Mobile deathmatch: Windows Phone 7 vs. Apple iPhone 4

Microsoft has a very slick device, but it can't do nearly as much as the iPhone - especially in business

You know how in monster movies, the lumbering creature always manages to outrun the frantically running victim? That seems to be Microsoft's hope in competing with Apple: Despite a late start and slow development, it will crush the iPhone out of sheer size. Microsoft's creature of choice is Windows Phone 7, available on devices from Samsung, LG, and HTC.

In a twist on the monster metaphor, the competition is not between beauty and beast. Windows Phone 7 has a very elegant user interface that is nearly as beautiful and intuitive as what Apple produces. The competition is really between capabilities, of which the iPhone has many and Windows Phone 7 has fewer.

For example, Windows Phone 7 doesn't support HTML5-based websites, the Adobe Flash Player, device-wide search, multitasking, copy and paste, or on-device encryption. The iPhone 4 -- specifically iOS 4.1 -- supports all but Flash; the iPad supports all but Flash and multitasking, but will gain multitasking when iOS 4.2 ships this month.

Some shortcomings could be red lines for certain users. For example, on-device encryption is required by many companies to gain access to email and other servers, so many businesses might be unable to support Windows Phone 7 users. Others, such as the lack of Flash, haven't hurt the iPhone and may not hurt Windows Phone 7. The iPhone also didn't support copy and paste or multitasking for its first two years of existence, yet became a formidable presence in the mobile market anyhow.

But in this day and age of mature, aggressive mobile contenders such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android, it's hard to believe Microsoft's omission of these capabilities will be forgiven by most users.

Still, its attractive UI will appeal to many people, especially those resistant to drinking the Apple Kool-Aid. That elegance was quite pronounced on the Samsung Focus smartphone I used for testing Windows Phone 7; the Focus is a snappy performer, with a big, beautiful AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen, as well as very nice fit and finish, though its touchscreen didn't always register my taps. It does not have a physical keyboard; look to the LG Quantum if you want such a feature.

Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contactsFor testing, I used a personal IMAP account, a personal Gmail account, and a work Exchange 2007 account. Both devices work directly with IMAP and Gmail, as well as with POP, so my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the smartphones, my laptop, and the server. The configuration was trivial, and both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible.

Setting up Exchange access on both devices was also simple. However, Windows Phone 7's lack of support for on-device encryption meant that InfoWorld's Exchange server wouldn't let it connect, as one of our three Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies requires on-device encryption; thus, I can't tell you how Windows Phone 7 works with Exchange email, calendars, or contacts, as I can't access them. Given how basic a requirement on-device encryption is for enterprise security, Windows Phone 7 simply can't be relied on in a business context. (And using Webmail is no fix; the Webmail screen is simply torturous to navigate in Windows Phone 7's IE7 browser.

Basic email functions. Working with emails is easy on both devices. You can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. In Windows Phone 7, you need to tap the more (...) button to see some options; on the iPhone, some options are in the message body itself. On both systems, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left and tap Delete on the iPhone, or tap and hold the message header, then tap Delete in Windows Phone 7.

Both the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 let you search emails, but Windows Phone 7 isn't as good at it. It searches only the current folder, whereas the iPhone searches all your email. The iPhone lets you refine your search or your email list's display by From, To, and Subject fields (as well as All); Window Phone 7 does not.

Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious in either. In the iPhone, tap the top of the screen. In Windows Phone 7, slide over to unread or urgent messages, then back to all. Neither has a quick-jump shortcut to go to the bottom of your list.

Email management. Windows Phone 7 displays emails in a simple list for each account you have; they appear as separate panels -- app icons, essentially -- on the home screen. But you can't see all emails from multiple accounts in one view, as you can on an iPhone.

Navigating emails is easy on both Windows Phone 7 and the iPhone, and Windows Phone 7 has copied the iPhone's approach to moving and deleting messages in the list: Tap Edit, select the messages, then tap Delete or Move. Windows Phone 7 has a neat capability unmatched in the iPhone in which you slide your email list to the side to see just unread messages; slide it again to see urgent messages; and one more time to return to all messages.

Windows Phone 7 adds an unnecessary step when you want to view your email folders. When you tap the Folders button, you get a screen with two options: Inbox and Show All Folders. (If you're in a folder, you also get the current folder name in the list.) You have to click twice to see your folders. The iPhone lets you tap an email account to go straight to its folder list, though you have to use the second accounts list in its Mail app; the first list brings you to just their inboxes. Both operating systems could do better in terms of folder access.

Windows Phone 7 does not automatically sync mail folders with the server when you open them, as the Phone does. And the iPhone lets you set in its preferences which folders you want autosynced; Windows Phone 7 can't do that.

The iPhone 4 has a message threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicking to go through messages, but it also removes the effort of finding the messages in the first place. (iOS 4 lets you disable threading if you don't like it.) Windows Phone 7 has no equivalent.

I was annoyed that Windows Phone 7 doesn't support PDF files out of the box; you have to download the Adobe Reader app from the Windows Phone Marketplace. It does open images and Office files, though, after a two-step process of downloading the attachment, then opening it (tap and hold each time). The iPhone's built-in QuickLook viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap, downloading them if needed at the same time. But the iPhone doesn't open zip files, whereas Windows Phone 7 does.

Both the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that it looks up automatically as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPhone) or tapping and holding them (in Windows Phone 7).

