Samsung Focus S: Slick Windows Phone -- for consumers only

The sleek smartphone's Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango' OS has real appeal, but it can't work in most businesses

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User interface
The Metro UI in Windows Phone is clean, elegant, simple, and inviting -- you quickly figure out how to work with it. It's much simpler than Android and even simpler than iOS. But Windows Phone's simpler UI reflects its simpler capabilities; it's hard to imagine how the "Mango" UI could handle sophisticated, multilevel interactions, for example.

Operational UI. Windows Phone is highly consistent in navigating: Swipe to the right for more, and press the More icon button for features not displayed. However, Windows Phone's spare design hides more capabilities from the user than other mobile OSes, so you're more likely to turn to its More icon button than the equivalent interface elements in iOS or Android.

In addition, I have two bigger beefs with Windows Phone's UI:

  • Windows Phone consistently uses thin, small text that most adults will not be able to read without glasses. Worse, it favors low-contrast text display (such as gray-and-white) in everything from its onscreen keyboard to its email messages. Where it doesn't do that, it uses thin, colored text on black backgrounds. Both are fundamental design no-nos that a company claiming to be as heavily invested in ergonomics research as Microsoft does should never have allowed. I initially thought older folks who want a simple messaging device, not an app-heavy minicomputer like an iPhone, would be the perfect audience for Windows Phone devices -- but they won't be able to see what they're doing beyond the top-level menus.
  • Windows Phone's tiles and lists fill up the screen really fast, and it becomes burdensome to find them in the ever-longer vertical scrolls that result. In effect, Windows Phone makes you stick to a few core functions, whereas Android's junkier interface at least gives you ways to organize a larger set of capabilities so that you can actually use them.

Windows Phone also offers a universal voice-command feature: Long-tap the Start hardware button and it asks you to issue a command. Problem is, "Mango" rarely understood what I said. Android and iOS fare better in this regard, though Android's "sometimes it's available, sometimes it's not" approach to voice commands is frustrating, as are the very basic voice command capabilities of the iPhone 4 and 3G S (phone calling and rudimentary iTunes control). None of these, though, offers the universality of the iPhone 4S's Siri.

The Settings app in Windows Phone has the same straightforward, simple approach of the OS, so you don't get lost as you can in Android and even iOS. Of course, there are fewer elements to manage settings for in Windows Phone than in its competitors. But like iOS 5, Windows Phone lets you set custom sounds to various alerts, so you can more easily tell your device from someone else's.

Pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, work the same on Windows Phone as in competing OSes. But "Mango" does little more in terms of available gestures beyond those and swipe -- a real contrast to iOS. Instead, Windows Phone 7 relies on menu actions after you tap the More button or long-tap objects you want to manipulate.

For text entry, Windows Phone's onscreen keyboard is fine, but its keys are less readable than those in Android and iOS. Like iOS, Windows Phone uses contextual keys like .com and underscore (_) more often than Android, which is a real help in browsers and email clients. However, Windows Phone's messing with the placement of some basic symbols, such as the asterisk, is annoying.

Text selection and copying. Windows Phone handles text selection decently. It's fairly sensitive to when you want to insert the cursor within text, and it displays a large colored insertion cursor when you do so, providing a visual clue as to where the cursor will end up before you lift your finger. I find text selection in "Mango" not quite as easy as in iOS but easier than in Android.

Copy and paste, even basic selection, is not always available in Windows Phone. You can't, for example, copy and paste selections from a tweet -- just the whole tweet. But the process works fine when copy and paste are available.

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