Review: Windows Phone 7 and LG E900 WP7 handset

Vodafone kindly sent us the brand new LG E900 Windows Phone 7 device to review. This review will cover the new Windows Phone 7 OS as it’s the first hands on we’ve had with it, and also the LG hardware.

Windows Phone 7 in General

The Windows Phone 7 UI is excellent. It’s completely fresh and original and anyone I’ve handed the device to has been able to navigate around it immediately with no help at all. Built from the ground up everything in the WP7 (Metro) interface is ‘finger friendly’  with none of the buried settings and tiny check-boxes that plagues the previous Windows Mobile operating systems.

Hardware

I’m  including this in the Windows Phone 7 section as all devices must have the following buttons, making them standard features. It may be possible for manufacturers to add additional buttons, but these are the minimum requirements.

Read on for the full review…..

  • Power button –  Pressing and holding the power button will power the phone on or completely off if running. When the phone is on but the screen is off, pressing the power button once will turn on the display and show the lock screen, if on a single press will lock the phone and turn the display off.
  • Start button –  When you hit the Start button, you are taken to the Windows Phone 7 Start screen from anywhere or any running App. A long press on the Start button starts the Voice Command feature.
  • Back button –  You can use the back button to to step backwards within an application or between applications. The back button also lets you navigate to a previous web page in Internet Explorer.
  • Search button: Pressing the search button from the home screen will perform a Bing Search. You can search within an App by pressing the Search key and a second press will change you over to a Bing search.
  • Camera button –  The Camera button supports full click and half click functionality. A full press takes you to the camera application. When preparing to take a picture a half-press activates the auto-focus feature and a full press takes the picture.
  • Volume buttons –  The volume buttons follow the standard now – in a call or music/video playback they adjust the ear-piece (or headset) volume. When the phone is ringing pressing one of the volume buttons silence the ringer. Pressing a volume key when not in a call adjusts the level of the phones sounds and also brings up a small “note” icon which you can tap to instantly put the phone into silent mode.

Home Screen

Much has been made of the Metro interface, and its ‘Live Tiles’ which are the tiles for various applications, giving a quick glance at the most recent information. For example, the Calendar tile shows the day and date, and also the next appointment in your Calendar. The Outlook (email) tile shows the unread message count, the weather tile shows the current weather, you get the idea. You can also personalise the homescreen – moving, adding or hiding tiles to get the perfect configuration for you – tiles can be core applications, programs you’ve downloaded or even web-page shortcuts where Windows Phone 7 cleverly takes a grab of the webpage to make it clear what it is.

Camera

The Microsoft hardware requirements for Windows Phone 7 have “at least a 5 megapixel (MPX) camera with flash (and, as noted above, a dedicated camera button)”. The camera software is nice and intuitive, and having a hardware button is a nice change from trying to hold a device still while pressing the screen to take a picture. A nice touch is that if you spot the opportunity for a photo, you don’t have to unlock your phone first, just ‘full press’ the camera button and you’ll start the camera App.

Stored Camera images can be shared online by entering either your Facebook account details or to a free SkyDrive account.

The Hubs…

Hubs is a new feature in Windows Phone 7, defined by Microsoft: “Hubs bring together related content from the Web, applications and services into a single view to simplify common tasks. Windows Phone 7 includes six hubs built on specific themes reflecting activities that matter most to people.”

Xbox Games Hub

The Xbox Live integration is the phones shining beacon and something Microsoft should work hard to continue to develop, games are now spreading throughout the smartphone world and are a serious threat to traditional gaming platforms such as Nintendo and Sony (something Nintendo acknowledged a few months back).

Once you’ve signed on with your Xbox Live ID, you can see your Live Account, which friends are online and send and view messages. Once you download the free Xbox Live Extra’s app (highlighted below) from the Marketplace you can also have much greater customisation of your account, like editing your avatar, detailing Achievements per game, viewing friends achievements and so on.

The iPhone has also opened the floodgates to indie developers, allowing many to become overnight millionaires, games such as angry birds and flight-control have shown that you don’t need a big budget just a big idea. With this in mind it’s really important that Microsoft doesn’t rest on it’s laurels and continues to push the Xbox Live on the Windows 7 Phone, to help developers produce high quality titles and to not allow shoddy ill fitting games through. There are several Windows Phone games available at the moment, and more are being added weekly. I decided to test out a game with “achievements” to see how the integration and updates worked. Testing out the free ‘Flowerz’ game I soon had some achievements logged and these were clearly notified at the top of the screen as they were earned. Checking  my Xbox profile and live.xbox.com online account showed these achievements were already recorded in both places – so the integration is seamless and immediate. Where the game supports it you can request and play against friends who have the same game and are online.

People Hub

Social integration for Facebook is built right into Contacts in the People Hub. Once you’ve signed into Facebook you have the option of bringing over all your Facebook friends to your phone’s contacts, bringing none, or updating existing phone contacts with Facebook information.

