I’ve done it – I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for a new mobile phone contract in order to get a Windows Phone 7 handset. The phone was delivered yesterday so I thought that I’d get my first impressions down whilst they were still relatively fresh in my mind.
First, why did I want to get a Windows Phone 7 handset? I’ve been a long-term user of Windows Mobile handsets and although Microsoft have lost their way (until recently) in the mobile market, I’ve been happy with the functionality offered by the devices. I suppose that, as a result of using Windows Mobile, I never really got into an “application” mindspace – I pretty much used the phone as it was with, perhaps, one or two added applications. So switching to an iPhone or an Android for that reason wasn’t high on my list.
I’ve also recently swapped the family email over to Hotmail. That move was partly driven by the fact that WP7 works best when you have a Live ID, but it was also because Hotmail now supports the ActiveSync protocol for easily synchronisation with mobile phones. Now, true, iPhone and Android also support ActiveSync, but there just wasn’t a compelling reason for me to switch over to them. On the one hand, I’ve never been much of a fan of the walled garden that Apple has built and, on the other hand, it seems that Android may be making the same mistakes that Windows Mobile made – too many variations in hardware design leading to some disparity of functionality.
When Windows Phone 7 was announced earlier this year, it really seemed that Microsoft had taken the right route. They’ve come out with a really nice looking user interface, although one that isn’t going to be liked by everyone. They’ve listened to some of the concerns around Windows Mobile and, hopefully, tried to learn from those mistakes. For me, one of the most important ones is updates. With Windows Mobile, the user was at the mercy of the carrier to release updates. The jury seems to be still out regarding Windows Phone 7 updates, but the process should be more-or-less under Microsoft’s control. I love the hub approach that they’ve designed into the phone and it will be interesting to see how developers take to that over time.
Second, why the LG-E900 handset? With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft have laid down some very strict hardware requirements. As a result, there is not a lot of differentiation between the various models that are available at launch. The Samsung Omnia 7, for example, has an AMOLED screen that is apparently beautiful. For me, the LG handset, the Optimus 7, had some striking differentiators:
- 16GB memory
Most of the handsets come with 8GB. There is interest in handsets that have an accessible socket but I’m glad I haven’t gone down that route – the latest news is that if you want to use such a socket, you are going to need a memory card that has been certified for use with Windows Phone 7 … and there aren’t any.
I like my media, so I’m planning to put videos and TV programmes onto my phone for watching. I’m hoping it will eventually replace my Archos for playing videos. As such, I wanted as much memory as I could get.
- Built-in application to provide DNLA support
We have a fairly well connected house, including a Windows 7-based Media Center PC that is connected to the main living room TV. Having the ability to stream photos, music and videos from my phone to the PC (and thus onto the TV) intrigues me. I’ve long been interested in DNLA but not had enough equipment so far to actually try it out. I’ll report back on this one when I’ve tried it.
- Hardware support for TV out
As I mentioned above, I use an Archos heavily for watching ripped DVDs when away from home. A lot of the time I do this by plugging the Archos directly into a TV set. The LG Optimus 7 was the only Windows Phone handset that I saw mentioned TV out capability. It looks like I need to buy a special cable to achieve it, and it is likely to be only composite video, but we’ll see how it goes.
The launch of Windows Phone 7 has been carefully controlled. I think that this is one of the reasons why all of the handsets so far released are only available exclusively from the mobile carriers. I could not find the LG E900 available SIM-free and contract-free – it was only available from Vodafone which was a bit of a shame as I had just got onto a sweet deal from Tesco for £10 a month.
Still, I compared the various contracts and costs from Vodafone and finally settled on their 18-month, £35 a month contract. This gave me the handset free along with 900 minutes a month, unlimited texts and 500MB data per month. That was a £25 uplift, so the handset has effectively cost me £450 – not an outrageous price for this sort of device. I will need to either replace the handset, though, after 18 months or switch to a cheaper tariff otherwise the LG will end up costing me more than that.
