Windows Phone 8 is due to be officially unveiled today at a Microsoft Press Event showcasing the OS and most of its features. Sure, we’ve been teased and spoiled by people who have got their hands on a Nokia Lumia, HTC 8X or Samsung ATIV, but this is the official launch. This is where Microsoft will stand on stage and give the corporate spin on everything and hype the OS and the hardware up, with some/most/all of the people in attendance whooping, cheering and clapping certain functionality, depending on how impressed they are.
So with that in mind, I want to do something really different. I want to revisit my HTC HD7, giving a retrospective view on the device and the OS nearly two year after purchase. So without further ado, let’s get going!
Windows Phone at CES 2011
Why Windows Phone and the HTC HD7
I want to set the scene for everyone. I was in the market for a new phone. I was never a ‘phone person’ as I simply made calls and sent texts. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a contract, relying on Pay As You Go (PAYG) and only needing to top up £15 a month. So when I threw the head up and decided I wanted a new phone I made the difficult choice in going for a premium device.
At the time, the contenders were the iPhone 4, HTC Desire and the just released Windows Phone 7 hardware. I decided to go with a contract, after about two weeks of “hmmmm” and “emmmm” and found a plan that suited me and my wallet. But as I’ve already said, I’m still on PAYG, so it’s clear I didn’t go down this road. I chose a £30 contract with the HD7, but cancelled it after a day as I wasn’t happy with a guaranteed bill of £30 per month. I’m such an old man!
So, I chose the HD7, but why? Well I looked at the iPhone, but at £499 it was just too expensive for me. I’m neither for, nor against Apple, I just feel their products are just too damn expensive. So that left me with an Android handset and the Windows Phone handsets. After a lot of debating, I chose the Windows Phone handset. The fragmented nature of Android at the time put me off their hardware.
So Windows Phone 7 had my vote, partly due to the reviews it was getting and that it was new, different, something that none of my friends or family would have. I could have gone with the Omnia 7 from Samsung, but couldn’t get the device at the O2 store I was making my purchase. When it came down to it, the HD7 was the only device that was available, but I had not heard great things about the build quality of the HTC Trophy and the HTC Mozart was on Orange only at the time. And again, device availability was limited. I was in the fortunate situation that my wife grew up with the sales person in the store, so I got discount on the handset, paying £340 instead of the £400 that I was going to have to pay. Bonus!
Well, it’s been nearly two years, one half major update (NoDo) and one major update (Mango) later and I’m getting ready to see what Windows Phone 7.8 will do for me until I replace my HD7 early in the new year with the Nokia Lumia 920 (I hope anyway). So, what have my experiences been like?
Hardware; the phone itself
I don’t want to go into detail about the spec of the device and Microsoft’s strict rules on what’s been allowed under the hood, I just want to talk about the device and how it’s suited me.
My trusty HD7
I can remember unboxing the phone and thinking, compared to my HTC Smart, it was massive. I was able to set the Smart on top of the HD7 and still be able to see some of what was displayed on the HD7’s screen!
The HD7 was nice to hold, and still is. Although I was disappointed with the physical buttons on the device; and I still am. They seem almost loose, just not completely held in place. I can give my phone a wee shake and I can hear the volume and camera buttons rattle in the holes in the case. It would have been nice for HTC to spend a couple of extra quid on making the buttons more solid.
But other than that, I can have no complaints on the build quality. The device has received a bit of abuse in the past two years, part in thanks to my clumsiness and the rest because I have two, sticky handed toddlers who like to play Angry Birds. The device is solid, doesn’t feel plasticky and only the sides, top and bottom of the handset have wear and tear marking. I keep the phone in a mesh case I got off Amazon and it keeps the back and side well protected.
My mesh case doing it's job!
The screen has been lovely. I’m not talking about its performance though, just the look and performance of the case itself. I’ve been very fortunate not to scratch the screen at all, and other than greasy finger prints, there’s seldom a mark on it. Very impressive. But there is a downside, and the screen performance in sunlight is awful. I am one of those people you see covering their phones, twisting and contorting their body to get as much shade as possible to be able to see the screen. Indoors though, it’s grand, I can make everything out, scrolling is smooth, images and movies are clear and there is no obvious ghosting when playing anything fast moving, like games or videos. The screen’s touch capabilities are grand; sometimes being able to detect a touch without me actually touching the screen (my finger or thumb is maybe 1-2mm away from making contact). Responsiveness is perfect and hasn’t let me down in a text or phone based emergency once.
Might be hard to tell, but that screen is perfect!
I was seriously concerned that the kick stand would be problematic after a while. I got into a terrible habit which I would constantly click the stand into position and flick it back to closed each time I held the phone. But I stopped as I was worried I would loosen the mechanism and make it more free floating. But I’ve been more than surprised as it is still as solid as the day it was unboxed and still snaps back into place with quite a bit of delicious viciousness!
