Early thoughts on Windows Phone 7 as OS for MIDs
I picked up the new HTC HD7 off contract from T-Mobile today and don't ever plan to use it as a phone. The fact that I'm currently an AT&T and Sprint customer has a lot to do with that decision, but with both iOS and Android being used on non-phone tablets and other devices, I also wanted to know how Windows Phone 7 would fare in the same situation.
When I turned on the HD7 for the first time this afternoon, I really didn't know very much about the device or even WP7. I didn't want to be influenced at all by reviews and user videos, so I stayed away from them. I wanted to experience the brand new operating system without someone else's opinions about it already in the back of my mind.
I approached the HD7/WP7 as a non-phone MID because that's how I plan to use it: light web browsing, email, casual games, Twitter, YouTube, the occasional movie, and maybe some music playing in the background. Something quick and easy to use, fun and intuitive.
And although WP7 is literally still in its infancy, what I've experienced of it so far leaves me wanting more. Like iOS and Android, it will mature and improve over time. In its current state, though, I'm impressed and am officially a fan of the new OS. And I say this as someone who uses iOS and Android every single day.
WP7 has strengths and weaknesses just like everything else, and I obviously haven't discovered or experienced all of them, but my time with the HD7 so far has been very enjoyable. I'm not sold on the look of the UI (I wasn't a fan of the Zune HD, remember?), but the MID functionality is there. And it's good.
The HD7 and WP7 are really looking like a winning combination for a casual-use MID. Here's why:
Style/Design. I'm a huge fan of the HTC EVO, as you know, and there's no denying that the HD7 and EVO bear striking aesthetic similarities (see side-by-side comparisons here). It's a shallow criterion, I suppose, but I make no apologies for wanting to use something I think is stylish and attractive.
The HD7's recessed screen may become an issue, but it isn't one right now.
Screen size. 4.3 inches is a great screen size for me. It's big enough to feel big, yet small enough to fit pretty comfortably in one hand. Luxuriously portable is how I'd describe it.
Screen responsiveness. Wow! The screen is exceptionally responsive and accurate. I used the HD7 for hours today and everything responded quickly and correctly. I didn't have to be deliberate and careful with my taps or adjust how my fingers naturally interacted with the screen. Screen responsiveness can really make or break a touchscreen device for me, as my patience for UI frustration is very low.
User interface. I'm still warming up to the retro look of the UI and the lack of skins and widgets, but the home page/start menu is customizable. You can rearrange, delete, and add new icons (app shortcuts, browser bookmarks, etc.), so prioritizing what's most important to you is really easy.
I could do without some of the animated transitions when navigating to different screens and launching apps, but they don't slow anything down to the point of irritation so they're fine. And without the eye candy, I guess the UI would be too plain.
Browser. The web browser is the single most important feature of a MID to me. Apps matter too, of course, but I don't mind waiting for better choices in Windows Marketplace. A browser that makes me involuntarily want to call it crap isn't something I can put up with.
And fortunately, Internet Explorer is excellent. I mean, really excellent. Scrolling is very fast and smooth, as are pinch-zooming, double-tap zooming, panning, and switching orientations. The main column on most sites is perfectly readable without zooming, pages load quickly and can be interacted with before the load is complete, and the URL bar doubles as a Google search bar (think Firefox's Awesome Bar). All good stuff.
It isn't the full web, but there sure is a lot of it! Anything I want to quickly check on is accessible, and that's all I really need in a casual-use MID. I'm not trying or even wanting to do all of my work on it; that's what my notebook or UMPC is for.
Keyboard. I don't know if there will be a lot of third-party keyboards in the Marketplace at some point, but the stock one is superb. It's one of the best I've ever used. Thumb typing (not swiping/sliding) can't get much more pleasant than this.
Entertainment. There's basically a Zune HD inside every WP7 device. Netflix and Slacker are included too, so your music and video needs are pretty much taken care of here. Casual games and even not-so-casual games thanks to Xbox Live are there as well. The catalog is still very small, but it will get bigger over the coming months/years.
Marketplace. WP7 includes the Zune Marketplace for music, which has been around for years, and the "regular" Marketplace for apps and games. The current selection is good (I'm still exploring; there are actually much more apps that I expected) and it will only get better with time.
The HD7 offers a lot more than this (e.g., 5MP camera with dual LED flash, 720p video recording, GPS), but these are the stand-out features for me so far and the reasons I've picked up the device as often as I could today.