HTC 7 Pro (Alternative 2)
Review compliments of ITPRO.
The last Windows Phone 7 handset we looked at - HTC’s HD7 - was billed as an entertainment phone, with a huge 4.3in screen and 16GB of storage for your movies.
HTC’s 7 Pro is more of a throwback to a time when Microsoft’s mobile operating system was all about work rather than films, music and social networking. Despite its smaller 3.6in screen, it’s 23 grammes heavier than the HD7, thanks to the addition of that darling of any travelling businessman - a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
This slides out from the left side of the phone, and getting the action right is tricky. The phone’s shiny silver bezel is tricky to grip as you push the screen sideways, and at first we kept nearly dropping the phone. Things improved with time, though. It’s all in the wrist. The slide action itself is fairly rough as the screen slides over the matte keyboard surround, so it’s not nearly as easy to use as sliding keyboard triumphs such as Nokia’s N97 - despite that phone being blighted by a horrid and unstable operating system.
The screen flips up at an angle when fully extended, so the 7 Pro looks like a mini laptop when you’re using the hardware QWERTY keyboard. It’s especially comfortable to use when typing emails or editing documents. The keys are large and have plenty of travel, and the dedicated number row is welcome.
There are a couple of strange choices - an entire key is dedicated to smileys, and pressing it brings up every punctuation-expressed emotion you could imagine. Meanwhile, the @ key is relegated to a FN-2 key combination. We appreciate the need to express how you’re feeling succinctly on Twitter, but whether we're sending emails or replying to tweets, we find the @ key usually more useful than emoticons. It’s also quite a stretch to reach the small mid-mounted space bar in the middle of the keyboard with your thumbs.
Despite these faults, it’s still easier to use than the on-screen version; while we like Windows Phone 7’s virtual keyboard, the 7 Pro’s 3.6in screen makes hitting the right key trickier than on the HD7’s 4.3” display.
The keyboard does come in handy when taking advantage of Windows Phone 7’s messaging and document-editing features. As discussed in our HD7 review, Windows Phone 7 lets you create Microsoft Word and Excel documents, but not PowerPoint presentations, from scratch.
Documents are organised in the Office Hub, and you can also edit documents emailed to you as attachments. It’s also simple to set up Windows Live and Gmail email accounts, and sync your mail, contacts and calendar with either service - although you’ll have to delve into the menus to enable Google Calendar sync, which isn’t turned on by default.
Unfortunately, Microsoft still hasn’t enabled support for spaces in Exchange user names, so we were unable to set up our corporate email account on the 7 Pro. Our company does have an unusual user name allocation policy, but checking around the web reveals that we're not the only ones.
The slide-out keyboard also draws attention to another of Windows Phone 7’s peccadilloes; it’s not particularly cut out for prolonged use in landscape mode. As mentioned above, sliding out the keyboard takes a certain knack, so once we were settled using the phone in landscape we wanted to stay that way. Unfortunately, this involves using certain apps, from the main menu to Bing Maps, with sideways icons and text. Messaging and Office switch to landscape automatically, but we would prefer a fully landscape-optimised OS. Admittedly, the iPhone also has inconsistent landscape support, but turning it on its side and back again is easier than flipping a keyboard in and out.
While we generally like Windows Phone 7’s slick and fast interface, there are some niggles. The lack of cut and paste has been well documented, and makes it difficult to forward certain parts of an email or move data between applications. Another is the lack of multitasking. The operating system will save the state of apps when you log out, so Explorer will load the same page you had open when you switch to something else. However, you lose your immediate browsing history - the back button no longer works after the switch in and out of the app, and if the website in question lacks proper navigation tools you’ll end up lost. Both Android handsets and the iPhone keep better track of where you’ve been.
Too much web browsing on the 7 Pro led to some pretty shocking battery life. The phone could only manage 26 and a half hours when playing an MP3 file on repeat in flight mode, and using WiFi, maps, surfing the web and making calls killed a full charge in less than a working day. You should definitely carry a USB portable battery if you plan on using the 7 Pro in anger
Like all smartphones, the 7 Pro is a competent navigation device. While the iPhone and Android handsets rely on Google Maps, Windows Phone 7 is all about Bing Maps. Both sides have their advantages. Google Maps wins for Street View and the more pleasing use of colour – roads are colour-coded for when they're A or B reads rather then being all grey, for example. The Android version also has the benefit of an arrow showing which way you’re facing and turn-by-turn in-car navigation.
Bing Maps has a fantastic hybrid map view elegantly combining both a road map and satellite imagery. When you’re zoomed out you have a simple road view - the satellite view only fades in when you’re at a high enough zoom level for it to show any real detail, while architecture fades in as you move around. This also improves panning performance when you're zoomed out. It all works much better than Google Maps' rigid hybrid view that can only be turned on or off completely. Unfortunately, Bing maps lacks both a street-level view and turn-by-turn navigation.
HTC’s 7 Pro is a tricky phone to judge. If you’re already sold on the benefits of Windows Phone 7 - a fast, slick interface and impressive Office document support - the 7 Pro's QWERTY keyboard could make it the handset you’ve been waiting for.
If multitasking and powerful mapping is more important to you, the similar keyboard-equipped Android HTC Desire Z is more up your street. Either way, the 7 Pro is another example of the Microsoft mobile operating system’s promise - we’ll just need an update or two before we’re entirely convinced.