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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduces Windows Phone 7 in New York City.  (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft showed off 9 handsets which will available at next month's launch (on November 8 in the U.S.).  (Source: Microsoft)
We detail the platform's competitive mix of hardware and software

Microsoft was live in New York City this morning presenting (video) its brand new Windows Phone 7 smartphone operating system, and while there are a few minor rough edges the results look quite impressive.  Below we outline a quick overview of the platform and then dive into hardware and software details.

Overview

Windows Phone 7 enters a market in which Android is the rising star and a pair of veteran players (Apple and RIM) cling to large market shares, thanks to unique niches (business, entertainment).  Having seen the Windows Phone 7 in action and contrasting the experience to Android, iOS, and BlackBerry OS, we feel the that WP7 has the potential to do very well.

It may be too early to say for sure, but Microsoft's decision to redesign the interface from the ground up seems a very wise one.  Scrapping the stale Windows Mobile 6.5, the company now has a fast, intuitive-seeming interface laid over a solid set of hardware and software.

The OS really shines at business productivity, so we could see it snatching some marketshare from RIM among the business-minded.  The phone also seems very slick in terms of entertainment and social connectivity.  This may help it to compete with Android and Apple's iOS, or at least differentiate itself as more versatile than the RIM's BlackBerry phones.

Windows Phone 7 Launches on November 8th in the U.S., as previously rumored.  In addition, most WP7 phones will be available for $199.99 with new 2-year contract.  

In the U.S. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint have all be confirmed as launch partners (Verizon will likely have WP7 handsets as well, but was not mentioned specifically).  Abroad, Vodafone (UK) and Orange (France) were among the carriers mentioned in Microsoft's presentation.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the release event commented, "I've been looking forward to this day for some time I say."

We can see why.  Windows Phone 7 is pretty revolutionary in that it's definitely a "different kind of phone" as Microsoft's presentation billed it, in terms of interface at least.  And while it remains to be seen how competitive it can truly be, it seems a vast leap from the weak Windows Mobile experience.

Hardware

At the launch event, Microsoft stated that there would be nine handsets available at launch and mentioned explicitly four partners -- Dell, Samsung, LG, HTC.  A fifth hardware partner, ASUSTek, was previously announced by Microsoft, but was not discussed at the presentation.

AT&T CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets was on hand to personally introduce the three WP7 handsets that will be available on his network at launch.

First up is the LG Quantum.  AT&T's WP7 slider, the Quantum packs a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen, 16 GB of flash memory, and a QWERTY keyboard.  

The second handset shown was the HTC Surround, a phone similar to the HTC EVO geared towards the "media and gaming enthusiast".  Like the EVO, the phone packs a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon, but it packs a slightly smaller 3.8-inch touch screen and lower resolution 5 megapixel camera.  Like the EVO it will feature a kickstand, but unlike the EVO it will feature 16 GB of flash instead of microSD expansion (it's possible this will be included, but it wasn't mentioned).  But the handset does have one very cool feature that differentiates it from the EVO -- it is the first phone to have dual surround sound speakers (made by Dolby Labs), which slide up out of the central body.

Last, but not least, is the Samsung Focus, which AT&T claims has "best looking screen on any Windows phone".  The 4-inch screen uses Samsung's SuperIM OLED technology.  It packs a 1 GHz Snapdragon, a 5 MP camera, and a slightly smaller 8 GB of flash memory.

If you've noticed a trend (1 GHz processors) in these models, it's because Microsoft's hardware spec requires all WP7 handsets to have a 1 GHz processor.  That's a bit different than Android's approach.  It may hurt Microsoft among entry level buyers, but on the other hand it may provide WP7 users with a better, more consistent experience.

A couple of other handsets were not shown off at the release event, but have popped online.  

T-Mobile will be getting the HTC Mozart, a 8MP camera with Xenon flash, one-speaker Dolby Mobile with SRS Wow HD for "virtual surround sound", and 8 GB of flash storage.  It's also getting the beastly HTC 7 HD7, a 4.3-inche device featuring 16GB of storage and a 5MP camera.  The carrier also has a 4.1-inch ruggedized vertical slider, the Dell Venue Pro.

Sprint is getting its own slider, dubbed the HTC 7 Pro.  This handset features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 16 GB of storage.

