Really Microsoft... Really... (HTC HD7 Bugbears)

Really ?

I don't really consider myself a fan-boy for any single platform, OS or Manufacturer. I have an IPhone which I think is a great day-to-day tool and I have been toying with the idea of an IPad for a while now. On the other hand I've been a Microsoft .NET Developer for >8 years now, (saying that made me feel just a bit old...), I use a PC, know v. little about Mac's and like most things MS. (.NET Dev, Xbox, Win7, etc...).

</Impartial-Fence-Sitting-Disclaimer>

However I was just a bit excited, as I assume most .Net developers & MS Fan-boys were, when they announced the Windows Phone 7, thinking "This is gonna be great". Alas we got our hands on a HTC HD7 today in the office and my first impressions were a resounding... "Really Meh!". I'm actually genuinely disappointed with it. It's not that either the device or the operating system is bad, it's just not right. It's like they just forgot to let an actual person use it, and tell them where to apply some polish. Don't get me wrong, I understand it's a "Version 1" for the OS, but still, there are a bunch of usability issues (both hardware & software) that within minutes, were pissing me off beyond belief. For me, they were deal breakers.

Before I start ranting, I'd love if people could jump in and tell me I'm wrong. I tend not to be a good "typical end-user", being a techie and I'm probably quite biased owning an IPhone 4 so maybe I'm off base here.

The Touch Interface.

Person "holding" phone

Hand-model "holding" phone

The HD7 is sporting a lovely big touch interface. The screen takes up the large majority of the front facing panel and the remainder is taken up with 3 Capacitive touch buttons for "Back", "Home" & "Search"

However since the majority of the surface is touchable with very little dead-zone around the edge, I found myself constantly touching it by accident. Using the device in one-hand, the fore/middle/ring fingers would often make contact with the far side of the screen while holding it steady, causing the UI to be unresponsive to my thumb. And as for the "buttons", I don't know why they didn't go for some actual tactile, clicky buttons here (the least they could have done was dial down the sensitivity a bit). The centre "Home" button is fine but the Search & Back buttons were driving me nuts after only a few minutes use.

The Search Button.

Thumb Triggering Search

Pinky Triggering Search

By far the most annoying feature of the hardware is the overly sensitive search button. I have no problem with the concept of a context sensitive Search. But the button causes it to constantly pop open, unintentionally during normal use. In my left hand, my pinky finger was constantly triggering it as it wrapped around the bottom of the device. In my right hand, I'd constantly trigger it as my thumb stretched for the far top corner of the screen. In landscape orientation I kept hitting it because I was naturally holding the phone like an XBox Controller. Same while taking a photo and holding it like a camera. Bing Search. Bing Search. Bing Search.

The Back Button.

On the other hand, the biggest nuissance feature from an OS point of view was the back button and it's complete lack of uniform behaviour. YMMV on this one, but it made me go WTF. This is probably best described with an example. Here's what happens during browser use over multiple browsing sessions in using both an IPhone & Windows Phone

IPhone & Safari Windows Phone & IE
1. Open Safari and go to www.bing.com
2. Search for "Fish"
3. View the results page
3. Click the link to the wikipedia article on fish
4. Read It & Close the browser
... some time later ...
5. Open the browser again, as expected the tab is still there on the Wikipedia Article
6. Press Back
7. As expected you return to the Bing results page
1. Open Internet Explorer and go to www.bing.com
2. Search for "Fish"
3. View the results page
3. Click the link to the wikipedia article on fish
4. Read It & Close the browser
... some time later ...
5. Open the browser again, as expected the tab is still there on the Wikipedia Article
6. Press Back
7. As expected... wait what the hell...

Instead I'm brought "BACK" to the home screen. But I wanted to go "BACK" to the previous page in the browser. Oh I can't do that. Really... Well how to do I go "BACK" in a browser context... I have to press the little star icon? but that means favourites? no? It also means history is hidden in there? Really... Really...

Misc. Annoyances.

There were other things as well that were grinding my gears. Like not being able to find the equals button on the keyboard because you first need hit the "&123" key to get into NUM mode, and then hit the --> Arrow key to have it slide in a new symbol set. And then the equals key appears in the 'v' key position of a qwerty keyboard as opposed to where equals would normally appear.

  • Or like how I couldn't use the market place until we put a sim into the "sim-free" phone despite having already setup the phone with a valid Windows Live Account.
  • Or like how it's only been in the office for ~6 hours and the front facing speaker traps are already starting to get pretty manky with dust.
  • Or like how it just feels like the build quality isn't up to par with the kick stand wobbling about and the plastic back cover feeling flimsy.
  • Or like how the camera seems a little bit slow off the mark to auto focus sometimes in what seems like an extremely simple scene as regards light metering & object of interest.
  • Or like how the "People" hub won't allow me to have two mobile numbers for one contact, nor will it allow me to create custom fields like "Work Desk", "Work Skypeout" etc...
  • Or like how there seems to be a complete lack of uniformity in the Spelling Case used around the OS. e.g. On the settings page we have:
    SETTINGS, system, ringtones & sounds, theme, flight mode, Wifi, Bluetooth

Really? Either decide on all lower case, ALL UPPER CASE or All First Letter Capitalisation. This sort of mixed case nonsense was just the straw that broke the camels back. Each issue in isolation was a pin prick of annoyance but in a such a short space of time, they all came together in a crescendo, making me want to toss the phone out the window.

At the end of the day, I'll develop for the platform no doubt, but sorry Microsoft, I shall not be trading in my IPhone for you  just yet... REALLY

Eoin Campbell

Eoin Campbell

Eoin Campbell
Dad, Husband, Coder, Nerd. I work primarily on the Microsoft .NET & Azure Stack

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