It's been a short while since I've told you tales of my defection from the iPhone to the Windows Phone 7 - I had my reasons, so many reasons. I think the main one was the iPhone 3G I owned just didn't cut it when it came to gaming. Infinity Blade was denied to me, Sworcery was a jittery mess and the Game Center treehouse raised its rope ladder if I even dared to look at said treehouse. I was an iPhone owner without a custom home screen background and denied the simpliest of pleasures such as the ability to stop my phone spastically jumping from horizontal to vertical configuration with the slightest of tilts. I admit there is bitterness in my heart from owning the iPhone. There has been good moments, but mostly moments of woe and frustration - especially from a gaming perspective.
My swtich to the HTC WP7 hasn't been entirely smooth - a free music download offer which failed to materialise due to some O2 cockery, Zune making it difficult to grab and play podcasts easily and - perhaps the most frustrating - Zune deciding to stop my album playback after the first played song, only for me to coax it to play the next one. It's a common-ish problem and one I suspect may be fixed with the new Mango update. Recently there was an incident where the volume would magically rise to maximum or lower to complete silence, the physical volume control being no use in that situation. Technology should work, right? It's as easy as pressing a button. I suspect that in this day and age, the complication of smartphones innards lead to more chance of conflicts and crossed wires; there are times when I miss my crusty old Nokia 3310.
This will be the last entry of my time with the Windows Phone 7 - hopefully it's given some insight behind the platform and the comparison with the older model of iPhone which I was lumbered with for what seemed like an eternity. Here's an easy-to-digest round up for your tired eyes -
- It's a lovely phone to behold. I'm defintiely more confident using this new phone than the old one; the bigger screen makes it feel easier to navigate and use the keyboard. Oh, the keyboard. It works perfectly fine, thankyouverymuch. It works even better with the auto-correct, which gladly takes a paddle to the fetid arse of iPhone's auto-correct. I've never, never had an issue with it so far. In comparison, my iPhone's auto-correct was turned off six months into using it. I was fed up of the forced change from "ill" to "i'll" or "hell" to "he'll". The auto-correct suggestions are such a long way off from what was intended on the iPhone compared to the more proficient and confident manner in which Windows Phone will give you a passive selection of suitable words to choose from. It just works.
- Achievements on the toilet. I am a gamerscore whore. I admit it, there's something nice about seeing a number slowly rise according on videogame progression. I think it's a primal thing which goes back to the arcades where high scores were lauded and applauded by many. Mobile gaming and toilets seem to go so well together - a quick five minutes of gameplay and the familiar sound of that achievement icon popping up at the top of the screen. Recently I grabbed Minesweeper for free and it's a perfectly fine free game with some ads - but more importantly - achievements. They still rule my gaming heart, I don't care if you think me as a superficial arse of a man. I really don't.
- Try before you buy. This is a killer app and it's something I'm surprised that Microsoft isn't singing from the rooftops. Anything on the Windows Phone Marketplace can be downloaded and tried - much in the same way you can download trial versions of games on Xbox Live. The is also the case with the Xbox Live Windows Phone titles, but this also spreads to everything. It's a great feature and one which suddenly seems strangely absent from the iPhone's App Store. Saying this, the App Store still offers much cheaper purchases but at least this trial feature takes some of the sting out of making an informed purchasing decision.
- The visual experience. The HTC HD7 has a much more expanded screen to play games on compared to the iPhone - this is particularly noticeable when playing games which involve virtual controls; I often found I was obscuring the action on my iPhone when I had to employ this method of controlling characters on-screen. The visuals also appear more crisp, though this isn't a comparison to the retina display of the iPhone 4 which I've yet to check out with a videogame. My jaw did drop somewhat when I saw the lush, loving visuals of Fable Coin Golf; it does 3D a lot better than my iPhone 3G, although it is a much newer handset. It also goes without saying that I'm a big fan of the simplicity of the Windows Phone Metro UI interface - let it also be known that I bloody love the ability to delete that sodding Stocks app tile. The iPhone in its Apple-y way will not let you get rid of this app from your home screen. You have to have it, even if you don't give two hoots about the Stock Exchange. If I'm brutally honest, the screen suffers in sunlight although that's on the default "automatic" Brightness setting - it fares much better when the Brightness is switched to High.
- Xbox Live Integration. It's pretty sweet, all things considered. I had a tinker with the Xbox Live Extras app (which will become part of the whole Xbox Live experience when Mango comes along) and was amazed to see a pretty accurate representation of my 3D Xbox Live avatar on-screen. I changed some clothes, added a baby dragon I forgot I unlocked in Keflings - and said dragon flew into frame and my 3D avatar interacted with him/her/it. It is pretty mindboggling and it's definitely a plus point for the phone, although I'm not sure if I can play online with others using the phone - a curious oversight for a service which prides itself on connecting people through collected multiplayer gaming experiences.
- Windows Phone does Facebook better than Facebook. Both my iPhone and Windows Phone 7 Facebook app experiences are basically the same - the mobile version of Facebook fucking sucks. It's bug-ridden, slow and stodgey. I have used Facebook on the new phone, but the integration of Facebook into the People and Pictures tiles is a thing to behold. You can check out a social feed in the People app of the phone and like or comment to your heart's content. It's what I use Facebook for these days anyway, so this is a great thing. I also loved how the phone used Facebook to help populate my contact list - including the mobile phone numbers of those foolish enough to include them in their profile. It would be swell if the same integration could have been achieved with birthdays too - or at least have the ability to add a birthday to the calendar from the People tab.
