I’ve been clamoring for a chance to test drive a Windows mobile 7 phone for several months now. Much of this interest comes on the heels of reasonably good reviews of the product even from those I feel are traditionally Microsoft Windows haters.
So it was with gusto that I accepted the offer by HTC’s PR agency in Hong Kong to review the recently released HTC HD7 mobile phone. The review units tend to arrive on my desk with very little ceremony and packaging. The HD7 came cocooned in bubblewrap and nothing else. No manual, no cable, no nothing. So I pulled out the micro-USB charger of my BlackBerry 9800 and started to charge the HD7. I left it charging for overnight just to be safe. I also discovered that the last reviewer didn’t bother to erase his data so I proceeded to look for the RESET option with the full intention of wiping out the phone’s data before I proceed with the review. Needless to say, this is where the trouble started.
This is NOT an iPhone. One of the qualities that make for an excellent beginner’s experience on the iPhone is that you don’t need a manual to get started. This, alas, is lost with most other smart phone manufacturers. In most cases, whether its a Sony Ericsson Xperia or an HTC or a Samsung Galaxy, you need to read the manual to use the phone for purposes other than making phone calls. What’s worst, its becoming a fad now not to print the manual to appear to be “green”. Most users will not quibble about this when buying the phone at the local retail store but soon after they switch on the device, owners will start to wonder how to (1) set up the phone; and (2) move data from the previous phone to the current phone. OOPS! No manual. What do I do now?
In my case I had to Google it to find the user manual. The manual says out of the box, you get a phone, battery, USB cable, 3.5mm stereo headset, power adapter, start here guide, quick guide, and safety and regulations guide.
OBSERVATIONS
The HTC HD7 phone follows the current cream of smartphones in terms of physical attributes: large, reflective screen; minimalist physical buttons (in this case, one for power, a rocker for volume and a camera shutter); three soft buttons near the button front of the panel; a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm stereo headset port. The back of the phone hides the battery and SIM slot. A 5 megapixel camera is flanked by two LED flash and a tiny speaker. There is also a kickstand that props the phone in landscape mode when all you want to do is watch a video.
A year ago, I’d argue that setting up accounts on a mobile phone was a pain. My view of this changed with the Android phones and now with the Windows 7 mobile phone. I set up my gmail, hotmail, yahoo and Facebook accounts with ease.
WHAT I LIKE
I’ve never been fond of the voice command function of phones because most require that you train the phone and half the time the software isn’t accurate. The HD7 changed my view of this. To use the voice command to make a call, you press and hold the START button and then say “Call” name. In the five times I tried it, it was flawless.
The primary purpose of a phone is to make calls. My earlier experience with NOKIA and Motorola is that finding names can be troublesome if you have more than a few hundred contacts in your database. In my case, its closer to 3,000. On the HD7, this can get complicated once you’ve created your multiple contact accounts as the software will automatically pull the contacts from your different accounts. Imagine if you have a name listed in five accounts. That person can appear five times in your People list. The good news is that on the HD7, you can link multiple contacts together.
I like the use of Tiles on the home page to make navigation to different applications very easy. Some of the best apps I’ve taken to really like, and wish other vendors would shameless copy, is the People hub. People was built to make social networking and micro-blogging a seamless and enjoyable experience.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The first time I was handed the phone, I immediately didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t get it to work. My years of intuition wasn’t sufficient (I wasn’t intelligent enough) to get the phone to work. I was puzzled why the phone didn’t have a micro SD card slot (It turns out the phone came with 16GB of built-in storage). So after a few days of playing around with the phone, I’ve finally nailed down what it was I didn’t like most about the HD7 – the battery life.
The other less annoying is the power button. HTC has this button flushed so close to the chassis I often find it hard to press when I need to.
It can be argued that part of the iPhone’s apple is the 300,000+ apps designed to specifically for the phone. This is what every major phone manufacturer from Sony Ericsson, to RIM, to NOKIA, to Samsung, to Google, and now Microsoft is trying to emulate. As of writing, the Windows Marketplace for Mobile has about 5,100 apps on it although most have a price tags ranging from US$8 and up. The most expensive one I’ve seen so far is from MerchantPlus costing US$120.
By far, proponents of the iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPad will say that Microsoft is still ways behind in creating a more acceptable user interface when browsing the Internet. Yes, on the HD7 Web browsing is a bit slower. Not sure if this is a caching or rendering issue. But at the same time, this is far more pleasurable than surfing even on the BlackBerry Torch (hands down).
ONE MORE THING
Windows Mobile 7 clearly shows that Microsoft has been studying the Apple iPhone strategy. I understand that Microsoft is forcing phone manufacturers to customize as little of the operating system’s user interface – a strategy that mimics Apple’s approach of closely integrating the hardware with the operating system (OS). Earlier versions of the Microsoft Windows mobile approach was to let mobile phone makers freely customize the user experience, making base OS upgrades difficult.
One of the things I like about my BlackBerry is that I can copy over photos, videos, music and files to the device simply by dragging the dropping the aforementioned files using Windows Explorer. With the HD7, and I was told all Windows Mobile 7 phones, the only option is via Zune, Microsoft’s implementation of iTunes. While it is annoying that you need Zune to move files in and out of the phone, the one thing Microsoft has done well was make the Zune experience more intuitive and enjoyable – try it. This is a big improvement over iTunes’ very staid and uninviting user experience. I’m guessing you will like it… eventually.
I will regret returning this phone to the PR agency but as with all good things, everything has an end. I am sure the next iteration of Windows Mobile 7 will be even better. And you can ‘almost’ safely say that with WM7, Microsoft has ‘almost’ finally come to understand what mobility is all about. Watch our Apple and Google, Microsoft is back in the game.
As for the HTC HD7 phone itself, there is nothing not to like with this phone except maybe the lack of a case to house the unit and protect it from accidentally pressing the sensitive capacitative screen. Otherwise I’d be happy to consider it a replacement for my current phone – BlackBerry Torch 8900… IF…
OTHER REVIEWS
Windows 7 mobile
USA Today
HTD HD7
Gizmodo
Stuff UK.TV
PHOTOS
Homepage of the HTC HD7

