Windows Phone 7: A groundbreaking interface ships on great new phones

We take a close look at Microsoft's new mobile OS as deployed on the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround.

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Beyond the Start screen

Tap a tile, and the visual show continues -- the screen swings toward you and to the left, as though you were opening a book. It's quite neat. (A nice touch is that the icon you've activated hangs around for a moment before swinging, as if to remind you of what you've asked the phone to do.)

Windows Phone 7
Your contact list combines your data with information from contacts' Facebook pages.

The text in all the apps is an elegant sans serif typeface. At the top of the app's screen, in larger type, is an explanation of what happens when you flick the touch screen left or right. For your calendar, that action lets you switch between agenda and day views; for e-mail, the choices are All, Unread, Urgent, Flagged and so forth.

If there's too much text to fit, the words will hang off the edge of the screen to show that there's some interesting information over to the left or right. It's an awfully smart use of space. Also, whenever you're waiting for a network, a set of five blue dots sneaks from one side of the screen to the other, just to let you know that you haven't been abandoned.

Every WP7 phone has three hardware buttons across the bottom: Back, Windows and Search. The Windows button takes you to the Start page. Searches are performed in the context of the phone's current state; if you're in the address book, the first touch of Search will search there, and the second will search in Bing.

Most app screens have as many as four soft icons (icons that change depending on context) across the bottom, with ellipses that reveal captions as well as additional functions. When you rotate the phone counterclockwise and the screen rotates, the soft icons don't move to the bottom of the screen; they just turn on their axis and stay along the right margin.

Exploring apps

Microsoft has obviously looked at what Google and Apple have to offer in the cloud and is willing to tackle them head-on. Microsoft's got Web-based e-mail and calendaring in Hotmail, thank you very much, and places to store your photos as part of Windows Live. It's also got its Zune music software and store. You can locate and remotely wipe your WP7 phone without paying extra the way you do with iPhones. WP7 syncs e-mail, calendar and photos over the air, but music and video require a USB cable.

Set up for most of those applications is quite simple and well integrated. There's some trouble, however, syncing Google Calendars. It seems that WP7 will recognize only one calendar on a Google account -- multiple calendars is a key feature for Google -- and it's not clear which calendar that is. I found the calendar sync with Google to be untrustworthy, though the sync worked perfectly and quickly with my Hotmail calendar.

A big selling point for businesses is WP7's inclusion of Office Mobile, which provides mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and SharePoint. The Office apps look plain but familiar. You won't want to build a big Excel spreadsheet on your phone, but there doesn't seem to be much reason you couldn't.

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