Windows Phone 7 at Microsoft's Annual Preview

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Last week, Microsoft held its Annual Preview in New York City, and your friends here at BGR were on hand to get the skinny on Windows Phone 7. Hit the break for some details, opinions, and images.

First, the device we saw was not, repeat not, a production model. It looked like Windows Phone 7 running on an ASUS Garmin Phone, but we can’t really be sure. We were told that the demo phone was running a 666 MHz processor, which — for those of you keeping track — is under the 1 GHz processor minimum set forth by the 200+ page Windows Phone 7 guidelines manual. Regardless of the fact that the processor was 334 MHz slower than anything you’ll ever experience, we found the phones transitions and apps to display smoothly and run quickly.

The main phone experience revolves around “tiles” and “hubs” that live on the home screen. First, hubs. Currently there are seven hubs: people, phone, calendar, pictures, music & videos, games, and marketplace. Entering into a specific hub brings you to a fairly typical landing page, however swiping the screen to the right is where the real goodies lie. Let’s take contacts for example. Enter into the contacts hub and you are presented with an alphabetized list of your phones contacts; very standard. Now, swipe to the right and you are displayed a list of your most recent contacts, swipe right again and you’ll see your favorites list, swipe one more time and you’ll see your social contacts (a list of those who have recently updated their Facebook status for example). It all automatically updates and looks really smooth. We’ve been told that developers will be able to create their own hubs to try and earn a place on your home screen. Next, tiles. Tiles can be placed on your home screen from virtually anywhere on the phone. You can pin: apps, contacts, directions, documents, and more. Anything you need to access quickly and frequently, Microsoft wants you to slap on your home screen.

The calendar app was pretty standard and looked good to us. Windows Phone 7 will be able to combine Exchange, Google, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. into one unified calendar view and allow you to assign colors for distinction as well as enable and disable specific calendars on-demand.

From what we could see, the email app did have several shortcomings. WP7 does not offer a unified inbox. You, by default, get a tile on your home screen for each account (it will show you read/unread message counts in the tile) but there is no one-stop shop for all of your inbox messages. Also, the phones search mechanism will only search the messages on the phone. If you have your phone set to sync 1 months worth of Exchange email, and you need a message from 6 weeks ago, you would be out of luck. We were also told there is currently no way to launch a search against messages on a sever; this is an Exchange function both the BlackBerry (hooked to a BES) and iPhone have had for a while.

Speaking of search. You know that dedicated search button that will be gracing all Windows Phone 7 hardware? It only queues up an online search. We asked if there was any way to search a string against local contacts, mail, music, and calendar events all at the same time (a la Android and iPhone) and we were told no. There is no universal search in Windows Phone 7 for the time being. Bummer. You may notice in this image that there is a little microphone in the search text-box; we inquired about this but were just given blank stares by the Microsoft crew. We’re sure you can use your imagination like we did can conclude that speech-to-text will be a part of WP7.

The notification system is subtle and intuitive. If WP7 is locked you can view the summary of missed txt message, calls, emails, etc. right from the lock screen. If the phone is unlocked you see all this information in your tiles, hubs, or in the title bar. The title bar also auto-hides itself while you are working on the phone. It will appear if there is a notification it wants to show you or if you single-tap the area where it usually is. All-in-all, pretty solid.

We asked about touch controls throughout the UI (i.e. press-and-hold to bring up contextual menus etc.) but were told that more information is to be revealed in July. During our demo we saw click-hold-and-drag, as well as a long-press. I guess we’ll just have to wait until July. All Windows Phone 7 phones will have capacitive touch-screen displays (minimum of 3.7″), so we’re excited to see what Microsoft has cooked up.

Our next question involved wireless partners, but naturally we got the stock “we haven’t announced any specific partnerships or devices with any specific wireless providers.” We also weren’t given any details on how the marketplace will work, although we did implore several times.

We were a little disappointed that we weren’t allowed to physically handle the phone ourselves — we were told, “there are things in the settings that we don’t want people like you finding yet” — but the final hardware and software wasn’t quite ready, so we understood.

Microsoft is swearing up, down, and sideways that they are on target for a holiday 2010 release. Let’s hope so, as they have given Google, Apple, and others a huge head start.

Click on over to our Windows Phone 7 gallery!

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