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Windows Phone 7.5 – How Does it Compare to Android? [Opinion]

Samsung Focus S

For the past week I’ve been reviewing the Samsung Focus S. I believe that competition drives innovation, so I love spending time with multiple devices and operating systems to see what works well and what doesn’t. I think most of us have spent some quality time with an iOS device and are aware of the competition it presents, but I’m guessing that most of us haven’t played with Windows Phone very much. So how does Windows Phone 7 stack up against Android?  

Lock Screen
One of the most important things on a modern smartphone is the lock screen. I think this is one of the areas that Microsoft did really well. As you can see in the image above (the quality won’t be the best because WP7 doesn’t have an easy way to take screen shots), the lock screen gives the usual information at the top of the display (connectivity, battery), the time and date, and my next appointment. To unlock the device, you slide the lock screen upwards. The lock screen is simple, yet elegant.

Start Screen
The Start Screen is  where the simplicity of Windows Phone really shines. If you use Launcher 7 then you should be fairly familiar with the appeal to Windows Phone’s Metro UI. Rather than have pages of widgets and app icons, Windows Phone highlights important applications and information through Live Tiles. The point of these Live Tiles is to give users quick information or to jump into an app’s feature or content more quickly. The calendar tile launches the app, shows me the date, and shows me an upcoming appointment. Another feature is pinning an album or a contact to Start for easy access. Sliding the start screen to the left reveals a list of all most of the apps installed on the device.

Multi-Tasking
Windows Phone 7.5 introduced multi-tasking to the platform, though the implementation of multi-tasking is one of the worst I’ve seen on a modern smartphone.  To access multi-tasking, you hold down the back button. At first I thought this was a strange implementation, but holding back to return to an app makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, however, is the limit to only six applications being stored for multi-tasking. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this limitation is that often times applications are duplicated in the list, as can be seen in the photo above (Internet Explorer is the middle and left option). To make matters worse, the only way to jump back into an application from where you left off is to use the back button. Opening the app from its Start icon re-launches the app, even if it’s been cached in multi-tasking. This needs to be improved upon greatly if Microsoft wants to compete with Android and iOS.

Applications
The selection of applications available for Windows Phone 7 is sparse at best. Though the Marketplace has 50,000 applications, many big name developers and apps are missing. Even the apps that are present often lack major features that are present in their Android and iOS counterparts. Twitter, for example, lacks push notifications (and good luck finding a third party app that compares to third party apps for Android). The YouTube app is just a shortcut to Internet Explorer. Many major apps like Facebook and last.fm were developed by Microsoft, demonstrating a lack of developer support for the platform. If Microsoft wants to succeed, they need to start pushing more of their cash in front of developers.

Gaming
Gaming is even more of a joke. Light games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are available for $2.99 and more graphically intense games like Assassin’s Creed ($4.99) Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 ($6.99) are available. It’s a bit strange to me that these games are all more expensive than their Android and iOS counterparts. Perhaps the higher costs are developers’ way to make up for the low market share of Windows Phone. Another annoyance is how gaming is organized. Instead of listing your games along with other apps from the Start screen, games are collected in the Games hub. They can be pinned to the Start screen, but it’s still a sloppy implementation.

Productivity
Windows Phone comes with Microsoft Office built in. The Office apps work well for editing documents and spreadsheets and viewing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. OneNote, Microsoft’s premier note taking application, is also built in. The editor is very basic and you’re limited to local storage, Office 365, SharePoint, or SkyDrive to store files.

Email offers a decent experience with support for Exchange (shocking!), IMAP, and POP accounts. Surprisingly, Gmail is well integrated. Unlike iOS devices, selecting Gmail when setting up email will set up sync with email, contacts, and calendars (this can be done with iOS, but only by setting up Gmail as an Exchange account). That said, the application uses especially large fonts when viewing messages, making the browsing experience sub par (the relatively low resolution of Windows Phone devices may be influential as well).

Other productivity apps like Calendar and Messaging continue the same Metro trends of clean text and hyper-simplistic graphics. The Calendar application is similar to the email application in terms of giant fonts and restrictive resolutions, but unless your calendar is especially crowded it’ll get the job done. The messaging app is extremely simplistic, with white text boxed off in solid hues. It certainly isn’t flashy, but it also doesn’t look like Microsoft spent much time on it.

Major and Minor Annoyances
Throughout the past week there have been a number of major and minor issues that have bothered me about Windows Phone. One of the more annoying issues is the volume level. Windows Phone has thirty (30!) different levels of volume. Try as I might, I had a hard time really telling the difference between 13 and 14. It’s a minor oversight, but it’s an annoying one.

Another minor issue is the inconsistency of the physical button’s functions. As I mentioned before, holding the back button to see your recently opened applications makes sense. Just hitting the back button functions almost identically to the Android back button. The Start button brings you back to the Start screen, but holding it launches voice command. Hitting the search button launches Bing. That’s it. Holding it does nothing. Hitting the search button in an app launches Bing. In other words, it’s a rarely used button. Hopefully in a future update Microsoft will allow the use of the search button for an in-app search.

