by Shane O'Neill

Windows Phone 7 Hands On: Three Stand-Out Features

Jan 21, 2011
Data Center

Windows Phone 7 is not the smash Microsoft was hoping for, but it offers some cool features for the average user. Here's three.

Windows Phone 7: Does anybody have one?

Getting Microsoft to talk about Windows Phone sales has been like pulling teeth, but the company did eventually announce that it has moved 1.5 million devices in six weeks. Problem is, those are devices shipped to retailers and carriers, not sold directly to consumers.

Slideshow: Windows Phone 7: Visual Tour of 10 WP7 Smartphones

I’ve been playing around with a Samsung Focus smartphone for the past few weeks, and can say that Windows Phone 7 is by no means perfect (more on that in another post) but it does have a lot to offer the average user. In fact, its biggest strength is that it’s pretty darn easy to use.

Here are three stand-out Windows Phone 7 features. For two of these features I used my personal HTC Droid Incredible phone as a comparison, which is a similar device and a key Windows Phone competitor.

Web Browsing with Internet Explorer Mobile

Windows Phones uses an amalgam of IE7 and IE8 for its mobile browser, and it offers ultra-smooth touch capabilities for zooming, scrolling and panning.

Windows Phone 7
View of open browser tabs on the Samsung

Focus Windows Phone. (credit: Shane O’Neill)

The IE browser on WP7 and the Droid browser are fairly comparable on performance. Web site load times are almost exactly the same. But IE on Windows Phones is much better at managing tabs and favorites, as it provides buttons right on the screen for adding a Web site as a favorite, looking at your favorites and browsing history, and opening a new tab.

The Droid, by contrast, demands that you tap at least two more times to get to these browser features. With the Droid Incredible, you must first tap the off-screen “Menu” button at the bottom of the phone and then there are two more taps to get to your bookmarks (favorites) and three taps to get to browsing history. This is accomplished with one or two on-screen taps with IE on WP7.

But opening and managing browser tabs is where Windows Phones really stand out:

You can open a new tab in one tap from the screen; six new tabs are allowed, compared to four tabs on the Droid Incredible; the tabs icon on WP7 at the bottom of the screen tells you how many tabs you have open — the Droid “windows” icon representing tabs does not tell you how many you have open. Lastly, WP7 lists small icons of your Web site tabs all on one screen, whereas the Droid makes you swipe through small screens of your tabs one by one.

The Content Hubs and Tile-Based User Interface

OK, those blue tiles on the phone’s homescreen are boxy and ugly and kinda boring, but it’s what they open up to that matters most. Microsoft’s marketing message is that it WP7 sets itself apart from the pack because it organizes information by content type: People (basically your Facebook friends pulled into a Zune-like interface), Music and Videos, Pictures, personal e-mail, work e-mail (Outlook), Xbox Live, Maps, Marketplace, Microsoft Office, etc.

Windows Phone 7
The Windows Phone 7 tile-based UI ain’t pretty, but its effective.

iPhones, Droids and BlackBerrys also give users easy access to all of this same information and do so with slicker and sexier interfaces, but it’s all done by application, which often results in a traffic jam of apps on your home screen.

Having content organized into broad category blocks may be dumming things down, but many smartphone users are overwhelmed and want to keep navigation as simple as possible.

Microsoft Office Mobile

As a constant Microsoft Word user, occasional Excel user and rare PowerPoint user, it’s nice to have access Office files from your smartphone or as an e-mail attachment and be able to make edits and save the file just as you would on a PC.

On a smartphone, the most you’ll realistically do with an Office file is review, edit, and save it, and then post it to a network folder or SharePoint site (if your company uses SharePoint) or e-mail it to someone. This is an area where Microsoft has an advantage over every other smartphone, including my Droid Incredible, which will only let you preview read-only versions of Office files or require third-party software to edit bare-bones versions.

News that Microsoft is allowing OneNote — the least used of the Office apps — to work on iPhones may indicate that Microsoft is more open to Office mobile compatibility, but for now Windows Phone 7 offers by far the best Office experience on a smartphone.

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at