Windows Phone 7 – Super smooth, slick, different, but too limited for my mobile needs – goodbye Windows Mobile, I will miss you.

Last Update – February 1, 2012

I did purchase a HD7, and won a LG Quantum so I can comment based on extensive use not conjecture based on what I read, or 15 minutes use in a store. WP7 is definitely super smooth, and slick. Microsoft did an excellent job ensuring WP7 is as smooth / slick as any of its competition. It is definitely as slick, and smooth as iOS. Unfortunately, WP7 shares other traits with iOS – too restricted to allow me to accomplish what I need. I need access to the file system, mature Bluetooth stack, external SD support, ability to play & download most video files, and no desktop computer required (the desktop requirement somewhat corrected in iOS 5) for initiation / updates. Windows Phone 7, and iOS both fail to deliver those essential requirements for my needs. Android, and Classic Windows Mobile both deliver the abilities / features that are essential for me. Ironically, Classic Windows Mobile does more of the tasks I require out of the box than other mobile OS’s including Android.

A critical app for me is the HanDBase database application. I use a half dozen databases daily with frequent updates throughout the day. I chose Handbase many years ago for my main mobile database because it was cross platform, Palm OS and Windows Mobile at that time. Android, and iOS apps have been released, but no client for Windows Phone 7. Based on the vendor website, no plans yet for a WP7 client because none of their Windows Mobile code can be used for WP7. Ironic that the WM app was a big seller for them, and no WP7 app because it would have to be developed from scratch with too large a cost.

Related to my daily database use is uploading files to Dropbox, a great service you should investigate if not already using it. Immediately after updating a database, I upload the updated file to Dropbox for sharing with my plethora of other mobile devices. Windows Phone 7 / iOS do not allow access to the file system so file uploads other than photos, or videos are not possible. If a HanDBase app existed for WP7, I could not upload updated files to Dropbox at least in WP7’s existing state. Microsoft has promised more features will be added to WP7, hopefully file access is one of those features (update, doesn’t look like that will happen). I was a huge fan of Windows Mobile, and wanted to continue that fan status with WP7. Unfortunately since Microsoft threw out the baby with the bath water, the fan status has vanished.

Although not as often‚ I do edit spreadsheets while out, and save the changed spreadsheets. to Dropbox. Again, no problem with Android, or Classic Windows Mobile. Not possible with iOS, or Windows Phone 7 at least the Dropbox part.

Due to the plethora of devices, I am constantly exchanging files via Bluetooth. A full featured Bluetooth stack along with a file explorer are essential for this task. Classic Windows Mobile, and Android meet these requirements, iOS, and Windows Phone 7 do not.

I did reserve final judgement on Windows Phone 7 until the specs were finalized, Mango was released, and I had a chance to play extensively with the new OS. I respect other opinions, but for me, Windows Phone 7’s UI is bland, boring, requires too much scrolling, and some live tiles remind me of an annoying Vegas billboard along with the platform missing too many vital features / 3rd party apps. I really wanted to love Windows Phone 7, but it just doesn’t meet my mobile needs. Goodbye Microsoft’s mobile offering, it was a great run for me with Classic Windows Mobile, but your change of mobile direction / philosophy resulted in me switching to Android. I do wish you luck, and, hopefully for many other users, Windows Phone 7 is a great match for their mobile needs.

Original Post – February 16, 2010 – kept for historical reasons, and more detailed info
I am, or was until today, a big fan of Windows Mobile based on the following features which are important for my mobile needs:

  • easy UI customization
  • multi-tasking
  • plethora of business class 3rd party apps
  • available alternate browsers which did both the full / mobile web well
  • the ability to purchase apps from multiple places
  • open file system with included file explorer
  • a wide variety of screen sizes / physical keyboards
  • Copy / Paste

I will reserve final judgement on Windows Phone 7 until the specs are finalized, and I have a chance to play with the new OS. I like the current 6.x and earlier WM interface customized with utilities such as Pocket Plus, and I multi-task applications daily. I have tried the slicker UI shells for WM, but usually return to the standard UI utilizing Pocket Plus enhancements. Since I prefer the larger screen devices (Toshiba e830, Dell X51v, HP210, Samsung Mondi), I rarely use a stylus. Even the standard Windows Today screen is finger friendly on a large screen.  With Pocket Plus, I can customize the Today screen to allow easy access to frequent tasks with a minimum of steps.  Both Resco Keyboard Pro, and SPB Keyboard are easy to use, and finger friendly particularly on the larger screen devices. Although both are finger friendly, and easy to use, SPB Keyboard is now my preferred input method because it is more customizable.

