For the last couple of months, I have been forced to wait on the sidelines, watching with envy while my friends and colleagues reviewed countless GSM-based Windows Phone 7 devices. My time would come, I knew. The CDMA version had been announced and would be coming soon to Sprint. I just had to be patient and wait…and wait…and wait. Did I mention that patience is not exactly my strong suit? Finally, in mid-March, my time came. The folks at Sprint were kind enough to send me a review unit. I started my testing with that device, and before long purchased one of my own. This review is based upon my experience with both devices. That should tell you how excited I was to check out this brand new operating system from Microsoft. So, let’s not wait any longer and jump right into this review.
In the Box: It seems like these mobile device boxes get emptier and emptier with each successive generation. They used to include a myriad of accessories, such as styli, docks, cases, screen protectors, and more. Today, those are all things of the past. In addition to the phone all you will find here is a sync/charge cable, AC adaptor, battery (which is not shown since it is in the device) and fairly nondescript headphones. That’s it. I am always disappointed when I purchase a $200 relatively fragile device and do not even find a pouch, case, or screen protector in the box.
HTC Arrive Hardware: Now that we have the device out of the box, let’s go ahead and move on to our standard walk around the hardware. I am not going to spend a terrible amount of time here, because the real attraction is under the hood on the software side.
On top you will find the power button. Due to the hinge on the right hand side (we will get to that) the power button is more centered than normal. To be honest, this threw me off terribly at first. It seem like a small thing, but I am just used to hitting the corner of the device for the power button. I eventually got used to it, but for a while it really threw me for a loop. Like I said, a small detail, but it requires relearning the muscle memory for that button. Push the power button to send the screen into sleep mode. Push and hold to power off the device. Next to the power button, you will find the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. I appreciated the placement of the headphone jack on top of the device. I have used devices which place it on the bottom or worse, on the side of the device, and it drives me crazy. Putting the headphone jack on top simply makes the most sense for dropping the device in your pocket while listening to music with headphones.
On the left hand side (as you are looking at the screen) is the volume rocker. I thought HTC did a great job with the design here, blending it into the body of the device, while leaving enough tactile feedback to easily control the volume of your device without looking. Again, this seems like a minor point, until you need it.
Beneath the volume rocker is a microUSB jack which you can use for syncing and charging the device. I would have preferred this jack to be on the bottom or top of the device, rather than the side. That just makes it more convenient to charge, but the jack on the side worked just fine as well.
The right hand side contains only the camera button. I am not a fan of including a lot of hard buttons on a touch screen phone. The purpose of a touch screen is to eliminate the clutter of hard buttons. That being said, a hard camera button is the one hardware control I always like to have. When I want to take a spontaneous photo or video, the last thing I want to do is fumble through the on screen menus trying to find the correct icon. So, I really did appreciate the inclusion of this button.
The only thing on the bottom of the phone is the microphone. I was not terribly impressed by the placement of this microphone. Putting on the rear of the bottom meant you were not necessarily speaking directly into it when talking on the phone (that dot near the hinge on the right is what I am talking about). More on that when we get to call quality in a bit.
On the back of the device is the camera lens. That is a 5 megapixel still camera, as well as a 720p HD video camera. We will be taking a much closer look at those in a bit. There is also a flash back there near the lens as well. Next to the camera is the built in speaker. The placement of this speaker made no sense to me. It means that if I want to listen to music, I cannot set down the device or the music is playing directly into the table, making it a bit difficult to hear. So, if you plan to listen to music using this device, you will want to make sure you have external speakers or headphones available.
Take off the back and you will find the battery. Not much to see here. I will be testing the battery more extensively and letting you know what I find a bit later. What is most remarkable here is what I did not find. There is no memory card slot back here which, for a device which does such a great job with music is a huge disappointment. There is also no kickstand. Now, kickstands are by no means required or even standard. In fact, the EVO (also an HTC phone on Sprint) is the only device I have used recently which included one. With this device’s focus on video content, including Netflix as a software partner, as well as the speaker placement on the back of the device, it would have just made sense to include a kickstand, so you could stand the device on its side while viewing.
That brings us back to the hinge on the right hand side, which I mentioned earlier. This is one of my favorite features of the hardware, it is what allows the keyboard to tilt. Simply slide open the keyboard, and it will engage this hinge. The hinge will lift the screen into a tilted 30 degree angle (approximately) which is prefect for typing while looking straight at the screen. I absolutely loved this. By shifting the screen just slightly away from the same plane as the keyboard, the entire experience of typing on the sliding keyboard significantly more comfortable.