Contacts and calendars. The iPhone 4's more stylish UI for email applies to its Contacts and Calendar apps as well. Both the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 offer the same views: list, day, and month. The iPhone's calendar is easier to navigate, with better indicators of days that have appointments in the month view; Windows Phone 7's list view is too spare, so you lose differentiation among objects, and its month view makes it hard to see which days have appointments.

You can easily switch calendar views in the iPhone 4 in the main calendar screen; Windows Phone 7 also makes switching easy, both through swipes and through its button row at the bottom of the screen. Both can display multiple calendars simultaneously.

On the iPhone, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar so that you can accept them with the full context of your other appointments. For other email accounts, you're stuck; it doesn't let you open the .ics invitation files in Mail, nor does Calendar detect them. As Windows Phone 7 won't work with my corporate Exchange server, I can't say how it handles Exchange calendar invites. For other accounts, Windows Phone 7 lets you accept invitations by tapping a menu in your message. You can even send a proposed alternative time and date.

Windows Phone 7 lets you issue invitations from its calendar; the iPhone does not. Note that Windows Phone 7 doesn't send the invites immediately, so it's not so good for planning an urgent meeting. But Windows Phone 7 has a nice feature: You can tap a button that composes an "I'm running late" email addressed to the meeting's attendees.

Both the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 have capable Contacts apps, but the iPhone 4 makes it easier to navigate through your entries. You can jump to names by tapping a letter at the side of the screen, such as "t" to get to people whose last names begin with "t," or seek quickly for someone in the Search field by typing in part of the name. In Windows Phone 7, you have only the search capability to find contacts; there's no quick-jump function.

Windows Phone 7 lets you designate users as favorites, to put them in the Home screen. The iPhone 4 has no equivalent. And Windows Phone 7 lets you link contacts, so you can see all their information in one place, such as personal and business entries for the same person, or separate entries for family members. The iPhone supports email groups, but you can't create them on the iPhone; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. Windows Phone 7 has no group list capability.

The winner: The iPhone, thanks to its support of critical Exchange ActiveSync policies. If you don't use Exchange, the two mobile OSes are fairly equivalent. The iPhone is slightly better in its email handling, but Windows Phone 7 is better for calendars. Contacts management is a draw.

Tags Mobile platformstelecommunicationioswindows phone 7PhonesiPhonesmartphonesMobilizemobileAppleconsumer electronicsMicrosoft

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4 Comments

Jodi

1

I see an article by Galen Gruman and the word iPhone or Apple in it and I don't bother reading. I think the iPhone is great, but it would be nice to have some honest reviews of other platforms instead of hundreds of slanted apple fanboy articles.

Joe Z.

2

I know, Galen Gruman isn't exactly a reliable review. Here are just a couple of errors he made. These are just the factual errors, not the biased statements. Some of these features he's wrong on have been covered correctly by other reviewers for MONTHS. Some are really glaring.

1. MESSAGE SELECTION. All you have to do is tap to the left on a message you want to select. To select additional messages, tap the boxes that have now appeared.

2, 3. INBOX FOLDERS. Once you've told Windows Phone to sync a folder, it'll always appear in the "all folders" list. No "extra tap" on "show all folders" needed. And Windows Phone DOES let you set which folders to sync or not.

4. Downloading attachments is just a tap, not a tap-and-hold. Same with opening them... a small one, but, these are big:

5, 6. Calendar invites DO get sent immediately. And yes, Windows Phone 7 places meeting requests right on your calendar, and you can respond to them.

7. The IS a quick-jump function in contacts. Just click on one of the blue heading letters for the jump list.

8. He conveniently omits that the Photos app syncs all you cloud albums including Facebook as if they are on the phone.

9. Bing Maps DOES HAVE SATTELITE VIEW. Duh. AND it comes in automatically if you zoom.

10. This is getting boring. He dings Windows Phone for not including weather, stocks apps, but they're Microsoft apps available free from the Marketplace.

11. Contrarywise, he dings Windows Phone for INCLUDING Office apps (iPhone doesn't) because they are not full-features editors.

12. He implies that Inwodws Phone doesn't come with a note-taking app, but it comes with OneNote, which syncs automatically to your skydrive and your desktop.

13. Yes, you can sort through the list of Marketplace apps by category and subcategory, and by top, free, and new.

14. Omits Live Tile notification.

15. Windows Phone 7 supports multitasking of native apps.

16. Zooming is super-smooth in Windows Phone 7 IE, say most other reviewers.

17. Complains that InfoWorld's IPHONE-designed web page doesn't render properly. (Infoworld connection, there.) Also, the page was designed for iPhone, hello.

18. You CAN save graphics from the web however, and then insert them into an email message.

19. You can search Google from Windows Phone 7 with the Google App! Just like the Bing app on iPhone.

20... I'm too bored to go on, and too bored to keep reading the article. I never imagined I'd be making a list this long!

j

3

I was going to state the same things.. but there are so many things that are wrong with the artical is much to much effort.

Lets just say a majaority of this article is wrong and/or selectivley missing things to allow the writer to state half truths.

This is like a list of things the BETA didnt have many months ago.

Anonymous

4

All people are just iPhone fans. The iPhone wasn't the most popular phone when it came out. This post is wrong the WP7 can do so much more then the iPhone. In the contats there is a quick jump. One WP7 has a 1.8ghz processer while the iPhone only has 800Mhz. People are just on the Apple side, give the WP7 and Microsft a chance!

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