Windows Phone Thoughts: HTC HD7 - Ready to Take On the iPhone? Really!

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

HTC HD7 - Ready to Take On the iPhone? Really!

Posted by Doug Raeburn in "HTC Windows Phones" @ 10:00 AM

A Tour of the HD7 Hardware continued

Figure 5: The back looks and feels expensive.

The back of the phone has the feel of matte metal, although the “metal” is just convincingly designed plastic. Removing the back cover opens up the top 2/3 of the phone, while the bottom part of the back is fixed. There’s a decorative brushed metal strip at the top of the fixed back cover and the camera parts are also surrounded by brushed metal. Where the iPhone’s camera lens is small and unobtrusive in appearance, the HD7 flaunts its hardware with a large lens surround that has a very high tech look. The dual LED flashes are placed to the left of the lens and there’s an opening in the brushed metal piece for the speaker. Finally, the camera’s decorative brushed metal surround is hinged on the left and allows the surround to be pulled out to serve as a stand when you’re watching a video in landscape mode. The whole design of the rear of the HD7 is, at the risk of overusing the word, elegant, functional and clever.

Figure 6: Removable battery - great! No memory card slot - not so great.

Figure 7: Nothing out of the ordinary here.

There’s nothing unexpected behind the cover. The battery is just below the camera parts and the SIM card is just below that. The battery has to be removed to insert or remove the SIM card. As stated earlier, there’s no slot for an additional memory card. It actually comes with a “permanent” memory card installed. It’s not intended to be removed and would require disassembling the phone to do so. The OS writes some system files to it and makes the card an integral part of the phone’s setup. I assume that means that removing the card would somehow cripple the phone, so I wouldn't recommend it.

Using the HD7

Figure 8: Not your father's Start screen...

Here’s where we start talking about WP7 in detail. The HD7 starts up at the new Start screen. This is completely unlike the Start Menus and Start Screens that you may remember in WM. Instead of a pop-up or pop-down menu or an iPhone-style grid of application icons, the WP7 Start screen consists of a number of tiles that can represent different things. The default tiles are mostly applications or collections, such as Text Messages, Pictures, Internet Explorer, Calendar and the Marketplace. The tiles are called Live Tiles, as many of them will change and update information as necessary. For example, the calendar tile will show your next upcoming appointment. The phone tile shows the number of missed calls. The E-mail and Messaging tiles show the number of new messages. And the People tile flashes mini-thumbnails of your contacts. I haven’t figured out if the last one is supposed to be somehow functional or if it’s just eye candy. You can also rearrange the tiles and add new ones for specific contacts, songs, photos, web pages and the like.

When you power or wake the HD7 up, you’ll see the lock screen, which can be an image of your choice. In the latest variation of “swipe to unlock”, you swipe up and the whole screen slides up like a window shade. If the phone is locked, the numeric keypad displays to allow entering the password. If a call is coming in, the caller id/contact photo is displayed with options to Answer or Ignore. Otherwise, you go straight to the Start screen or to the app you were using when the phone went to sleep.

Hubs

Then there’s the concept of hubs. A hub brings together several modules to take advantage of and improve access to related functionality. The most important one is probably the People hub, which offers the typical functionality of a Contacts app and integrates social networking access through Facebook and Windows Live. Other hubs include Office, Pictures and Music + Videos.

Figure 9: The People hub - Contacts and "Facebook Lite"

When you enter the People hub, you can manage your contacts in the same way as in a traditional contacts app. You can also look at your Facebook News Feed by swiping to the left to the What’s New listing. Do the same while looking at someone’s profile and you’ll see new and recent messages from just that person. In either case you can add comments, “like” a message, etc. So the most commonly used functionality of a Facebook app is integrated in the People hub. Of course, there is also a full-fledged Facebook available for free from the Marketplace to cover additional functionality not integrated into the People hub. I’ll provide details on other hubs further on in this review.

Figure 10: Additional application icons for all apps, those that are on the Start screen and those that aren't.

As stated earlier, you can pin additional applications on the Start screen, where they’ll appear as additional tiles. To access apps that you haven’t pinned to the Start screen, tap the arrow near the top right of the screen. This will take you to a listing of all apps and hubs.

In general, this arrangement seems to work out quite well. My only criticism is that it’s not terribly efficient in terms of utilization of screen space. Depending on the size of the tile, you can fit a maximum of eight of them on the screen at a time. That compares to 20 icons on a single home screen of the iPhone. As you start adding more apps, pinned contacts, web pages and the like, the Start screen could require you to scroll up and down many pages to get at your content. The listing of apps that’s launched from the Start screen has the same issue. With nine icons per screen, here’s another part of the design that could require lots of scrolling on an app-heavy WP7 phone. Apple finally added folders in iOS 4 to help manage icon overload, so this may be a lesson that Microsoft has to learn as well.


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