The Windows Phone 7 interface is very much different from the likes of Android and iOS and looks and works almost identically across all devices, independent of the hardware. Indeed because of the strictures Microsoft imposes on manufacturers it means the interface is slick and works very well no matter what handset you buy.
Unlocking the phone, you are faced with the Live Tile interface which aims to put the most important information at your fingertips. Not only is the interface customisable, letting you pin pretty much anything (apps, websites, contacts) to the home page (up to 250 tiles if you must know), but it also brings you notifications within the tiles themselves, letting you know when you’ve got email, missed calls or unread messages.
This is a much slicker solution than the notification menus in iOS and Android which requires a pull down from the top of the screen in both versions. As we said earlier, swiping left and right is integral to navigating around WP7 and while this is a nice idea, it doesn’t always work. At times you find yourself swiping left when you should be pressing the back button and vice versa. It’s not a major inconvenience, but this lack of uniformity can be frustrating.
The WP7 Marketplace currently has around 50,000 apps which is a decent start considering the platform is so young, but compared to the app stores of iOS and Android, it is still miles behind. While most of the major apps are available, there are some notable exceptions such as Dropbox, Instagram, BBC iPlayer and of course Skype. All of these, with the exception of iPlayer are said to be in the works however.
There are also problems with some of the apps that are available, most notably the official Twitter app, which is just pants in our opinion but without a viable alternative available in the Marketplace, we’re stuck with it. One major positive for the Marketplace however is the ability to try any app before committing to purchase it, albeit in a limited manner, which is a feature that Android and iOS could well do with implementing.
Because this is a Nokia handset, you do get a number of apps which are exclusive (for the moment) to their phones. First up is Nokia Drive, which is a turn-by-turn navigation app which does a decent job of replacing a standalone SatNav. It includes maps of Africa, America, Europe, Asia / Middle East and Australia / New Zealand which can be downloaded prior to setting off on any trip. However the app does lack certain features, most notably traffic updates and multi-waypoint routing – but considering it’s free, we can’t really complain.
Next up is Nokia Music, which is similar in a lot of ways to the main WP7 music app but offers one extra in the shape of Mix Radio, which is an excellent addition. Mix Radio gives you free access to hour-long playlists of a large variety of music genres and recent releases. These can be downloaded while on Wi-Fi for listening while offline and you can store up to four of these offline playlists at any one time on your phone.
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While the playlists themselves won’t please any serious music fans out there with them erring on the side of generic, but they do offer a way of instantly having access to a huge library and variety of music you’re otherwise unlikely to have. You can skip through any tracks you don’t like, but be warned this is only up to a maximum of six skips per hour, as a result of some “tricky licensing radio rules”, and you can’t see what tracks are coming. Also we found that some of the playlists didn’t make much sense, such as finding Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina, in the 70s Rock playlist or The Waterboys in New Releases. But despite these flaws Mix Radio is a big addition to the Lumia range and will help make the 710 stand out against other budget competitors.
Other than Mix Radio, the Nokia Music app gives you access to an MP3 store (with a decent choice of music), your own music of course and a neat feature which uses your location to show what gigs are taking place near you.
Of course the inclusion of a Microsoft Office app is again an area where WP7 stands apart from iOS and Android and for those looking to edit, create or share documents on the go, this might be a big selling point. The app works well on the Lumia 710 as you would expect with the LCD screen making it easy to see text. Third party apps from eBay, ESPN, Sky News, Groupon and Trip Advisor come pre-loaded too.