Microsoft Phone 7 Almost Nails it

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Windows 7 phones are sharp and the operating system is a gem, but three years on the sidelines, Microsoft ( MSFT) needed something tremendous to make the world forget all its stumbles in mobile.

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, unveiled Monday in New York, almost hit the mark.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the first part of an all-day Windows Phone 7 show in New York. After the rundown, a demo of Windows 7 features and a brief hands-on with one of the phones, it became clear that Microsoft is very much back in the mobile game.
Microsoft

That game has two lead players -- Apple ( AAPL) and Google's ( GOOG) Android operating system -- and Microsoft's Windows 7 puts it squarely in the pack. But instead of one brilliant thing -- an application or some flash of originality -- Microsoft rolled out a hodgepodge of features that seem oddly familiar to anyone who's used an iPhone or an Android device.

A short test drive of the HTC Surround, which lands at AT&T ( T) on Nov. 8, proved Windows 7 to be easy and pleasing. Windows 7's identifying feature is its home screen, which has tiles instead of icons. As an alternative, you can press the arrow at the top right and get an application view, or icons arranged in a vertical roster.

When you touch a tile, it turns over in sweet animated fashion like a leaf and starts you on what Microsoft calls a "hub." There are six hub tiles: people, pictures, games, media, Office and Marketplace.

In "people," you are given a picture list of your contacts. Open a contact and you get a list of options including call, email, text and Facebook wall writing. In Office you get a roster of applications and an option to create a document. Touch "create" on the screen and you get a choice of what application you want: Excel, PowerPoint, Word. Clicking on Word opened a Windows Phone 7 version of Word and allowed typing and saving pretty simply.

The virtual keyboard that comes with Windows 7 is very similar to SwiftKey, a popular mobile phone keyboard application available on Android phones. As you type, the software predicts the word you want, offers suggestions and corrects your spelling as you go. It certainly wasn't perfect, but it did cut down on backspacing and typos -- a step forward for the mobile typists of the world.

As you would expect, Microsoft's Bing search and maps are immediately available within different programs. The software giant also features Xbox live gaming and Zune Pass, a subscription-based streaming music service. AT&T was also on hand, pushing its U-Verse mobile video service, which too requires a subscription.

Microsoft earned style points for making an easy, attractive user interface. The quality of the transitions (animations) as you move between tasks makes you feel like they put some effort into it. Very smooth and very Apple-like, you might say.

But among the elements missing to a spectacular launch of Windows 7 was a drop-dead, show stopper feature that will help convince Apple and Android fans that there's a whole new game in town.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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