Review: HTC Mozart, WP7, and the Telstra network

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I’ve spent the last week wracking my brain trying to think of an HTC Mozart recap; after all, two weeks isn’t a huge period of time. I’ve found my first impressions mostly match my feelings today.

Let’s get into this, shall we?

The network

I have to admit that I didn’t notice any improvements in speed or signal strength in Melbourne or Perth as compared to my Vodafone-powered handset. I’m not complaining; I didn’t have any problems placing calls or accessing data…it’s just that service seemed to be equal to what I was used to with Vodafone.

I’ve heard a lot about Telstra being better in remote areas, but I never leave the city. Moot point.

The only complaint I was going to voice about Telstra and its network was the Mozart’s battery life, however this was seemingly corrected yesterday. Since the fix, I’ve noticed a vast improvement on power retention without the need to manually identify APNs. I’ll say that I would have appreciated a faster fix in order to properly test and confirm that this fix is all it claims to be.

The handset

Even with the massive scratch from my mishap outside the Telstra offices on day one, the handset is still sexy. The one-piece aluminium body — coupled with Microsoft’s gorgeous WP7 UI — makes the phone an instant conversation-starter; I pulled my handset out during a Christmas Party and ended up having a two-hour conversation about it with party-goers. Button placement is ideal, the phone has a great weight to it, its specifications are impressive, and the camera is truly a powerhouse.

On the downside, I question HTC’s decision to place the handset’s speaker on the back of the phone. If you use the speaker for podcast playback or for speakerphone in a call, you either have to place the handset with the screen facing down, which means you can’t use the phone for anything else, or screen up, muffling the sound.

Whilst the camera is very powerful, I’m finding myself taking blurry shot after blurry shot; I don’t know if this is HTC’s fault, or Microsoft’s. I understand that I need to press the camera button half-way to focus, and then all the way to take the shot; I’m unsure if I’m using the button wrong or if I’m simply too shaky when taking pictures. I’m curious to know if anyone else had the same problems with photos that I do.

The OS and applications

There’s a lot good, and a lot. My comments about Microsoft’s global billing problems stand, and those difficulties hinder quite a lot of functionality on the device. I’ll repeat that Microsoft needs to acknowledge the fact that its customers will move from country to country; asking them to abandon one Windows Live ID and create a new one based on their new country is unacceptable. If you make Live IDs the driving force of your OS, you can’t expect us to dump our contact and calendar data, Xbox achievements and gamerscore, and so much more – aka, a person’s digital life — into one account and then simply give it up for a new one down the track.

Off my soapbox now…the UI, called Metro, is unbelievably sexy. Having less space on your Start screen to anchor apps takes some getting used to, but I’ve actually found it forces you to simplify how you use the phone – and this is a good thing.

You don’t need to have a tile to access Facebook because it’s in the People Hub; I’m assuming Twitter will soon work in the same way. I had most of my Xbox Live games on the Start screen as separate tiles, but ended up deleting them in favour of the core Xbox app just because it was easier than swiping up and down the Start screen looking for stuff. I had World Clock on my Start screen, and Calculator, and Settings…and then realised this was so purely because that’s how it worked on my iPhone. As soon as I made that connection, I deleted unnecessary tiles from the Start screen and swiped right to go to my full app list when needed. (I’ve barely needed to, by the way.)

The comparison between an iPhone and Windows Phone 7? Completely necessary. The problem? They’re two very different beasts and they’ve been developed to work in two extremely different ways. Apple wants you to know that “there’s an app for that,” while Microsoft’s ads proclaim the phone will “get you in and out and back to life” due to its hubs. Both are valid claims; to me, Microsoft’s is better.  Quite simply put, I’m spending less time in WP7 whilst accomplishing the same amount of work.

You can’t have everything. I’m fine with Microsoft subtly changing the way I work; I gained time! I’m DESPISING them though because they’re forcing me to also use MY contacts and MY calendars in a way I hadn’t before…and don’t want to. I’ve explained my predicament here. Microsoft, I don’t use my Windows Live ID as an email client, address book, or calendar. I don’t want years-old information automatically syncing to my phone because you have decided it should. Give me the option to choose to which data to sync from the Live ID you’ve made me enter to start the phone up. Give me the option to sync calendar and contact information from Outlook on my PC without needing ActiveSync. Better yet, let me sync Outlook data from my PC without ActiveSync and instead using the same wireless sync Zune employs.

The one contradiction I can think of to the “get you in and out and back to life” mindset of the phone is that your mail accounts can’t be tied to one interface. I have a tile for my personal IMAP account, one for my business-related Gmail, and another for a POP3 belonging to my hockey team. That’s a lot of real estate on my Start screen that could have been merged into one tile. My iPhone can keep track of mail from different accounts and apply the proper signatures when replying…why can’t WP7?

My Xbox Live love affair still stands. I think I’ve covered everything I want to say in its dedicated post.

All I want to come out of the rumoured February 2011 update is core Twitter integration and copy-paste functionality. I expect that NOW; it was foolish of Microsoft to release the OS without copy-paste. They need to win supporters immediately, and huge gaps in functionality — especially something as simple as copying and pasting — are deal-breakers.

Lastly, I’m happy with the amount of WP7 applications available, considering how long the handset has been on the market. I know some of my old favourites are already confirmed to be on the way (yay for Amazon Kindle!), so I know the future is bright – I feel sorry for those of you hoping for something decent to come through the BlackBerry App World. I encourage developers to get STRAIGHT to work on WP7 versions of their applications – I’m looking at you, South Freo (Quota), and Ricochet Labs (Qrank)! Just think what your work would look like coupled with the Metro UI. Application-y sex, right there.

The verdict

Short and sweet: I’m using the HTC Mozart as my primary phone. I’ve given up my iPhone 4 cold turkey – hell, I’ve already gifted it to my boyfriend (he even got the Xbox Microsoft was so kind to comp to me at the start of this Social Review – full disclosure). I’ll admit that I came to WP7 because of Xbox Live and achievements, but I’ve stayed for Metro and its gorgeous simplicity.

Despite its teething problems, I know the phone is solid. I’ve used other HTC handsets and older versions of Windows Ph..I mean, Windows Mobile. I hated them. My previous HTC handsets were chunky, awkward, and non-responsive. Windows Mobile was all kinds of disgusting, and I’m extremely glad Microsoft did away with the notion that your phone has to behave like your PC does. In the Mozart with WP7, Microsoft, HTC, and Telstra all have something to be very proud of. Just don’t get too happy, guys – go fix the things I don’t like. From other reviews, I know it’s not just me.

Note: I have been given a HTC Mozart with Windows 7 Phone by Telstra free of charge to review. The comments expressed by me reflect my own user experience and personal opinion and are not made on behalf of Telstra.