A more critical issue is notifications. If you’re in the middle of an app, a bar with the notification will slide along the top of the screen and stay there for about ten seconds before going away forever. After the notification disappears, the lock screen will display a badge for the app and the app will have a numerical badge next to it if you’ve pinned it to the Start screen. There is no centralized place to see all of your notifications, which can be a bit maddening if you’re used to a modern operating system.

Conclusions
I honestly can’t imagine using a Windows Phone 7 device as my main phone for any extended period of time. The animations and scrolling are slick, the UI is cohesive, and the simplicity is attractive, but the overall experience is not on par with Android or iOS. Android offers a better experience in terms of apps (both availability and price), multi-tasking, notifications, service integration, gaming, and productivity. It doesn’t matter how fast your phone is if it’s lacking in so many areas. So many parts of the operating system feel unfinished or untouched that it’s honestly astounding to me that this is the second major release.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Windows Phone 7 feels like 21st MS-DOS. Microsoft says that the inspiration for Metro UI is “street and airport signage.” The signage inspiration is clear, but what isn’t clear is why Microsoft thought that reverting the majority of visual cues to text would provide a better experience to the overtly graphical interfaces found in Android and iOS. Even if the apps were there (and to be clear, there is a serious dearth of quality apps), there are so many part of Windows Phone 7 that still feel incomplete or not thought through. Why would you make the email text so big that you can only preview four to five messages on a screen without scrolling? Why limit multi-tasking to six applications? Why do applications relaunch if you slect them from the Start menu instead of the multi-tasking menu? Why doesn’t the email app replicate changes made on the server for IMAP connections? These are massive oversights that were possibly forgivable in the initial release, but to still have these issues in the second major version is incredible.

Tim Cook is right, Microsoft will keep trying. I’m glad they decided to start over with Windows Phone 7, but if they want to break into an already established industry, they need to offer a product that blows the competition out of the water. Microsoft does not have that product. For the foreseeable future the smartphone space is going to continue to be dominated by Apple and Google. That’s a disappointing sentence to write, but it’s the truth. I want more competition. More competition drives real innovation. Android would not be as polished as it is today if Apple hadn’t pushed the importance of design. iOS wouldn’t have the excellent notifications it has now if it weren’t for Android paving the way. I believe that Microsoft has some good ideas in Windows Phone 7, but if they really want to make an impact they need to do a lot better.

  • Salokinos

    I am a windows phone user here, and I see I am a bit late to the party, but I thought I would put my 2 cents in. However, I would like to say first, that I do like android and all its customizable goodness, and use it on my tablet. Also, this community seems to mostly consist of individuals who actually back up their ideas and opinions with facts and reearch; cheers to that.

    Last year, while I was still stuck in my AT&T contract I was looking for a viable alternative to an Iphone, but I couldn’t find a good android phone with a physical keyboard and a good camera with a flash (on AT&T) at that time. Eventually I ended up stumbling upon LG’s quantum running windows mobile 7, I saw that it iwas a brand new OS, probably with lots of issues but I decided to take a risk on it and I am glad I did. I’ll talk more about that later

     I agree that a lot of your complaints are certainly accurate, the multi tasking in particular is something that could be fixed, however a lot of your”needs to be fixed” or “doesn’t make sense” complaints are rather flawed or maybe just a little arrogant. The comment about the inconsistency of the physical buttons in particular makes me think you don’t understand a fundemental part of the UI. Tap and hold is a significant part of the UI. You can press a button, touch a contact or just about anything and it will open, start an application or do a  basic function, but if you touch and hold your finger on any of these things a whole new set of options opens up.  This is true of the physical buttons as well, it works the same on almost everything on every single phone and eliminates a need for additinal menu links and it is used throughout it a way that unifies the os, so calling it inconsistent makes me think you didn’t figure out how to take the best advantage of the UI.

    Another thing that I think you just didn’t seem to like for no good reason was that games were put in a sepearate spot from other applications, I can easily say why not? and I’ll have all the same reasoning that you did lol. however, as you said you can pin any game to the metro page, and it keeps a potentialy long app list from adding to another potenially long list, the rest of the apps. This is a very small gripe that seemed silly (along with the volume gripe lol).

    I agree that the the internal search could be  better, however you can search the for individual apps in the same way you can search for contacts. Unfortunately, you can only do that once you have a certain number of apps. How that number was chosen seems flawed but at least the function is available. 

    I’ll just mention a few things that I really like about the OS that I really like but most people seem to disparage. Firstly, the notification system works in an excellent manner, at least for me. The notification bar pops up and my phone either make s asound and or vibrates for a moment, but then quickly fades away. All these things happening at once makes it impossible for me to miss that I recieved a notification, but then they go away and I don’t have to deal with them if I don’t want to. Then when I go to my home page, or tile page i have all my notifications availalbe laid organized in any way I choose within the metro system. I know someone else talked about this earlier but I can’t emphasize enough how well this works. Part of this is how I can put whole groups of people right on my main page. I have a group for work, a group for family and a group for others. If I get a tex, call, email facebook message or whatever, I can immediatly see how I have been contacted but from what part of my life that I have been contacted all without opening any apps.

