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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A major glitch: There is no copy and paste function in the OS, which makes it pretty difficult to create and edit Office documents (not to mention e-mail). Microsoft reports that copy-and-paste is coming next year.

A few more impressions:

  • Internet Explorer is unexciting, though it does do tabs and you can turn a bookmark into a tile on the Start page.
  • Load up a lot of applications, and the Start screen will quickly become several pages long -- which means it will take longer to find what you're looking for.
  • Microsoft made a conscious choice to not provide a universal in-box, opting instead for separate tiles for each e-mail account.
  • The soft keyboard is just OK. There's no haptic response, as Android phones have, and there are currently no software hooks for advances such as Swype. Predictive text worked well and in fact offers more options than you get on an iPhone.

The phones

The Focus is built on Samsung's Galaxy S platform. Like all Galaxy S phones' screens, the Focus' is brilliant, and the phone is so light that it feels almost like a mock-up of itself instead of the real thing. It's got a 4-in. Super AMOLED screen with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, and it weighs less than 4 oz.

Samsung Focus

The Surround is significantly heftier -- nearly 6 oz. -- due to its slide-out stereo speakers and kickstand for propping it upright. The screen is about a quarter-inch smaller than the Focus' but has the same 480 x 800 resolution. The big features here are audio and video; the speakers have SRS and Dolby certification. Both the Focus and the Surround can capture 720p HDTV, but neither has an HDMI port.

The market segmentation is obvious: Despite the eye candy of the Focus' screen, it's the more business-oriented phone, and the Surround is for play. Each costs $199.99 with a two-year contract.

Both of these phones are really quite good. The Surround is a big hunk of technology, heavier even than the Droid X. But you get a phone that's built for conference calling -- even videoconferencing -- and movie display; that kickstand could come in handy if you use your phone at your desk.

HTC Surround

The Focus is the more conventional phone, except it's lighter than most and slimmer than some. Of the two, it would be my choice, but you ought to lay your hands on both of them and make your own choice.


For both phones, the real news is the operating system, and both do perfectly well by WP7.

And WP7 itself? In choosing between the simplicity and elegance of the iPhone and the power and deep configurability of Android, Microsoft has plainly (and perhaps surprisingly) opted for the former. I think that's the right choice, though it'll be rich fodder for debate.

WP7 is a beautiful interface on top of a lot of cloud-based power. It's genuinely innovative, but whether you should buy it on Day One depends largely on your appetite for new things.

Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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