Having spent much time with the AT&T Fuze for the 2nd week of the Smartphone Round Robin, it's time to wind down and give you my final thoughts!
I think above all other platforms, Android and Windows Mobile share the same market penetration strategy. They direct themselves into becoming the OS behind smartphones rather than attempting to create an end all solution. Though philosophically they might remain different, their similarities are more appropriate than say Android with the iPhone or Blackberry.
So is Windows Mobile a more mature version of Android? Or is it completely different? Is the AT&T Fuze a great device? Can the G1 learn from it?
Read on for the rest of the review!
Also, this is an Official Round Robin Contest Post, Comment to Win a T-Mobile G1 !— More Details Here
I covered a bit of my thoughts on the Fuze's hardware in my Video Review and in short: it's a well-designed, sturdy and solid device.
But when I first came across the Fuze I was ready to mock and hate it. I saw some of the pictures and full review over at WMExperts and couldn't get passed its thickness. Could any modern device with a great design be successful when it is so thick?
Turns out, I was wrong. The Fuze is thick, to be sure, but because of its small footprint—its width and height are significantly smaller than competing smartphones—the overall thickness isn't as noticeable. Its overall smallness allows room for thickness because in the end—it's still small.
The slide mechanism is solid, it's not as violent as the G1 but also not as graceful. The keyboard is laid out in a grid with no room in between keys, using this design over the G1's spaced-out keyboard didn't give a noticeable difference. The static flush buttons on the front-face of the screen offer a great clickiness and familiarity—home button, back button, etc. I did miss a scrolling option, though.
The AT&T Fuze hardware begins to suffer when you reach the touch screen. Coming from a capacitive screen with the G1, it was really difficult to navigate and maneuver a resistive screen with your finger. Tiny links, scroll bars, contact searching were all difficult tasks for me—it helped when using the stylus, but come on, a stylus in 2008? In this day and age, I can't imagine the benefit of going resistive over capacitive. Can anyone tell me what's the benefit of resistive over capacitive?
I won't lie, TouchFLO 3D is definitely nifty. I loved how intuitive the navigation was—simply slide your fingers a certain way and you can easily get from mail to messages to music. TouchFLO 3D looks great too, there probably isn't a better looking weather app around.
But I still couldn't manage to efficiently navigate the Fuze using TouchFLO 3D. There were times where I unknowingly opened an e-mail when I intended to move to the next pane and other times when I couldn't open an e-mail because it just wouldn't register my touch input. I think TouchFLO 3D is a great idea but it needs to get a better sense of finger gestures and inputs because right now, I'm not confident in my ability to efficiently navigate the phone—it's just not accurate enough
Also, the Fuze suffers from lag issues. I don't know how it compares with other Windows Mobile phones but comparing it with the G1, the G1 is a much, much snappier device. What's odd is that the lag is inconsistent and unpredictable, sometimes the Fuze reacts quickly while other times it takes a couple seconds.
Combining the lag factor with its resistive touch screen makes for an occasionally frustrating experience. I would hit icons I didn't mean to hit and didn't know I hit until a few seconds later. On the same token, other times I pressed the icon I meant to press but didn't realize it until a few seconds later.
My biggest gripe with the usability of the AT&T Fuze is that TouchFLO 3D and Windows Mobile offer two completely different experiences. It's like using two different phones in one and proves to be mighty confusing for newcomers like myself.
TouchFLO 3D focuses on the pretty (if not inefficient) way of doing things—simplifying tasks and providing shallower access to the user—but making it easier at the same time. Windows Mobile is the complete opposite, disregarding the excess and focusing on allowing in-depth access to the inner workings of the smartphone. Using TouchFLO 3D and Windows Mobile together seemed to combine disparate philosophies that didn't unify the experience. For example, I found the stylus to be utterly useless when using TouchFLO 3D but integral for the Windows Mobile side of things—I think the Fuze & Windows mobile would be better fit unifying the experience.
Round Robin Must Do's
1. Use their assigned smartphone as their "main brain" and may not use any other smartphone OR music device (such as an iPod) for one full week.
I did it. It was definitely tough at first because Windows Mobile is just simply overwhelming to a newcomer but as the week was winding down, I got more and more comfortable with its idiosyncrasies (and complications)
2. Get their PIM data onto their phone. Ideally they will 'Sync with the Cloud," but a computer sync is ok too.
Thanks to the WMExperts forums I was able to sync my Google Info over to the Fuze OTA. I chose NuevaSync because I didn't need to download anything onto the device and could just use ActiveSync to get everything done.
3. Get up their email on the smartphone
I got my Gmail onto the Fuze fairly easily but does anyone know why emails disappear every so often? Is this some memory issue? And how come there's always a notification for one new email? I can't find that e-mail for the life of me.
4. Use their smartphone to get directions at least once.
Google Maps works decent enough but obviously the appeal in having Windows Mobile is turn-by-turn directions. That is a game changer.
