Anyone who’s ever used or owned a Windows Mobile handset was probably a little dismayed over the general experience it offered. Previous iterations of the Windows Mobile platform took the same basic “Start” button functionality that had been in use since Windows 95 and ran with it, making it more portable.
Most people found it clunky, and while it succeeded for a while, it was clear that with Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft would need a change.
Windows Phone 7 is that change.
This isn’t your ordinary Windows experience
You can’t approach a Windows Phone 7 handset with the expectation that it’s anything like an old Windows Mobile experience.
Windows Phone 7’s main screen as it appears on the HTC Trophy (left) and HTC Mozart (right).
It’s goodbye Start bar and hello tiles, with a two column grid making up the main menu. You’ve got icon tiles that you can add, remove, and change the order of, with the menu controlled by scrolling up and down creating a long vertical list of your most used applications. Animations link all the sections together making the experience a little like watching a well-edited movie.
Every device we saw used three touchscreen buttons, allowing you to go back one menu, go to the home screen (the Windows icon), and pull up a search screen. It’s all standard fare here.
Multimedia and internet is – as always – the name of the game and you’ll find access to music, movies, gaming through Xbox Live, web surfing, messaging, and more. Microsoft has organised these sections through what it calls “hubs,” with the “People hub” giving you Windows Live and Facebook, “Office hub” letting you view, edit, and share Microsoft Office documents, and “Marketplace hub” being the place where you can grab new apps and games.
Orientation is nice, with Windows Phone 7 supporting the ability to hold it from any angle except upside down. Lefties who complain about Android’s inability to be used in both landscape directions have had their voices heard here, it seems.
Flash isn’t supported yet, making Android the only Flash-ready mobile platform.
What’s with this whole Xbox thing?
One of the more intriguing parts of the Windows Phone 7 experience relates to gamers, and that’s Microsoft’s inclusion of Xbox Live.
From this part of the system, you can log in to your Xbox Live account, see your avatar, check your gamerscore, and play games.
And there are games here, with at least one Star Wars title, Need For Speed, and even Bejeweled.
Windows Phone 7’s “Games” screen integrates Xbox Live with your games.
But while the idea of Xbox Live gaming might appeal to you, the selection of games isn’t the same as what’s currently available on Xbox Live Arcade. Not remotely close, in fact, as none of the games we have on our own XBLA accounts – including our current favourite “Limbo” – is there and ready for you to play.
Unlike the cross-platform gameplay that Valve’s Steam platform currently has working for it on PC and Mac platforms, the Xbox Live connection feels more like a branding exercise. Granted, we didn’t get much more than ten minutes with our sample, but the feeling was that Xbox Live was there more in spirit than practicality.
Maybe that will change in the future, especially as we draw closer to launch, but right now it feels like it’s just a selling point that leaves Xbox gamers without any solid Xbox Live games.