The keyboard itself was fantastic. The keys were a good size to accommodate my sloppy thumbs, and even allowed me a certain degree of touch typing based upon the tactile feedback of using a keyboard instead of on screen soft input panel. Additionally, I was extremely pleased to find that HTC tossed their standard four row keyboard, opting instead to include a five row keyboard. This means the number keys can be located in their traditional spot in the row above the letters (which by the way are arranged as a standard QWERTY style keyboard.) Beneath the letter keys are a variety of commonly used symbols, including an emoticon button and symbols. You will also find a four-way arrow rocker, allowing you to direct the curser around the screen. This was an absolutely perfect keyboard, and is exactly the keyboard which I have pined for in so many mobile device reviews. The only problem was the the interface tended not to cooperate well with this keyboard. Sure, it typed just fine on the screen. As you can see, though, the screen rotation between portrait and landscape was quite buggy, and often did not rotate at all. This is a real shame, as it really impedes the use of the keyboard. Hopefully, Microsoft will get this straightened out soon.
That brings us all the back to the face of the device, which is dominated by the 3.6 inch capacitive touch screen with 480×800 resolution. This means a crisp and bright image, which is extremely responsive. Above the screen is the phone earpiece. Beneath it are three buttons.
On the left is the back button, in the middle is home, and on the right is search. Those are the only off-screen controls you will need. Which is the perfect segway to talk about the interface.
Windows Phone 7 Interface: Two words. LIVE TILES! It may have taken them over half a decade, but Microsoft is finally back in the game with Windows Phone 7. The main Windows Phone 7 interface should feel relatively familiar to all of you who used the Zune regularly. For those of you who did not use the Zune, there are three screens: the Lock Screen, Start Screen, and Apps List. What I really liked about this one was the way it followed the KISS principle, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. The basic premise of KISS is to avoid unnecessary complexity. Get in, get the job done and get out. That seems to be the approach MS took here, with the minimalist interface and organization. The result was a mobile OS which really shines, intruding as little as possible between you and your information/data, which is exactly the way a mobile OS should perform.
The Lock Screen is pretty much what you will see when you turn on the phone. The bulk of it is basically just a static wallpaper image, much like the lock screen on any number of phones you have all seen before. There are a number of included wallpapers, or you can use your own photo. In addition to that static image, the lock screen is chock full of information. Right in the middle, you have the time and date. Other icons on the screen will also show you your next upcoming appointment, as well as any missed calls, pending voicemails, unread text messages, or unread emails. I am going to spend some more time talking about notifications in a minute, but I really felt this was a huge improvement for Microsoft. Just flick the screen up to move the lock screen aside like a curtain at a stage show to reveal the real players here, the home screen.
The main screen in Windows Phone 7 is the Start Screen. From here, you can use the newly created hub system, along with the incredible live tiles, to access virtually anything on your device. While I have to admit that the hubs did come with a bit of a learning curve, once you get used to using them, they are absolutely fantastic. Essentially what they do is put all of the related information together in one easy to access area. There are, for example, the People Hub (contacts), Zune Hub, and Marketplace Hub. In addition to the hubs, this is a completely customizable screen, with many opportunities to utilize live tiles to convey easy to access at-a-glance information. You can pin virtually anything on your device here. Shortcuts to apps, websites, contacts, almost anything you want. The only things which could not be pinned here were individual files, such as a favorite song or document.
While the hubs are cool, the live tiles are what really makes this interface special and user friendly. Many apps will display images and information, making it easier to use your device. The photo tile, for example, will display one of the pictures stored on your device, rotating to a new picture every five times you open the photo app. Likewise, the Zune (music and videos) hub shows an image of the last thing you listened to/watched. The People Hub is also really cool, showing an ever changing collage of your contacts. Many third party apps also feature tiles, such as these weather apps which display the current weather (above).
My favorite feature, though, was the behavior of any contacts pinned to the Home Screen. Not only does the live tile show your contacts’ photos, as you would expect, they also occasionally “flip” to reveal their recent Facebook status updates. This puts your favorite people AND their Facebook updates right on your Home screen (currently, this only supports Facebook, but rumor has it that Twitter updates may be coming soon as well). Now that is a fantastic feature.
The final screen in the main interface is the App List. This is, simply put, the an alphabetical list of all of the apps and services loaded on your device. This worked well enough if you are not planning to load many apps. Really, though, if you are addicted to the App Marketplace like me, then you are going to have to do a lot of scrolling in order to make you way down to that Weather app or YouTube. This screen really needs to offer options to rearrange, group, or categorize your apps in order to make things more accessible. There is also no way to search for a particular app on your device or jump to a later portion of the list, like you can on the Zune. This inability to organize your apps was one of the biggest complaints I had about the early iPhone, and I feel the same way here. The App List has a lot of potential, and it is a shame Microsoft did not do more here. Hopefully more options to organize your apps will appear in future updates.