5. Use their smartphone with a bluetooth headset.
It's easy enough to pair. I really wish I had a pair of Bluetooth Stereo headsets so I could see (or I guess, hear) what I'm missing with the G1
6. Install at least 2 3rd-party apps (if possible) on their smartphone.
I downloaded Skyfire to see how good of a web browser it really is (really good) and Memmaid to see how in-depth I could get with Windows Mobile (really in depth).
7. Play a game
I played Bubble Breaker and having a stylus for that makes it easier and definitely a lot more accurate. Puzzle games aplenty on Windows Mobile.
8. Browse the internet
On Opera Mobile everything rendered accurately but I just found the overall interface to be too clunky. Because the touchscreen isn't as responsive, I found it difficult to navigate. Plus there's no alternative since the Fuze doesn't have a trackball. The page's accuracy is on par with the G1 (albeit lower quality images) but I found myself browsing the web less and less with my time with the Fuze.
Skyfire is cool. It gives you the real web but I'm just not sure that this proxy type server/browser is the answer for the future. I would much rather be in the Chrome lite camp than this solution, especially when flash releases.
For some odd reason, I ran into a few errors when I tried to browse the web. I'm checking that off as connection errors (using a wifi network I'm not supposed to be using) more so than anything else, but it is worth mentioning.
9. Add music to their smartphone and use it as their music device.
I didn't buy MissingSync to link the Fuze with my Mac but if I was to use Windows Mobile full time, I've heard nothing but good things from it. For the time being, I was completely music less.
10. Watch a video on their device.
The Youtube App is oddly buried under the Windows Directory, I'm not sure why. When I finally fired it up I was surprised at how clean the whole interface was, great design. Overall, I was impressed with the Fuze's media capabilities considering I expected pretty much nothing from it.
What Windows Mobile Gives
The third party application selection on Windows Mobile is great. There seems to be more programs that appear solely on Windows Mobile than any other platform. I think this is where Windows Mobile succeeds—out of the box, Windows Mobile isn't the most usable smartphone and some of the included apps—Internet Explorer ahem—are downright throwaways—but the sheer availability of any app empowers the platform. We have cool apps on Android but most of them are fairly gimmicky and don't allow for the power of the apps on Windows Mobile. With that said, Windows Mobile App Market anyone?
So in that sense, Windows Mobile provides users for everything. You won't run into a lack of stereo Bluetooth or video recording or anything. As convoluted as it may be, there seems to be a way to do ANYTHING on Windows Mobile. You'll never be offered a lame excuse at why you can't copy and paste.
To put it bluntly: I sucked as a Windows Mobile user on the first day, was a little less sucky by the end of the week, and if I was allowed a bit more time, I probably wouldn't suck at all. Windows Mobile has the highest learning curve of any device I've seen so far, but also the highest ceiling. Which I guess would make it the smartest smartphone.
Windows Mobile vs Android
I always thought the more appropriate comparison for Android would be Windows Mobile, specifically the software-software link seemed to be a no brainer to me. But I made this comparison without ever using a Windows Mobile device and to be honest, aside from their market penetration strategy, they couldn't really be more different.
I'll never deny the fact that Windows Mobile is probably the most powerful and feature packed smartphone on the market. People talk about Android being open but I've never seen such access on a user-end perspective than my short time with Windows Mobile. For better or worse, it really was like running Windows on a mobile.
But I can't say that that specific philosophy is automatically a good thing. Seeing the iPhone's success and the G1's potential, I think making a cleaner user interface that's easy to use, if not less intensive, is the way to swoon average users. Truthfully speaking, smartphones have been dumbed down in the past 2 years and made easier to use—even TouchFLO 3D is guilty of simplifying.
I think the Fuze is a good device with a couple of stipulations. I think if you're a dedicated Windows Mobile user, you can be happy about its beautiful hardware and powerful processor—there probably isn't a better looking phone (other than maybe the Treo Pro which we'll get into in 2 weeks). I think if you're new to the smartphone world, you might be able to get by just using TouchFLO 3D and the great keyboard and then slowly learn about the depth of Windows Mobile. But I think if you don't need the access that Windows Mobile gives you, a G1 and Android would be better suited for your needs.
For me, I would never be able to handle everything that Windows Mobile throws at you because honestly, I wouldn't know what to do with it. I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that I prefer the call quality on the G1 over that of the Fuze—it just seemed much clearer. The G1 also seemed to lock into a stronger signal as well.
Overall, my time with Windows Mobile can be summed up in a few words. Power. Access. Experience. And of course, Confusion. I won't fault users for using Windows Mobile because as overwhelming as it is, it really is unique in what it can give you. It's not exactly the most user friendly or intuitive platform but anyone who has ever used a Windows computer can pick it up and not feel completely out of place.
The lag issues definitely need to be addressed, if this thing was as snappy as Android, Android would have a much more difficult task in taking market share. Luckily, it's not—and Android has a huge opportunity to take over an (almost) stagnant platform.
I'll be honest, a lot of my gripes with Windows Mobile could have been solved over time. But time, or rather the shortness of time, is where smartphones make their name. Snappy performance is necessary in today's market. First impressions mean a lot and if you're stuck waiting for the lag, well, you get left behind. Windows Mobile won't get left behind because it's just too powerful, but boy, it sure is taking its time.