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Testing my own WP7 device - quick overview of the platform

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Testing my own WP7 device - quick overview of the platform

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As a PDC attendee, today I received a Windows Phone 7 device. It is a Samsung Taylor and it is an unlocked developer device - one of those that Microsoft employees were receiving when the devices just became available. From what I know, the device will never be released on the market - it was built for development and testing purposes only. But I am not focusing as much on the device, as on the platform it runs.

The first thing that you see when you start the device is the UI. Not the form factor, not the large screen but the starting user interface – Metro. It is a completely unique UI model designed from ground zero and frankly saying, I am really glad that Microsoft isn’t following the existing multi-page home screen layouts – there is the main tile page (where pinned applications are listed) and there is the list page (where all installed applications are listed) - that's it.

Looking at it from a consumer’s perspective, you might be asking yourself whether it is worth getting one or not based on the content present in the app marketplace - after all, it's all about the app. Although the Marketplace is in its infant stages right now, I must say that there are quite a few applications out there already that are worth mentioning, like YouTube, Adobe Reader, Amazon Kindle, Twitter, Facebook and many more. The fact that major companies dedicate time and resources to build applications for the new platform can be considered a sign of trust that the platform will eventually succeed. There are more apps and games that are currently in development. The number of Windows PCs worldwide and the free development tools availability is only going to boost these numbers, but we'll see - that's just what I would expect to happen.

The phone supports some social integration features and even allows you to download contacts from Facebook, which comes handy when most of the people you have in your address book are there. Even if they don’t have a phone number associated with their Facebook account per se, it can be easily added later on by simply editing the contact.

Xbox Live integration is simply amazing – you can associate your existing Xbox Live account and you will be able to track your Gamerscore and achievements directly via the Xbox Live app bundled by default. More than that, you are able to earn Gamerscore points and achievements right on the phone, in games that support this functionality.

One thing I really like about the device is the responsiveness of the touch screen. Just a slight swipe or touch and you’re where you wanted to be – either launched an app or executed an action. Besides, unlike in some smartphones, there is no graphic lag – not a single sign of a stepped transition from page to page or from an a menu to another – it all works really smooth and fast. Seems like the device was optimized to the maximum and takes advantage of the existing computational resources. Eventually, this might depend on the number of applications installed and the way those run, but with the existing thread and background work model required for apps to be accepted in the marketplace, I wouldn't think that there will be problems with this anytime soon.

It sets a lot of things up by default the moment you start it. The email client, Marketplace and Zune will work without any additioanl log-in information once you associate your device with the desired Live ID. It also comes with Microsoft Office for Windows Phone 7, which allows you to create OneNote, Word and Excel documents. Besides that, you can view PowerPoint presentations right on the device. On a side note, if you are a SharePoint user, there is SharePoint integration as well. It all comes integrated in a single application (Office) and is managed from there.

The phone has a capacity of 8GB - plenty of space for pictures, music, videos, documents and apps. In case that is still not enough, there is a microSD slot that can be used to provide some additional storage. Note that you cannot copy media content to the memory card and instantly play it on the device - it still has to be synced with Zune. The card can be used for Office or PDF documents, for example.

Media-wise, the device has two cameras - one in the front (for video chat) and one in the back (5MP). The picture quality is more than decent for a mobile device and what I really liked is that there is a LED flash that works extremely well in dark places. By the way, video mode is also available. Additional media content (music, videos) is managed directly through the Zune app and if you want to sync it with your PC, you will have to use the Zune client - for now, it only runs on Windows but there is a Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac that allows users to sync their device with an existing iTunes library.

Once I got the device, I instantly connected it to the development computer and tried to debug some of my applications on it via Visual Studio, but it didn't work right away because I haven't associated my Live ID with the App Hub service, and that is a must to be able to debug on the device even though I am not planning to work with the Marketplace for now. But that's a different article that will cover the aspects of this process.

Bottom line, I came to the conclusion that Windows Phone 7 is more than ready to enter the competitive smartphone market. The app ecosystem is still growing, so I would expect that soon enough we will see some unique applications and games (especialy when there is Xbox Live integration) appear on the marketplace that will make this platform even more attractive.

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