The snappy kickstand
The camera is fine too. The 5MP shooter is never going to replace my Nikon D3000 or even my wife’s point and shoot Kodak M530, but for capturing that spur of the moment on a night out and posting the embarrassing result(s) to Facebook or Twitter, it’s perfect. There’s a pinkish, purple hue in the images, but a wee bit of post processing clears that up if you could be bothered. Playing with the settings a little helped improve the picture quality a bit. I’ve posted loads of pictures to Facebook and a few to Twitter and the results have been fine. Thanks to Facebook’s compression and resizing functionality, most of the pictures I’ve taken look spot on, if not slightly better than their full blown, straight from the camera counterparts.
Example image taken with my HD7 (my daughter)
Finally, I’ll mention the audio quality from the speaker. It’s okay; nothing spectacular. It is loud though, and has bailed me and my wife out of a hole when in a noisy restaurant and my kids want to watch Peppa Pig or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
I can’t complain with any of the other features either, as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi just work as they should. The hardware hasn’t let me down; applications load quickly and the graphics in some games are lovely for a device of this age and size.
Software; Windows Phone 7 and the apps
Much like the hardware, I don’t want to get into the features and the ins/outs of the OS and what it can offer. I just want to focus on what benefits I gained from it.
Powering on the device for the first time was a nice experience, and it was a simple exercise to enter my Windows Live ID, linked to my Xbox 360 Live ID, and begin using the phone for the first time. By default, O2 have what’s known as the O2 Theme for the UI, which is a white background with an almost baby blue colour for the live tiles and icons. I’m a man though and I change the background to a manly black and the tile colour to a rich red :)
I went about changing the live tiles positions and what was available on the Start Screen. I loved the interface. Back in 2010, this was Metro, none of this Modern UI nonsense. To me, I will always know the UI as Metro, but I understand and accept why Microsoft has moved away from it. So let this be the one time I will talk about the UI. Smooth, quick, responsive; I’ve never seen or used a better UI. I know the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but Microsoft needed to change the UI from Windows Mobile and CE and the results were amazing. With all the Microsoft products and services adopting the Modern UI look and feel, it’s a level of consistency I’ve never seen in a vendors ecosystem and one that might have prompted Apple to introduce the Launchpad into OS X to try and give Mac and iPhone users the same experience. I still love the UI and the fact that Windows Phone 7.8 will give me the Start Screen functionality of Windows Phone 8’s Start Screen is an exciting prospect and I can’t wait to get the update rolled out to my phone. I haven’t changed many of my live tiles over the two years and have only changed the tiles on the Start Screen three times in the two years. I’m a sucker for consistency. Although from the release of Mango I have been using the Mango tile colour!
Currently, the top of my Start Screen
I was able to add my email address to the phone and start to sync my contacts. I was also able to add my work email, utilising Outlook. I’ve added Facebook, Windows Live, Twitter, Linkedin accounts to the phone, with the latter two being available from updating to Mango a year ago. I’ve posted number updates to Twitter and Facebook using the integrated features of the OS, rather than a native or third party app, and it’s been an amazingly speedy task to complete. The apps work well, adding the functionality that the phone hasn’t got baked in, but for simple updates, likes and retweets, it’s been great.
Playing with the OS itself and changing some of the settings has been a doddle. It’s nice that there isn’t too much to configure outside of adding additional email accounts or changing the social networking accounts. Most of the settings that are accessible from the Settings applet are available from the applications they are configurable from too, although there may be information screens that you can’t see through an application, such as background tasks or Internet Sharing (hotspot) options. I haven’t changed too much with any of the settings as I’ve never had the need. I’ve never been too worried about battery life, so allow apps to keep default settings when running and have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on almost exclusively.
Just touching on the battery, I didn’t mention it when going over the hardware as it’s the OS that will decide how long the battery can last. Overall, I’ve been happy. A phone of this size, power and screen offered will be a power hog if used consistently through the day. I usually charge every night, but there have been occasions when I’ve managed to get nearly 60 hours from the battery. But I stress I wasn’t doing much over that period and I had my data and Wi-Fi connections turned off. But as I have a USB cable with me, I charge the phone if/when needed outside of my daily charge. Daily, I generally see myself making/receiving a couple of calls at a few minutes each, sending maybe 10-20 texts, updating Facebook or Twitter once or twice, playing Wordament, Bejeweled or Angry Birds at lunch for 30 minutes or quickly checking the football gossip in IE. I still get the same life out of a full charge as when I first bought the phone. My daily usage start from when I unplug the phone in the morning at 6:30am to when I plug it in before going to bed at 11pm (or later depending on what I’m doing for work).
