During the last couple of years the mobile phone market has been pretty much dominated by two big players: Apple and Google.
And while Symbian is still the biggest OS in the world, the brand itself simply cannot generate the same kind of fervour amongst consumers as, say, a new Android or iOS update does – just look at the release of Symbian^3…
This is fine, though. It’s the world we live in: consumers that want to have the best mobile phone on the market either go for an iPhone 4 or an Android 2.2-powered device, such as the HTC Desire or Samsung Galaxy S.
So, the big question on everybody’s lips is this: can Microsoft change this current state of play with Windows Phone 7? We take a look at the Windows Phone 7-powered HTC Mozart to find out.
Our initial impression of the HTC Mozart as soon as we’d unboxed it and held it in our hand was that it looked quite a lot like the HTC Desire – or the Nexus One, and this is no bad thing.
The device itself measures in at 119 X 60.2 X 11.9 mm, has a 3.7-inch (480 x 800) LCD touchscreen and weighs 130g. Granted, this isn’t nearly as lightweight as some devices, but it is enough to beat the iPhone 4 (137g) and ensure that the Mozart feels both nimble in the hand and comfortable in the pocket.
In terms of connectivity, you’ve got Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g/n, EDGE, 3G and GPRS to play with. And connector wise, there’s Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP for wireless stereo headsets and a 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, as well as Standard micro-USB (5-pin micro-USB 2.0).
As with all Windows Phone 7 devices there are three navigation keys located just beneath the device’s display: Back, Home (Windows key) and Search (Bing). On the top right of the device is a power key, which also doubles as a re-activation key too. There’s also a volume rocker and MicroUSB on the device’s left hand side.
The onboard Bing services (Maps and Search) are superbly implemented and were initially one of our favourite features. If you click the Search key you’re taken to a well-presented Bing search application. Type you search criteria in and you’re presented with local, global and map options relating to your search term.
It’s location aware, so if you’re in London you get results for London or anything that might be happening near your current GPS location.
Pinch-to-Zoom is present within Bing Maps and when you zoom in to street level the map automatically refreshes to show you it in satellite view – something that impressed us no end.
HTC has also gone with an aluminum unibody for the Mozart, which gives it a robust feel and a stylish finish. There are, however, two stylized plastic body plates located round the back. The first is situated at the top of the device where the camera and flash are located and the other at the bottom and slips off so you can remove the battery and insert a SIM-card.
We don’t usually like plastic on mobiles, especially high-end ones, but the two plastic body plates present in the Mozart are well implemented and add lots of grip where it’s needed, which does come in pretty handy – especially when gaming. In short, the Mozart’s build quality is superb. We love the aluminum unibody and the plastic body plates add grip where it’s needed. The dimensions of the device – specifically its size, weight and in-hand feel – are near enough perfect. Sure, it’s a variation on an already winning formula (Desire/Nexus One) but who cares; it still works just as good now as it did then.
Looks aside though, there are a few ‘hardware’ issues that you might want to consider before taking the plunge with the HTC Mozart. For starters, you’ve only got 8GB of storage and there’s no microSD card support.
Microsoft has tried to get around this by integrating a cloud-based service (SkyDrive) into the Windows Phone 7 platform, which gives you 25GB of free storage once you’ve registered.
On the whole, Microsoft has done a seamless job of integrating SkyDrive into the Windows Phone 7 platform. To send something to the cloud you simply hold down on an item, wait for the options to appear and click “send to SkyDrive.” Simple.
Nevertheless, you will need an internet connection to use this feature, which isn’t always possible, such as during a plane journey or when you’re out in the sticks. Then there’s the ‘data issue’ and how much SkyDrive will munch through whilst you transfer items between the device and the cloud.
We’re not saying it isn’t a good idea – it is, there are loads of potential applications for it – but Microsoft should have included MicroSD support as well. People like storage, especially if it affords them the ability to hot swap things like apps, games and music.
MicroSD support, according to reports, is coming to later versions of Windows Phone 7 but this doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t available on any of the launch devices – and this is something that may put off a lot of potential early adapters.
