Last Wednesday, I became the owner of a Windows Phone 7 (WP7), a HTC Radar to be precise. My current mobile contract had expired and I had been toying with the idea of getting a WP7 for a while. Unfortunately, I was dubious about the platform and didn’t really want to take out a long contract and end up with a phone I didn’t want, and as all my attempts to get a free phone failed, I decided to try and buy a SIM free phone. A brand new phone was beyond my budget so I turned to eBay and found a few WP7s listed and managed to pick up a HTC Radar for about £200 which was a result.
Why a WP7?
I have already been asked why I’d want to buy a WP7 and the simple answer is that I am a .NET developer and I want to do some mobile development, not just on the emulator but to be able to actually deploy to the device for testing and ultimately the market place. Whilst I’d already got an Android phone (HTC Desire), I was faced with having to find time to learn Java or find the money to buy MonoDroid, neither of which were likely to happen.
By having a WP7, I should be able to use my existing skills and create mobile applications without a big learning curve or shelling out extra cash which in theory makes it the ideal choice for my first native mobile apps rather than simply a web application that is able to run on mobiles.
The phone itself seems a nice piece of kit, reviews on it generally like the radar but tend to mark it down on storage and speed but so far with what I’ve being doing I’ve not experienced any noticeable performance problems. As I use it, more storage may be an issue but with 8Gb internal storage (double my Desire’s standard 4Gb SD card), hopefully it will take me a while to fill it up. The setup was easy, walked through a short wizard with my existing SIM and the phone was working! The only thing I didn’t like was the phone “needing” my Windows Live Id to work and then trying to get me to link it to any and all social networks that I may be part of, call me old fashioned but I tend to keep them separate for a reason and don’t really want Windows Live being linked to all of them. First thing I wanted to do was customize the phone a little, my own widgets, ringtones, etc. Imagine my disappointment when I found the most I could do was alter what tiles appeared on the first screen and all my other apps appear in list only if I swipe to the left, this certainly wasn’t the user experience I was used to on my desire. It felt like that every application I opened wanted to be able to use my location and transmit that information to Microsoft which I didn’t want to do so I kept having to say no. I found the WiFi setup and connected to my router and the phone proceeded to download any contacts I had in Windows Live, which is very few to say the least. I then setup my Gmail and the phone also pulled down my contacts and populated my “People”.
With basic connectivity and contacts sorted, I proceeded to Microsoft’s Marketplace to try and get the same or similar apps to those that I already had. It was at this point that I noticed the first big difference between Android and WP7 in that it seemed the majority of the highest rated apps available were all paid apps. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue in paying for good software, it's just that my impression with Android is that the majority of the apps I have and use are free. It surprised me how many apps were paid apps, I thought (naively) that as Microsoft wanted to grow the platform as quickly as they could, they would have followed the Android model. Instead, it seems that they have decided to mirror Apple’s approach.
Apps & Widgets on WP7
Once I had found some apps that I wanted, namely a twitter client, I wanted to try them out and this was my second big difference between Android and WP7 apps generally do not auto refresh or notify you if there are updates to information, e.g., tweets. To me, this seemed like a massive step backwards, I was used to opening a twitter client and new that when new tweets arrived, it would provide both audio and visual cues to tell me updates had been received. I know there are some apps that I have been told do have live tile and toast notifications but I haven’t tried them yet. I also found that a few of the apps/widgets I use weren’t available such as the power bar, I like to be able to turn the various functions like WiFi, Mobile Internet, Bluetooth, etc. on and off as I want them and on my Desire the power bar allows me to do this, but unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be anything remotely similar on the Radar. I had a brief twitter conversation with Phil Jones and JonAlb both of whom own WP7 and John has already developed applications and published on the Marketplace about the situation and it would seem that some of the things I took for granted on my Desire (such as auto refresh of data in the background) aren’t quite there yet on WP7, they are coming but not there yet. John also went on to point out that I am unlikely to be the target market for the phone and that for the majority of people the things I felt were missing wouldn’t even be seen as an issue.
The phone told me there was an update available for it and it needed to be connected with the PC to enable it to be updated, so the next day I plugged it into my PC and Windows downloaded and installed the Zune software. The Zune software seems easy to use and works well with the phone and compared with the HTC sync that I had for the desire I must say I prefer the Zune software. That being said with the Desire, I had the opportunity to just mount it as a USB drive which I don’t get with the Radar so the Zune software will need to be good to overcome what I currently see as a limitation.
Using It As A Phone
I know it's sacrilege but I do tend to actually use my phone as a phone to make phone calls and send texts and for doing this, I can’t fault the phone, it works very well. The only issue I have with it is that with the power/USB socket being on the side I am unable to use my car phone cradle to hold the phone and connect a charger at the same time. It may just be me but most phones tend to have the socket at the bottom of the phone and so it is a little strange to see it on the side and unfortunately means I either will have to buy a specialist car cradle or simply have the phone lying around the car if I want it to be charging whilst on the move. I was also very pleasantly surprised to find that the Radar comes with voice recognition as standard so when driving, I can click my Bluetooth headset and just speak the name of the person to ring, then as I was driving to work, a text arrived and the phone read it to me and asked if I wanted it re-read in case I missed something, now that I like. The one thing that I have been unable to do is to set a custom ring tone based on an MP3 ring tone I had on my desire, now I don’t think that it's being overly geeky to want to set a ring tone to an MP3 but after following Microsoft's online instructions and then watching a 3rd party YouTube video on how to change the ring tone, I still wasn’t able to do it. This seems way to hard for such a simple task and I sincerely hope it will become easier in the future.
Edit: I managed to get my ring tone working, what wasn’t clear was that when you set the genre on the track so that the phone will recognise it has to be the text ‘ringtone’ if you don’t put that exact text, the phone will not see it.
My first thoughts were “I can’t use the phone” but I’m persevering and have been rewarded by discovering things such as the voice recognition, and my thoughts now are that since I’m a developer and I believe there is functionality missing from the phone, I’ll need to roll up my sleeves and write the software that I want. I plan to write a few more posts on how I find the phone over the next couple of weeks and hopefully soon I’ll be able to post about my experience in creating apps for WP7.