Pictures Hub

This gives you a tile style view of all the pictures on your device, on a connected SkyDrive account or Facebook images. Within the menu for any picture is the ability to set it as your lock screen, delete it, upload it to SkyDrive or share it on Facebook.

Music and Video Hub

The music and video hub is a central place to manage all your music and video files on the device. You can navigate Music, Videos, Podcasts, Radio or Marketplace and search or filter by these categories too. All WP7 devices have an FM radio built in which is also managed from here. Loading music and video content onto a Windows Phone 7 device is done via the Zune Software which is freely available from Microsoft.

Office HUB

Microsoft’s primary purpose with the Office Hub was to target the things people are most likely to need to do with office documents on their phone. It’s not designed to write a novel or edit a huge financial spreadsheet, but it will do a good job of viewing documents and making small updates and edits to them. For example in Word there is a great Search facility to let you find part of the document you’re looking for, and you can edit text and adjust text formatting. In Excel you can edit formulas and sort by columns, and in PowerPoint you can re-order slides. Yes there are some features missing that would let you do more while you’re mobile, but again, this is a first release and updates to these products will be coming as Microsoft takes on feedback and has more time to make these features work under the key mantra for Windows Phone 7 – Usability.

Also, there is the SharePoint integration, a sign that Microsoft haven’t forgotten about corporate users with this phone. SharePoint has an important future in the corporate world, many organizations are moving away from simple file server shares to hold office documents. SharePoint offers a rich user environment for organizations to store, share and collaborate office documents, so the SharePoint integration was the icing on the cake.

Marketplace Hub

The MarketPlace Hub is where you go to load additional Apps and content (games, music and videos) onto your Windows Phone – similar to the Apple App Store you can browse categories for content, or search directly if you have something specific in mind. Some Apps are Free, others can be bought or you can Try an App if that feature is available. Some networks allow you to bill an App to your mobile bill – as of writing, in the UK, no networks support this yet, but Orange have confirmed this will be coming in early 2011.

Apps are then downloaded in the background, there is a progress indicator so you can check on their status, and once complete they appear in your Programs list.

Email

Windows Phone 7 is pre-configured to work with numerous email services and providers. Its also the first Windows OS to support multiple Exchange Accounts so you can configure multiple work exchange accounts, or one work and one personal, or more! You can integrate all the contacts from each service, or view them separately, and you can individually view the calendars for each account and add appointments or respond accordingly.

Summary

Windows Phone 7 OS is a refreshing take on using a phone device, its intuitive logical and finger friendly. Microsoft has definitely covered huge ground over the old Windows Mobile. They haven’t produced an iPhone clone, the OS is fun to use and has many subtle improvements over the iPhone in areas like the home-screen and lock screen information, and the improved notifications system.

It’s not perfect however and there are some notable things that have been missed out – the lack of custom rings tones for example, and the huge issue of the lack of copy and paste. While these are missing at launch there is a strong rumour that these and other additions will be coming in a January update which would underline Microsoft’s commitment to keeping Windows Phone 7 updated.

I want to touch briefly on the lack of Copy & Paste which omission is getting by far the most criticism. Initially Microsoft said it wasn’t there because it wouldn’t be needed, the OS would intuitively be able to anticipate copy & paste requirements and deal with them as needed. While this is clearly wrong, moving text around in the Mobile Word or Excel Apps for example is impossible, I do want to highlight Microsoft’s attempts at negating the requirement.

Obviously where you have information such as a phone number or a web address, these items are linked and clicking them places a call or opens Internet Explorer and loads the requested page – it’s called “Smart Sensing”. But there are more helping hands tucked away – a press and hold will usually allow you to select a word (leading  some to speculate that c&p was half implemented) but if you press the hardware search button with a word selected Windows Phone 7 will automatically open Internet Explorer and perform a Bing search for that word.

The LG E900

I’m not a massive fan of LG, most products I’ve used from LG feel cheap and plastically and usually fall apart after a year. However I’m pleasantly surprised by the LG Windows 7 phone. It’s thin, is a good size and fits well in my hand. It feels solid and has a good weight to it, without feeling too heavy or too light. The 3.7″ capacitive display runs at 480 x 800 pixels and is bright and has a good colour range.The battery capacity is 1500 mAh and typically this will make it through a days use without problems, but heavy users  with active GPS and frequent Xbox Live gaming may find they need to put it on charge before the evening.

The Camera button on the side is in just the wrong place and when holding the device left handed your fingers are constantly pressing it! The button protrudes slightly too far but luckily it seems to be the ‘half press’ that you touch not a full press so you don’t actually start the camera app. I adjusted to holding it slightly differently pretty quickly and it wasn’t an issue. The camera itself is 5MP with auto-focus and an LED flash and can handle 720P video recording too. One annoying this is the extremely loud camera shutter noise when taking a photo – the phone volume doesn’t seem to make it quieter and I could find no setting to turn it off.

LG have also added their own section to the marketplace with some Free Apps that are only available to LG Windows Phone 7 devices. Whether these will make their way into the full market in time is unclear.

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