I have to say that I absolutely loved the main interface in Windows Phone 7. The three screens are clean, simple, and provide your necessary information in a meaningful way. Additionally, the more I use this interface, the more I think that the new live tiles may just be the best feature to make their way onto a mobile device. They were just an absolutely brilliant idea, and the execution was as near to perfect as I have seen. I was disappointed by the lack of attention given to the organization of the App List, and hopefully that will be updated with more features and options soon. In the end, Windows Phone 7 offered an ideal compromise between the infamous walled garden of Apple’s iOS and the wide-open blank slate of Google’s Android OS.
Notifications: Notifications are a pretty big feature for me. When something happens which I need to know, I want that notification (whether it was a new email, instant message, or appointment) front and center where I can find it easily. In the past, Windows Mobile has been terrible at this, displaying your notifications for a few seconds and then hiding them away. Android took a similarly frustrating approach. So, I was pretty excited when I saw how well Windows Phone 7 handled notifications, putting them in two places where they can easily be seen with a glance, and leaving them there until you clear them.
Let’s start with the lock screen, which displays every time you turn on your device. Here, you will find your next appointment, as well as icons on the bottom showing new emails, text messages, missed calls, and voicemails. I love the fact that these are front and center, rather than hidden under a notification bar.
When a calendar event occurs, a notification will also appear on the top of your screen. Unlike other mobile operating systems, this notification will remain on your screen until you either dismiss it or snooze the notification. No more hiding notifications here.
Similarly, the first line of a new text message will appear on top of the screen. I do wish this notification were more prominent like calendar events, however, the information remains in place on the lock and home screen, so you are not likely to miss it.
Once you get passed the lock screen, these notifications will not abandon you. The live tiles on the Start Screen will continue to convey this information with counters showing the number of unread emails, text messages, missed calls, or voicemails. This was a fantastic way to ensure you are always able to determine the status of your communications.
I absolutely loved the way Windows Phone 7 handled notifications. This was a huge improvement over previous generations of Windows Mobile, and really did a terrific job of keeping this vital information right where you needed it most.
Copy and Paste: There are few features which have received as much attention from smartphone enthusiasts as copy-paste. When the iPhone was initially released without it, the uproar was…well, it was about as close to criticizing Apple as many people have come. So, it came as a bit of a shock when Windows Phone 7 was initially announced without this feature. Fortunately, the Arrive was the first phone to ship with the NoDo update installed, including copy-paste.
The copy-paste feature could not be more user friendly. Simply tap a word, on virtually any screen to highlight it. From there, just drag the corners of the highlight box so that the entire portion you wish to copy is included. Then tap the copy button. I was a bit disappointed that there was no way to initially select multiple words at once. On the desktop version of Windows, multiple taps of the mouse allow you to select an entire line, sentence, or paragraph. It would be nice if there was an equivalent option here, allowing you to select all, or select the whole sentence/paragraph.
Once you have moved to the desired location for the text you cut, just take a quick glance down to the onscreen keyboard. The panel above the keyboard (which normally contains the autocorrect pane) will have a small paste icon. Tap that and your work is done. This functionality really could not be easier. I only wish it was a bit more robust. Copying a large amount of text can be a bit cumbersome as it requires quite a lot of scrolling. A select all or select the entire line/sentence/paragraph at once would be an extremely nice addition here.
Dialing and Phone Calls: I have always maintained that as smart as these devices are, they still have to accomplish one core function. At their hearts, these things are still first and foremost phones. As many other features as they offer, they still must be able to perform that most basic of tasks. So, let’s first take a look at making and receiving calls, and then we will talk about call quality.
When you tap the phone hub, the screen will open directly to your call history. Three buttons on the bottom of the screen lead to your voicemail, keypad, and contacts. In other words, all the tools you need to make a call.
Receiving a call works great. If your screen is locked, then caller ID will pop up, and instruct you to swipe the screen in order to reveal buttons to answer or ignore the call. If your phone is in use, then the call will skip the swipe screen. When I initially started testing this phone, I was a bit perplexed by the initial swipe screen, which seemed superfluous and unnecessary. Once I started considering it, however, I realized that this screen will do great things to prevent pocket answering. You know, when you are pulling your phone out of your pocket and hit the button to answer before you are ready. That will not happen when the button is protected by the swipe screen.
When you are in a call, pull down the menu to access the speakerphone, flash to call waiting, or even conference in another caller.
I really liked the phone interface on this device. It was snappy and responsive, and like the rest of this device, it was extremely simple to use.