My Xbox Live Avatar
Xbox Live was always going to be a draw for the OS. I know a couple of people that chose a Windows Phone purely for the Xbox Live integration. I’m not a big phone gamer though. I still find it hard to play Sonic 4 or vNESLight without the physical buttons to indicate where my thumbs are drifting to across the screen. But for games such as Wordament, Bejeweled and Angry Birds, I’m hooked. I play them regularly as they offer me the playability and enjoyment I want from a mobile device like a phone or tablet. Sure, I like to give Megaman 2 a blast on the emulator once in a while, but I would rather go home, slot the cartridge into my NES and kick it old skool with the classic NES controller (yes, I still play my NES and I do own Megaman 2). What has been nice though, I am able to keep track of any achievements from my PES and Fifa games that I play on the Xbox 360. And I loved being able to configure my Avatar from my phone and the changes show on the console. Very cool. But the one thing that I was delighted with was the Xbox Companion (I updated the app last night, now called Xbox Smart Glass). I had lost the cable for charging my controller and it died on me and my wife during an episode of CSI in Windows Media Center. So I used my phone to control the Xbox 360 and do what I needed over the air to the console. Amazing!
The Zune music and video app offered has served me well. I listen to the odd bit of music if I’m out on the bike for a wee cycle and I have loaded a few WMV training videos up to the device and watched them when I’ve been commuting to or from work. I have two issues, and the first is not so much with the functionality when playing back music or videos, but with the volume control. Why Microsoft, did you have to have one volume control for everything?! It’s frustrating. Also, 30 is a really random number, what happened to one to ten? The granularity is nice, but seriously, 30? The other issue I have is the lack of support for the most standard of video formats, AVI. We get it, WMV is your standard, but every other video online is either AVI or MKV, if it’s not a Flash video. Oh that’s right, you don’t support those either. Yes, I can sync my video via the Zune application, but I don’t want to wait hours while it re-encodes them to WMV. It’s not a major issue as it’s my phone, not a PMP or a device I want to regularly view videos on, but having the option would have been nice.
A quick example of my song list
As far as apps and the Windows Marketplace are concerned, I can have no complaints. I’m a bit of a frustrating user, as I don’t often purchase (actually only twice) games or apps, surviving off free apps and demos. I have over 500 apps and games installed and to be honest, I wouldn’t even use 20% of them. But I’m a hoarder at times and the thought of removing any app scares me as there is a fear that I might need it for something, even though I probably won’t!
A quick look at some apps I have installed
Office has been a lifesaver for me on many occasions. I’ve been able to use it to upload/download Word documents and Excel spread sheets from SkyDrive and edit them and save them back, collecting the changes on my desktop either at home or in work. With Outlook being available I can send and receive my work email on the go, especially handy as my Blackberry and Vodafone both seem to have it in for me when it comes to getting signal or reconciling my mailbox! I’ve not had the pleasure of using the SharePoint functionality, but it’s something I’m looking forward to trying either with this phone or my next Windows Phone handset. The same situation applies for OneNote. I’ll eventually get using the application, I just don’t know when.
The only other thing I can touch upon is storage. Again I didn’t cover this in hardware as it’s the OS and the user that will dictate the amount of storage used. I’ve ran out of my 16GB once, but that was my own fault. I installed apps and games I didn’t use or need, so removed a lot of them after quite a bit of decision making. I reclaimed 2GB back and everything was grand. I don’t even think I have that many Mp3’s stored on the device; with only a couple of hundred songs, it’s all I need to keep me happy. I only have a few training videos on there at the moment, totalling 200MB.
My handset info
I know this wasn’t a review in the conventional sense. Without wanting to sound egotistical, I just wanted to be able to paint a picture of my experiences with both handset and OS. What I do know is, I’m glad I chose the phone and I’m more than glad I chose the OS. Sure, I could have got another HTC handset, nearly identical to the HD7, running Android, but it wasn’t the handset that really sold me, it was the Windows Phone platform.
I’ve found myself recommending Windows Phone to people when they’ve been looking at either the Apple iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy SIII, more so recently with the imminent introduction of Windows Phone 8. I got the fright of my life when my technophobic dad turned round and said "I bought a new phone at the weekend. I got that Lumia thing from Nokia, the 610 or something." Seriously?!
I am just frustrated that I’m not in a position to upgrade now, again needing to wait until the New Year before making the change to a new handset and newer OS. As I’ve already said, I’ve earmarked the Nokia Lumia 920 as the wanted device, but at the moment the cost of it is putting me off. However, my backup is another HTC in the form of the 8X as its much more wallet friendly, at least according to reports. So now all I can do is wait.
So, if can leave a comment, I’d love to hear from anyone that has been won over by Microsoft and Windows Phone, especially people coming from the iOS or Android, and have your experiences been as pleasant as mine this past two years.