And so it began, last Thursday Bell launched the HD7 and with that my fate was sealed.
A trip to the local bell store found my credit card getting some exercise and a new adventure starting for me.
Here are my thoughts on the phone and the OS as I’ve experienced it so far. But first a little look back…
For the last 16 months I’ve been using the very acceptable (for a Windows Mobile 6.5 device) Samsung Omnia II. A little underpowered and definitely an OS that has been showing its age. The phone worked, synchronization with Exchange was a great and the recently included ability to sync SMS messages to my Exchange mailbox was a joy.
However I have been looking for something a little more current then Windows Mobile and since the launch of Windows Phone have been eagerly awaiting a device to call my own.
I was very disappointed with the initial release of phones in Canada, as all the operators left out the two best devices (the HD7 and the Dell Venue Pro).
Bell finally rectified this last week with the release of the HD7, and by all accounts Rogers will be getting the Venue Pro next month as well. I was very tempted by the Venue Pro, but alas like most, my contract with Bell has a ways to go yet 😉
I won’t bore you with unboxing pics or slick images of the phone itself, you can happily go to the HTC page to see what it looks like and what’s in the box. Likewise, the Bell page will tell you the current pricing.
This is actually my second HTC phone, before my Samsung I had an HTC 6800, running Windows Mobile 5. That phone worked quite well and was well built but would never have won any awards for design or style. It was functional and that all it needed to be at the time.
Today, however, phone design has come a long way and HTC has done a good job with the HD7 within the limitations that Microsoft has given them.
Pulling the phone from the box provided a good solid feel, while not heavy the phone feels solid and well made. To install the SIM card requires removal of the back, which is perhaps the flimsiest piece of the device. A very light weight plastic cover that snaps in to place. However, when in place the lightness of the cover is not apparent and so I really don’t mind.
The only issue with the hardware design I have is that the back plate only goes 3/4 of the way down the device, where it is then divided in to a separate piece that does not come off. At this joint, there is a small gap and you can actually see the SIM card at times. But this is minor and I don’t really look at the back of the phone all that much 😉
The other significant item on the hardware front is the kickstand, which props the phone up in a landscape mode to let you watch video etc. When I first heard about this, I was concerned about the stability of such a thing but I have to admit I am impressed with how stable it is.
One other thing that, for the first few days bugged me, is the power/volume/camera buttons. They feel a little squishy and don’t have a hard ‘click’ at the end to tell when they have been depressed. It took a bit of getting use to but it seems fine now.
The HD7 is of course a very LARGE phone, which is one of the reasons I bought it in the first place. It might not appeal to everyone though.
I’ll note here that the camera is like every HTC camera I’ve ever used, it does the job, but I wouldn’t want to show anyone else any photo’s I’ve taken. Even a cheap point and shoot digital camera will run circles around it.
I did have one hardware glitch on the first day, the battery meter seems to have been miscalibrated somehow, it appeared that I would only get about 12 hours of standby time from the phone, however taking the battery out and re-inserting it seems to have reset the battery meter and the problem has not come back yet.
Also of note is that the Bell phone comes with a 16g SD card. Which isn’t bad but the HD7 has no way to replace it without voiding the warranty.
The final item here is that Bell ONLY had a single case in stock, it was a black slip on plastic case and to say it was useless is an understatement. Every time I put the phone in my pocket with the case on it triggered the power button and the phone would cycle on and off every few minutes. Don’t bother with the case from Bell, even the screen protector that came with the case didn’t go on cleanly and bubbled all over the place, it’s just a waste of money.
Windows Phone 7
Over the years I have looked at most smart phones to see which one would be the best. Each time it seemed the defining feature for me was synchronizing with my Exchange mailbox. The first phone I attempted to sync to my mailbox was an old Razer. To say it was a spectacular failure would be an understatement. The Razer just wasn’t smart enough to handle all the different calendar item’s and contact details let alone mail.
I’ve looked at several other smart phones, but each time I came back to Windows Mobile as each contender just didn’t quite fit the bill (Android’s belief that folder hierarchies don’t matter and everything should be a tag, Blackberries requirement for a BES server, etc.)
Microsoft obviously does a very good job of syncing to Exchange. And Windows Phone 7 is no exception to this.
From my experience with my Zune HD, I knew pretty much what to expect from WP7 and as such was not surprised by anything during the setup.
First and foremost, let me just say that using WP7 brings a smile to my face every time. It’s just fun to swipe around and see the transitions and animations that MS has baked in to the OS. It is an experience that seems to get better all the time. Of course in a few months that joy may become sorrow as the novelty wears off, but I get the same feeling from my Zune HD and I’ve had it for over a year.
WP7 is fast and responsive on the phone, it does so much right that what it does wrong seems to pale in comparison.
- WP7 is fast and responsive
- The live tiles make quick information available at a glance
- You can uninstall ALL the crapware your carrier installed on your phone without asking 😉
- Outlook is awesome, it looks great and sync’s everything you would expect to/from multiple different account types.
