Well, I have been using my new Samsung Focus (one of the Windows Phone 7 options for AT&T) for about a week now. I saw a number of reviews of the Windows Phone 7 software and the many hardware options available on different providers. However, I wanted to add a few of my own first impressions.
Overall, I am very happy with the phone. I had a chance to experience with the main features like making calls, using e-mail, browsing the web, playing content (music, videos, podcasts), taking pictures, accessing/publishing to social networks, opening Office documents in a SharePoint site, playing games, downloading/using apps, etc. The basics are all there and the whole set is very well put together. A few new concepts like the tiles on the start screen are also very easy to grasp and visually appealing. It’s also nice to see a summary with the date, time, next appointment, number of e-mails, calls before I unlock the phone. Sometimes that’s all I need.
The user interface is greatly improved, although the details are hard to put into words. It’s a mix of a good use of icons, font type, font size and color combined with some areas intentionally left blank. It’s just easy to read and a pleasure to use. You really have to play with it for a while to get it. It only takes a few minutes to feel the difference. Certain apps make great use of it, like Outlook or the people hub. It also relates to not showing too much information at once, like the fact that the line on the top of the phone shows only the time and you need to tap it to get other info like signal strength. The simplified round icons work really well, although a few are not completely obvious the first time around.
The other big change is the full integration of the Zune into the phone. If you used the Zune before, you can now get music, videos and podcasts on your phone. If you never used a Zune, it’s easy to get started. A couple of things about it make it better than anything I’ve seen out there. One is the wireless sync to the PC. You set this up over the USB cable once and after that you can essentially just plug the phone on the charger when you get home. The Zune software will wirelessly sync with the computer via the wi-fi network, getting your latest podcasts loaded. Another thing is the fact that the Windows Phone 7 devices, like the Zune, have an FM radio built-in. The Zune Pass is also a great concept that you can’t find on other phones.
The people hub integrates my Outlook contacts, Windows Live contacts and my Facebook friends in a single list. It can even be taught to link entries for people who don’t use the exact same spelling on both or only sometimes include their middle initials. I do find myself looking at the people hub every once in a while and it works well to “like” updates and add comments. I wish Twitter and Foursquare were also part of it. The Twitter and Foursquare apps are fine, but now that I was introduced to the people hub concept, the individual apps seem somehow “disconnected”. Feature request…
The camera also has some fresh concepts, like the way you can flick back to previous pictures from the live shot and back. It also can be set to automatically upload pictures to Windows Live as you take them. There is also an option to share on Facebook with a comment right from the camera interface. 5 megapixels with flash is fine for a phone.
The XBOX hub is interesting, but it doesn’t appeal to me that much since I am not a big gamer. I do like some of the games available right now, and for some people getting the extra points and achievements is key. Going from the XBOX to the phone and back is actually one of the promising areas. I am curious to see how this one plays out over time. It did get me to update my avatar on XBOX live, which I haven’t touched in a while.
There is a healthy number of apps available right now. Beyond what comes with the phone (alarms, calculator, calendar, camera, internet explorer, maps, text messaging, outlook, office, people, phone, pictures) I loaded a few games, the Adobe Reader, Foursquare, IMDb, Netflix, OpenTable, TED, Twitter, WheatherBug and Where. I also got the “Days Until Christmas” app, which has a nice tile for the start screen :-). Searching apps on the phone is a bit hard and the marketplace search by name mixes apps with songs and albums, which does not help. The best way I found to search for apps is using the Zune software on the PC. You can also try the Bing Visual Search for Windows Phone 7 apps at http://www.bing.com/visualsearch?g=wp7.
A few things take a little getting used to, like the “back” button. At first you don’t understand where that key will take you, but it does make sense after you use the phone a while. I also seem not to use the “search” button that much. By the way, you get to built-in Bing app by clicking the search key when you’re on the start screen. One “hidden” feature is that you can click and hold the “windows” key to use voice recognition.
The Samsung Focus hardware itself is also performing well. The screen is really the highlight, bright with vibrant colors. Battery life is good and the device is light and easy to pocket. I do agree with some comments that the three buttons next to the screen are too sensitive at times. 8 GB of memory is OK for starters, but I am planning to buy a 32GB micro SD card, so I’m watching the details on which ones work well with the device. The earphone that comes in the box are actually nice.
In general, I’m very happy with the phone and getting good mileage out of it. There’s room for improvement but there’s a promise of frequent updates, like “cut and paste” coming in early 2011. I wonder what else will be updated. As a user surrounded by iPhones and Android phones, I am convinced that Microsoft is back in the phone game.