REVIEW: Windows Phone 7 on the HTC 7 Surround

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a Windows Phone 7 Series device for the past two weeks — an HTC 7 Surround — and as a person with a Blackberry always affixed to my hip, this latest offering from Microsoft and HTC is making me rethink my allegiances.

This time around, Microsoft defined stringent hardware specifications for all WP7 handsets, including large WVGA displays, WiFi, FM radio, high-resolution camera, and a dedicated search button.

Microsoft is laying down the ground rules in an attempt to create a more consistent experience across phones. There will be some variety though. Certain phones will include a physical keyboard and some will have larger displays, but overall expect a consistent experience between Windows Phone 7 Series devices.
Let’s start with the user interface. The second you pick up this phone and start to interact with the menus, you realize that this is not your Dad’s Windows Mobile smartphone. The UI is 100 per cent different from previous generation devices, and it’s a change for the better. There is no start menu, check boxes, or drop down lists – WP7 presents the user with a new navigation experience that uses the power of touch instead of a stylus.
The OS’s unlock screen features a large photo that can be dragged upward to unlock the device, though it also includes time, date, upcoming calendar items, number of unread messages, and number of missed calls. I found the unlock screen to be extremely handy, as I didn’t have to access the device to see important information such as meeting times and locations.
After unlocking the phone, you will be presented with a beautiful live-tile home screen. The tiles are animated and contain up-to-the-minute information. It’s quite neat to look at the phone tile and see a photo of a friend appear indicating that you missed a call. Even more interesting are the social networking tiles. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and even SMS all come alive with text and pictures.
The tiles appear that they can be linked to anything, including applications such as Internet Explorer, contacts from the address book, or to one of the phone’s hubs.
Hubs? Yes… The content in a hub is composed of both locally-stored data and cloud information such as photos, contacts and so forth, and each hub has its own particular emphasis.
Windows Phone 7 Series Hubs include:
* The People Hub, which aggregates all your social networking feeds, e-mail, and SMS. From this hub you can also update your own statuses within networks.
* The Pictures Hub is an aggregated view of photos stored on the device and cloud based systems such as Facebook, Windows Live, or Flickr. Here you can update photos on social networking sites with comments and tags.The 5MP auto-focus camera on the devices take excellent photos and records 720P HD video.
* The Games Hub is integrated with Xbox Live and even displays a small version of your avatar. Microsoft is working on functionality for this hub and I look forward to an impressive Xbox mobile gaming experience in the near future.
* The Music & Video hub is essentially a Zune HD. All your multimedia content including podcasts can be accessed from here. The FM radio is also present, and I hear Pandora integration is down the road.
* The Marketplace Hub is where you download free applications and purchase apps to extend the functionality of your Windows Phone 7 Series device.
* The Office Hub is where you can access documents, SharePoint content, and edit Excel spreadsheets and Word docs on the go. What’s impressed me is that document editing is extremely easy and the user experience is maintained throughout the process.
It’s clear that Windows Phone 7 Series is designed to make you feel very socially connected, but how does it stack up against a Blackberry or iPhone for business users? The answer is that the WP7 experience is geared to making your life easier. Information displayed on the screen is relevant and can be easily accessed at all times. These days, people have any number of tools at their disposal to connect with me and I like how WP7 presents these feeds as a unified view.
I was hesitant to use the WP7 device as it has no physical keyboard, and I love typing away on the Blackberry. It takes a little bit to get used to, as with any new phone, but I found the on-screen keyboard to be very user-friendly and responsive. The auto-correction and predictive text features on WP7 are the best I’ve ever seen on a mobile device.
The integration of a dedicated search button is handy and saves you a trip to the browser for quick lookups of addresses or Web sites. One thing that is missing, however, is the ability to search the phone for keywords and contacts. My favourite Blackberry OS6 feature the option to type a friend’s name and have their contact details, e-mails we’ve exchanged and SMS messages appear. Hopefully, this functionality will be worked into a future update. Of course, you could use the excellent voice recognition system built into Windows Phone 7 to call a contact instead of searching for a number.
Windows Phone 7 Series is amazing in every way. The user interface is easy to use, intuitive and just pretty to look at. Extreme functionality is packed into the device and as a first-time user I was up-to-speed and sending e-mail within 30 minutes. I am officially trading in my Blackberry for a Windows Phone 7 device.
Cameron McKay is the manager of systems infrastructure for the JDRF Clinical Trial Network in Toronto.

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