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Windows Phone 7 Review, Part 8: PC Connectivity and Online Services

Even for a champion of cloud computing such as myself, using Windows Phone has required a change of habits. That's because Windows Phone simply doesn't work like other smart phones and portable devices. Consider the iPhone, or an MP3 player like the Zune HD. If you plug one of these devices into a PC, or to an Xbox 360, you can access the content they contain and play it back on a bigger screen. With a Windows Phone, this won't work. Plug it in if you like. Nothing is going to happen.

Well, one thing will happen, and only on the PC: The Zune PC software will launch (unless you've configured it differently) and sync content between the PC and the device. As noted previously, this is the only PC software that can interact with Windows Phone.

Windows Phone 7 Review
The Zune software is underrated and, for now, under-used.

I asked Microsoft why they designed Windows Phone this way. After all, it seems limiting.

"Windows Phone is not a mass storage device," Joe Belfiore told me. "The data on the phone must be kept consistent. Under the covers, they are essentially Zune devices, and we need to be able to ID and verify what's in the storage, match music to cloud data so we can ID songs, and so on. The user isn't doing that manual stuff, copying files to memory cards or whatever. Some may want to, we know. But in general, a sync system that is simple and easy and does meta data mapping is the better choice. And that's what we did."

Fair enough, and it is what it is. But I have to say, I find the Zune software's non-configurable photo downloading capabilities frustrating and unacceptable. I hope they fix at least that in the future and allow users to acquire photos from the phones using the software they prefer.

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OK, so what can you do from the Zune PC software? Asid from general phone sync, you can browse and buy content from the Marketplace, including apps and games, though again these are really just downloaded directly to the phone and are not stored on the PC. It's the only place you can browse and download videos and podcasts, so if you need to sync that stuff to the phone, you have to do it from the PC.

Windows Phone 7 Review
The Zune software used to sync content with the phone.

Overall, the PC connectivity is weirdly (if purposefully) limited. I'm thinking there's a future middle ground to be found here.

Mac connectivity

I should at least mention in passing that Microsoft will release a Mac-based sync client for Windows Phone as well, called Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac. This software will allow Mac users to sync their iTunes- and iPhoto- based media content with Windows Phone and download pictures taken with the Windows Phone camera. It even looks a bit like iTunes. And ... that's about all we need to say about that.

Online services

Windows Phone will be backed by a slew of online services, only some of which were fully ready for testing in time for this review. For example, on Windows Live, you can automatically store phone-taken cameras (albeit in non-full resolution versions) in a special SkyDrive Camera Roll album in Windows Live Photos. (You can also optionally choose to upload those photos to Facebook instead. I'm guessing other services will come online for this in the future as well.)

Windows Phone 7 Review
The SkyDrive Camera Roll album contains automatically synced photos from your phone.

Like Windows Mobile, Windows Phone supports a Find My Phone service that will help you recover a lost or stolen Windows Phone, and unlike a similar service from, say, Apple, it's absolutely free.

Windows Phone 7 Review
Find My Phone.

Find Your Phones offers features like Map It (see your phone on Bing Maps), Ring It (annoy a thief or locate a phone), Lock it and display a message (such as, "stop, thief!"), and Erase It, which is of course a remote wipe capability.

There's also a nice new Windows Live site just for Windows Phone users that provides access to many of the Microsoft-oriented connected services that are currently available, such as the phone settings, Find My Phone, the SkyDrive Camera Roll, Xbox LIVE, Zune, Windows Live-based contacts and calendar, and OneNote notes, which can be synced automatically to Office Web Apps on Windows Live.

Windows Phone 7 Review
Windows Phone on Windows Live.

I'm told a version of MyPhone will be coming online sometime soon as well, incorporating some features from the short-lived KIN Studio. And Microsoft is busy overhauling to accommodate Windows Phone users as I write this, so there's more to come.

Next up, Part 9: Welcome to the Windows Phone Era...

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