Looking at the seven revealed WP7 handsets in summary, it seems that they are quite consistent on a hardware basis with the chief difference being the inclusion of a keyboard, size of the flash memory, screen size, camera resolution, and surround sound (or lack there of).

Looking at the hardware overall, if microSD is indeed not supported, it will be quite disappointing.  Lack of expandable memory is a key downside for Apple and a key upside for Google's Android.  

Otherwise, the hardware platform looks to be very competitive with Android handsets, with many models having specs superior to those of the Apple iPhone 4.

Software

If there was one compelling reason to buy a WP7 handset it would have to be the interface.

Microsoft has deeply integrated search via Bing into the interface and has designed a quick and intuitive UI.  Looking at the home screen, you will notice many square tiles known as Hubs.  Many of the tiles seem intuitive -- Messages, Phone Calls, Email, etc.  While these may be similar to icons in other smartphone operating systems, they're a bit different in that they're all animated.  In this respect, they're perhaps most similar to Android's widgets.

You can turn your contacts into a tile on the homepage sprawl.  You can also unpin any tile by simply touching, holding, then clicking the upper right corner of the tile.  This lays to rest a false rumor that the homescreen in WP7 would not be customizable.  You can move tiles by then touching, holding, and dragging.

In terms of business functionality, the phone includes some slick features.  For example, your next appointment shows up on the home screen so you don't even have to unlock your phone.  Emails suggesting appointments come with a one-touch option to check for conflicts.  You can sync appointments from Exchange servers, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and more.

Email brings us to another key point -- typing.  Typing looks to be a pretty fast experience as Microsoft includes a pretty souped up autocorrect.  Typing quick bursts of a few sentences looks to be possibly a bit faster than in Android, and on par with Apple's leading interface in this department.  Of course, once you've scribbled out a few sentences, you'll often have to go back and tweak the autocorrections.  Microsoft has a few good ideas here -- for example the original word that was autocorrected from is stored and can be reverted.

Also involved with the email experience is addresses.  Addresses can be clicked to bring up Bing Maps.  These maps tell you the best way to get there (walking/driving), let you get directions, and even show you satellite views.

Search can be done in two ways.  First you can press and hold the start button and speak to the phone.  The audio is transmitted to Microsoft's servers and Microsoft's "Tell Me" backend then tries to parse it into a search query.  A second approach is to press the search button and then type in the Bing search bar that pops up.

Microsoft showed off a mobile version of Powerpoint -- part of a WP7 Office suite.  Sadly, copy and paste has been confirmed to be absent, so editing in mobile Word or Powerpoint will likely be an onerous task.  Microsoft also showed off OneNote -- the WP7 version of its Office note-taking software -- and demonstrated how it syncs your notes to the cloud.  These notes can be accessed from anywhere on the internet.

Picture-taking on the phone looks a bit more intuitive that in Android.  If you press the camera button the phone automatically wakes up and shoots, no unlocking required.  We could see this as causing some unwanted "pocket pictures", but then again it should offer faster photos.  Photos can be set to automatically upload to cloud storage on sites like Facebook.

Look at Music and Videos, the interface is very similar to Zune's.  Third parties can design plug-ins that offer up new elements in this plug.  Slacker Radio and YouTube were among those shown in the presentation.

Turning to the "People" tab, Microsoft syncs contacts from multiple places -- Facebook, Gmail, Exchange, and more.  The second you log in one of these accounts, the syncing process starts.  This may be a bit problematic for some.  Say you have 500 Facebook friends, but most of those are high school classmates and college friends you only vaguely knew.  ALL of them will be added to your phone's contacts.  So you might want to be wary of what accounts you log into (i.e. watch out for Facebook) unless Microsoft has some sort filtering scheme that it hasn't revealed yet.

Turning last to games, the phone should offer an Xbox Live-like experience, with Gaming invites, avatars, multiplayer gaming, and more.  Microsoft showed off a couple titles, including a WP7-version of EA's The Sims.

In terms of apps, it's to be expected that Microsoft won't have as huge a catalog as Android or Apple at launch.  However, it did show off some cool third party apps.  For example AT&T will be offering its customers a Uverse app, which will allow you to watch TV shows on the go.  Non-Uverse subscribers can pay a "small [monthly] fee" according to Mr. de la Vega to access this option.