Which brings us to the actual experience of talking on the phone. Sadly, this proved to be a weak point on the device. The earpiece worked well enough. It was a bit uncomfortable in my ear, but not much more so than any other device I have used. The real problem lay in the microphone. Normally, the mic is located on the front of the device. In other words, right around the spot where your lips are going to be…perfect for picking up any sounds which might be emitted from them, as you…talk. On the Arrive, HTC moved the mic to the bottom of the phone, where it is facing away from your mouth, and the sounds emitting from it. While I am sure there was some reason for this design decision, I found it to be perplexing and annoying. The end result was far too many people (including my Mom) complaining that it sounded like I was swimming in a cave while talking to them. Disappointing.
The People Hub: Making phone calls is made incredibly more difficult without well organized contacts on your device. This is where the People Hub comes into the picture. This will contain all of your contacts…and more. The first thing you need to know is that Windows Phone 7, as has become common, will search out contacts from many of your online accounts, and merge them into a single unified contacts list, automatically linking the same person from different accounts into one place (including any email accounts and Facebook). This was absolutely perfect.
What really sets this apart from other mobile contact lists is the integration with your social media. When you enter the People Hub, you will be shown the most recent Facebook updates for all of your contacts, without the need to open another app. You can even update your own status and comment on others’ statuses, straight from the People Hub. Now that is really cool. It would be nice if other social networks were supported here. There are rumors buzzing around that Twitter may be supported soon, but it would also be great to see LinkedIn, Four Square, Plaxo, and others (even MySpace) included here.
The People Hub also keeps track of your most recently used contacts, so you can instantly jump to the individuals you contact the most, rather than requiring you to scroll through the entire list of contacts. The only problem here was that there was no way to ensure that a recently used contact will stay here. It would be nice if you could designate favorites on this screen, or even create other groups of contacts or mini-lists to make searching easier.
Messaging: Text messaging continues the extremely minimalist theme of the interface. When you enter the hub, you will be presented with a list of your conversations, with the most recent ones on top. Simply tap the one you wish to continue, or tap new to create a new conversation with one of your contacts. Once you enter the conversation, each message is contained within a thought bubble. Unlike some apps I have used and enjoyed, each party’s messages are not color coded. Instead, all of the thought bubbles will appear with the same color as the main background color of your selected theme. Your notes will be shown coming from the right hand side of the screen, the other party will be coming in from the left.
This is also the easiest app I have ever used for attaching pictures to your texts. Simply tap the attachment button to open the photoroll and attach a picture. Sadly, there is no opportunity to attach other types of files to a text message…but then again, no one else offers that either, so I suppose we cannot fault Windows Phone 7 for failing to invent something new just yet.
Email and Accounts: Windows Phone 7 can handle pretty much any email protocol you can toss at it. It is preconfigured for Windows Live, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Outlook (Exhange Server). However, you can set up virtually any Pop or Imap account. (though not Outlook on your computer.) Once synced, the phone will connect any combination of contacts, calendar, and email. With Windows Live, it can also sync your Messenger, photos, XBox account and more. Unfortunately, it could not sync all of these extras with other accounts, so all those pictures I have stored in Google Picassa were not doing me much good on this one.
Once you have your accounts setup, you will notice that there is no universal inbox, which is a shame. Each account will require a separate tile pinned to the home screen (or from the Apps List). Again, these tiles are active, meaning they will always show the number of new emails in your inbox. Interestingly, this did not display the total number of unread emails. Instead, it showed the number of new emails since the last time you opened your inbox. This is a change from most devices I have used, and I have to admit that I liked it.
So, let’s take a look at the inbox. Again, it utilizes the same, clean, KISS approach as the rest of Windows Phone 7. The result was a fantastic inbox, which maximizes the information on your screen, without creating clutter. The main screen consists of simply a list of your messages. Like the rest of the interface, the Inbox uses the same approach Microsoft created for the Zune HD of using words as graphics, and it works incredibly well. One thing that did take a bit of time to get used to was the marking for unread messages. Unlike most email apps I have used, which boldly highlight unread messages so they clearly stand out in your list, Windows Phone 7 simply subtly colors the subject to match your theme. Colored for unread, gray for read. That is all the indication you will get here. Then again, in addition to your complete inbox, you can swipe the screen to limit the view to unread messages (above), flagged, or urgent. A menu at the bottom of the screen also gives you access to other folders, as well as creating a new message.
Tapping any message will open it on the screen. The nice thing here is that Microsoft did a great job of minimizing the space used by elements of the email which were not actually part of the message. This maximizes the amount of space available on the screen for the body of the message. There it is again. KISS. Perfect.
Calendar: You can probably guess what I am going to say here. Like the rest of the interface, the calendar follows the main theme’s KISS approach. Unfortunately, while I liked the calendar interface, I thought it was a little too simple.
