HTC Arrive: Sprint's First WP7 Smartphone

User Experience

If we have been sounding too harsh in our review of the Arrive, we'll repeat it again: Microsoft got a lot of things right with its current mobile phone platform, but, it also got a few things wrong. When we booted our phone up for the very first time, we were greeted by Microsoft's legal team. Before we could do anything with the phone, we were first forced to agree to all Microsoft licenses. (We tried to refuse the license agreement but were only told we couldn't use our phone until we signed ... essence of Al Capone?)

Well, Windows users are trained to mindlessly agree to the EULA, whatever it says. So we were mostly amused by this, not put off. (Other platforms also sneak in their license agreements, but they do usually let you turn your phone on first.) Licenses dully signed, we were curious if the phone was easier to use as its commercials promise.

The HTC Arrive was a breeze to set up with existing Windows Live and Facebook accounts. The home page already has most of the tiles people want on their home screens and it is easy to pin new applications or documents or notes to it, to delete them, or to arrange them. The familiar HTC click/date/weather screen is there, too, though you have to click on the HTC home tile to get to it (which defeats its at-a-glance purpose). That screen gives you a second customizable screen to hosts links to other applications, including Notes. But it was buggy and crashed often while we tested it. We installed the required update, which didn't help much.

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It doesn't take long to discover that all of the settings are not located in a standard place in each Hub or application. There is an ellipses symbol with most Hubs and applications that hold some of the settings, but often not all of them. Other Hubs had their settings in odd spots, and the phone didn't come with a lot of documentation on this.

For instance, the first time you activate the People hub, the phone walks you through setting up Windows Live and Facebook accounts. If you want to add additional accounts, you press and hold on the world "People" and the settings tab appears. We found no other applications where pressing the Hub label caused any action to occur and this particular action wasn't documented in the Basics Guide. Once you found the secret place to get to settings, your choices were limited to Windows Live, Outlook (Exchange and the Outlook Web App), Google and Facebook. While we give Microsoft props for including Gmail in the People Hub, if you want Twitter or any other social media app, you need to add it as a separate application through the Marketplace.

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We fully expected the crowning jewel of the Windows Phone 7 experience to be the Office Mobile software. We were half right. The integrated Office applications looked good and worked well for viewing Office attachments, even relatively large spreadsheets. We were a little baffled by Excel Mobile 2010, which has a secret, hidden way to access a list of function formulas (put the cursor in the function bar and press and hold "fx") but does not support the ability to select a range of cells. You must click on every cell you want included in a formula, even for a simple function like "sum." Not even manually typing the colon into the formula works. For example, in order to create the formula =sum(A1:A100) you would need to tap the formula bar, then the cell for each individual cell you want included, i.e. =sum(A1,A2,A3,A4 ...) and so on ... to 100.

What makes this a little maddening is that the HTC Arrive we tested was using the updated Windows NoDo Phone 7 software, so it did support text selection. You can select a range of cells in order to change their formatting (font color, fill color, etc.), you can even create a graph from them, but you cannot include them in a formula. Insane.

Again, WP7 NoDo software now supports copy and paste. Note that this is "copy and paste" ... not cut, copy and paste. Cut is an odd feature to be missing from a software maker that built much of its fortune on Office applications, especially when cut, copy and paste was supported way back in Windows Mobile 5.0 (known as the Pocket PC Phone Edition, released in 2005!). To delete text, place the cursor in the right spot and backspace your way through it.

Earlier this month at the MIX show, Microsoft previewed the next update to Windows Phone 7, code-named Mango, coming in the fall. While we didn't hear that "cut" would be coming, it will include the IE9 browser, improved system performance, and application multitasking letting you run software in the background like transferring audio or video while other apps are running. Developers will get better access to the camera and motion sensor, so we'll see what apps develop from that as a result.

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When you set up your phone, you are asked (required) to sign in with a Windows Live ID. This offers some cool features such as a phone tracking service which will locate your phone, or remotely wipe it. It's a spot to back up your photos, contacts, the apps you purchased. It can also sync files between the phone and your Windows Live cloud but ... only for one application, OneNote.

Microsoft OneNote is a multimedia note-taking application that lets you toss text, photos, video, audio into a single file. The PC version is cool in that you can plug a microphone into your PC and type and OneNote will sync the audio with your typed notes. The mobile version doesn't let you type and take audio at the same time but you can do so consecutively in the same file and then sync this file to the cloud.

Because Windows Live is required for WP7, and it includes cloud versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, we thought it was a no-brainer that Office Mobile 2010 documents created on the phone could be synched to your Windows Live account (or vise versa). Alas, not true. Only OneNote documents sync to Windows Live.

They can, however, be synched to a SharePoint 2010 Server. We love the idea of the phone integrating with a SharePoint server for work. But we wish it integrated with versions other than just 2010 (there are a lot of SharePoint 2007 servers out there), and we wished our phone's documents could be backed up/accessed/shared via the Windows Live cloud we are required to use with this phone.

If you install the Zune Marketplace app to your desktop computer, you can use it to search for, sync and buy music and other apps. If you want unlimited access to music, that would be the Zune Pass, a $14.99/month subscription that lets you stream unlimited music to your phone, Xbox or Windows desktop. If completely free music is more your thing, there's WP7 apps like iheartradio, which streams 750 radio stations, including commercials. (Pandora has not yet announced plans to port its app to WP7.)

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Another caution is that the main Windows Live ID you are required to use with the phone can only be changed by performing a factory reset of your phone. So if you ever want to give your Arrive to your kid, that's something to consider.

Annoyances aside, between the Office Mobile Apps and the dozens of productivity apps available -- many for free -- from the marketplace, the phone does a good job with work-related documents as well as entertainment. Of course, it also integrates well with Exchange, too, another plus.

One of the bright spots of the phone was games. The phone integrates with Xbox Live and through the Xbox Live Hub, we found dozens of entertaining games many of them free. You can connect to Xbox LIVE to play a variety of games with your friends or even take turns playing a Web game on the device. We found a few games that tapped into the accelerometer and the ones we tried worked flawlessly. Your game stats will be automatically stored to your Windows Live account and you can update your Avatar from your phone, too.

At the MIX show earlier this month, Microsoft announced that Angry Birds will be coming to Windows Phone 7 in the spring. So even if you can't add a column of numbers in the included version of Excel with this phone, you will soon be able to smash pigs, and that's just as good, if not better.

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