Homepage of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

A common problem with product reviews is that the reviewer will often use a few days to evaluate the performance or usability of a device and give judgment based on that. While it is possible to write a reasonably accurate review of a product after a few days’ use, in reality some of the kinks of a device appear after a bit more time of using it.
I was handed the BlackBerry Torch 9800 over a month ago and since then I’ve learned to appreciate the capability of the device as well as its limitations, particularly when pitted against the Apple iPhone.
OBSERVATIONS
On the point of size (111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm) it is not a small phone but then again it’s not exceptionally large either. It’s actually a comfortable form factor if you compare this to the news HTC HD7 (122mm x 68mm x 11.2mm) with a monstrous size frame. Indeed I often keep it inside my pant pocket, and while you can notice the bulge, it doesn’t look outwardly bulky. It’s not lightweight either at 161.9 grams but it’s just heavy enough for me to remember it’s there when I leave it for long periods of disuse.
I noticed reviewers of the 9800 call the phone’s screen resolution a deplorable 3.2″ 480×360 pixel when compared to the iPhone 4’s 3.5″ 960×640 pixel or the HTC HD7’s 4.3″ 480×800 pixel resolution. To be honest the 480×360 resolution is just sufficient enough for me to comfortably watch my favorite TV programs without causing me to squirm at the thought of seeing pixilated images. And given that I don’t have a habit of zooming at photos (as the iPhone ad suggests) I think I can live with this. After all the purpose for my favoring the 9800 over an iPhone or a HTC phone is to send messages.
After weeks of using the 9800, I finally managed to buy a case designed specifically for the 9800’s slider design. This means I can finally protect the outer shell of the phone. The new case adds 1.5mm to 9800 making it feel bulky. While I could accept the bulk in favor of better protection for the phone, it makes typing on the physical keyboard a little annoying (see photo) because of the reduced space between the upper keys and the screen.
When Apple launched its first generation iPhone, there was much speculation about RIM’s implementation of a touchscreen for the BlackBerry. History tells us that RIM’s choice of the SurePress technology for its first ‘touch’ phone didn’t quite get the acceptance the company hoped for. So the choice of a capacitative touchscreen for the 9800 is welcome news, indeed I still wonder why some phone makers are opting to use resistive touch screens on their devices when it’s already proven that capacitative offers better user experience. Maybe they are just trying to keep the cost down.
When I got the 9800, one of the first things I looked at was the CPU. At the time, the Qualcomm snapdragon clocking in at 1GHz was setting the standard for the core processor of most smartphones. So I was dismayed to find out that the 9800 only had a 624MHz CPU. Certainly from a pure spec perspective, the 9800 quickly looked old and outdated. Today, I don’t even quibble about the CPU.
The 9800 is the first BlackBerry to sport the much anticipated new operating system – BlackBerry 6. It is, without doubt, the best implementation to date and one can only expect further refinement of this operating system in future Blackberry phones. The user interface is nice, clean and customizable (to a certain degree).
Multi-tasking is the ability to do two or more things at the same time. For those of us who own an iPhone or an iPad with IOS 4.2, we are condemned to suffer Apple’s interpretation of multi-tasking: only the application that is immediately visible to the user is running, all others are sitting in suspended animation ready to pounce back to life when picked from a roster of apps. Like other BlackBerry phones, the 9800 supports true multi-tasking, meaning all applications that have been picked to run will continue to run until ‘closed’. This means that with a 624MHz CPU and 512MB of internal flash memory, the 9800 may eventually run out of steam unless you close some of the applications you don’t really need to be running at that moment. (more…)

