By TAN KIT HOONGintech@thestar.com.my
HTC's HD7 is one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices to launch here but will it make iPhone 4 users want to throw away their phones?
LET ME just put it right out there from the outset - the Windows Phone 7 operating system does not suck.
In fact, I daresay the experience of using a smartphone based on Microsoft's new mobile operating system is actually a pleasant experience.
While your taste in aesthetics may differ from mine, IMHO WP7 easily trumps both the Android OS and iOS 4.2 in how modern and yet functional the operating system looks.
The big guns
The HTC HD 7 is a nice device - the screen is humongous - at 4.3in it's right up there with HTC's own HD2 (which in fact it shares many hardware features with) and about as large as you can go with a mobile phone's screen without going into Tablet territory.
However, the resolution is the same 800 x 480-pixels as every other WP7 device and most Android phones, so you don't really get any advantage except a bigger virtual keyboard and a larger screen for viewing videos.
Turn it on and you'll see a nice LCD screen - the screen quality is good though not quite as good as the iPhone 4 but it is capacitive and very responsive to the lightest of touches.
The WP7 interface presents you with a homescreen that's made up of a number of customisable tiles - these tiles are essentially shortcuts which you can delete, move around or add to as you like.
These shortcuts aren't just for particular applications. You can even save a favourite webpage link on the homescreen as well.
Despite the large screen, the HD7 is still pretty slim and has a removable battery.
The HD7's built-in camera has a 5-megapixel image sensor with a dual LED flash. The image quality of photos taken on the camera are only so-so.
Talking about the camera, the area on the back hides a pretty cool feature.
The metal part that surrounds the camera and the flash is actually a kickstand that you can flip outwards and turn into a small stand to prop up the HD7 when you're watching a movie. Pretty nifty, although it only works for propping the HD7 in landscape mode and not in portrait.
So, just how usable is the WP7 interface? Well, let's start off with the positives.
For one thing, the operating system is very responsive - coupled with the speedy 1GHz Snapdragon processor, I'd say that everything happens as fast as you'd expect it to, and there's never any obvious slowdown.
Microsoft has really tweaked the operating system so that everything runs smoothly and responds to your touch almost instantaneously, which is always an important consideration when you're using the phone functions.
There's a downside to this though - as it stands right now, WP7 does not have multitasking, a feature which iPhones have recently gained and which Android phones have had from the start.
This means that apart from the native applications (which do in fact support running in the background) you can't run any third party app, (say, an Internet radio app) and expect it to continue working when you've navigated away from it.
In practice, this isn't too much of a problem though, as each application has a "save state" feature.
For example, if you're reading an e-mail message and switch to another app, switching back to the e-mail app later will open the mail exactly where you left off.
While the tiles are relatively simple - essentially square boxes with white text - the animation when you tap on them make them look quite 3D.
While the homescreen itself is the flashy front end of WP7, all your other applications are stored in the next screen, which is a long, vertically scrolling list of apps and settings.
The problem with this applications screen is that you can't arrange anything in folders.
Whatever you've installed just gets arranged in alphabetical order in this list (including various e-mail accounts if you have more than one), and can really get pretty long if you have lots of stuff installed.
An interesting design choice is in the so-called "hubs" - a hub is essentially a folder of related tasks grouped together and in the case of WP7, these hubs are designed like a huge landscape sized poster.
When you're in a hub, your WP7 screen acts like a window looking at just part of this huge poster, and to see more you need to scroll vertically and horizontally.
The funny thing is that each title for any category sort of spills over to the next screen. For example, the "People" title in the hub will only show you "Peopl" with the "e" spilling into the next screen.
It's a bit weird, but it's the design team's way of telling you that there's more if you scroll to the right.
Talking about the People hub, although it's essentially your contact list, it does a lot more than that.
If you have a Facebook account for example, entering your Facebook details will pull in all your contacts from Facebook as well as postings on your contacts' walls and their photos as well.
If you want to keep your contact list separate from Facebook, then I suggest not entering your Facebook details into WP7.
Xbox Live and Marketplace
At the launch of Windows Phone 7, execs from Microsoft said that certain hubs, namely the Xbox Live hub and the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, would not be available at launch.
However, I actually could connect to the Marketplace and download free applications, like the Twitter app, and even pay for a game.
I'm not sure what's up with this, but it may have something to do with the address my Xbox Live account is registered with - hint: It's not a Malaysian address.
Before you rush out and buy a WP7 device expecting the Marketplace and Xbox Live to be working, though, a little bird told me that while the launch models of WP7 devices can connect to both hubs, there's no guarantee that later models with different ROM images can connect to those hubs.
In some two weeks of nearly daily use, I do have a few complaints about the HD7 hardware.
For one thing, the relatively tiny battery barely has enough juice to keep the HD7, with its huge screen, running an entire day.
On a typical day, I started out with a fully charged battery at 9am, and only with moderate use (a couple of phone calls, messaging, moderate surfing, a few minutes of video) by 3pm the battery was only about 30% or so.
By 5pm, I started getting warnings from the device that the battery was critically low.
The other issue I had was that the speaker on the back of the device isn't loud enough or high-quality enough for speakerphone use or video watching.
For example, in speakerphone mode, I can barely hear what the other side is saying even in relatively quiet environments.
To be able to have an effective speakerphone conversation, I had to turn the phone around so that the back of the HD7 was facing me before it was loud enough.
On the operating system side of things, my biggest complaint is that Bing Maps on WP7 is totally useless in this country.
The maps currently do not provide routing in Malaysia and are certainly not even detailed enough for just looking up roads. Or restaurants. Or hotels. Need I say more?
I hope Google produces a Google Maps app for WP7 in the near future - at least that would make the GPS hardware on the HD7 useful.
As for Office Mobile, while the Office hub on WP7 is really nice, Word Mobile, for example, seems to be quite barebones.
For example while I could easily add automatic bullet points in OneNote Mobile, I couldn't find where to do so in Word Mobile.
The only option for bullet points seems to be to add it manually from the keyboard for each and every line.
And then there's the lack of cut, copy and paste, which makes it really difficult when you're tapping out a Word document.
Having used the HD7 for about two weeks or so to check my e-mail messages, listen to music and to surf the Web, I found that I liked the way the operating system works.
The all-important phone functions work much better than on Windows Phone 7's predecessors - the calling and SMS screens are easy to get to and even deleting applications and shortcuts are only a tap-and-hold away.
As for the missing cut/copy/paste functions, multitasking and perhaps custom folder organisation for your applications, Microsoft promises a plethora of new features and fixes in an upcoming 2011 update, so at least most of these issues will be fixed.
In terms of the HD7 hardware itself, the real deal breaker is the battery. If you are a heavy user, I suggest looking around for a different WP7 device or at least buy an extra battery to go with this one.
Pros: Interface looks good and performs well; 4.3in screen is big and bright; touchscreen is very responsive.
Cons: Sound quality not great from built-in speaker; battery life too short; No multitasking; no cut, copy and paste.
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows Phone 7
DISPLAY: 4.3in capacitive touchscreen (480 x 800-pixels)
CAMERA: 5-megapixels with autofocus; dual LED flash; 720p HD video recording
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, WiFi, USB 2.0
MEMORY: 576MB RAM; 512MB ROM, 16GB internal flash memory
EXPANSION SLOT: none
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 320 hours/320 minutes
OTHER FEATURES: GPS, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, G-sensor
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 68 x 11.2 x 122mm
RATING: 4 stars
Review unit courtesy of HTC Malaysia Sdn Bhd, (03) 6201-6433