Storage grumbles aside, Microsoft promised us something special with Windows Phone 7 and, we’re pleased to say, it has really delivered something rather special.
The UI is extremely unique in that it isn’t attempting to be either iOS or Android. Instead, Microsoft has decided on a different and highly controversial strategy – it’s dared to try something original!
Instead of multiple homescreens, there is one homescreen and a Menu/Apps list page. These are your two core pages – that’s it. It’s very simple and extremely customisable. For instance, the homescreen is made up of customisable ‘Tiles’ that can be arranged in whatever order you like. To add applications to your homescreen you simply go into Menu/Apps list and hold down on the desired one. After a few moments the option: ‘pin to start’ appears, click it and you’re done.
The UI is remarkably slick, there’s no lag whatsoever and we were really taken with its overall simplicity. If we’re honest, we weren’t expecting much from Windows Phone 7 but the overall fluidity of the touchscreen combined with just how easy it is to do pretty much anything on the device combine to make a thoroughly satisfying user experience.
The onboard 8.0 megapixel camera with auto focus and Xenon flash is pretty decent and you can certainly get some decent shots out of it, even in low-lit conditions thanks to its Xenon Flash. That said, we did have a few issues with noise in a lot of the shots we took.
Consequently, the video recording aspect of the Mozart is a lot smoother and we experienced no issues with noise. The 720p quality video also looks great when played back on the Mozart’s S-LCD display too.
Once you’ve taken a shot it’s saved to the device and is pushed to the side of the display so you can carry on shooting images. To preview the last image you simply drag the photo across into the viewfinder, which is a simple, yet effective touch.
Apps are always going to be the biggest bone of contention for any new platform. But thankfully, it seems that Microsoft has well and truly got it’s arse in gear. Not only is Zune and Xbox Live seamlessly integrated into the platform, but the early apps and games we tried are very impressive – especially Rocket Riot.
Nevertheless, to get the most out of the HTC Mozart you will need to register a Zune account and have a Windows Live login. Fortunately, doing so is very straight forward and there’s even the ability to sync the device with Apple Mac PCs thanks to the release of Windows Phone 7 Connector.
In addition to this, the new look Windows Marketplace is gorgeous and once it’s fully stocked (there’ll be 2000 apps by launch day, apparently) it’ll be one of the best looking and easiest to navigate market places on the market.
Everything is broken down into easy to navigate sections, such as: HTC apps, Games, Applications and Music. There’s also a ‘featured’ apps section as well, so you’ll always know what’s new on the market place.
Plus – and this is a big plus – there’s the ability to try apps before you buy them, which is a brilliant feature.
HTC Sense is kind of integrated into Windows Phone 7 as well, but to be honest, unless you’re massively interested in the weather, you’ll probably never use it – we didn’t. And this is kind of testament to just how well Microsoft has done with Windows Phone 7 because on WinMo 6.5 HTC Sense was the only saving grave of the HTC HD2, but now it’s been relegated to a mere Tile on the homescreen.
Nevertheless, the stand out feature of Windows Phone 7 is the way it looks and, of course, it’s Hubs: Xbox, People, Music and Video, Pictures etc.
For instance, the People Hub is where all your contacts, including their Facebook, Windows Live and Google Mail details are stored. Windows Phone 7 syncs them all pretty seamlessly without any effort on your part. You simply login to the desired social networking accounts and you’re away.
Once you’ve gone through the setup process the People Hub becomes populated with your contacts and their relevant contact details. Action takes place over three sections once you’re inside the Hub: ‘All’ (essentially your contact list, ‘What’s New’ (a live stream of all your contacts social networking activity) and ‘Recent’ (a log of which profiles you’ve been looking at).
Obviously syncing contacts with their respective social networking accounts is nothing new – Android’s been doing it for donkey’s years. Nevertheless, the way Windows Phone 7 does it is remarkably unique and we can’t really fault it. The presentation, interactivity and general ease of use is literally second-to-none.
