Early Windows Phone 7 Previews Mostly Positive
With working prototypes of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 in the hands of developers, and the software now at the technical preview stage, substantive judgments of the phone can be made. Those reviews are starting to come in, and they're largely positive.
For instance, Michael Gartenberg, an influential analyst with Altimeter Group, gave the phone a mostly thumbs-up review. Among his comments:
"The OS ran well even in pre-release form with excellent fluidity and no slowdowns or lags. That's a pretty good sign ... Microsoft's done a very good job with a revamped user experience that's not like anything on the market ... I like what I see so far and it looks like Windows Phone 7 has what it takes to silence many of Microsoft's mobile critics. Windows Phone 7 has the potential to keep Microsoft in the race for relevance in the mobile platform space..."
More praise comes from ZDNet mobile device blogger Matthew Miller, who posted an extremely thorough technical evaluation of Windows Phone 7.
"I ... am much more impressed with the phone and Windows Phone 7 operating system than I thought I would be at this stage of development. The phone NEVER crashed or locked up on me and I did not experience any bugs or other anomalies to report to Microsoft so far ... The user interface is completely different than any other smartphone operating system and is a nice, refreshing change."
Engadget also weighed in with a thorough review:
"Windows Phone 7 is easily the most unique UI in the smartphone race right now ... We were extremely surprised and impressed by the software's touch responsiveness and speed ... Let's just put this up front: the keyboard in Windows Phone 7 is really, really good ... we've got to say that Web browsing on Windows Phone 7 is actually a really pleasant experience ..."
Gizmodo summed its feelings succinctly: "Windows Phone 7 is good. Really good. It has the raw components needed to build a great smartphone."
All the reviews also pointed out the phone's weaknesses, including a lack of polish throughout much of the OS (which may be understandable, given that it's an early preview), and missing features like copy and paste, and multitasking for third-party apps.
And perhaps the biggest challenge facing Microsoft was spelled out by Engadget: "It's starting a generation behind Android and iPhone, which now have tens of millions devices." In fact, it could be argued that Windows Phone 7 is starting more than one generation behind, since Android is now on version 2.2, and iPhone is on release 4.
Still, if Microsoft's new smartphone was getting hammered by reviewers early on, it would face even more formidable odds; and not just by potential customers, but by the developers that will be crucial going forward. If a sizeable ecosystem of apps doesn't spring up almost immediately, Windows Phone 7 could slide into irrelevance before the public has a chance to vote on the phone with its pocketbook -- similar to what happened with its Kin phone. With the positive reviews coming in, those developers may be more willing to take a chance on Windows Phone 7.
Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.