From my perspective, the pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of how pretty, animated, and slick the UI’s are vs. does the device do what you want easily, quickly, reliably, and with the minimum number of inputs. It seems that no matter how feature deficient a device may be, how “locked down” the device is, or how many more steps it takes to perform a task, it is ok with the tech press as long as there are multiple animated transitions, and it looks “cool”. Whenever the iPhone is mentioned in the mainstream, and tech press, the comments range in tone from salivating to orgasmic with barely a mention of the features missing that other smartphones have included for years.  Safari is regularly praised as the panacea of mobile browsers without any mention of Safari’s difficulty displaying some single column webpages.  With some single column pages, your choice is to read the page with too small a font, or use pinch zoom  which requires horizontal scrolling to read each line.  Bookmarklets help but can be time consuming to use.

The iPhone is definitely a slick / nice device, but like all platforms, it is not perfect, and has limitations which the tech press rarely mention.  I do care about aesthetics, but it is more important for me that the device can do the tasks I need quickly, and easily.  Unfortunately, this media  infatuation over all things Apple is partly responsible for the current emphasis on over-controlled, feature deficient, “locked down”, overly intuitive (at the cost of the ability to do things), limited form factor devices with mandatory capacitive screens.  Yes, I know the iPhone sells well;  however, it is also the most advertised phone in the mainstream media.  I must see a dozen iPhone commercials a week on network TV, and numerous kiosk advertisements vs.  let’s see – zero for Windows Mobile.  Add in all the positive free press Apple receives from the mainstream press whenever a new product / version is announced, and you have a marketing juggernaut.

I realize MS had to make a major change to keep pace with the more modern, finger friendly, eye candy centric phone OS’s, and I do not have a problem with that per se. Non-tech consumers today expect eye candy, finger friendly UI’s, and Microsoft desires to focus on consumers with Windows Phone 7 rather than their traditional business / enterprise focus with older WM versions. Unfortunately, IMO, they went too far, and threw the baby out with the bath water, Based on the limited info available, the things I liked about WM such as multi-tasking, and customizable UI’s have been discarded for extensive social network integration, and slickness.

The Metro UI is certainly different, and less flashy than some other UI’s. Although not a huge fan of eye candy interfaces, Metro almost looks a little too bland aesthetically. With prior WM UI’s, if I wanted a different look, I could change the interface easily with numerous 3rd party options which will no longer be allowed with Windows Phone 7. Maybe Metro will look better when I see it on a device vs. the video demonstration. The Hub concept is also interesting, but I reserve judgement until I use it. Not sure whether the hub concept is the next step forward in UI design, or the next Edsel (for younger, and international readers, the Edsel was a late 50’s car that did not sell well, and was cancelled quickly).   I know I am probably in the minority, but I am disappointed with Windows Phone 7.

I will reserve final judgement until the Windows Phone 7 specs are finalized; however, based on the initial info available, this long time WM fan (over a dozen WM PDAs / Smartphones) may switch to another platform, probably Android since the iPhone is too limited for my needs. I hope MS announces that many of the features power users like with WM are still there, and they only showcased the new features in their Barcelona presentation.

Last Update – March 15, 2010
The news posted on the gadget sites from the MIX10 Conference are not encouraging (from my perspective). Yes, the interface is cool, and the hub concept is certainly unique, but (and these are just the big negatives):

  • no / limited multitasking
  • no UI customization
  • no external storage cards
  • all apps must be purchased from the Microsoft Marketplace
  • no user accessible file system (apps can only see their directory) – this is the killer for me

