Windows Phone 7 powered phones now available to U.S. consumers

I have next to me one of the first crop of Windows Phone 7 handsets available to United States consumers (clarification: Windows Phone 7 launched internationally before it launched in the U.S.  2nd clarification: you could have purchased a European Windows Phone 7 handset from a supplier of unlocked handsets and had a phone prior to November 8th.)  The handset is the Samsung Focus.

First, a few comments about the Windows Phone 7 OS.  It is premium operating system; that much is beyond dispute.  Microsoft deserves credit for that.  It makes iOS look a bit stale by comparison.  There are elegant choices around every corner as you move through the phone's menus.  In fact, there are too many for me to even attempt to describe them, so I won't do what others have done.  Here is a detailed review by Paul Thurrott, who was provided early access to the development phones while writing a book about the new smartphone OS.

Almost everything I have encountered is very polished.  The glaring failure in my view is that the browser on Widows Phone 7 doesn't render this blog quite right.  Some buggy rounding error or css margin/padding handling screws up the alignment of the banner.  Shameful.

Will this phone prove useful to legal professionals?  I think so.  There are a few features not yet in the phone, like cut & paste, but that should be remedied with a pair of updates expected in the next few months.  The application store is sparse compared to the iTunes App store, but the top tier developers are, almost without exception, preparing their applications for Windows Phone 7.  And the secret sauce that most phone users would never know is that the development tools for Windows Phone 7 are reported to be far better than what Apple currently offers.  When you add in the fact that WP7's development platform tools are similar to those available for desktop Windows programming, it is much more efficient to port existing applications onto WP7.  If Microsoft continues to support its developers, the applications should follow.

As for the Samsung Focus itself, I will say this for it.  It has an amazing screen in all its bright, 4" AMOLED goodness.  Compared to my prior, personal-use phone, the iPhone 3GS, it blows it away.  The current iPhone 4 screen, with its slightly higher pixel density, look extremely sharp, but it is small.  The screen was the deciding factor in my decision.

On the other hand, the other materials used in the Samsung handset are just shy of pathetic.  The phone is almost entirely plastic.  It is beautiful and thin lying on a desk, but when you inspect the details, it doesn't look like it was made with materials that are appropriate for a full-powered, modern smartphone.  I wanted to test drive this operating system on AT&T.  I had two choices for phones at launch, the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround.  The HTC surround has a ridiculous sliding speaker mechanism that makes the phone pointlessly thick.  If HTC had made that phone without the speaker, I probably would have chosen it over the Focus.  At least HTC used brushed metal detailing around the screen.  How can these handset manufacturers watch Apple drive itself into the smartphone world, now in the 4th position after just 4 years, and not respond to Apple's design dominance with better handsets?  I know that there are enough good designers in the world to allow at least one to work at each handset manufacturer.  And Apple can't have a monopoly on things like aluminum - the Earth's crust is chock full of it.  Unless I used it all drinking Diet Coke.

I will almost certainly replace the Focus next year with a handset befitting the OS on it - something more like the LG Optimus or HTC Mozart that were released in Europe.   I'm sucking up that extra cost so that I can report on my experiences with the newest OS on the block.  Until then, I will concentrate on the great screen.