Drill down into an individual contact and you’ve got all their details – email, phone, text, birthday, significant other etc – immediately at hand. So whether they’re a SIM-contact, or merely a Facebook or Windows Live one, you have every possible means of communication right at your fingertips.
Again, this isn’t really anything new, but the intuitive and efficient presentation of it adds a new dimension of, dare we say it, simplicity to communication that is definitely lacking on some platforms.
You can also see all your contacts recent Windows Live and Facebook activity, as well as there Facebook and Windows Live profiles, simply by swiping over to ‘what’s new’ or ‘profile’ within individual contact view.
The Pictures Hub, as well as the Me Hub, which is your own personal social networking tile, are brilliantly integrated and allow you keep completely up-to-date with everything that is going on in the world of social networking. It’s also extremely easy to share photos and videos within the Pictures Hub – one click uploads it to Facebook, for example.
The ability to ‘pin’ your favourite contacts to the homescreen is also a nice feature of Windows Phone 7 as well – especially with all the nice animations.
Twitter, although available as an app on the platform, is missing from the People Hub at present. This is quite unfortunate and something that we were quite disappointed by.
For one, lots of people now use Twitter as much as Facebook, if not more, and to not include as a syncing option within the People Hub was definitely a mistake – especially as it is now fully integrated into both the Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and iOS platforms.
Because this is Windows Phone 7 you predictably get Internet Explorer as your stock (and presumably only) browser. That said, it ain’t half bad. Book marking web pages is very easy – you simply tap the star-plus symbol at the bottom of the browser and it’s saved. To peruse your bookmarks, you open the browser and press the star symbol and you’re taken to your bookmarks.
You can also have multiple windows open within the browser by tapping the dedicated ‘tabbed-browsing’ symbol. There is also the ability to ‘pin’ web pages to the homescreen and sharing articles is very straightforward as well – just tap options and go the ‘share page’.
Web pages do render well, but unfortunately it’s not going to rival anything you’ve anything you haven’t already seen. There’s no Flash support, which is a pain, but the pinch-to-zoom function is as good as any of the current competition.
Similarly, the Mozart’s 3.7-inch, 800 x 480 pixel resolution, S-LCD display is sharp and colourful without being too much. There’s very little colour saturation and degradation when viewing it from an angle. In comparison to the HTC HD7’s display, the Mozart’s is significantly sharper even though the HD7 is a lot bigger at 4.3-inches.
The Mozart’s keyboard, put simply, is brilliant – and this goes for use in both landscape and portrait orientations. The auto-correct function is bang on the money and we found hammering out long emails an absolute pleasure. It’s easily one of the best touchscreen keyboards we’ve used to date.
As we said earlier, we experienced zero-lag during testing. The UI is as smooth as the one found of the iPhone.
Multitasking, however, is a little ambiguous on Windows Phone 7 in that it does a type of multitasking, but not the sort you’d associated with the likes of Android, RIM or Symbian. In short, third party apps will not be allowed to run in the background, but you’ll be able to run say the device’s on board music player and cruise the web – but if you try this with, say, Pandora, you’re bang out of luck.
Also, Windows Phone does allow apps to sort-of run in the background, providing they don’t impinge on the power being used on another one. So, for example: if you open one app, say Pandora, and then open another application, Windows Phone 7 will put Pandora into a suspended (dehydrated) state. If you click back to Pandora it will be resumed (re-hydrated).
But if you go you go too far and the system needs more resources it’ll close Pandora without warning you. Put simply, Windows Phone 7 does ‘very limited’ multitasking.
Overall, the HTC Mozart is a very, very good device. It has form, functionality, hardware and the addition of Windows Phone 7 is a massive cherry atop and already delicious and thoroughly satisfying cake.
There are issues, though, such as the limited storage and the decidedly average browser, as well as the extremely limited multitasking. However, no device is perfect and if you’re interested in Windows Phone 7 and want a device that truly delivers, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than the HTC Mozart.
We enjoyed testing this device so much that it kind of pains us that we have to give it back.