I had some pretty big expectations for the next generation of Windows phones; the 6.5 update just didn't cut it. I wanted a smooth, super touch-friendly user interface that is easy to navigate. Oh, and full integration with the Zune software. To my delight, Microsoft delivered and I was generally impressed with Windows Phone 7 Series (Microsoft has dropped the "Windows Mobile" moniker). I do have a few concerns, however, that I hope will be addressed 10 months from now.
I've praised the Zune software in the past for being easily navigable as well as very touch-friendly. Windows 7 Series is no different: All of the menus you need are up front and easily accessible in large, clean typeface. One of the biggest complaints of Windows Mobile 6 was labyrinth of menus you had to go through to find what you wanted. I'm pleased with how Microsoft has simplified this.
When you turn on the phone, you have instant access to all of your most-used or favorite apps in the form of live tiles (see image on left) on the homescreen. The user experience is miles ahead of the old Windows Mobile start screens of the past (see Windows Mobile 6 Start screen). To get all of your apps, don't bother looking for the start button. You simply flick to the left and you'll see a list of all of your apps.
While the interface was nothing like Windows Mobile versions of the past, it suffered the same sluggishness we're all so familiar with. Scrolling was a bit sticky in the Internet Explorer-based browser (click on image to the right to zoom) and the pinch-to-zoom capabilities weren't as smooth as what you'd find on the iPhone's browser. Contacts also took a bit of time to fill in when I tried to scroll down the list. Disclaimer: My hands-on was with a prototype so this criticism might not hold at launch. Microsoft has 10 months to tweak and update the OS though and I hope that by then, Windows 7 will be ready for primetime.
Microsoft has finally caught up with the competition by delivering a clean, socially-connected interface and implementing features like multitouch and the beautiful Zune media player. Paired with excellent hardware partners like HTC and Samsung, I think Windows 7 phones have some great potential-if the software behaves.