Windows Phone 7: hardware (still) matters

Over the course of the past seven days I’ve had the pleasure of using two different Windows Phone 7 launch devices in Australia. The first being an LG Optimus 7Q and now a Samsung Omnia 7.

Side by side in the photos above, the phones might appear equally impressive on the surface. They are both running Windows Phone 7 after all. Having said that, my personal experience shows there is a world of difference using them.

Since the early days of WP7 speculation, it became well established that all Windows Phone 7 hardware will have minimum specifications set by Microsoft. It was further revealed, Microsoft will even provide guidelines on physical form factors via a number of “chassis” designs.

The news at the time was unanimously supported by the enthusiast community as a sign that Microsoft will be raising the bar for “Windows Phone” both as a brand and as a product.

Fortunately, this turned out to be true and it appears all Windows Phone 7 devices run Windows Phone 7 extremely well. But, that’s not to be said all Windows Phone 7 devices are great phones of the same.

Take the LG Optimus 7Q first, it’s not a well designed phone, period.

Even if you looked past its bulky weight and size for the physical slide-out keyboard, the position and size of the hardware buttons are truly baffling. The most obvious being the Start button which doesn’t align with the back or search button and forces your thumb to stretch to its limits just to reach it.

Other buttons around the difficult-to-grip rounded case barely extrude in millimeters, making what should be obvious tactile interactions both difficult to locate and press. Usability aside, even the size and brightness of the screen is more inline with last-generation’s Windows Mobile 6.5 hardware than WP7.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Samsung Omnia 7 is not just an impressive Windows Phone 7 device, it’s an impressive mobile phone.

It’s light, thin yet sturdy thanks to a brushed metal frame that encompasses the entire device except the front where the flush super AMOLED screen is almost like a single piece of flawless black marble that is equally gorgeous on or off. Of course, the hardware buttons are sizable in all three dimensions with a satisfying responsive feel.

The moral of the story is, as consistent Windows Phone 7 devices may appear, you should still judge each phone on its own merit. In this case, the two phones couldn’t be more miles apart. Whilst this process is a lot easier compared to Android phones where you would also have to take into account the software, it’s an important factor that will have an influence on the whole Windows Phone 7 experience.

For now, I’m sold on the Samsung Omnia 7.

18 insightful thoughts

  1. The Omnia 7 feels great to hold, though I don’t like the hardware Windows button. LG’s phones are simply, yuck. The Focus feels like a cheap plastic phone tbh but given the handset launch setup in the US looks like that’ll be selling the most.

  2. It is time that these OEMs realize we in the Windows/Anroid world can’t accept the crap they dump on us. That is why the iDrones feel superior and sneer at the products we carry around. The windows and android fans also have a sense of taste. By having a product fail not based on OS but on hardware design hopefully will wake them up.
    Take for example the Mic/Speaker quality on some of these OEMs devices, they are simply pathetic. I am glad HTC has a product now for the audiophiles amongst us in products like HTC Surround, hopefuly the rest will jump on the bandwagon.

  3. I had a fondle of the UK versions of the phones at the weekend and must say that the UK version of the LG Optimus 7 (no q, no physical keyboard) seems much better. There are three physical buttons in a line at the bottom, the back is metal and the whole phone seems slim, solid and sturdy (if a little heavy). The other buttons seem good as well.

    The Q seems to be really cheap version (possibly to absorb the cost of the keyboard).

    Having said that the Samsung is gorgeous but for me too big (due to screen size). I wouldn’t want to carry something that size in my pocket.

    I’m leaning towards buying the LG as it seems to be the only one in the UK with 16GB (apart from the monster that is the HD7) and none of them are expandable :-(.

  4. I really wish that Samsung would have released the Omnia 7 in the US. It baffles me that they chose to release the inferior Samsung Focus in the US while the rest of the world gets the Omnia 7.

  5. Are there weather apps out there that display the current temperature on the Live Tile? I never saw it, so I’m wondering if it is just a mystery that developers can change the Tiles and make them, well, “Live”.

  6. Sigh, Samsung Omnia 7, why must you be on a $79 optus cap? How I would love to see you a little less pricey and on another network.

  7. I really want this phone but nobody at optus will confirm when it will be available to buy. I must be stupid to have suspected it would be available at launch…

  8. Absolutely. the importance of good industrial design (and executing on it!) cannot be underestimated.

    More, you could extend this to desktops, laptops, and the small amount of tablets/slates out there.

    OEMs do need to understand that look, feel, quality is a big driver for sales.

    Great post.

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