As a gadget enthusiast, I’ve always loved having new toys in my hands. I’ve been told by a few that I change phones way too often and rarely hold on to phones to the duration that I really should be doing which is every two years (it makes sense since most US cellphone carriers have deals on cellphones if you sign up with a 2 year contract.) My ADD won’t allow that and the fact that my insatiable desire to hold something new is always there.
I’ve gone through many phones, all in different shapes, sizes and user interfaces. I’ve had phones with it’s proprietary UI, Windows Smartphone 2003, UIQ 3.0, and Android 1.5 to 2.2. From all the devices I’ve used, I know for a fact, I love phones with large screens and has physical keyboard. The latest phone I have now uses a Windows Phone 7 (WP7); a Dell Venue Pro smartphone under T-Mobile. Here are the pros and cons I am sharing after several months of ownership. I will be comparing it to my previous phone, Samsung Vibrant upgraded to Android 2.2, since I did love that phone. The reason I’ve decided to go ahead and switch to WP7 is I already use Zune pass subscription and a X-box 360 user as well.
“Courtesy of Dell Inc.”
Physically speaking, this is my favorite phone I’ve held. It’s large and smooth and has a nice hefty weight that makes you feel like you didn’t waste your hard-earned money on a plastic device that can easily be broken. It has a professional appearance with it’s monogramed like battery cover and a very polished side bars. The screen is curved and feels more natural to hold than a flat screen. I would like to also note that this screen curvature gives the phone somewhat of a privacy feature since it distorts the view at a certain angle. My favorite part is that this actually has a slide out keyboard. A very unique keyboard since the phone slides in portrait mode and not landscape, like phones such as Blackberry series and Palm Pre phones. The keyboard is very sturdy though a bit small if you got very fat fingers (not a problem for me since I do have Asian fingers.) The only issue I have with its hardware design is that the 3.5mm jack input on top is designed awkwardly that a small part of the headphone jack plugged in is visible and makes me worry if that can be affected by other metal that could touch it.
“Courtesy of Dell Inc.”
As an operating system, there are things I like about it and things I don’t. Turning this phone on is faster than the Samsung Vibrant I had. If you have ever used a Zune HD device, everything will be familiar. Basically it’s designed with tiles and has two panels as part of the Start screen. The left side is filled with Tiles that can act as a widget or just shortcuts to apps, contacts, music such as artist or a specific album, and/or web pages. The right side acts as an installed application lists unlike the Zune HD which lists functions that can be done with the device. It would be nice if it was done in grid form, like Android’s list of apps, because the user would have to scroll for a very long time if the user has a huge list of installed applications. Aesthetically I don’t know how WP7 would do this, perhaps have the letter button shortcut like they do with Zune music list. It is interesting that the Android feels more like a desktop environment compare to WP7 with the desktop like home screen. I find the Android’s notification bar more useful than WP7 version but going with WP7’s design theme called “Metro”, it makes sense for them to keep it minimal. I just wish there’s an option to keep it visible because I do like to keep an eye on the time, the battery level, and the signal strength. Few tricks I do like about the notification in WP7 is that if it happens to pop a notification while playing I can just slide it to the left or right to “push it aside”. Since I got the recent “NoDo” update, I can say that having a copy/paste function is very helpful! I’m so use to having that menu button from Android as it reminds of a right-click button in the desktop environment, I know that WP7 has buttons on the lower screen and can give you more options when you press the three dots on the lower right screen but it’s only available if the developer added that function. I also know that pressing an icon or a link for a few seconds gives you another set of submenu but that’s not something you intuitively think instantly unless it was instructed to you before operation. Only time you can customize WP7 is by changing the color of the tiles, adding preferred tiles you like, and/or selecting your own wallpaper that will be used when the screen is locked. Performance with the WP7 is pretty slick and speedy though it has fancier splash screens compared to Android’s abrupt yet instant screen changes. There is an animation option with Android but it is currently not as fancy as WP7 with the fading in and side-flipping animation.
