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Windows Phone 7: Things we like

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Microsoft has officially re-joined the billion dollar mobile OS war with its latest mobile OS, Windows Phone 7. But should the likes of Apple, RIM, Google and Nokia be worried about a company the size of Microsoft wading into their respective territories and affecting their sales margins?

Some analysts, including Gartner, don’t seem to think so. But as we all know: experts, from time-to-time, have been known to get it wrong and here at Know Your Mobile, we’re not ashamed to say we’re very excited about Windows Phone 7, and here’s our top five reasons why:

Homescreen
One of the first things you’ll notice when you boot up a Windows Phone 7 device is that Microsoft hasn’t tried to re-invent or re-apply Apple’s market defining UI (like Google did with Android). It also hasn’t attempted to take Apple’s UI formula – multiple homescreens, a dock and app icons – and simply give it a ‘Microsoft-twist’ like Nokia has recently done with Symbian^3. Basically, Microsoft has done none of these things because it has done the unthinkable and brought something entirely new to the table…

For starters, there’s the way it looks. There’s no multiple homescreens. Instead, there’s a single homescreen, which you navigate by scrolling up and down, and a Menu page – that’s it.

It also has Tiles instead of app icons, which are uniform in style and can be re-arranged easily according to your preference. To add Tiles to the homescreen you simply Pin or Un-Pin them from the Menu list. There is no limit to the amount of Tiles you can Pin to the homescreen and, as an added bonus, you can also change the colour of both the background and Tiles within Settings.

Panoramic Views
Windows Phone 7’s core features like the People Hub, Games Hubs, Music & Videos Hub, Marketplace Hub, Settings and Pictures Hub are all presented in a panoramic fashion, which is both quite unique and extremely nice to look at.

When we say, ‘panoramic’ we mean that instead of switching between rows of apps, you simply swipe across one seemingly massive screen, to access different aspects of the Hub or Tile you’re in.

 

The title of the Hub or Tile is displayed in a large attractive font in the background and there are lots of nice little touches thrown in for good measure too, like the brilliant contact finder and seamless syncing with Facebook and Windows Live in the People Hub to name but a few. Couple this with the overall fluidity of the touchscreen’s responsiveness in general and you’ve got yourself a seriously enjoyable, intuitive and good-looking UI.

In short, Windows Phone 7 has really raised the bar in terms of presentation, layout and overall usability – and what’s most impressive is that it is (pretty much) completely unique. There really is no other UI that looks or operates in this manner currently on the market.

Apps
Applications are always going to be a big part of any new mobile operating system and while there aren’t nearly as many apps present on the Windows Marketplace as there are on, say, the Apple Apps Store and the Android Market, we were quite pleased to find that the few on there were of very high quality.

 

Take Rocket Riot, for example. It’s well-realised, easy-to-pick up and fun to play – plus, the graphics and controls are pretty damn good too. The immediate future is also looking very rosy as well for Microsoft as it’s got a whole load of big name developers on board – EA, Konami, Microsoft’s Games Studios and Namco – as well as Xbox Live integration, which will certainly be more than enough to tempt a lot of users over to the platform.

The new-generation Windows Marketplace is also very well realised. It’s easy to use, again with its panoramic layout, so you can find what you’re looking for with very little fuss. Zune is also seamlessly integrated into Marketplace as well. It’s broken up into the following sections: Featured, New Releases, Top Albums and Genres. Again, it’s simple, effective and extremely well presented; it even has a panoramic backdrop of that particular week’s featured artist (this week it’s Robbie Williams).

 

Bing
Bing might not be everyone’s first choice for search on desktop PCs or even phones, but it has certainly been well integrated into Windows Phone 7. There’s a dedicated ‘Search’ key on all devices that takes you straight to Windows Phone 7’s dedicated Bing search application, which filters results into Web, Local and News.

Another interesting feature of the Bing search application is it’s interactivity. For instance, once you boot it up you’re presented with a picture of something (a sea horse or the universe for example) that has a few boxes scattered around it. If you click on one of these boxes it reveals a little fact about what’s going on in the picture, such as “this squirming syngnathae is a close relation to the seahorse. What do they have in common?” Click again and an answer is revealed in the search results window. Nice.

Bing Maps is also impressive. It’s accurate, easy-to-use and features one of the most impressive use of satellite imaging we’ve seen to date: when you pinch-to-zoom in you smoothly get closer to the map (like you do in Google Maps) but when you get close, you move through a white blur – like you travelling through clouds. As the white blur disintegrates it reveals a satellite image of the street, buildings and landmarks of the place you’re currently at – and all without having to switch manually to it, as you do in Google Maps.

Uniformity
When Microsoft announced that it was doing a new mobile operating system, it surprised us all by confirming that all devices rocking Windows Phone 7 will have to meet strict hardware requirements, such as a 1GHz processor.

This was a masterstroke, because not only does it ensure that all Windows Phone 7 devices are essentially running on the same hardware, but it also ensures that when Microsoft rolls out an update for Windows Phone 7 – a UI tweak, for example – it can be done without leaving certain, lower-grade, handsets out in the cold.

This is a big plus for many customers, especially those on the Android platform as anyone with a HTC Hero can tell you. Having everything equal – in terms of hardware – means the platform will be able to develop faster, more efficiently and, most importantly, users on cheaper handsets won’t be left behind like they are on Android.

Features
As well as being a massive leap in design for Microsoft, Windows Phone 7 is also jam-packed with cool features such as the Sound Enhancer, Microsoft Office, which features full support for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, a Photo Enhancer, Bing Search and Bing Maps, as well as all the other applications and Hubs that the network carriers will be bolting on, such as the HTC Sense Hub for example.

 

Plus, you don’t even have to be a Microsoft PC user to own a Windows Phone 7 device either – how times are changing – as the devices will be rolled out with Windows Phone 7 Connector – a service that allows Mac users to sync their Windows Phone 7 devices to iTunes and iPhoto.

Other notable features include the integration of SkyDrive (cloud-based storage) that allows you to store 25GB of data for free. Moving stuff from your device to your SkyDrive account is also very easy too – you simply hold down on a piece of media, some options appear, select Upload to SkyDrive and you’re done.

Overall
We aren’t afraid to say that we were pretty bowled over by Windows Phone 7. It looks amazing, is brilliant to use and has so many cool little features it’ll literally keep you entertained for hours on end when you first get it.

Also worth noting is just how little you actually have to do when you first boot up a Windows Phone 7 device – you simply enter a few details for your email and Facebook accounts and, before you know it, you’ve got a People Hub teaming with pictures, updates, notifications and contact details such as email, mobile numbers and home phone numbers. The People Hub is one of the best examples we’ve seen to date of social network and contact book integration – it truly is a sight to behold!

That said, Windows Phone 7 isn’t perfect and there’s more than a few things we think it needs but to hear about these you’ll have to wait for the next instalment, which will most likely be imaginatively titled: “Windows Phone 7: Things we don’t like.”

Nevertheless, it has to be said that Microsoft has come up with something pretty special with Windows Phone 7. We weren’t expecting to like it – put of us didn’t even want to like it! – but we genuinely did and, for this reason, we really have to hand it to Microsoft as it’s done the unthinkable and made us actually consider spending money on one of its mobile products!

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