First thing’s first. The calendar does a great job with my primary need, putting my appointments smack in front of my face, so that I never miss a thing. Your next upcoming appointment will be displayed both on the lock screen and on the live calendar tile on your home screen.
The calendar will sync with all of your accounts, color coding each account a different color. The problem arose, however, when you have multiple calendars assigned to a single account. For example, I have five different calendars in my Google Calendar account. Windows Phone 7 will only sync the primary calendar, ignoring all others. Fortunately, I was able to find a work around from my old friends at Nuevasync (www.nuevasync.com), which is a third party sync service I have used since my Windows Mobile days. While Nuevasync was able to download and sync information from all of my calendars, Windows Phone 7 was still not able to distinguish them as coming from different calendars, and utilized a single color for all of them. So, although I did get the data, I was not able to keep the organization or structure. Very frustrating. Hopefully, Microsoft will do some about this problem soon, and allow syncing and color coding of multiple calendars from the same source.
Once in your calendar, there were two main views. In day view, you can view your entire day with appointments shown at the appropriate times. Agenda view will display a running list of all upcoming appointments. I thought both of these views worked great.
You can also flip out to the full month view, which shows the entire month at a glance. This view, however, was so small, that the only thing I found it useful for was determining on which day of the week a particular date would fall. I wish there had been a way to zoom in and out of this view, so that the month calendar could be more effective. Additionally, my favorite calendar view, the week view, was nowhere to be found here. Again, another frustrating omission.
Mobile Office: More than anything else in the new OS, I was prepared to face Mobile Office with equal parts excitement and trepidation. This is an app which was included with the original Windows Mobile which ran on my HP Jornada, and it was truly terrible. All the way through Windows Mobile 6.5, this has just been an awful app. So, I had high hopes, but low expectations for the new iteration which would come with Windows Phone 7.
Right off the bat, I loved the fact that Office 2010 now has a dedicated online storage space, which can sync directly with Mobile Office. This means anything you write on your computer can be easily synced onto your device by simply storing it online.
The app itself has three screens, One Note, which syncs notes with OneNote online (this is a nice feature since I also have OneNote on my iPad), Sharepoint (which I did not evaluate since I do not have a SharePoint server), and Documents (containing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). in other words, the only thing missing was Publisher, which would have been a bit tricky to use on such a small screen anyway. Additionally, although you can view and edit PowerPoint presentations which are synced to your device (or sent via email), there is no way to create PowerPoint presentations from the device itself.
While the interface worked well enough, I thought it could have been better. I really did not understand the logic behind separating OneNote into its own screen, but putting Word, Excel, and Powerpoint together. Additionally, SharePoint has two full screens, which was just wasted space for those of us who do not use SharePoint. It would have been nice if Office would have allowed some additional customization to create screens you see fit, which would also allow you to categorize documents by choosing on which screen to store them.
The other thing I found odd was the vast disparity between different screens within Mobile Office. Notes, for example, appear on the screen as a large orange square with the title of the note written inside it. Other documents appear as just the title with an icon showing the type (Word, Excel, or Powerpoint). This was an odd lack of consistency from an otherwise clean and simple interface.
I am not going to go through a full review of the entire app, or we really would be here forever. I do want to say, however, that I checked out all four apps contained in here (OneNote, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and they really worked well. The one thing I did want to make sure to mention is text formatting. In the past, formatted text was stripped out of documents when they were synced to a Windows Mobile device…an endless source of frustration for users. In this iteration, that is not a problem. All formatting within documents syncs seamlessly onto your device. Additionally, you can use the format button within the document to format text directly on your device. From here, you can change the font size, change the font color, highlight, or add bold, italics, underline, or strikethrough. I thought this was still a bit rudimentary, but it is still a huge improvement over what we have seen before in this app.
Mobile Office is still not the strongest part of the app, and does not come close to comparing with more powerful word processing apps on other platforms (like QuickOffice on iOS). Nonetheless, I was extremely impressed by how far Microsoft has come with this one. They really seem to have listened to user complaints about older versions of Mobile Office, and acted accordingly, which is great to see.
Zune: In my opinion, the best media player I have ever used was the Zune HD. Nothing else came close to the sound quality offered by Microsoft’s flagship media player. So, I was pretty excited to find the Zune incorporated into the HTC Arrive as the Music+Videos Hub. As you might expect, the audio quality was superb, just as it was with the Zune HD. Video worked well enough as well, though I have to admit that I am not a fan of watching such a small screen when I have my iPad available. Additionally, I noted that streaming video, like Neflix, worked much better over Wifi than 3G.
