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Hands-On with Windows Phone 7, Part 2: Prototype Hardware

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Part 2: Prototype Hardware

When Microsoft finally presented me with a Windows Phone prototype that I could take home and use out in the real world, they were curiously embarrassed by the device, which I was told repeatedly didn't represent "ship quality" hardware, and wasn't indicative of the thin, light, and gorgeous hardware that's really going to sell to consumers. They shouldn't be so down on it. The prototype is fine.

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

The developer device is a Samsung Taylor SGH-i707, and it comes with all the hardware one would expect given the Windows Phone 7 required specifications. Interestingly, Microsoft was also apologetic about the device's screen, which displays at the lower of the two possible Windows Phone 7 resolutions, 480 x 320 (HVGA) instead of 800 x 480 (WVGA). Then you turn the thing on and just laugh out loud--I told you there'd be moments like this--because the display is simply gorgeous. In fact, it's largely identical to the excellent Zune HD screen, featuring the same resolution and the same superior OLED quality. (The Samsung screen is much bigger than the Zune HD screen, however.) Colors appear to jump off of this screen, and the blacks are so black, they appear to be part of the surrounding plastic. Did I mention this was a gorgeous screen? Oh yes. It is.

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

As a non-ship-level device, there are ports and plastic covers, and holes all over this device. There's a huge 5 megapixel camera that sticks out of the back by a tiny amount, another embarrassment to Microsoft. (Hey, it takes great high-resolution photos and video.) The headphone jack and USB connection port both have awful plastic covers that are hard to pry off when you've just cut your fingernails. A similar cover appears over the mini-SD slot, though that's no biggie since no Windows Phone 7 device will ship with such a memory port anyway. (Through a combination of internal and SD-based memory, the prototype sports about 8 GB of storage.)

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

There are speakers on the top and bottom of the phone--take that iPhone, and every other Apple mobile product-- and, if I'm not mistaken, microphones on both the top and bottom too. Oddly, there's a front facing camera that isn't connected to anything.

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

All of the required buttons are present, including Back, Start, and Search across the front, a dedicated power/sleep button on the side, volume up and down and, glory be to God, a camera button. This button is particularly genius, because it connects to a new software feature in Windows Phone that Microsoft calls "pocket to picture." So even if you've locked your phone, you can tap this button and take a picture, almost instantaneously. There's no fumbling with the device's lock screen and passcode, and then finding and launching the camera app. You know, like you have to do on an iPhone. Oops, the moment already passed: The story of your life with iPhone.

Prototype Windows Phone hardware
The right side of the device features a prominent camera button, a USB port (with annoying cover), and the power switch.

The system's performance is generally amazing. It awakes instantly, of course, and navigation through the various phone UIs are fluid and fast. I have had some performance issues around media playback and Zune software syncing, but then maybe I shouldn't have been trying to play a 720 x 480 DVD rip of "Avatar" in the first place. (Shocker: It plays.) I haven't yet had a chance to test any full-screen XNA games, but from what I can see, this should be a decent game player.

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

I don't have a firm handle on battery life, and of course we can't judge Windows Phone on this prototype. In regular usage, the phone doesn't last the day, basically, and I've been leaving it plugged in while writing for the most part. It does have a removable battery, naturally, and because it's a GSM-type device, I was able to pull out my iPhone 3GS's SIM and just make the switch. (Irony alert: My iPhone 3GS reports a stronger 3G signal in my house than does the Windows Phone device. I suspect Windows Phone is more accurate given that I'm in a dead zone. And this is after the software update.)

Prototype Windows Phone hardware

Overall, the prototype isn't all that interesting aesthetically but then it's not the car crash that Microsoft seems to believe it is either. Their over-the-top reaction to this device makes me believe that we're going to see some pretty stunning hardware come this fall's launch. I can't wait to see what's available then.

Next up, Part 3: Near-Final Windows Phone 7 Software...

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