Windows Phone 7 uses the Metro user interface that is fun and easy to use. You can select which Live Tiles appear on the home screen, and some support live updates, but we haven’t found this pervasive or always timely. Side-swiping in apps will bring up additional screens and functions: sweet. Windows Phone 7 currently does not support multi-tasking; that will appear in the “Mango” update this fall, and all current Windows 7 phones, including the HD7S will get that update. That means third party apps are suspended when you switch to the home screen or another app, just as iOS used to do before Apple added multi-tasking support. Microsoft’s own apps can multi-task, and that means email and text messages will continue to arrive even if you’re not in the email or messaging client.
As you might guess, Windows Phone 7 has excellent MS Exchange support, Hotmail support and a solid MS Office suite. What you might not guess is that it syncs well to Google calendar, contacts and email and supports most email services. Beyond Exchange and Office, Windows Phone 7 is very consumer oriented, and the centerpieces are XBOX Live and Zune (music and videos). You do need to use the Zune desktop software to transfer music to the phone (it will handle video conversion if needed). You do not need to subscribe to Zune services, though we happen to really enjoy their monthly $14.99 subscription service where you can download, stream and listen to as many tunes as you wish (they have a very large library), and you get 10 “free” DRM-free MP3 tracks each month to keep in the deal (you select the tunes you want, and you must remember to grab them each month before your renewal period comes up). You can also stream music using a web browser on your computer (both Mac and Windows are supported and it uses MS Silverlight). The Zune music player on the phone is the best we’ve seen on a mobile device. Alas, the HD7S’ mono speaker is just average, but sound through Bluetooth stereo and wired headsets is excellent. HTC also has a downloadable sound enhancer that boosts bass. Speaking of HTC apps, the HTC Hub on the home screen will take you to a list of downloadable HTC apps that are available only for HTC phones. These include the sound enhancer, a compass, hidden WiFi network connector, a solid YouTube player and a photo enhancer.
The Windows Phone Marketplace has approximately 18,000 applications as of this writing. The Marketplace has incredible growth and believe it or not, that’s a lot of apps for a platform that didn’t exist until November 2010. You’ll find the staples of mobile app life like Flixster Movies, IMDB, Twitter clients (Facebook is built into the OS and it’s very well done, so there’s no need for that), YouTube players (we particularly like HTC’s own YouTube player that will use HQ even when connected to 3G), a free ePub ebook reader called Freda and Amazon Kindle. Still, there are holes: there’s no Nook or Kobo Reader, and IE 7 is the only web browser (anything else you see are skins and functionality add-ons to the IE 7 core). The OS doesn’t support tethering (that should appear in the Mango update) and there’s no 4G.
Call quality is very good with clear and sharp voice on both ends. Noise reduction is effective and the phone plays nicely with Bluetooth headsets, car kits and stereo headsets. Reception is average among AT&T phones and we had no dropped calls or failures to connect, even in locations where the iPhone 4 dropped calls or failed to connect.
The phone’s GPS works with the integrated Bing Maps and search, as well as AT&T Navigator. Navigator provides spoken turn-by-turn directions, which Bing Maps does not, though that’s coming in Mango as well. Sorry, there’s no Google Maps for Windows Phone 7, though you can download Google search.
Gaming is superb on the HTC HD7S thanks to the built-in XBOX Live gaming hub where you can connect to your XBOX account and play some solid tier 1 games. Though there are phones with higher specs in terms of CPU and GPU, Windows Phone 7 is highly optimized for the requisite 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU and all games played smoothly. Titles include SIMS 3, Assassin’s Creed, Need for Speed Undercover, The Harvest, Castlevania Puzzle and a healthy selection of casual games. We love that you can download any game as a demo and play for a decent amount of time to see if it’s something you want to own. Games run from $2.99 to $4.99 with a few top new titles selling for $6.99. When you purchase a game (or any app), it’s in your account and you can download it to any other Windows Phone that uses the same account. There is a limit of 5 phones per account, and you can remove 1 device from your account each month.
The HTC HD7S is currently our top pick among Windows 7 Phones. However, we understand if you opt for the also capable Samsung Focus for its Super AMOLED display and slightly more pocketable form factor. The Focus is currently less expensive since it's been in AT&T's lineup since November of 2010, but we wouldn't be suprised if third party dealers offer the HD7S at very attractive prices. The HD7S has a quality build and look, is extremely slim and offers the largest display among Windows Phone 7 smartphones. As with all Windows Phone 7 devices, it’s fast, easy to use and there’s a decent selection of apps in the market. XBOX gaming is great on the big screen and touch controls are easier to use. Likewise the large display and kickstand make this a perfect phone for movie viewing. Call quality is very good, camera quality is decent and the phone will get the Mango update this fall, according to Microsoft. If you’re looking for a Windows 7 phone, the HD7S and Samsung Focus are our top picks.
Price: $199 with a 2 year contract, $549 without contract
Websites: www.htc.com/us/, wireless.att.com