The interface worked great, with four panels. The first is the main Zune interface, which gives you access to your music, video, podcasts, radio, and marketplace. Next is History, which actually consists of two screens. The first screen shows what is playing now. The next screen displays the most recently played media (whether it is a radio station, video, or music). The next panel also consists of two screens, which show the most recently loaded items. Finally is the Marquee, which ties in certain third party apps, including YouTube, Slacker, and Last.fm. I am not sure exactly how the Zune app determined which third party media apps would be included here, though I did notice that not all of the music apps I loaded on my device were included. Like the Zune, while you are playing music, an image of the band will scroll in the background of the media player. As a final touch, that same image will be displayed on the Music+Video Hub on the homescreen.
In addition, there are also plenty of opportunities to stream music from the Internet. In addition to the Zune Pass, which is available through the Zune Marketplace, you can also check out Last.fm or Slacker Radio. I was disappointed, however, not to find my favorite music streaming option, Pandora. I would note, however, that while these apps will continue playing under the lock screen, only the Zune and Zune Pass will persistently play in the background while you access other apps. Third party apps, such as Last.fm and Slacker, will stop playing if you open another app, meaning you cannot check your messages or email without stopping the music. Hopefully, Microsoft will get this fixed soon.
Marketplace: I could write an entire article on the pros and cons of the Windows Phone marketplace…and we may get there someday. Today, however, is not that day, so this is just going to be a quick overview. I think Microsoft has a good start with the Marketplace. I was glad to see that this was not just a copy of the Apple App Store, but represented Microsoft’s unique vision. That being said, I found this to be the weakest component of the Windows Phone environment.
On the pro side, I liked the interface, which gives you access to apps, games, and music. Each section allows you to view top, new, and featured. Additionally, the games view also allows you to view free games (though there was not a similar screen for apps).
While I really liked the featured app/game, I found it unnecessary to give the featured app/game it own entire screen. Additionally, the Marketplace does not do well when you want to find an app or game which was not right on top of these main pages. Drilling down through the marketplace was no easy task, and searching really just did not work well at all. Microsoft really needs to overhaul this component with a top down rewrite of the infrastructure in order to make it more navigable and easier to poke around and find those hidden gems.
Once you do find the app you want, I thought Microsoft did a good job of presenting it. Each app page provided a complete description, along with plenty of screenshots. The description also offers user reviews, and a handful of similar apps. What was missing here, however, was a link to other apps by the same developer, which is my favorite way to find new apps.
Most disappointing to me, however, were the lack of apps in the Marketplace. While I do not expect it to be as robust as Android or iOS yet, there were quite a few cross-platform stalwarts which were not yet represented (Pandora, SugarSync, and Evernote come immediately to mind). Additionally, many of my favorites from the older Windows Mobile days were nowhere to be found. If this platform is going to be a success, Microsoft must do a better job of wooing developers to enhance the platform with quality apps.
All of that being said, I was thrilled by one important aspect of the Marketplace. Microsoft has gotten rid of points. No more cryptic Zune points or X-Box points are required to purchase apps, games, or music. Every transaction takes place in real world dollars and “sense”.
X-Box Live: All of your games will be stored in the X-Box Live Hub. I thought this tie in with the X-Box and X-Box Live system was pretty cool. Personally, I am not an X-Box user, as my family owns a Wii; so I was not able to fully test this tie in. That being said, I liked having a separate hub and section for games. It would be nice if there were additional sub-hubs for other app categories, in order to offer better organization of the apps on this device. I tested out a few games which had been recommended to me by other Windows Phone users, and I may get some time to review a few of my favorites in the coming months.
I was really impressed by how well the Arrive worked as a gaming device in general. I found quite a few complex games with superb graphics, and the device was able to handle them all. The only problem I really had with gaming on this device was the size of the screen, which seems tiny after utilizing the iPad for gaming. Additionally, gaming on the phone ALWAYS leads to dead batteries when you need your device the most. It is one of Murphy’s lesser known Laws. Neither of these points, however, are criticisms of the HTC Arrive hardware, or the Windows Mobile OS, both of which handled gaming wonderfully well. I say this more by way of explanation as to why you should not expect to see me doing a lot of gaming or game reviews from here (though Angry Birds and DoodleJump are both making their way to Windows Phone 7 soon). I will pretty much always prefer the iPad, and its 10 inch screen, for hardcore gaming; but the the Windows Phone interface and HTC Arrive hardware worked at least as well for casual gaming as anything else I have tried.
Camera and Photos Hub: I have often said that the cameras on cell phones are really somewhat less than adequate. The response I always seem to get from my friends is that the best camera is the one you have with you. Meaning a camera on your phone is better than any other camera you might buy if you leave those other cameras at home. For me, though, that only stands true if the camera I have with me takes good enough pictures to make it worthwhile. Most cameras on phones and mobile devices have simply been too poor to make that adage make real sense. The latest generation of devices, however, have really started to change that.
