The other day my boss walked up to my desk and asked me to choose a number between one and ten. I said four. He handed me an HTC Surround, a new handset running Windows Phone 7, and told me to try it out for the day.
It was awesome.
This is the first serious iPhone-competitor I’ve seen so far. Sure, it doesn’t have Android’s openness or Palm’s lovable WebOS, but it has it’s own user experience that isn’t just a knockoff of what Apple came up with almost four years ago. Here are some thoughts from my day of usage:
I’m in love with the interface.
The new hub-scrolling paradigm is a fresh and welcome change to how content is organized on a small screen. Instead of always breaking different information into distinct views, like you would see on an iPhone or Android phone, applications for WP7 are organized as one giant view that you sort of scroll around on. It’s a bit tricky to visualize, but once you’ve used it, you get it. It’s that simple.
And then there’s the transitions! They’re incredible. Anytime you do anything on the phone, it’s accompanied by a fancy-but-not-quite-distracting animation. The way one view flips to another is gorgeous. The loading screen is clean and fun to watch. The whole thing is like one giant production, and it’s really well done.
Lastly, many of the applications I downloaded already use these new UI elements very well. The Facebook app (which admittedly was made by MS) is easy to use and well-organized. Though it’s completely different from the iPhone Facebook app, which I’m a huge fan of, it’s just as good. I was blown away. Twitter was another great example, and this was actually made by the guys at Twitter. They grasped how to use the new graphical features and made an absolutely stellar app out of it â€” again, totally on par with Twitter’s official iPhone app.
The hardware is good, but not great.
The Surround in particular had a slide-out speaker, and a built-in stand. While this is probably standard fare for Android users, as an iPhone-enthusiast I’m not used to my phone having weird hardware. I probably wouldn’t use the speaker/stand much, but it might be interesting to see what other kinds of hardware are added in future third-party devices.
Of course, the standard components were done pretty well. The camera quality (5 MX stills, 720p video) is the same as that of the iPhone 4 (and puts my 3G to shame), though there’s no flash and no front-facing camera on this particular handset. The screen quality was very crisp, though I didn’t have an iPhone 4 on hand to compare it to.
It could be interesting to see how the hardware powering future WP7 devices will stack up to the iPhone 4 and whatever new iteration of the iPhone that Apple releases in 2011. For now, the iPhone still comes out on top, at least from the stock of WP7 devices available in Canada.
Some other misc things I liked:
The soft-keyboard is pretty awesome. The shape of the keys are different from the iPhone, and I found I was making less mistakes while typing. That said, the auto-complete may be a step down. Instead of filling in new words by default, like the iPhone, WP7 tries to guess what you’re typing as you go, and you have to manually select it when it shows up at the bottom of the screen. This is decidedly more work on my part; not only do I need an extra tap to auto-complete, I also have to constantly peek down at the bottom of the screen to find it.
Finally, I need to mention the home screen. I like it. Having applications update their icons automatically with new information is very useful, and grouping content by subject rather than by application has a lot of potential. The People tab, for example, lists all of your contacts, and integrates Twitter/Facebook information if applicable. I didn’t really have enough time to get a good feel for how useful this really is, but it’s an innovative concept nonetheless, and I’m anxious to see what third-party developers will do with it.
I kind of want one of these phones!
The overall impression I got from the Surround was quite positive. My current carrier-contract expires in July 2011, which should be right after Apple’s next iPhone iteration. I’m excited to see how WP7 stacks up at that point, because it looks like I might have a difficult decision on my hands â€” and that’s a good problem to have.