cater for local device search), while the back button steps back through your previous activities.
The HTC 7 Mozart features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor with 512MB of ROM and 576MB of RAM. The 1GHz CPU is a minimum requirement from Microsoft, and should help ensure that Windows Phone 7 devices deliver an acceptable level of performance.
The HTC 7 Mozart certainly zipped along, and there are some nice animation effects too. For example, the transition from portrait to landscape mode when you turn the handset is fast, and we rather like the way screen content swivels like a paper page rather than blanking out from one orientation and reappearing in the new one. This adds nothing to usability, but shows nice attention to detail.
As you'd expect from a high-end smartphone, the HTC 7 Mozart features quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSPA (7.2Mbps down, 2Mbps up), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR). GPS is present too; mapping comes courtesy of Bing maps, which includes a routing tool for both walking and driving.
As with all Windows Phone 7 handsets, there's no storage expansion, so you'll need to make the most of the 8GB of internal storage provided. This is a big difference between Windows Phone 7 and other smartphone platforms, where a microSD card slot is standard fare.
A feature of Windows Phone 7 is cloud-based backup and data storage via SkyDrive or SharePoint. You can, for example, get the HTC 7 Mozart to automatically upload all photos you take to SkyDrive. Register with Windows Live and you automatically get 25GB of free storage. You can also use Windows Live to remotely locate your handset, make a call to it and even remotely wipe its contents — all of which could prove invaluable if you lose the phone.
But in terms of on-device storage, we do wonder whether Microsoft has really grasped the widespread desire to have masses of local data — including music, video and images — readily to hand.
Even though Microsoft has laid down strict requirements for both internal and external specifications, manufacturers and mobile operators have tried to come up with key differentiators for their Windows Phone 7 handsets. Both HTC and Orange have left their mark on the HTC 7 Mozart.
The HTC 7 Mozart has an 8-megapixel camera, which is the highest resolution in the current Windows Phone 7 lineup. It has a Xenon flash and can capture 720p HD video. Because the ROM was not quite final on our review device we can't deliver a final judgement on photo quality, but we were pleased with what we saw. The final ROM can only (we hope) improve on this.
One of the Microsoft-specified features for all Windows Phone 7 devices is the ability to take a photo without waking the device from its lock-screen mode and then share it as an MMS message or email it. This worked perfectly well for us, and could prove very useful.
The use of Mozart in the device name is a clue to the other differentiating feature of this Windows Phone 7 handset: it comes equipped with Dolby Mobile and SRS surround sound to enhance audio output.
The HTC Hub adds a flavour of the company's Sense interface, as seen on its Android and Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets
HTC has also added its own 'Hub' to the collection provided as standard by Microsoft. Hubs are the headings under which Windows Phone 7 collects related data: for example, the People hub brings together your contacts and Facebook and Windows Live updates.
HTC's hub provides several services. There's local weather data, delivered in a very HTC Sense-style graphic (as found on HTC's Android devices and the company's skin for Windows Mobile 6.5 — as seen on the HD Mini, for example). HTC also provides a number of apps in its hub, including a photo editor, a note taker and a stock quote tool.
The HTC 7 Mozart is available in the UK from Orange: it's free on a £35 per month 24-month price plan
Orange's contribution includes: an app for its Orange Wednesdays two-for-one cinema tickets promotion; Orange Maps (marked as 'coming soon' on our review unit); Orange Daily, which delivers news and sports stories; and Your Orange, which provides information about your account usage.
Microsoft also provides Windows Phone 7 with a Marketplace for free and paid-for applications. The Marketplace was in test mode during the review period, with new apps being added every day. Microsoft has not announced a definitive number of apps for launch day (21 October), but given the standing start (there's no backwards compatibility with existing Windows Mobile apps) it's likely to be a long way behind the number available for Apple's iOS, Google's Android, RIM's App World and Nokia's Ovi Store.
Performance & battery life
As already noted, our HTC 7 Mozart had a pre-final ROM and although it coped well during testing it would be unreasonable for us to deliver a verdict on performance, or put too much stress on our experience of battery life.
That said, we found this 1GHz handset responsive, encountering no performance issues that gave us real cause for concern. As far as battery life is concerned, we kept to our usual smartphone regime of charging once a day, and suspect that this will be the norm for most users.
The HTC 7 Mozart is a solid unibody smartphone with a capacitive 3.7in. touch-screen that's responsive and delivers a high-quality display. This, along with the 1GHz CPU and 8-megapixel camera, makes it difficult to fault as a piece of hardware.
Windows Phone 7 may be a slow burn for mobile professionals, though. Businesses running SharePoint 2010 may see immediate benefits in terms of document sharing and mobile productivity via the Office hub, but this is offset by the lack of backwards compatibility with existing Windows Mobile 6.5 applications.