The screen is very similar to Samsung Vibrant since they both are LED but Vibrant wins drastically when I’m using the devices outdoors. It does have a light sensor so it brightens the screen to compensate with the glare but with the screen being a finger print magnet, you would need to clean the screen a lot to remove the glare from the surrounding light and the finger marks the user would leave. The camera with flash is useful but not perfect. It works properly when it’s sunny but the flash is not strong enough at dark or indoors unlike the previews I’ve seen with the iPhone 4, and especially compared to the no-flash-equipped Vibrant which that takes photos brighter and more vivid at night. I do wish that the camera has a timer function so that my shots aren’t blurry because the camera takes a few seconds too long to process the shot so a very tiny shake ruins the shot. What I would like for them to fix is when you take a picture and want to instantly share this photo, the screen is continuously stuck in landscape mode. Pulling the keyboard out would be of no use since you’d have the screen still in the wrong orientation. Interestingly enough that the keyboard when pulled out forces the screen to stay or switch to portrait mode even if you’re lying down in bed. This works in the web browser and text messaging but not with when sharing photos from viewing camera shots. I also would to note that the battery duration is better compare to Android but I assume this because there’s not enough application I would use that I would like to go online 24/7 such as eBuddy and Google Reader.
Zune functionality is very integrated in this phone. When you play music and want to multi-task, it is easily doable can be controlled easily by pressing the volume buttons on the right side of the phone. Pressing that button while a music is playing brings a very minimized version of Zune where the notifications would be and you’d have the basic buttons of previous track, play/pause, and forward track. This even works when the screen is locked, pressing the volume buttons changes the volume without the need to unlock and turning on the screen while you press the volume allows you to change the music playing without completely unlocking the phone. The only caveat to the volume control of this phone is that it’s the master volume, there’s no separate volume settings like the Android for notifications, ring tone volume, messaging, media, and alarm volume. True that pressing the vibrate button puts the phone on vibrate except the alarm clock but sometimes you really want the ringtone off but the email or messaging to still work as loud as possible without making the alarm too loud. Another issue I do have is that though Zune is very integrated, they need to figure out how to stop the Zune music when you decide to play a Youtube video because those two will play at the same time.
Xbox gaming is wonderful on this phone. Some games are casual but the built quality on them is very nice. Achievements is plus and assuming (or hoping)that Microsoft integrates this well with the console, I’m really going to enjoy gaming more on this device. The paid games may have lots of loading screens but at least the game is well worth playing. They do have free games too but the cool thing about the paid games is that you can actually try them out first just like the Arcade games in the X-box 360.
The Marketplace can be confusing since it merges the application store, X-box games, and Zune music/video store. It is still pretty early and has very few selection so I can’t complain yet. I can’t even compare Android to WP7 since I may say I miss an app from Android then a few months or so it exists for WP7. If you have Zune Pass, it is awesome that you can download the songs instead of purchasing them and can stream the ones that requires “album only purchase”.
Unity and interaction within its services is nowhere near to what I can do with Android. I’m happy that WP7 allows me to use my Google contacts and calendar to sync to this device so I don’t have to re-enter my entire phone address book from Gmail to Live/Hotmail address book. WP7 links my Live, Google and Facebook contacts, (and per Microsoft Twitter will be soon added.) I do love that Facebook is heavily integrated with this phone. There are few things I would like them to improve though such as having being able to call the person I’m exchanging text messages (there’s no option in the submenu to call the person other than deleting, yet in my contact list from the phone function, I have a choice to text the people in that list of recent and received calls.) I also like the function in Android that I wish WP7 will add where you can type parts of the phone number or even typing parts of their name and Android instantly shows the people you might want to call. I know looking at the address book is the alternative for WP7 but those shortcuts are awesome when you are in a hurry. Though Google Voice is possible in WP7, it is a godsend combination with Android and highly recommend it. I seriously wish there is something like it for WP7 or Google can develop it without Microsoft throwing a fit like Apple did. I also wish that Bing Maps would finally do the same quality of navigation like Google does because this device has to have the best GPS reception I’ve ever had. My cousin even jokes that Bings just likes to stalk you more accurate compare to Google because his HTC Aria with AT&T has issue finding him properly with Latitude yet Bing can find him exactly where he is located. I wasn’t sure if this was device, OS, or carrier specific issue since I had the same issue with the Vibrant with T-Mobile, and so does my friend who has a Motorola Droid with Verizon that says he’s in the water/bay of SF instead of 3-4 blocks in land. My phone, while at his house, says I’m in his house exactly.
So with that shared, I have grown to love this device completely. I will keep it for a while because I do love its wonderful hardware, pretty intuitive layout and design, and it has a growing number of apps with beautiful “Metro” design. There are times I do miss having an Android OS phone but I think I’ll just wait till I see the XDA-developer community figures out how to dual boot my phone to Android and WP7 like they did with HTC HD2. This is a phone I will keep for more than 6 months!