Sunday, May 2, 2010

Not Your Father's Windows Mobile

We're developing new features for NuevaSync that work with Windows Phone 6.5. This work needs to be field tested and since Verizon were offering me a nice contract renewal subsidy, I decided to upgrade my trusty Samsung Saga (SCH-i770) to a new Omnia II, aka SCH-i920. After using an iPhone, the Moto Droid and Nokia's flagship N900 device in recent weeks I wasn't sure what to expect from the current crop of pre-7 Windows Phones. The phone's arrival was delayed a day due to a snow storm here on Friday but since retrieving it from the clutches of FedEx yesterday it's been in constant use.

The first thing to say is that this phone's AMOLED display is awesome. As in, you stare in awe at it. It's so bright. Colors are so saturated. It's the best phone screen I've seen yet. It also introduces a new game which is to figure out how to get the most black on the screen. That's because with an OLED display, non-black pixels consume power and the more of them there are the shorter your battery life. At least that's the theory. I have my lock screen wallpaper set to all black which is easy to do by simply taking a picture with the phone of a black cat in a coal cellar and assigning that image as your wallpaper. You also need to get used to reading white-on-black text.

Besides the display, his device has a big surprise for calendar syncers: there's an "aftermarket" calendar app pre-installed that supports colors for event categories! This is really cool because in conjunction with our "Category Mapping" feature, it allows color-coded display of events from multiple Google calendars. Open up the options screen, and there it is "Set colors of categories":

You can even pick the exact color you want for each category to match the colors from Google Calendar. Not even an iPhone can do that!:

In no particular order here are a few more observations from my first 24 hours with this phone:

  1. It ships with a custom widget-container today screen that's reminiscent of Nokia's N900. I turned this off mainly because I couldn't figure out how to remove a widget, and also because I felt the screen was too small to accommodate more than two or three of them.
  2. The device ships with the default "ok" button action set to minimise (not close) the application. I suspect this is the source of the 300 reviews on Verizon's web site from angry users complaining that their phones locked up. I changed the ok button action to close the application. This prevents the inevitable accumulation over time of resource-sucking processes.
  3. Applications install by default to main memory. The phone has 8G of on-board flash and that's where applications should be installed.
  4. Although Google Maps was able to find my location no problem, the pre-installed Microsoft Bing maps application refused to use the phone's GPS. Go figure..
  5. The Swype input mode works better than you might expect, but I keep thinking it really requires the user to have a transparent finger. You need to trace a path between the keys while keeping your finger on the screen. But now you can't see the keys because your finger is on the screen. There has to be a better solution than requiring the evolution of digit transparency in the user population.
  6. I haven't found any way to turn Haptic Feeback off. It hasn't yet become annoying but I suspect it will soon.

Update: it turns out that the phone ships with GPS turned OFF, and Google Maps was discovering my location from my IP address or some other non-GPS method. Once turned on, Bing maps works with GPS. I also found the place to turn off haptic feedback.