To my great surprise, when I recently decided to buy a new cell phone, I ended up with a Windows Phone, the HTC Radar. I thought I’d share some thoughts about the current Windows phone OS (Mango), it’s user interface (Metro), and a couple of thoughts about my specific phone.
First, I’m a geek. I think most of you know that by now. I love playing with new gadgets, and I love reasearching tech stuff. For the past several years, the iPhone has been my favorite phone. I’ve also played a lot with some Android phones, particularly the Motorola Defy and HTC Droid Incredible (not to mention my rooted Nook Color). While Android is neat, it still seems a bit too fragmented for me to really love, and the iPhone easily remained my top dog. I have not tested Ice Cream Sandwich, but I’m excited about checking it out in the near future. You couldn’t pay me to use a RIM device (I have an almost pathological dislike of Blackberry).
But I’ve now got a new smartphone king of the hill that completely shocked me. After a lot of reading, and a little bit of hands-on playing, I decided to buy a Windows Phone. I have to say, Metro is the best UI I’ve seen yet for a phone. I absolutely love it. Everything is intuitive. The software is rock-solid, reportedly more stable than Android or IOS. It has a very intelligent and slick interface; in fact, it’s actually fun to use. Of course, it natively syncs with Exchange and Office. You can view, edit, and even create Word and Excel documents in real Office formats.
As an aside, the Metro UI on this phone is reportedly coming to computers and tablets when Windows 8 comes out later this year; I predict it will be a huge hit with tablets. It will allow you to use a tablet as a full-featured tablet as well as a full-featured personal computer. That will be a significant breakthrough, if they really pull it off.
Anyway, back to the phone. Mango (Windows Phone OS 7.5) does a beautiful job handling contacts. If someone sends me an email, the header shows their profile picture from any linked account I have for them (like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn). I can then click their picture, and it takes me to their profile. On their profile, I can see a history of all contact with that person (phone, email, text, etc) as well as any social media status or updates. I can click to contact them with any of those. Quick, easy, seemless, and attractively done. If you really don’t want that sort of accessibility (no matter how crazy that seems to me), you can avoid it in your phone setup.
Another easy thing is setting up groups among your contacts. Once you set a group (for example, family or your team at work), you can also initiate a group contact via text or email with a simple tap. The setup is amazingly easy. Additionally, you can merge your online chats (like Facebook) into your text stream. Again, just a neat feature to make communication easy.
If you want, Mango also ties into your Microsoft account. I get my xbox profile on the phone and can play xbox games on the phone, as well as chat or send messages to friends on xbox live. That’s not a huge point to me, but it has been a neat feature.
It also has a really great interface that is consistent with all programs and apps. I don’t know that I can really describe it except to say it’s a lot more attractive than how IOS or Android does it, and it’s very slick. Apps are more graphical than with IOS or Android, and email and documents have a very neat, clean look.
My particular phone has all the other usual bells and whistles now, video calling, wireless hotspot, 4G speed, voice commands and prompts, etc (the dictation and word recognition is excellent but nothing is as good as Siri for overall function in the voice arena). The camera button on the side makes getting to your camera incredibly quick and easy. It takes pretty good pix and HD video.
The Radar doesn’t have the greatest specs in the world (1Gz processor, 8GB internal memory), but the way Mango works, you don’t need the top specs to get great performance. You also get 25GB of free cloud storage, which has worked very well so far (I’m still a little skeptical). Even with those specs, the Radar is still faster opening programs and being useful than other phones I’ve used because of how Mango runs programs. Microsoft got this part right.
As an aside, the best specs don’t always make the best user experience. I think phone manufacturers are chasing specs at the expense of the end-user experience. What good is a super-HD giant screen phone with multiple processors if the battery dies every 2 hours? Battery life is another area the Winphones seem to be ahead. I use my phone pretty heavily through the day. I always had to recharge the iPhone by 6-7 pm. I haven’t yet had to recharge the Radar before going to bed, and that’s with no battery-saving tricks at all – I leave wifi, bluetooth, and everything else running, and I have my timeouts set for the max time.
I’d like my phone to work. Thankfully, the Radar works beautifully. It’s also pretty, but that’s entirely subjective. I’d still rather have a slot for a micro-SD card, but my understanding is Mango cannot support extra drives or multiple processors (so all current Windows phones are single core and not expandable). Windows 8 will support multi-core processors. I expect a great product will become even stronger.
Anyway, I was VERY skeptical and almost didn’t even look at a Windows Phone. When I finally decided to look at them, I really thought I’d rule it out pretty quickly because I’ve become something of an iPhone fanboy. I figured anything Windows was likely to be poorly done, slow, full of bloatware, and likely to crash. But the more I looked, the more I thought I should at least try it.
Now, I’m like a kid with a new toy. I can’t say enough how well this thing works, how easy it is to use, and how seemlessly everything works. It rocks. IMO, it’s the best phone OS out there. And I love the native MS Office applications. The fact you get full “normal” views of Word and Excel documents is almost worth it alone if you use your phone for that sort of thing (and I do a lot – this leaves IOS in the dust in that regard).
My one gripe with the Radar so far is IE 9 on it. It seems to lock up about 10% of the time, so I have to reload. When it works, it works great, but 10% is annoying. Besides, I’m a huge Google Chrome fan. There are some other browsers you can install on it, so I may try that.
As a side note, the Windows Marketplace is over 60,000 apps now, which is the fastest any platform has gotten to that many. Most of the usual suspects are there. Some apps that are free elsewhere are pay only here. Microsoft is really pushing developers, so I understand the app marketplace will continue rapid growth.
So, if you’re considering a new smartphone, do yourself a favor and give the Windows phones a serious look. They’ve converted this iPhone fan, and I don’t see why I’d ever go back.