I have this standing policy which I’ve developed over the years – where possible never buy first generation electronic products. Why? Its simple! Most first generation electronic products have an invisible sticker on them that shouts – ‘our experiment. your risk’. What I mean is that most first generation of any electronic product will likely have a number of flaws in them. Whether its the iPod, iPhone, or Asus EeePC model 700 – to name a few – all lacked a number of features that eventually creeped in on succeeding generation. In my opinion, it is a tactic to subtly coerce early adopters to get hooked on the first generation and move on quickly to the second generation.

Awhile back I hinted about my disklike for the BlackBerry Bold (first generation). While the first BlackBerry Bold had leather upholstery on its back panel, I found it heavy (136g versus 109g for BlackBerry Curve 8300). While the screen on the Bold was great it wasn’t a compelling enough feature for me to give up the smaller, lighter and almost the same feature-set Curve 8300.

That said I know many executives who do love the Bold because it felt very solid and truth be told, the leather exterior made it scream – luxury! The Bold also stayed true to its tradition of physical qwerty keyboard because working executives don’t want to waste their time thumbing three times to get to the character they want or even more time retyping a character because the iPhone keeps sensing the wrong key being pressed. After testing HTC, iPhone, Nexus, LG and Samsung touch phones, I can tell you, it pisses me off trying to send an SMS on any of these touch phones because people can’t decipher my short messages or complain how long it takes for me to send a short message.

There is a lot of things to be thankful about the BlackBerry Bold 9700 (I personally prefer to call it Bold 2). RIM took great pains to make this light (16g), smaller (6mm narrower, 5mm shorter, 0.9mm thinner). This last bit tells you the vendor had a hard time trying to figure out where else to trim the phone off. The only thing that the Bold 2 lost out to the Bold 1 is the smaller keyboard. I’m still trying to adjust to this change and it shows because I still fumble when sending sms even though I have a physical keyboard on the Bold 9700. That said the prismic design of the keys may help you adjust faster to the narrow but taller keys.

If there is any feature on the BlackBerry that has kept it the envy of Nokia and other contenders to the business smartphone device is the qwerty keyboard. Thankfully despite some experiments in the curvature and texture, RIM has kept the keys intact.

One thing I am grateful that RIM has finally decided to throw out is the trackball. If you’ve ever used one of those early mouse pointing device (or trackball in my case) you soon discover that the ball collects dust, dirt and introduces these to the contact points inside the device itself. I’ve had my Pearl jam on me many a times – often when I am in harried situations.

Apart from this, the Bold 9700 is a Bold 1 on steroids. It’s got a faster processor, and is a 3G phone so now I can use it in Japan and maybe Korea. Its got one of those HVGA-class screens only found on the HTC Magic. (more…)