With both AT&T and T-Mobile offering Windows Phone 7 handsets since late 2010, and Sprint following suit earlier this year, Verizon Wireless has been the only carrier without a single Microsoft-powered smartphone in their lineup since the OS launched.
But that changed in late May when Verizon added the HTC Trophy, the carrier’s first Windows Phone.
The Trophy doesn’t do much to separate itself from other Windows Phones currently available in the U.S., but it does bring a third smartphone OS option to Verizon customers. So if you’re with Verizon Wireless, and are looking to upgrade to a new smartphone – or to a smartphone for the first time - should you consider the HTC Trophy over Verizon’s Android and iPhone offerings?
The HTC Trophy (aka HTC Spark) is a slab, screen-centric smartphone without a hardware keyboard. Aside from its screen size – 3.8-inches – the Trophy has pretty much the same hardware as its sibling first-gen Windows Phones: 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 576MB of RAM, 480×800 screen resolution, 5MP primary camera, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The Trophy does have more onboard storage than most other Windows Phones, with an internal 16GB of flash memory (like the Sprint Arrive). And that’ll have to do, because like most phones with Microsoft’s mobile OS, the Trophy doesn’t have a microSD card slot.
The phone itself is sleek and stylish with nice curves and a black and silver exterior. The sides and rear of the device are rubberized plastic, and the Trophy feels really great in your hand. The weight, just under 5-ounces, is also nice and similar to other smartphones. Exterior controls include a volume rocker, dedicated camera button, a power button and the three ubiquitous Windows Phone controls below the screen.
The Windows Phone 7 OS
Because the Trophy is similar to many mid-range Android smartphones in build and specs, the majority of this review will focus on the OS, which is still unfamiliar to most.
Windows Phone 7 is a substantial departure from previous and competing smartphone operating systems. The north star of the OS is information at a glance rather than the in-and-out of apps approach used by the iOS on the iPhone and, to a lesser degree, Android. For many users, I think, the utility of such a setup is high, but as-is the operating system feels unfinished, offering more promise than anything else.
You do get most of the standard smartphone fare with the OS, though. There’s a web browser, email support, messaging, a contacts manager, a calendar, a maps and navigation app, a music and video player, a photo viewer, and an app store called the Marketplace. There’s also OneNote, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and an XBox-branded games hub for games and communication via XBox live.
The built-in email client supports Microsoft’s own Hotmail as well as other email services using POP3, IMAP or Exchange ActiveSync (push). The calendar which can sync with multiple services (Gmail, Windows Live, Exchange), but you can’t sync with Outlook on a PC without Exchange support, nor can it sync with multiple calendars from the same source, e.g. Google. Contacts can be synced with supported services like Windows Live and Google, though duplicate contact data is duplicated on the device.
The web browser, Internet Explorer, is a light-year beyond the version found on older Windows Mobile phones, but well behind iOS and Android. The browser frequently displayed web pages with errors, and won’t set any speed records. Updating the browser is a primary focus of Mango, a major update to the Windows Phone 7 OS due out later this year.
The Trophy ships with the latest version of the OS which now includes limited copy and paste support.
Note: if you’d like to read in depth about the Windows Phone 7 OS and its many features, check out Paul Thurrott’s detailed review; while Paul is much more of a fan of WP7 than I, he does an unmatched job breaking down what the OS does and how it does it.
The UI: Metro
The main functions of the OS are broken down into two interfaces: Hubs and Applications. Hubs appear on the main home screen as tiles that allow quick access to data, contacts and applications, and also aggregate data from difference sources. The Photos hub, for example, shows not only photos on the phone itself, but also from linked online services. There are several hubs included by default – People, Hotmail, Music + Videos, Office – but you can create new or additional hubs for frequently-used apps and contacts. Some third-party apps also support hubs in one way or another, offering not only a hub-based link to the app on the main screen, but also displayed data from the app or service at a glance.
The Applications screen, which appears to the right of the Hubs screen, shows you a simple list of installed apps for quick launching.
The hubs are great, by far the best feature of the Windows Phone OS. And the general UI -high-contrast, clean and often two-dimensional – is visually satisfying; even basic system sounds like key clicks are sort of fun. Metro does an excellent job of taking the smartphone UI up a notch, and it will be interesting to see how it changes and improves in the coming years.
The Music + Videos hub is Zune inspired, like the rest of the OS. Music is presented in a very nice way with moving backgrounds, album art and a range of viewing and listening options. In fact, I’d argue that Windows Phone offers the music best experience on any smartphone, including the iPhone. And Microsoft makes getting media content onto the phone fairly simple with the Zune software on the PC and a special Mac sync utility that moves unprotected music and video from iTunes to the device. You can also purchase music on the device.
The Marketplace & Apps
The HTC Trophy and other Windows Phones can be augmented with additional software, or apps, just like any other smartphone. Apps for Windows Phone 7 come via The Marketplace, an on-device app and music store. Sadly, I feel the Marketplace is one of the major disappointments of the Trophy and all of its WP7 siblings.
The Marketplace presentation and interface is a complete mess. Search results are a maddening mixture of apps, songs, artists and albums. Why Microsoft decided to combine searches for music and software is beyond me, but it doesn’t work – at all. Finding new apps is a headache, and sorting through search results and lists of apps while browsing is frustrating to say the least.
As I feel the ability to add apps to a smartphone is its most important utility beyond voice and text communication, this is a major blow to the Trophy and other WP7 handsets.
The HTC Trophy has a 1GHz processor, which handles the OS very well. Menus are very fast, programs launch quickly, and there’s virtually no lag associated with any activity.
Battery life is descent, with about 5 hours of talk time and 11 days of standby. I easily got through the day on a full charge during each day of my testing with a usage mix of voice calls, web browsing, general app use, email and messaging.
Call quality is a pretty awful on the Trophy, which for me is a considerable setback. I heard echoes of myself on more than one occasion, and the sound from the caller on the other end of the “line” was consistently hollow or distant. I didn’t get any complaints regarding how I sounded, but the experience on my end was enough to disappoint. The Trophy isn’t for frequent talkers.
So, is Windows Phone for You?
Which Verizon customers should consider the Trophy? If you rely heavily on online Windows Live services for email, calendar, contacts and social networking, you’ll find Windows Phone 7’s out-of-the-box integration with Windows Live refreshing, but likely not enough to eclipse Android or iPhone. Also, if you’re an XBox devotee, the operating system’s ability to link with your XBox LIVE account may interest you. If neither of these descriptions prompted you to raise your hand, stick with Android or iPhone for now. If you are one of these users, there’s something here for you, but there’s a lot missing, too.
In many ways, I feel Windows Phone could be a serious competitor to both Android and the iPhone. But I stress that it could be. At this point, great UI and media experience aside, I cannot recommend it over its Apple and Google-powered alternatives. Like the first iPhone and early Android phones, there are just too many deal-breaking missing or mangled features. And the app store is – yeah, I’m going to repeat myself – a hot mess.
Microsoft has included some impressive ingredients with Windows Phone 7, but it needs more time to cook.
Hopefully, they won’t wait too long for their fledgling mobile OS to rise, or it’ll certainly fall flat.
M. Nichols, Products Editor