Saturday, January 28, 2012

Three First Impressions of Windows Phone 7

If Microsoft is to have a fighting chance with Windows Phone 7 then it better make a good first impression.
When Nokia announced it would switch to Windows Phone 7 (WP7) for their smartphone strategy back in 2010, I was upset as most Symbian users were.  There's a lot of reasons for my reaction but that's best left for another article.  With the recent launch of the Lumia 710 and 800 I figure it was about time I give Windows Phone 7 a try so I can be an objective reviewer.

Shopping for a Windows Phone 7
WP7 phones have not been on the market for a long time and their relatively strict, at the time, fairly high end hardware requirements kept the price of them high.  But it also means you get a fairly uniform experience regardless of which WP7 phone you choose.  It also helps to know that Microsoft restricts manufacturers from customizing WP7 too much so you'll never see the custom home screens found in Android.  Since all WP7 phones were essentially the same, I picked up the cheapest WP7 I could find, a used Samsung Focus for $110.

My first impression
So before I begin, I'll tell you about my phone history.  My first smartphone was a Blackberry 950, I've used Symbian for most of my smartphone life, had a Windows Mobile 6.5 TYTN 2 for work which I hated, had a N900 Maemo, I have an iPad, and currently using a Samsung Galaxy S 2 with Android.  So I've used all modern smartphone OS.  With the Samsung Focus in my hand for 30 minutes I was hating it already. The animations are too gimicky, the round icons are much too small, not intuitive, with no captions in most cases, and text/tiles are too large needing a lot of scrolling in all pages.  I disliked the headline text being cut off and not knowing how many screen panes I could scroll to the left/right beforehand.

Two more first impressions
Since I consider myself a power user and I may not be the target market for WP7, I figure I'll pass my phone around to other people I know to try out.  I found two friends that are not power users to give WP7 a test drive.
Impression 1 - A friend who uses her Symbian phone like a dumb phone and never had a touchscreen device before
Impression 2 - A friend who's primary device is her BlackBerry Curve but also has a LG Chic Android phone, iPad, and E65 Symbian phone.

Booting up the device:
Impression 1: "The dots are really pretty"

The home page:

Impression 1: While pushing the Windows key a few times, "What does this Windows button do? What does this magnify glass do?"
Impression 1: Referring to the animations, "The graphics look really nice"

Impression 2: "Where do I go? What do I do?"
Impression 2: "Not very pleasing. All the blue. Not nice to look at."
Impression 1: After clicking the Phone tile, "So how do I get out of this?  What do these buttons do?"

The UI:

Impression 1: "I don't like the People screen because I can't see everything. It's all cut up".
Impression 2: "What's the point to showing a bit of the next screen.  It doesn't look nice."

The camera application:

Impression 1: After clicking camera, "So how do I take a picture?  Oops... oh that's how I take it"
"Where are my pictures?".  (She didn't really take a photo)
Back in the camera app, "So how do I take a picture? Do I have to touch the screen?  It's not intuitive.  It shouldn't be like this when all the buttons are on the screen".

Impression 2: "Did I take a picture?" (after clicking the movie/camera toggle)
After showing her the dedicated camera key, "Oh, that isn't intuitive".

Final Impressions

Impression 1:
  • "Why would you buy this?  Do you even like this?"
  • "No I don't like it.  I know what I like and I don't like this."
  • "I don't want a Windows Phone... it's garbage.  But if I had it, people would be surprised and ask me 'what is that?'.  They'll be impressed because it'll be a touch phone".
  • Referring to Nokia switching Symbian to WP7, "I don't know what I'd do without Nokia.  Go back to Sony Ericsson?"
Impression 2:
  • In the menu, "It looks like my desktop in a mobile form" (referring to the desktop Windows Start menu)
  • "It's pretty reactive. Don't need to press really hard"
  • "It's not pleasing to the eye. I don't really want to play with it. I'm bored."

First impressions are key to selling and WP7 doesn't have what it takes to give a good first impression.  The UI is generally easy to use but has some fundamental flaws with the small non-descript icons and large tiles/fonts.  It's a shame that Nokia is betting their smartphone future with such a poor OS.  Only time will tell if Nokia and Microsoft will succeed in their uphill battle. But I for one will not make WP7 my primary smartphone OS.  Impression 2 summed it up the best, "I'm bored".

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