Windows Phone 7 is the latest mobile operating system from Microsoft. You’ve probably seen the commercials by now, and they’re accurate: Windows Phone 7 is unique.
This review will explain the main features of the latest mobile phone operating system from Microsoft and, as appropriate, the similarities and differences of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android systems.
It is important to remember that this is an entirely new operating system. If you’re used to Microsoft’s previous OS, Windows Mobile, this will be a big change, but in my opinion, it is a change for the better.
When you first turn on the phone, you are prompted to go through any necessary carrier-specific setups, and then, to any of your various personal accounts — Windows Live, Google, Facebook, Microsoft Exchange accounts, and the like (Twitter is unfortunately not one of the social-networking services integrated into the OS at this time).
It will take some time for all of your information to sync to your phone, but once it does, you will see a series of live tiles on the home screen that are constantly updating each time you turn the phone on. This is a big difference from other devices, such as the iPhone and Android phones, where you might be faced with several pages of apps. You can load apps on a Windows Phone 7 device, of course, but they aren’t the center of the overall user experience.
FEATURES AND CONTROLS
The live tiles on the home screen serve as the hub for all of your activity. The top left tile is for the phone, and a single tap goes straight to your call history. Icons at the bottom of this screen show how many voicemail messages you have waiting, bring up the dial pad, or take you to the address book to look up a phone number. The three small dots to the right of those icons on the bottom of the call history screen alert you to the presence of an extended menu; in this case, the icons rise to the middle of the screen and you can see the legend for each, in case you weren’t sure what one of them was for. You’re also shown options to delete the call history or to jump to the call settings area of the device.
Back on the home screen, the next tile to the right is ‘People’, and this is where social networking fans will spend a great deal of time. The tile itself constantly updates to show photos of your friends, which is a nice touch. Tapping on that tile launches the People area of the phone, with sections entitled ‘What’s New’, ‘Recent’, and ‘All’. What’s New is updated with your Facebook happenings and Recent reminds you of who you have recently called or contacted, serving as a “people history” of sorts. Contacts is self-explanatory, with large, easy-to-read text and photos of your friends and family, with quick links to search your list or add a new contact.
The Messaging tile on the home screen is where you’ll find all of your text messages, arranged by contact into conversations. Tapping on a person’s name (or on a phone number if the sender isn’t in your contact list) will take you straight to the messaging screen; the icons at the bottom are used to send the message or attach a photo.
The Email tile is next, and the number on the tile shows how many unread messages you have in your inbox. Icons at the bottom of the email page are used to compose a new message, select multiple messages at once, view your mail folders, and sync. Tap to extend the menu and you can jump to the settings page or add a new mail account.
if you’re an AT&T user, the next home screen tile is AT&T U-verse Mobile. That particular tile is orange instead of blue like most of the others. That same theme is carried through to the application page, where all of the carrier-specific apps have orange icons, making them easier to find and more distinct from the built-in apps on Windows Phone 7.
Below that, you’ll find the tiles for Internet Explorer and Xbox Live, and then the Calendar tile, which shows the details for your next appointment. The calendar is nicely done, with automatic coding based on the source for each appointment. Windows Live events are blue, while events from my Google calendar are red — this is quite handy for keeping my corporate and personal calendars separate. At this point, the only options are the agenda and day views, with no weekly view. There is a monthly calendar view, but the details on that one are too small to read.
The Pictures tile on the home screen as well as the Pictures app itself includes the photos you’ve taken as well as photos from your Facebook feed. It randomly displays different photos and adds a more personal touch to the home screen of your device. You can choose between viewing all of your photos, your favorites, or choosing by date.
The Music and Video tile is next, with links to the music player, videos podcasts, the radio, and the Zune Marketplace. You can connect your Windows Phone 7 device to your computer in order to sync over your music.
Marketplace is where you’ll go to get more apps (games are also available on the Xbox Live tile mentioned above). Though the selection is relatively small at the moment, many familiar iOS developers are also porting their apps to the Windows Phone 7 platform. Swipe left and right to discover the top apps, new apps, free apps, and to browse by category.
Two more carrier-specific tiles are next, at least on my loaner device: AT&T Navigator and AT&T Radio.
Below that is the Daily Briefing tile, which is the gateway to a nifty service that I don’t believe should be buried so far down on the home screen. A single tap takes you to all of the info you need to know every day — the weather, the top news stories, and stock price updates. Swipe left and right to access each section of the Daily Briefing. You’ll have to enter in the necessary information about the stocks you’re following and the news categories you want to follow, but it still works well and does a good job of organizing the day’s information into a usable format.
The last two home screen tiles are for your personal profile and corporate email, assuming you have access to your company’s Exchange server. The Me tile includes all of my Messenger and Facebook posts in one place, making it easy to look back and see what was happening at a specific point in time. I hope that when Twitter integration is added in a future update to Windows Phone 7, all of those tweets will be added to the Me tile.
Many devices also have an Office tile, which lead to apps for working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.
The final piece of the puzzle is the Settings area, which is accessed by tapping the small right arrow at the top right corner of the screen and then scrolling down. There are two sections, one for system settings and one for application settings; switch between the two by swiping your finger left or right. The system settings are rather obvious: ringtones & sounds, theme, airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, email & accounts, lock & wallpaper, location, cellular, date & time, brightness, keyboard, region & language, ease of access, speech, find my phone, phone update, and about.
A small arrow to the right of all these tiles takes you to an alphabetic list of all the software installed on the Windows Phone. You can make any of these apps into a tile to be displayed on the home screen if it’s one of your favorites, but this second screen is where you find apps you don’t use every day.