A further expansion of that last bullet point is needed. I use multiple HanDBase databases daily, and several spreadsheets. Due to the plethora of mobile devices I have, I always keep the latest version of data files on my home NAS, and on my website. With files in both locations, I always have access to the latest versions of all files no matter where I may be located,  no matter which device was used to perform the latest update, and regardless of which device I am using at the time. With the iPhone, and now with Windows Phone 7, I may be able to download the latest version to the device using a third party app, but the app on the phone may not be able to access the file due to the restricted file access.  I know HanDBase on the iPhone can not see / use HanDBase files that are loaded via a 3rd party FTP application from a NAS, and initial info indicates Windows Phone 7 may not be able to either.   I need the ability to upload / download files directly to a mobile device without being tethered to a computer, and all apps on the mobile device need the ability to see / use associated data files no matter which directory they are located in, or how they were loaded.   In addition to using a NAS and my website as repositories for the latest versions of data files, I frequently exchange files / CAB’s  between mobile devices, or between a PC and a mobile device using Bluetooth.  It is essential that my mobile devices offer a robust, non-restricted Bluetooth stack.

Goodbye WM, it was nice while it lasted. I may purchase a HTC HD2 with WM 6.5.3 while they are available, and (if I purchase), the HD2 will be my last WM device unless I purchase a used Classic WM device from eBay. Another option is to skip the HD2, and go directly to Android when my current contract is finished since the iPhone is way too feature deficient for my needs. If I wanted  an iPhone like “smartphone”, I would have already purchased the iPhone.

Update March 17, 2010
The final straw was announced today by Microsoft at MIX10, no copy / paste. Unless Microsoft comes to their senses before I need another smartphone, definitely hello Android, goodbye Windows Mobile. In fact, their stripping of all the features I liked about WM from Phone 7 has disappointed / annoyed me so much, I am not sure they could win me back even if they returned all my favorite features.

Last Update – March 26, 2010
Still have not changed my mind about how disappointing the new Windows Phone 7 is for me. MS basically threw out, or severely restricted the features I like while adding in the features that are of little interest to me. My current Sprint contract is up the end of October, and my Touch Pro is still running fine. I have not decided whether to purchase the HTC HD2 (probably the best WM Classic phone every made), or go directly to Android possibly the new Sprint HTC Android EVO 4G that should be available this summer. Fortunately, I have 7 months to make up my mind, and maybe Microsoft will have come to its senses by then, and restored the features us power users cherish. Since I am already a Sprint customer, I could probably upgrade to the EVO when it is released in the summer rather than waiting until the end of October.

Last Update – April 5, 2010
I have decided not to purchase the HD2, at least in the immediate future for the following reasons:

  • I already have the Samsung Mondi which has a resistive 4.3 inch screen, and a physical keyboard. Capacitive screen is nice, but a quality resistive screen with a physical keyboard is better.
  • As nice as the HD2 is, I definitely want a physical keyboard for any data input over one sentence.
  • Still like the Toshiba e830’s 4 inch VGA PDA’s, and use them daily.
  • Still have about 7 months on my phone contract, and would pay full price for the HD2 which I know would not see much use after the “newness” wore off. If I did purchase the HD2, I would not be cancelling my current Sprint contract.
  • Since Microsoft abandoned my needs in the mobile space, it is time to abandon them for a platform that still has the features power users require, welcome Android. I am still a fan of Microsoft Windows desktop, and will continue to be unless Microsoft does the same thing to their desktop platform that they did to their mobile platform.
  • The HTC EVO 4G looks fantastic, has Android, will be released close to my current phone contract expiration, and will be exclusive to Sprint, my current carrier which I like. The only drawback to the EVO is no physical keyboard. Hopefully, a phone with similar specs, and a physical keyboard will be released as well.

Last Update – May 22, 2010
Just finished watching a video podcast on Windows Phone 7 Backstage hosted by one of the Windows Phone 7 team. My worst fears have been confirmed – the poweruser items I need in a mobile OS have been removed, or restricted, and the new items are not important for me. There is absolutely no way I will be purchasing a Windows Phone 7, at least version 1. It was hinted, but not promised, that some restrictions may be loosened a bit after the phone is released, but again, nothing specific promised. Well Microsoft, it has been nice, but Windows Phone 7 is not in my future. Hello Android.