    Part of all this notifications is the way that facebook, twitter, email, and other messanger client have been put into one thread for each contact, while still showing me in a clear cut way which way the contact messaged me; whew tongue twister there lol. I can’t think of a more solid way that social networking has been built into an os, and that’s including all the ways you can customize these things within android. It just works beautifully.  

    The metro UI itself, is as many have called it is elegant. But why is it so elegant? The live tiles are so uselfull because of the key work “live” constantly updating and changing the way they look without losing their identity is extremely usefull. Those large tiles that you don’t like for their large text seem pretty good on a contact group that constantly updates new pictures from that group of people.

    These are just a few of small ways in with the metro os works very well. I have typed the length of a novel, so I’ll cut myself short, but very happy to talk about others if anyone is interested.

    Lastly, I will say that customization is needed within the UI and could be done very easily in Microsoft wants to do it. you could change the shapes of the tiles, Fonts, background etc.. There are lots of ways it that it could (and in my humble opinion should) be done without changing the integral value of the Metro UI. We’ll see if it happens. 

    Remember, this is an OS in its toddler stage, and that although it has a long way to go, it has advanced quite a bit within its first year. 50k apps in (less than?) one  year is an acccomplishment worth mentioning. This new windows phone OS has a lot of growing to do, but my oh my does it have promise. Thats something I remember hearing in android’s first year as well… sorry this was sooooo long.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I stand by what I wrote. The physical buttons are strangely organized. Like I said, holding back makes sense, but why would I want a Search button that launches Bing? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. It feels like a waste of a button. As for the gaming hub, I can’t see why someone people might enjoy having to unlock their screen, tap on gaming, and then scroll down to the game they want below links to overpriced sponsored games… The volume issue is a small gripe, yes, but that doesn’t make it less annoying. Having thirty levels is overkill. Notifications are an absolute mess. The only way they’re useful is if you have the appropriate apps pinned to your Start screen, which leads to a confusing, jumbled experience for the user. Social networks are definitely well integrated, but notifications make keeping up annoying. 

      You’re right that Windows Phone shows some promise, but the excuse that it’s young isn’t good enough anymore. We’re rapidly approaching a duopoly between Android and iOS. The only way for a third competitor to enter this space is going to be for them to blow past the competition. In 2012 Windows Phone is still behind webOS in terms of notifications and multitasking. That’s not good. 

  • Algorhythm511

    Haha..I wonder what BenThePC guys reaction to this article would be. I am sure he might be feeling some #WP7rage. Personally, I think his twitter campaign is a shabby way to promote Windows Phone, considering I am just got an HTC Arrive. To be honest my HTC EVO is probably Still going to be my daily driver.

    The big thing is that when people criticize Android is they are usually critizing it out of the box. Even though it has it’s flaws with the level of customization you can usually just download an app to get rid of that problem. I am running Launcher Pro and JuiceDefender on mine. Mine is very smooth and has been off the charger for 32 hours and now it is down to eight percent.

    That is the problem with WP7 is it is a one size fits all deal. If don’t like something you don’t have very many options.

  • James Friedman

    They did make a pretty sweet looking spotify app though 

  • Steve

    I would like to thank you here at DROID life for a totally unbiased review of the WINDOWS phone os.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      You’re welcome. :)

    • James Friedman

       I agree, I had heard a lot of good things about WP7 but most of those opinions were from IOS users that like to throw rocks at Android. They always used words like elegant and classy and I wanted to throw up….I do however like the fonts they use, but as far as overall experience I will pass on the box within a box style of UI

  • Anonymous

    : I agree. I’d love to see Microsoft enter into the mobile front with a much more mastered OS. Hopefully in the next release they can tackle these issues AND have room for some pleasant surprises that may turn heads of the Android enthusiasts (seeing that i*hone users mostly will only ever own i*hones. lol).

  • http://twitter.com/MrBouche MrBouche

    Some people like the UI and others, like myself, hate it.   I can’t stand looking at those squares, it makes me feel as if I’m a toddler. It’s funny how some people want a level of sophistication and others don’t. 

    To be fair, my phone is rooted and one of the reasons is being able to put whatever theme I want on my phone.  Having combed through hundreds, I can honestly say that I’m a fussy pain in the ass.  I couldn’t really have a phone with an OS that’s not Android! :)

    P.S. Thank you to ALL of the developers and designers for making something unique and sharing them with us.  You’re a big part of the reason we love Android!

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I think the simplicity appeals to a lot of people, but for many it’s too simple. It feels like you can’t do much with it. MS may have to address that eventually.

  • Nerdy Desi

    I’ve yet to use a WP7 device at all. But I really don’t like this Metro UI that so many people are raving about. It just looks too simplified for my tastes.

    Then again, don’t knock it till you try it.