I’ll give Vodafone 6/10 for the way that they have dealt with me so far. I placed the order online last Sunday and was pleasantly surprised to see the opportunity to provide my current mobile phone number and the PAC code to allow my number to be ported over. Delivery timescales are supposed to be 2-4 working days. I received a couple of automated emails very quickly after placing the order, confirming that the credit check was fine and things were progressing. I should expect either an email the day before the phone was going to be delivered or an email telling me when they were going to get stock in.
By Wednesday, I had not received any further emails. This would be the 3rd working day so I rang them up. The first person I spoke to told me the LGs were on back-order but then put me through to someone else who confirmed that the device was being despatched. Now I either misunderstood him or he said the wrong thing, because I thought he said it was being despatched that day, with delivery the next day. As it turned out, the phone was being despatched on the Thursday and arrived yesterday. I did get emails from Vodafone on the Thursday regarding delivery but they arrived out of sequence and so didn’t make a lot of sense to begin with.
The phone was shipped in a small LG box with the Vodafone SIM tucked in between the box and its outer sleeve. No other paperwork apart from the despatch note. That was slightly concerning as I would have expected something about the porting process …
Still, not to worry about that now. I had a new toy to charge up and play with!
The phone comes with a USB cable that has the newly adopted standard micro-USB plug on it for connecting the phone either to a computer for synchronising, or to the supplied mains-to-USB charger. The box also included a couple of small paper manuals (one from LG and one from Microsoft) and a combination headphones & microphone. I wasn’t going to use the latter as I have a nice set of Sennheiser IE6 headphones but the LG set are quite comfortable (there are other size ear moulds provided), seem to have a good audio range and do include a microphone with control (a bit like the iPhone headphones) so it would be easier to take a call if you were out listening to music or watching a video.
So it looks like I need at least two accessories – some sort of case for me to carry the phone in, and a new car charger. I may well consider a car screen mount as well but that will depend on whether or not Bing or Google provide car directions with voice at some point in the future.
The LG manual didn’t provide any guidance on how long the battery needed to be charged before using the phone. What it does say, though, is that the battery provided does not suffer from memory effects; it is not necessary to full discharge the battery before starting to charge it again. That is good news as smartphones tend to need charging quite frequently.
There aren’t many physical controls on the phone. The front has the WP7 standard buttons of Back, Start and Search. The left-hand side (as you look at it) has volume control, the top has the headphone socket and power button whilst the right-hand side has the USB socket (hidden behind a flap) and the camera button. Some people have reported the power button as being too small but I haven’t found it a problem to use.
My home is not a great place for getting a mobile phone signal. It was one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed to be leaving Tesco Mobile as they use the O2 network and that seems to be the strongest service where we live. Vodafone’s service in the house is patchy which is a shame but I’m sure I’ll learn where the signal works and where it doesn’t.
Getting started with the phone was very straightforward. You get prompted for a Live ID but you can start using the phone without one if you don’t have one or, as in my case, you don’t have a signal for the data services to start working! Once past the initial setup screens, I was able to get the phone connected to Wi-Fi and really start exploring.
I’m not going to go into a great load of detail about Windows Phone 7 itself as there are plenty of reviews and articles elsewhere. What I will do is start to post about the applications that came with the phone and those that I’ve added. I’ll also start to write about the neat little features and tricks that I’ve started to find or use.
One such tip that I found very useful was to do with tap-and-hold on the keyboard. My phone set itself up with a United Kingdom keyboard layout. That means that the currency symbol is £. Not too big a problem … unless you need a $, perhaps because it is in a password! Luckily, I had recently read on the Windows Phone Secrets web site, a great tip about using tap-and-hold. If you tap-and-hold on a currency sign (in my case, £), the other available signs are then displayed for you to use. The tip explains the other buttons on the keyboard that have this functionality.
That’s it for this blog … time to start looking at the different areas of the phone in more detail.