Although I probably will not buy another Windows Mobile device after Windows Phone 7 is released, I will still use Windows Mobile devices. Since the “Classic” Windows Mobile meets my needs better than any other platform, I will continue to use my current devices until the hardware fails, or a killer app I can’t resist is released on Android. Although I have newer devices, I still use two 2004 era Toshiba e830 WM based PDA’s daily for browsing, database entry, calendar, contacts, spreadsheets, and exchange sync.

Pocket IE is constantly maligned in the tech press because it does not display full pages well. My personal preference is to view mobile sites on screens < 7 inches. The older versions of Pocket IE are excellent for mobile sites, forums, and popular single column pages like Craigslist that I prefer to view when using a small screen device. Pocket IE allows you to increase the text size to a comfortable reading size, and flows the text properly to eliminate the need for the dreaded horizontal scrolling. This ability to increase text size with proper text flow is essential as you get older. Fortunately, the new Opera Mini 5 (which runs fine on the PPC2003SE e830’s) properly reflows text with a comfortable text size on most single column pages. Unfortunately, Mobile Safari, although excellent for most full webpages, still displays some single column pages with too small a font size to read comfortably even after using double tap zoom. If you pinch zoom, the text does not reflow, and you are forced to horizontally scroll to read every line which gets very old very quickly.

I use my Archos device daily for watching video while away from home so media playback on a phone is a low priority for me.  I have used Coreplayer on Windows Mobile, and it is an excellent media player which plays most codecs without conversion.  There are a plethora of setting available, yet it plays fine without changing any settings.  I do sometimes use Coreplayer to stream videos from a NAS to a WM device, but since I can stream the same videos to the Archos device, I usually use the Archos since it has a larger screen.   I do highly recommend CorePlayer on Windows Mobile for its codec support, and overall quality.

Since my latest Archos device has Android, I am able to experience Android before I purchase an Android based phone. Overall, I like Android, and it seems to be the closest platform to WM in terms of features power users require. I purchased the Archos device because IMO Archos makes the best portable playback devices, and I usually have their latest model since I use a portable video device daily. The inclusion of Android in the latest model is a nice bonus for me since I will probably be abandoning WM for Android after Microsoft abandoned me to focus on the non-tech consumer. The Archos 5 Android allows me to experience Android before committing to a two year contract Android based phone. Before I commit to a 2 year monogamous smartphone / gadget relationship with an Android phone, I want to be sure Android is the best replacement platform for power users.  By the time I am ready to make the switch, Windows Phone 7 specs should be finalized, and maybe already released.  It would be difficult to leave Windows Mobile, and I hope Microsoft loosens some of their restrictions.  If they don’t, it will be a difficult goodbye, but it will be goodbye, it was fun, and nice knowing you.

Update – July 1, 2010
Although I resisted for close to two months, I took the plunge, and purchased the HTC HD2 since it is the last great “Classic” WM device. I did purchase the T-Mobile version via eBay. The last thing I need is another 2 year contract, so I purchased a contract free phone, and got a better price on eBay. I just received the device today, and did not unpack it until I got home from the movies. My first impression is very positive – the 4.3″ screen is great, the Sense UI is smooth, video looks fantastic, and the browser(s) both do a fine job. As I use the HD2 more, I will post updates, but I am very impressed with the device based on my first few hours with it.

Update – August 1, 2010
In the month I have been using the HD2, I am impressed.  The 4.3″ screen, and the overall device have been very pleasant to use as my daily driver.  Although my initial intention was to use the HD2 via WiFi only, I have purchased a month to month package from T-Mobile which I was able to do since they did not subsidize my purchase.  A review by a leading tech blog dissed the HD2. The reviewer indicated that the Sense UI was nice, and the screen exceptional; however, you were required to leave Sense, and see the clunky WM interface too often. Well, in a month of using it, I have not encountered any OS or PIM screen that was not finger friendly, and enhanced by HTC. Some of my older, but still solid 3rd party apps have not been finger friendly updated, but with a 4.3″ screen, they are defacto finger friendly. Most of my important 3rd party apps were finger friendly updated long before the HD2, and are a pleasure to use as well.  I suspect the reviewer has an ulterior motive for dissing WM since I do not recall any of his posts including anything positive about WM.  For some reason he does not like WM, and all his reviews reflect his very negative bias toward Windows Mobile.

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