Right from the start, I liked the mechanism for this camera. As I mentioned earlier, a hard button on the side will activate the camera from virtually any screen on the device. This works well, as it takes only seconds to activate the camera when inspiration strikes. All too often, I have been left fumbling with an on screen menu trying to activate the camera while my subjects wandered away, so this hard button is certainly a welcome feature.
Once the camera has been activated, as you would expect, the bulk of the screen will serve as your viewfinder. On the right hand side are three buttons. On top is the toggle between the 5 MP camera and the 720p HD camcorder. Both of which worked extremely well. Beneath that is the zoom. After using the camera on the HTC Hero, and its barely perceptible zoom, I was surprised and pleased to find how well the zoom worked on this camera. You can see this in the above images. The one on the left is the widest angle zoom, while the right hand picture shows the closest zoom (both were taken from the same spot).
Finally, the bottom button opens the settings. From here, you can toggle the flash (off, on, or auto), change the scenes, change the effects, alter the resolution, adjust the metering mode, and adjust the flicker. In the camcorder, this menu will be slightly different, allowing you to still toggle the flash, as well as change any effects, change the resolution (QVGA, VGA, 720p), change the metering mode, adjust the flicker, or toggle the auto focus.
Taking pictures and video with this device was, I would say, acceptable. It was good enough that I can use the camera in a pinch when I do not have my regular camera, without fear of the images being unacceptable. The pictures, however, were not so great that I was ready to toss my camera altogether. I also wish that there was a better stability control, as sometimes the action of pushing the shutter button can cause the camera to shake, which obviously interferes with the resulting picture. You can see the results in the above photos, all of which were taken using the HTC Arrive.
Videos also worked well. Again, not nearly as well as my regular video camera, but certainly well enough to capture those unexpected spontaneous moments in a pinch. Above are two videos I shot using the HTC Arrive. On top is a VGA video. Beneath it is one shot in 720p HD. I thought the video could have been a bit crisper, but overall, it looked pretty good.
You can also swipe from left to right in order to enter the Pictures Hub, which is where we are heading next. From here, you can view all of the photos stored on your device (whether they were taken with the included camera, or loaded on separately). This hub will also sync with your Skydrive account and Facebook pictures. Finally, you can view the most recent pictures posted by your friends on their Facebook or Windows Live accounts. Again, I was really impressed by the Facebook and social network integration (though I would have appreciated better integration with other photo storage apps, such as Picasa or Flickr). You can also share any photo on your device by uploading it directly to your Facebook account, or sending it via email.
Search: This is another good news bad news component of the Windows Phone interface. First the good news. Searching for anything online from your Windows Phone 7 device is a snap. Just tap the search button from anywhere, no matter what you are doing, and you will be immediately taken to the Bing search page. This was a fantastic feature, not the least of which is due to the elaborate wallpaper underneath your search.
The wallpaper features an ever changing image, and this is not just any old static image. Each one features tap points which will provide additional information about the image.
To search, just tap in your search terms (or use the voice recognition to speak them) and away you go. The app will return web pages using your search terms, as well as news articles and area businesses in your location. This all worked great, and is really a fantastic feature.
What was missing, however, was the ability to search your device. The Apps List and Start Screen do not allow for any real organization of your apps. Toss in a library of contacts, music, games, and photos, and it can be pretty easy for things to get lost in there. The interface would really benefit from a universal search capability, which would allow you to type a single term and search all of the media, storage, apps, and other documents (including email) on your device. Without such a feature, you are really left to just scroll through one list after the other until you find the item you need.
Internet Explorer: The Internet is not just fast on this device, it is absolutely blazing. Microsoft finally caught up with itself, including Internet Explorer 8 on this device (and the promise that Internet Explorer 9 would not be far behind). Interestingly, IE8 does not offer a tabbed browsing approach like most mobile browsers (and its desktop equivalent). Instead, it followed the lead of Apple’s Safari, which has a thumbnail view of the most recent sites visited. In this case, that view will show the last six sites, allowing you to jump from one to the next. You an also store any site as a Favorite, as you might expect. This browser works well enough, though it was not as feature rich as a browser like Opera (which I am told may be coming soon as well). Still, if all you need is the ability to view websites online, this device and IE8 did a fantastic job of getting you in, speeding to the information you need, and getting you back out again as quickly as possible.
Battery: I have long maintained that batteries are the week link of most mobile devices. The batteries typically cannot handle the rigors of daily life in the mobile world. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the battery in the Arrive. I subjected it to my normal daily use, and maybe even a little extra, and this one just kept going and going…it is the Energizer bunny of…well, batteries. On multiple days, I repeatedly used my device for 12-15 hours without placing it on the charger. Now, depending upon how you use your device, your results may vary. I did not use the Arrive for music an awful lot or video (though I did on occasion). What I mainly do is access the Internet and check my email (I use push email which is usually a battery hog), and various other games and apps. Like I said, your needs will differ than mine, which will impact the drain on your battery. For my purposes, however, this was one of the best batteries I have used on a mobile device.
