FAST AND FLUID are two words that immediately come to mind when using the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) mobile operating system and its tile style user interface.
With the tile system, different functions can be reached quickly and music and video files play almost immediately after selected. The 3G service is also rapid for many websites, although some take 20-30 seconds to appear.
All the handsets currently available come with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 576MB of RAM. Despite this being the minimum technical specification, WP7 has none of the lethargy witnessed with previous Windows Mobile devices and is fast and fluid.
In Steve Ballmer's speech at the New York launch of WP7 he talked again and again about the experience being "delightful" and how Microsoft wanted users to feel that the phone was theirs. Customisation of the homepage is relatively easy, as is the process of setting up the phone making it easy to personalise the handset. However the lack of a normal tree-like menu structure did make it harder to find certain functions such as SIM contacts.
Over a period of a couple of hours with no manual, this reviewer was able to browse the Internet, use the camera, listen to the radio, create favourite-like "tabs" of certain websites, upload pictures, music and video and SIM contacts from another handset and move tiles around on the homepage to personalise it.
For uploading content it was just a matter of downloading Zune from windowsphone.com and then going through a straightforward drag and drop process to move the music, pictures and a 600MB DVD rip of the James Bond film Quantum of Solace from the desktop to the handset.
There were some niggling problems, though, including a need on one occasion to re-enter the Access Point Name to restart the Internet connection and an inability to download free apps from the WP7 Marketplace. Another odd feature is that video or music can't be stopped - it can only be paused. The phone also restarted itself once when exiting a video after about 20 minuets of playback. But none of these niggles have undermined the overall ease of use that the tile UI has provided. The INQUIRER has been informed that the final version of WP7 was not provided and instead the handset has a "software prototype" version.
This might also explain one issue that would detract from the user experience and that is the apparent lack of Flash support, ensuring online videos can't be watched. Another bone of contention is the fact that use of social networks is limited because you are only able to get new feeds, photos and status updates from, for example, Facebook. This did not seem like an aspect of any prototype software and instead looked like a mature design feature.
Having said all that Windows Phone 7 is a dramatic improvement on what has gone before. Its unique tile menu system makes it stand out from the other OS user interfaces on the market and it is easy to overcome the initial uneasiness with no tree-like menu structure. It is fast and fluid, and the Zune synchronisation software worked well.
WP7 is no Vista, but in the world of Android, Symbian^3 and soon WebOS, it is no Windows 7 either. Microsoft's new mobile effort does not deserve to fail but nor can it assume it will win. Android has succeeded because it is open source and many users like the flexibility that brings, plus the fact that there are new version upgrades periodically. Because of this WP7 is no Android killer and it is going to have to fight for its share of the market against a range of very tough competitors. µ