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HTC HD7 – Review [Part 2]

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In our first part of the review we let you know about the HTC HD7 and its Hardware. Now lets dive in and check out Windows Phone 7 and its marriage with H
TC HD7.

Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 and HTC HD7 are made for each other. Win Phone 7 has everything refreshing about it. It’s got a brand new look and feel with totally new user interaction patterns. Microsoft has done a great deal of research to improve the usability and user experience with Windows Phone 7 and it definitely has paid it. The UI is called ‘Metro’ and is characteristic of blocks and squares. The responsiveness and the speed of the software is very impressive. With no lag in interface and short transition time between applications, the overall experience is definitely great. The UI navigation is very intuitive. There 3 hardware keys and two of them help you in navigation: The back and the home key.

The home key closes the application and returns to the Metro UI, home screen of the mobile. There is no multitasking and this degrades usability to an extent. Plus there is an absence of dedicated menu key. The in-app menu must be assessed by long press, which is not very evident. The application list is always in List view. There is no grid view. This can make navigating a long list painful. The third key is the search button. On clicking search it opens up the Bing search home page. It was rather disappointing to find that there is no universal search feature like in Android or iOS.

The notification bar is a bit weird. It’s not persistently visible. But when you tap on that area, it appears for a few seconds to display WiFi or Signal status. It also highlights when there is a new message. Interestingly if you are on certain applications, the notification bar is totally inactive. But what I liked the best is the subtle animations. Whenever there is a progress bar like when something is loading or syncing, a series of tiny dots appear and move away in carousal. This is very attractive and not obtrusive.

There are certain setback of windows phone 7 which are much debated like absence of multi-tasking and absence of copy-paste feature. But that totally a different topic and I am sure NoDo and Mango updates will take care of such trivial discussions but important usability issues.

The accelerometer works pretty fast, but only on certain applications. The landscape mode is not active for most of the applications including the home screen. This could be an issue. If you are watching a movie or some pictures and if you get a new message for which you need to go to the home screen, you find that the home screen is not in landscape mode, so you have kick back the kick stand and take the mobile back in hand.

Email and SMS

Setting up an email account is very straight-forward. The automatic setup worked seamlessly for me to set up Gmail, Yahoo and Live emails. Plus there are a plethora of options and setting to refine you’re your setup later. The email app is awesome. The layout is very clean and clear. The navigation is pretty simple and typical of Win Phone 7. But a few options that are specific to email accounts like Gmail are not available upfront. For instance to mark a mail as spam or to archive it or to change label, the available options are not very intuitive. And where are the threads? The app pushes you back to the era of serial mail view. But if you forget about native Gmail features, you are in for a pleasure ride. The search key is integrated with the email app and it instantly opens up the options to search emails that have been synced with the device. One little pain is the absence of universal email inbox. Each email account has its own link and inbox. A combined inbox would have been better. Hope Mango brings it. But in total, this email experience is the best in class I have ever experienced. It’s very straight forward and easy to use.

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The SMS / MMS app is also as straight forward as the email app. Its got the conversation view with speech bubble neatly stacked above each other, the latest being at the bottom. The SMS or Email app settings are not available from the applications. All settings are collated at a single place under settings, which is pretty acceptable. But a few tiny settings like notifications, color theme, etc could have been made available and accessible from the application.

Browser – Internet Explorer

Instinctive Internet Explorers can now take the back seat and forget that it’s the IE engine to start enjoying the absolutely user experience pleasure sponsored by the browsing application in Windows Phone 7. The browser supports pinch to zoom action, and it was real fast and smooth even when the page was still loading. However the zoom action does not realign the text to fit the screen. You could pin any page to the home screen. The browser supports tabbed browsing, but limited to a max of 6 tabs. The tabs continue to load in the background. The browser does not support HTML5, Flash or even Silverlight.

The speed of loading a page was incredible. Check out our experimental video where we compare the browser loading speeds of Windows Phone 7 IE browser and Android webkit browser. IE did almost match the speed of Android browser, which was quite surprising.

Contact Management – People

Windows Phone 7 has a feature called People hub. It syncs with your contacts in mail accounts or social networking accounts and creates a platform to start interaction or conversation with the people in your contact list. It syncs almost everything from the Facebook contact. If you have too many friends in Facebook, whom you don’t interact in real life, then its best not to sync the Facebook account and don’t worry there is not Twitter account integration. The status updates from the people hub gets aggregated in a tile called ‘Me’. But the people hub has it contains limited functionality for a contact management utility. It feels that the application is in its vanilla version. It needs a lot more functionality and the control must be given to the user to mange contacts.