Almost more impressive was the charge time. I drained my battery completely, stuck it on the charger, and two hours later it was all the way back to almost 100%. This is really an impressive battery on both ends. Over twelve hours of use and only two hours to charge. It simply outpaces anything I have used before.
Storage: At first glance, 16 GB might sound like an awful lot of space. And it is, if we are only talking about phone calls and emails. We’re not, though. This is a device which can handle photographs, music, video, and games. That all takes up an incredible amount of space. My photos alone can top 30 GB and my music is 25 GB easily. Now, I am not saying that every file I own deserves to be on my phone and with me at all times. What I am saying is that the phone’s capacity could hold only a quarter of my files, and we have not even gotten to videos yet, or left any room for apps or other storage. Suddenly, that 16 GB does not sound so great after all. In my opinion, a device like this should have a minimum of 32 GB, preferably 64. Additionally, I was stunned to find that there was no external memory card slot. Virtually every HTC device I have used has included external storage, so why not this one? Even if the external storage could only be used for music and video, it would have made a significant difference. As it is, however, 16 GB will simply not likely be enough for me to be able to replace my Zune with this device as a full time media player, regardless of how well it works.
Processor: Under the hood, the Arrive features the Snapdragon 1GHz processor from Qualcomm. And it shows. This device is absolutely blazing (see my comments about the Internet, above). There were two tests I conducted in order to really test how well this processor worked. With previous phone generations, there was generally some lag or delay between a screen tap and launching the app or performing the task. For example, on the HTC Hero, tapping a contact could result in a 5-10 second (or more) delay before the phone dialed. Not this time. Tapping the screen resulted in immediate action, meaning no more wasted time waiting for something to happen. My other frustration with mobile device is web browsing, which can be interminably slow. The Arrive, which is features Internet Explorer 8, was absolutely blazing as it tore through every web site I could toss its way. I love this latest generation of processor, which finally allows devices to perform to my expectations.
What Else Is Missing: I was disappointed to find a few key components not included with the Arrive. First was the network. I would expect any new phones coming out of Sprint to feature its updated 4G/WiMax network. While this is not fully available in many areas, I suspect it would continue to be developed over the course of the ridiculously mammoth two-year contract which Sprint (like all networks) will require you to sign. My only guess as to the reason Sprint chose not to include its 4G network is that it is the precursor to a much larger move by Sprint with respect to its network. But there is nothing specific to indicate that is the case.
Next was the lack of a mobile hotspot. This is a feature which has become almost ubiquitous, with the rise of iPads and other Wifi enabled tablets. I was disappointed not to find a mobile hotspot on this device. However, I have heard rumors that the mobile hotspot is a relatively simple software fix (no additional hardware required) so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we may see one in a future update.
Finally, there was no front facing camera. Now, a year ago, this would not have bothered me at all. Since then, however, Apple introduced its Facetime App and Sprint’s EVO features the Qix video calling. This really seems like a service whose time is about to come. I suspect that by the end of my two year contract with this phone, the lack of a front facing camera will seem quaint and ridiculous.
Platform — Windows® Phone OS 7
Display — 3.6-inch WVGA capacitive touch screen
Processor — Qualcomm® QSD8650 1 GHz
Memory — 16 GB eMMC, 512 MB ROM, 576 MB RAM
Network — CDMA 800/1900
Battery — Rechargeable lithium-ion, 1500 mAh
Camera — 5 MP camera with autofocus and LED flash
Dimensions — 117.15″ (L) x 59″ (W) x 15.5″ (T)
(Specs from the HTC web site)
Conclusion: At the end of the day, the HTC Arrive with Windows Phone 7 offers an incredible (and sexy) user experience. Sure, the is a learning curve associated with the hubs, but no more so than any other brand new operating system I have ever used on any other platform. I really think Microsoft finally hit the home run they needed with this one, creating an extremely attractive and competitive mobile interface. That being said, this is clearly a first generation device, and as well as it worked, there is a lot of work to be done to continue improving the interface. My wishlist for future improvements appears below:
- Better organization/categorization of the Apps List
- Contact groups and categories, including Favorites
- Universal Search of the device
- ability to display multiple calendars from the same source
- Mobile hotspot
- Larger storage or External Memory
- Ability for third party apps to run persistently in the background (especially music streaming)
- Front facing camera
- More powerful Mobile Office
- Better organization and search in App Marketplace
- Improved landscape mode
- Additional integration with online services and social media