- The software keyboard is quite good, I suspect with the big display it makes it better than on some of the smaller WP7 devices that exist.
- The SMS app is fun, seeing the conversation in speech bubbles makes a striking (if not original) design.
- The Calendar is functional and supports everything you would expect.
- The people hub is cool. Getting all your status updates in one place did seem like a bad idea at first, but once you use it, it makes sense.
- Internet Explorer. Ok this one was a big surprise, after abandoning IE on Windows Mobile for Opera I was concerned about IE in WP7, but so far it’s not too bad. No Opera of course, but functional.
- Music and Video hub borrows heavily from the Zune HD and that’s a good thing 😉
- Maps, its Bing maps and it’s cool.
- Pictures is a nice, fits with the rest of the OS and works well.
- The Facebook integration is well done, seamless but doesn’t get in the way. One caveat here is that for users with lots of “friends” it pulls all your Facebook contacts, no way to control it. However there is a standalone Facebook app if you don’t like the WP7 integration.
The not so bad/not so good:
- The phone app seems to be pretty bare bones, it works but it could use some more options. Several missing items related to the phone seem like strange omissions. My old cell phone auto forwarded after 15 seconds to a VOIP line I have, this functionality is required by GSM and you can manually set it up through the phone, but there is no GUI for it.
- Sometimes selecting an item seems to miss once in a while, I don’t know if this is just me, the HD7 or WP7. I’ll have to wait a while and see if my accuracy increases over time on this one.
- On the HD7, there doesn’t seem to be any way to disable the vibration every time you hit one of the three softkeys on the phone. It’s not too bad, but looking around the net seems to indicate that this option is per device, not enforce through WP7.
- I really haven’t delved much in to the games and I don’t have an Xbox Live account so this goes here just because.
- Multitasking. Much has been said about WP7’s lack of third party multitasking, but so far it hasn’t been much of an issue. MS has announced it will support this by the end of 2011 so we’ll see how it goes from here.
- The calendar only has three views; agenda, day, month. A multi month or yearly view would be nice.
- Something I’ve done many times with the phone is to be swiping down or selecting an item near the bottom right of the screen and accidentally hit the search button. It might have been nice to have a slight ridge or something to differentiate the screen from the buttons, but I don’t think any of the WP7 phones have this so it might be a MS requirement.
- The information bar at the top of the phone auto hides, it gives WP7 a cleaner look, but an option might be nice to always display it.
- The people live tile flashes micro photos from your contacts, however many of these photo’s for me are out dated and of no interest, allowing a config item to limit which photo’s to use or even a way to turn off the live title completely would be nice.
- Access to pretty much any MS service (including the marketplace) requires a LiveID. Easy enough to get, but just “yet another account” to add to your collection.
- Ok, the screen lock is fine, but come on a REQUIRED 4 number unlock code, what are we still in the 80’s?
- No SMS sync. Exchange 2010 introduced SMS sync with Windows Mobile 6.5, which made all your text messages appear in an Exchange folder. It also allowed you to send SMS messages from your desktop through Outlook. I really do miss this feature.
- Copy/Paste. Everyone should know by now that it’s not here, but all reports seem to indicate a March 8th service pack that will add it. Yeah!
- Network/Bluetooth config. To turn on or off either you have to go through the settings program. It’s buried deep and it’s something that seems like it’s ripe for a live tile.
- Ringtones. Hope you like what comes with the phone as there’s currently no way to load new ones.
- The Marketplace. From the phone it’s a mess of an app, it’s a little better through the Zune desktop software but either way MS needs to work on this to make it easier to find apps you actually want.
- Getting the MAC address. Ok anyone who has locked down their local WiFi network with MAC address filtering knows they need to know the MAC address of new devices so they can permit it to use the network. Microsoft has omitted this information from anywhere on the phone so you have to open up your network, let the phone connect, find the DHCP or log information to then reveal the MAC address of the phone. I’d suggest writing it down somewhere you won’t lose it for next time 😉
- This isn’t a knock against WP7 as WM6 lack it too, but there is still no way for ActiveSync to sync the notes folder on your Exchange mailbox. Come on, how hard is this really?
- Other then the information bar at the top of the display, there is nowhere to find out signal strength or battery level. And the info bar only gives a graphical representation, no numeric values.
The real question though is would I recommend the phone to my friends? With Windows Mobile 6.5, the answer was a resounding NO. Windows Phone 7 makes it an easy recommendation to anyone who wants a phone that makes a statement about what it means to be user friendly.
Anyone who watches Microsoft product lifecycles can tell you that they usually take 3 versions of any product to “get it right”. The first version works, just barely. The second is feature complete and the third is the one everyone wants. This time they’ve moved quickly to try and break the cycle, while not completely successful, WP7 is very close I’d call it a version 2.5. Hopefully by the end of the year, with multiple service packs on the way, perhaps they’ll get to version 3 faster than ever.