The Marketplace

Application Market is mandatory for any phone OS to qualify and cater to a Smartphone. Windows Phone 7 has its own Market, called the Marketplace, to let the users download applications or games from the server. The volume of applications available in the Marketplace does not match Android or iOS, but it’s clearly showing signs of growth and popularity among the developers and users. In the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, apart from apps and games, Music is also available. Clear categorization is not there, but you get a mix of apps and games in the search result as well as the features page. The infancy of Marketplace is further proved by the absence of suggestions or suggested alternatives. Typical of Microsoft, more emphasis and highlight is given to paid applications. Relatively there are less number of free applications in the Marketplace, which isn’t surprising at all. Once you decide to download the application, the process is quite smooth. The applications are que’d one behind the other for download and they don’t get parallel downloads like in Android, which is a good feature (or lack-of-feature) especially if you are in a slow network. Once the application is downloaded and installed there is not notification. You just have to go the menu hub to find the application. The Marketplace and its integration with Windows Phone 7 has a long way to go. The elements are in place but the maturity isn’t.

3rd Party Applications

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I installed a few basic applications from the market place and a few free games. There are certain applications like the Facebook which works seamlessly with Windows Phone 7 inspite of being a 3rd party application. But most of the applications don’t follow UI standards. They suffer from either slow speed or inconsistent user interaction modeling. Because of the inconsistent interaction, the learning curve and cognitive load for every application is steep and heavy. Certain applications are developed by Microsoft like the World clock and Unit converter and these applications have a standard UI. Why not 3rd party applications follow these standards? I think Microsoft is not strict enough to enforce these guidelines like Apple.

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Certain 3rd party games are slow in rendering and lack stability. The Xbox live games are of high quality. But that quality and performance is not found in most of the free 3rd party games I download for test. Maybe the paid versions had better performance. Lack of Multitasking is seriously felt while using these games and applications. They can’t even maintain a persistent state when the screen is locked and unlocked. So far the applications which were performing great are moTweets, Flickr, Shazam, Facebook and Foursquare. Missing Flash and/or Silverlight layer of Integration in Windows Phone 7.

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Office

Moving over the Native applications that come installed with the phone, Microsoft Office bargains a special mention. Serious business and Office users would find that Windows Phone 7 is a dream comes true for them. The Microsoft office is perfectly integrated with the OS. Both its viewing and editing functionality is a charm to use. Though there are a minor inabilities in the Word Editor like the lack of font control, these can be ignored owing to the great usability and pleasing efficiency of the overall suite. Excel has also got a solid set of functionalities that would make it a usable application on Mobiles. PowerPoint lacks the ability to create documents, but its got good slide show capability. I rarely use SharePoint and OneNote on desktop, so I didn’t even try them on the mobile. But the Microsoft Office Suite in the Windows Phone 7 gives you all the freedom and functionality you will ever need for any Office application on the go.

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Maps

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The implementation of Microsoft Bing Maps in Windows Phone 7 is a job well done, though Bing Map is not a mature mapping application. The maps have traffic information and satellite imagery. HTC HD7’s GPS reception is fantastic and the lock happens quite quickly. The Pinch to Zoom function is smooth. To search for a location, you can either type of provide voice input. Though it lags voice guided navigation, the direction tool is very user-friendly. Its has a split screen showing the map at the top and the directions at the bottom. As the path is travelled, the map moves around. The direction finder offers direction for driving and walking.

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Music and Video

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The music and video player is tightly integrated with the Zune software. It sync all your playlist, music files and video files with the ones from the PC seamlessly. The controls on the mobile are fairly minimalistic with just the right numbers of options and settings. Video player was marvelous in HTC HD7. You can just kick out the stand and enjoy a full movie. But the speaker on mobile is weak. You need to connect it to external speakers or headset to enjoy the Dolby effect.

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Final Words

The Windows Phone 7 UI is a concept that has been completely rethought and rewritten from scratch. It’s got it flaws, but its usability and responsiveness over-weigh its flaws. The target audience for the device is the executive class or the working business class. Such an intuitive UI and user experience will definitely make life easy for the target audience and it will cut back the learning curve by a huge margin. However for users migrating from Android or iOS, the cultural shock of a new UI with ultra modern navigation patterns will surely make users frown but eventually they will turn to appreciate it.

HTC HD7 is a solid phone and it’s underlying statement to prove is that the Windows Phone 7 is here and it’s here to stay. HD7 is pitched for its Multimedia capabilities, but it fails to make an impression on that front. What it stands for is the build quality of HTC and the user experience of Windows Phone 7. If you are looking for a high-end smart phone with Windows Phone 7 at its heart, then look nowhere and HTC HD7 is the right choice.

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