- Zune. The Zune experience which excludes the teething troubles I've had with podcasts and sporadic album brainfreezes has been a much better one when compared to iTunes. I think it's definitely a PC thing - iTunes on PC always has felt like a product which was designed for Mac first and foremost. It's not advanced much either from early incarnations - I'm sure there's 10 year old code knocking about in there somewhere. Zune, on the other hand, is a much more accessible and faster experience in not just navigating the interface, but also syncing the phone. There's been no confusing iTunes-esque error messages to speak of - you plug the phone in, sync stuff to it and unplug it again. It doesn't feel like the phone is being took over and horrible things are happening within. I'm also a Zune Pass holder - an all-you-can-eat buffet of music streaming for a monthly fee. I've amassed quite a collection of albums which I can easily sync to the phone and listen to on the go. It's great because it doesn't feel like I'm spending a fortune on music - and although I don't "own" these tunes, I would gladly rather pay for the access to a huge library of music. The only downside to the Zune Pass I can see is that newly-released titles are immune to being downloaded with the Zune Pass, instead asking for Microsoft Moon Points instead.
- Live tiles not as live as they could be. I grabbed the official Microsoft weather app a week ago - it looks functional and does the job, but there's an absence of a live temperature update on the tile itself. Even more confusing is the tile comes in a turgid brown colour and not the theme colour which the phone is set to. What I thought set the Metro UI from the iPhone is this live functionality. On the iPhone, it seems like the weather is always sunny and at 23C. The Xbox Live tile is fun but not entirely functional - while my avatar will dance and knock about the logo, there's no notifications for messages or gamerscore either. I know the live tile stuff will get more, er, lively with the Mango update, but it's a strength which MIcrosoft needs to capitalise more on to be more desired.
- Not a stellar line-up of games or apps. I admit, the Windows Phone Marketplace is a strange place. There's the main freeway of known brands - the Xbox Live titles have those casual branded experiences you expect to find on the iPhone - Bejeweled Blitz, Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, Flight Control... the list of the total number of these games pales somewhat next to the more established App Store's selection. If you dare to navigate away from the professionally-produced app tiles of Xbox Live, you soon find yourself in a world of amateur artwork used to promote suspiciously-titled gaming experiences. These tiles never look nice on an expensive new phone screen - it kind of reminded me of the indie games part of Xbox Live. I'm sure there are games out there which could be the most amazing games ever, but I guess I've been rendered into a snob who likes his games shiny and confident. The apps selection is slowly improving and there are the usual suspects - Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare - but there are also some baffingly selections of several different apps which do the same thing. One example is the BBC News app which works perfectly well but is considered totally unofficial.
- Marketplace needs more pimpage. There are a vast selection of apps I'm totally unsure about on the Marketplace - when you visit there from the home screen, you will get a pretty barren selection of suggestions as to what to check out. I was informed there was a Yell app on one panel of the Marketplace - just the Yell app, mind you. No other apps. In comparison, the App Store thrives on feeding you a constant stream of possibilities and then will effortlessly give you more. I'm sure there's a fair amount of crap on the App Store to avoid too, but the fact there are more professional app choices on the iPhone makes it easy for the App Store to divert your attention from those whore-filled alleyways.
- Feeling like a third class citizen. The Windows Phone 7 is a shiny new thing and not as established as the iPhone or Android - this is a cold, harsh fact which I often face when I see apps for iPhone and Android advertised without a care in the world for lesser mortals with less-supported phone OSs. It hurts my heart a little when I know I can't use Penny Arcade's new Decide-o-Tron on my HTC. There needs to be more exclusive Xbox-y games for the phone - I'm curious to know why Microsoft hasn't concentrated more on mobile versions of Xbox titles. Give me a mobile version of Gears of War! I don't care if it'll be lavish 2D, it'll be a nice bit of compensation for ignoring the iPhone's game library.
- Speaker. I'm not a big fan of the external speaker of the HTC - it feels a bit more whiney when playing music compared to that of the iPhone. The headphones which came with the HTC, on the other hand, are much, much nicer than those of the iPhone. They sit in the ear more snuggly and have a much more richer sound. I have read on forums that HTC are very fond of gimping the overall sound of the headphones to avoid hearing loss of its users, some of which would rather decide themselves whether or not to speed up the degradation of their eardrums.
- Zune. The interface of Zune (as is the rest of the phone) is rather lovely. The trendwhore in me squees with joy when artwork of the artist in question magically appears in the background as I stare intently at the album of choice. I have to admit that the Zune interface is lovely, but it lacks some functions which I have been used to with the iPhone. There's no obvious way to scrub through tracks or podcasts - there's your play button and that's that. There doesn't seem to be an easy way to skip back 30 seconds either, unless I'm missing something. iPhone may be a bit guilty of over-function - I mean, I never understood why I wanted to listen to podcasts at half speed unless I was deeply, deeply into heavy drug use.
In short then - I think I made the right decision. It'll still need a bit of getting used to and adjusting, but the phone itself is much nicer to use than my old iPhone. I do have a small issue with the official Twitter app - when I skim through the timeline in the same fashion I did with the iPhone, the app will often jerk to the lists page. Not sure if this is just me, but it's a bit of an irritation. I guess there will always be teething troubles with phones; not one phone is the perfect phone and each has its pros and cons. I think it just feels nicer to not be part of the crowd, to have a phone which feels more like my own phone than someone else's. It addresses a lot more problems than the new problems I've inherited with the new phone and I'm sure there will hopefully be a few less problems with the new forthcoming Mango update.