Arg.  After initially getting excited about Windows Phone 7 when it was revealed a few months ago, after learning more about the OS itself I’m getting disappointed.  It’s really not looking to be anything more than Microsoft’s attempt at an iPhone, which is not what I was hoping for.

I have a thing about personalization.  I have this strange hatred for conformity, and really like to be able to make whatever I have at least somewhat “me.” That’s the main reason I’m not interested in the iPhone.  I know it’s a good device that tons of people love.  But it’s a completely closed, locked-down platform with no potential for real personalization or customization.  It’s Apple’s way or the highway.  I can’t stand that.

For all its faults, Windows Mobile gave me that freedom.  Granted, I never was as serious about tweaking the phone’s OS as many people, but I liked the ability to flash a new ROM if I was getting bored with the UI, or Google a hack to change some low-level setting I didn’t like.  But Windows Phone 7 throws all that out the window, leaving me less excited about my options when I decide it’s time for a new phone.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how I feel about the current and upcoming crop of smartphone OSes.

Windows Mobile 6.1, 6.5

Windows Mobile is an old OS which wasn’t designed for phones and has only been incrementally improved over the years.  By itself, it makes for a pretty frustrating user experience, especially on a small phone’s touchscreen.  Thankfully, HTC and some other phone manufacturers have developed some really slick UIs for WinMo which totally transform its interface into something that’s slick and easy to use.  But it’s still Windows Mobile underneath, which means performance (mainly UI responsiveness) often leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, there’s a lot I like about Windows Mobile besides the cool HTC Touch Flo UI that makes it so pretty.  The main thing is the customizability I mentioned earlier.  It’s basically a stripped-down and fairly outdated version of desktop Windows, running on a phone.  This is the main reason it can be sluggish and bog down when too much is running.  But it also means you have a task manager, registry, file manager, device manager, etc. – all accessible and tweakable.  This can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it opens up a world of opportunities for those savvy enough, and that resulted in some really neat customizations which are freely available at sites like

I also love how, intentionally or not, Microsoft turned a blind eye to WinMo tweakers’ redistribution of their OS binaries.  There are tons of custom ROMs which completely swap out the OS installed on your phone, and all you have to do is run a quick unlock utility before you can do this.  As a result, there are plenty of unlocked WinMo phones out there running Windows Mobile 6.5, despite the fact that it was never actually released to manufacturers.

Windows Mobile 6 is an old, antiquated OS that provides a user experience that pales in comparison to modern mobile OSes like the iPhone.  But the amount of freedom it provided to tweakers was awesome, and in my experience, Microsoft never got in the way of that.

Windows Phone 7

I really had hoped that Microsoft’s revamped mobile OS would embrace the same basic mentality behind previous Windows Mobile releases, but in a completely redesigned OS that managed memory and processes in a way that makes sense on mobile devices.Instead, it’s looking like Windows Phone 7 will just be Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone, just as Zune was their answer to the iPod.  That doesn’t mean it’ll be a bad OS.  In fact, I like a lot of what I’ve seen so far.  They do seem to have innovated in their UI design which introduces some nice features (particularly the ability to pin dynamically-updating app shortcuts to the home screen).  And I actually do like the clean lines of the Zune HD/WP7 interface – it’s a nice contrast to the overly soft look of the iPhone.  But just as the Zune 2, which by many standards is better than competing hdd-based iPods, failed to really compete with the iPod, I’m afraid the same will be true of WP7.  And in a potentially worse way, because Zune didn’t have to compete with a massive array of preexisting value-adds in the case of apps for the iPod.

And WP7 is not just like the iPhone in what it does, but also in what it doesn’t do.  Ie, no more easy low-level tweaking, no more file system access, no more downloading of unofficial homegrown .cab installers developed by some guy on a forum, no more reskinning, no more Touch Flo, no more…  Basically, no more freedom.  Another locked-down phone OS with a censored app store.  Yawn.

I haven’t totally given up on WP7 being a good phone OS, I’m just really disappointed that just about everything I liked about Windows Mobile is totally missing in WP7.  The iPhone already fixed the problems with Windows Mobile without providing any of the nice features it had.  Microsoft needed to come up with something that sought to bridge that gap.  But instead, we just have another iPhone for the masses, but with an app store that’s years behind the iPhone’s.

Google Android

Of all the modern OSes, Google’s Android actually comes the closest to what I wanted Windows Phone 7 to be.  It’s open, it’s customizable, and it works well for mobile devices.  I definitely intend to look more into Android when I’m in the market for a new phone, but there’s one thing I hate about it.  The stock home screen is butt-ugly.  The home screen looks like a blank desktop with some shortcuts thrown on top.  Even the custom skins I’ve seen are nothing more than a bunch of icons with a pretty clock face in the middle.  I absolutely hate desktop clutter, which is why I have desktop icons hidden on all my Windows machines.  The fact that Android’s home screen is based on this UI design is a major-turn off.  I want my phone to be aesthetically pleasing.  Android isn’t.

However, HTC has brought their UI design prowess to the Android!  So that definitely makes Android worth of consideration in the case of HTC phones, for the same reason that I love my WinMo-based HTC Touch Pro: HTC Sense.


I know lots of people who love their Blackberrys, but honestly, I find it thoroughly utilitarian and unexciting.  Moving on…

Palm WebOS

This may be my favorite of the current selection of mobile OSes right now.  I has a really attractive UI and a powerful OS underneath with some really cool cross-app integration features.  I haven’t played with it enough to know what it’s major limitations are, but from what I’ve seen it’s pretty darn nice and provides a lot of what I’m looking for in a phone.  It’s still nowhere near as customizable as Windows Mobile or even Android, but it doesn’t seem to have the same limitations as the iPhone while still providing a really nice stock UI.


Major props to Apple for, yet again, busting open an entire market segment and bringing it to the masses.  Just as Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, they definitely didn’t invent the smart phone.  But over the course of about a year, they put smart phones in the hands of millions who would have never considered a Palm Treo or Windows Mobile phone before.  How?  Through a cutting-edge interface, solid hardware, and an easy one-stop-shop for cool add-on content (apps).  As much as I respect all of this, I absolutely can’t stand Apple’s closed approach to computing.  I understand that hard restrictions on the use of their products is the best way to enforce and ensure a consistently good user experience.  And that’s what makes them so good at mass appeal.  But I cannot bring myself to opt-in to a platform that is completely beholden to the whims of a single corporation that calls the shots on what I do with MY device.  I’ve got to buy their data plan on their sanctioned carrier.  I can only install programs they approve, which now apparently doesn’t include anyone who ports their app from Flash.  When you buy an iPhone, it’s almost like you’re renting it.  You can use it as long as you live by their rules.  Basically, Steve Jobs is The Man.  The Man who wears turtle necks and knows how to produce neat gizmos with mass-market appeal. But still The Man.


I’m probably a year away from upgrading my phone.  My HTC Touch Pro with Windows Mobile can be frustrating to use at times, but I’m still fairly happy with it overall.  It’s powerful and capable of what I want, just not always fast or responsive.If I were in the market now, I think it’d be a pretty close race between an HTC Android with their Sense UI, or the Palm Pre.  But a year from now Windows Phone 7 should be out on several devices, so maybe it’ll be in the running too.  We’ll see.  I’m just sad that Windows Phone 7 isn’t Windows Mobile with the Windows 7 treatment.

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