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.
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…
Homepage of the HTC HD7
Back panel of the HTC HD7
Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons
Zune user interface on the HTC HD7