One final note -- it appears that multitasking will be available in some form (at least via notifications) given the stream of live feeds from multiple apps on the home screen.  However, Microsoft did not mention that true multitasking (freely switchable-apps) would be present.  Further no third party app tiles were shown to be updating with live feeds, so it seems likely that the previous rumor that third-party multitasking would not initially be included may be true.



Looking at the demonstrated software (operating system, third-party) in overview, Microsoft clearly will lag behind Apple and Google in volume, but it makes up for it somewhat in quality.  The only egregious omission hear is copy and paste, and that will be coming early 2011 according to Microsoft.  Otherwise, the interface looks polished and the software seems very business/connectivity friendly.

Conclusions

There's the bad (lack of microSD, no copy and paste) and there's the good (the interface, the wide array of hardware options, and the cross-carrier availability) when it comes to Windows Phone 7.

Ultimately, while Microsoft has claimed in the past to be "following in Apple's line" with Windows Phone 7, it actually is following both Apple and Google in some regards.  In terms of hardware and carriers its taking Google's diversified approach, but in terms of interface and feature support its taking Apple's more detail-oriented/refined approach.  That focus on details can largely be blamed for missing features like copy and paste, but it can also be credited for the overall ease of use.

In these respects Windows Phone 7 is like a strange fusion of Android and iOS.  However, it offers its own unique style as well, when it comes to looks.  With its smart phone market share plunging, Microsoft desperately needed a strong product -- and it looks like it just might have delivered one.  Windows Phone 7 should be a worthy competitor when it hits the market on November 8.

 



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RE: It may be shiney and new...
By aebiv on 10/11/2010 1:07:58 PM , Rating: 0
Yeah,I know that. Why isn't it at launch? They've had years of working on this to make it right the first time, and we have to wait on updates for it??

Also, no syncing with Outlook means you either have to have an Exchange account, or move your stuff to a hotmail account... I fail to see how this is progress.


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By Moishe on 10/11/2010 2:42:00 PM , Rating: 5
You are expecting too much. Did you expect Android 2.2 features out of version 1?

Business is about get the best product into the game at the right time. That means sometimes you have to sacrifice features for more important things like the right market entry time, stability, polish, etc.

Everything is a tradeoff, and MS will come out with the updates within a reasonable time. The first version is always lacking, no matter WHO the manufacturer is.


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By aebiv on 10/11/2010 6:45:40 PM , Rating: 1
No, but Android was a completely new platform when it came out, this based on CE just like it has been for 10+ years.


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By jvillaro on 10/11/2010 10:21:29 PM , Rating: 2
"Based on" doesn't mean all of it. For all you know, based on might just mean 5% of it and it's just using the most basic core. So your just asuming to try to make a point...
So in that same way, let's asume Google didn't start from scratch neither, it's based on linux isn't it? How much did they have to really do?


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By aebiv on 10/11/10, Rating: 0
RE: It may be shiney and new...
By Samus on 10/12/2010 3:28:31 AM , Rating: 2
You act like you've seen the WP7 code. It's not open source, so unless you're a programmer at Microsoft and breaking your NDA as we speak, you're so full of shit your eyes are brown.

Furthermore, in case you haven't been paying attention, the only information we have about WP7 is that it's completely rebuilt from the ground up, ala Palm webOS.

I'm so tired of these Android fanboi's. It's just like a whole new evolution of Apple fanatics. Yes, Andoid is great, yes, they're beating Apple and RIM. But if the phone industry tells us anything, nobody stays on top for long. Just a decade ago, Nokia was #1. Now look where they are.


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By aebiv on 10/12/2010 3:19:24 PM , Rating: 2
It's based on CE6, which I've seen, and have worked with CE5.2 for years.

Do a search, you'll find numerous reviews of it saying that it is NOT completely re-written.


RE: It may be shiney and new...
By Alexstarfire on 10/12/2010 3:53:33 AM , Rating: 2
I doubt many would, but when you're several years late to the party you don't show up with the bare minimum and nothing special. It's a good way to go the path of the Dodo. IDK how well WP7 phones will sell, but I doubt it'll sell based on it's software. Its hardware might be able to keep it afloat until it becomes a serious competitor, but IDK. I can't predict the future because if I could I'd be rich.


"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer














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