Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Experience

About 2 weeks ago, I bought a new cell phone. I am a T-Mobile customer (T-Mo FTW!) so I renewed my contract and got the phone at a discounted price. My previous phone was a T-Mobile G1 (the 1st Google/Android phone) and I bought it used from a friend of mine. That device served me extremely well and it is still running well and my wife is using it.

So for my new phone, I bought an HTC HD7, running the new Windows Phone 7. This blog post is about my experience with it so far - what I like about it, dislike, a little bit comparison to Android, etc. Nothing really scientific, but just sharing my experience, including an app development experience (since I am a software engineer). Obviously, my experience is a combined experience between the hardware (HTC HD7), the OS (WP7) - but when necessary I will mention the specifics.

What I REALLY Like
  • This is something that is hard to describe, but there is such a pleasant feeling in using the device with the WP7. Every scroll is buttery smooth, no lag, no stutter, snappy, and my user-experience for the 80% of my usage of the phone is superb (this includes making phone calls, receiving calls, speaker phone, contacts, searches, calendar, email syncs, twitter, browsing). 
  • Panoramic view is totally awesome. It helps to go through things quickly, less click/swipe/back, etc. The panoramic background in some hubs are also contributing to increase the niceness and pleasant of using the device. All this being carried in a 4.3" screen - superb. iPhone 4 screen is better with the Retine Display, but HTC HD7's is bigger.
  • The lock screen is also surprisingly well designed. I did not think about this before - but then I realized that showing all my notifications & next event on the lock screen is awesome! One of my cell-phone related habit is to look at my phone to see the time AND to see what is the next item in my calendar - which totally fits into the WP7 paradigm (and I have a feeling that I am not the only one with that habit).
  • The email interface is awesome, every email is delineated well, clear text, eye-pleasing font, easy to use (virtual) keyboard, the sync is also fast, and does not lock the screen, excellent progress bar with the dots, etc. As far as email related experience, this is probably the best I have seen (compared to iPhone/iPod Touch, WinMo, BB, Android).
  • The Calendar interface is also very robust and well done. It syncs seamless with my Exchange calendar, displays the next "event" on "Home" and "lock" screens, and for the extra kick, the calendar date "flips" when you scroll the events in the event list. Haha - I thought that was small but slick nonetheless. 
  • The "Tile" or the "Metro" design. I though it is awesomely done and intuitive. I am a bit biased to big icons - so the tile suits me well. Some also animate (changes in photos, people, news images, etc) - which added some "wow" factor to it. Some provide crucial information: the weather app gives the current weather summary, Outlook shows number of new messages, etc. There is no extra "widget" or differentiation between "widget" and "app shortcut" (like in Android) - which makes things simpler.
  • The Media hub is really nice, it combines radio (like iHeartRadio), YouTube streams, your videos, music, podcasts, etc, and organized well via panoramic views. They just works seamlessly. No need to open YouTube app separately or media player app or radio app separately. One hub and everything works.
  • Zune software. I HATE itunes - and Zune is awesome. Much better design, fast, unobtrusive updates, AND YOU CAN SYNC WITH MULTIPLE COMPUTERS! Yeay! Also, sync media over the air!
  • Developing an app for WP7 is very very easy. Well I am a bit biased since I use Microsoft tools for my work. But here is the thing - I experienced quite some pain to get Android/iPhone dev environment to be up and running and I did created a some kind of "hello world" app, but nothing beyond that. With WP7, in 2+ hours I cranked out a panoramic RSS reader with style and all. Certainly (subjectively) a huge added value for me.
What I Like But Consider Not As Important
  • XBOX Live is really cool. You can create/modify your Avatar from the phone, play some games, sync accomplishments, etc. But, since I am not a big XBOX Live player, I don't use this feature as much. 
  • Instead of paying per music/album, Zune allows you to pay subscription based: A $14.99 / mo gives you unlimited access to millions of songs you can stream on your PC, Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7, or Zune HD - AND you get to keep 10 per month FOR FREE FOREVER!
  • The WP7 OS is always stock and all the bloatware from carriers can always be uninstalled just like any other app without rooting or hack. This was not my experience with Android or WinMo.  
  • WP7 Bing's voice search/command seems to be able to pick up my voice better compared to my old Android. I don't think this is a big deal - could be just because my G1 can't go beyond Android 1.6. I think Froyo most likely has better support for this.
  • The robust kick-stand in HTC HD7. It's awesome when watching videos or reading on a table.
  • The camera is nice. Being able to take 720p video and take a 5mpix photos are good features to have. Plus, the camera software is really fast - you can go from "lock" to "save picture" in about 5 seconds or less. Although I consider this as "not as important" for now, but I do see that I take pictures more because of the quickness or the camera & its ease of use. 
What I Don't Like & Needs Improvement
  • Marketplace. It needs to differentiate the search between music, apps, games, etc. Right now, when I am searching for "News", it gives me ALL related with "news" instead of contextual search result. I am fine with the "all" search and there are times when it is useful, but there needs to be specific search filter too.
  • Map & navigation. Bing maps in WP7 is awesome and slick, but Android's turn by turn saved my ass multiple times. I heard some rumors that this is coming out in SP1 in Q1 2011 - at least I hope so.
  • Need more apps, FREE apps. I want my free "Alchemy" or "Angry Bird" like in Android ... Or QR code reader, Google Sky Map. More apps ... WP7 apps availability is nothing compared to iPhone or Android.
  • Twitter integration to People, like Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn
  • Phone wide search. Search people, docs, emails, etc from a single place.
So there you have it - my conclusion? I like it - a lot. Probably the best device I have used to date. If I have to rate my OS of choice it would be like this:
  1. Windows Phone 7 - for those of you who are skeptical, I suggest you to try it. I was too a skeptics, but I am sold out now. Yes, it is not perfect, has room for improvement, but it is my device of choice for now.
  2. Android, probably the G2 - fast with HSPA+, excellent keyboard, stock Froyo, loaded with free apps, nice slick phone. (Or if you are on Verizon, go with Droid X)
  3. iPhone - only if iPhone is available outside AT&T.
I have to say, in all this experience, T-Mobile has been awesome. I have been their customer for almost 8 years and there are reasons for that. Their phone customer service is impeccable, their store people are great, their rate are the most economical of all, ultra-fast network, and great selection of phones, PLUS they are the first in many things (1st Android device, 1st Google provider, 1st big-screen-phone in HTC HD2, 1st in getting WP7 in US) - and they always use hot women in their ads. What more can you ask for?

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Acadia National Park

In August, I went to a 10 day vacation, spanning over 11 states! We went from Ohio to New York to Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and passing over West Virgina and New Jersey on our drive.

But the highlight of our trip was when we were at Acadia National Park in Maine. Acadia National Park is about 5 hours north of Boston, MA. When I planned our trip, I had some expectations about how beautiful this park going to be, but I was still blown away - it exceeded all of my expectations! I think all of our family and friends agreed that it was the best national park we've seen and the highlight of our trip. I eager to go back next year and spend more time over there.

Acadia National Park has everything - like from beaches (ocean sandy beach or lake beach), serene lakes, hiking trails, bike trails, rocky coastline, sandy coastline, mountains, and spectacular mountain top view.

Anyway - if you have the time, Acadia is a must visit. I think our family is going back there in summer 2011!

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