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

Hardware

 

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?

 

Usage

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.

 

Final Thoughts

 

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.

 
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Round Robin: AT&T Fuze Review & Final Thoughts

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oh I just got my hands on the bold for the first time recently and I gotta say, not even the iphone looked as beautiful in terms of screen resolution. how does the fuze compare?

nice review, the fuze does seem like a good phone but a bit to large for my liking. I find it odd that it lags. All in all I think it is a nice phone, but I will stick with my iPhone for now.

As a WM user, I'll always love the stylus. Don't get me wrong, I love the direction that WM is heading with TF3d - ie "finger friendly" - but a stylus should always be included, no matter how finger-friendly the interface becomes. You can just do so much with a stylus that is not necessarily easy to do with your fat finger, like highlighting text, selecting radio buttons, etc.

I'm all for finger friendliness. I welcome it and hope WM embraces it. But don't ever take away my stylus.

I tink the touchflo 3d is overrated. The first impression is that It's beatiful, it's simple. But after using it for a while it feels like something is missing... like saying... that's it?

Casey, This was a well-written, reflective and fair review of the Fuze. I'm a Blackberry user, but I listen to the WM Experts podcast religiously, so I'm sort of a Windows Mobile fan from afar. The Fuze attracts me because of the descriptors you used in your review to describe Windows Mobile: "power" and "access". Deep, down, I'm a geek, and there is something attractive about a device that allows you to tinker to make it the way you want it. That being said, the smooth touch screen of the G-1, and the overall cleaner UI makes me envious. You are also correct that Google has a tremendous opportunity here. Don't muck up Windows 7.0 Microsoft!

Great review. It really points out the far reaching power of wm while accuratly pointing out is failings. As a wm user I love how customizable it is, even to the point of editing registry settings, but for the average person it is confusing. Great review

Interesting review. Windows was never designed for small devices like a smartphone and so the complexity and lag are givens, especially when having TouchFLO on top of WinMo. Later versions of WinMo are improved but it will never seem like a good fit. I think Android can be as powerful as WinMo without all the history and overhead.

"Can anyone tell me what’s the benefit of resistive over capacitive?" Well, capacitive screens require a finger tip (or specialized stylus) whereas resistive screens can be used with nearly anything: finger, finger nail, gloved finger, stylus, stick, what have you. The G1's trackball can take the place of a stylus for many actions while still having the advantages of a capacitance screen (clearer and more responsive).

If you have to touch a small area or work in the cold, resistive is the way to go. The need for touching small areas depends on how the apps are designed which is one reason the Fuze seems schizophrenic with TouchFLO versus WinMo.

Hmm interesting. I'll admit that I've written off the Fuze in the past, but this may force me to take a closer look at it. To be honest, WinMo seemed to have gone a bit out of vogue lately, with the advent of 'hipster' tech companies like apple and google entering the mobile game. Maybe that's why I've shied away, but I guess it really is time to change my approach.

As shallow a comment as this is, I can't get over how ugly the faceted "diamond" back is. I still can't figure out why so many reviews cite this as nice, cosmetic touch. Oh, and how I wish the round robin was using Sprint's version of this phone... =(

@Devonair:

I agree completely. I was never taken with the diamond back and am actually glad Sprint removed it (since the Sprint Touch Pro will probably be my next phone). It just looks tacky.

Several people are commenting on the Fuze being large... I guess they have not handled it in person. It IS a little thick, but it is surprising how small it is when you actually get it in hand!

Great review. I have a Touch Diamond and the first thing I did was turn off the TF3D. Next, I flashed to a ROM that doesn't even include it.

For those of you who say the Touch Pro/Fuze is "The Size of a Bus", get real. The thing has dimension to kill. It's so tiny and compact feeling in the hand... You really don't notice the somewhat thickness in the hand when it feels so solid and powerful

Great review!

The Fuze is not my number one. But if I have to choose between G1 and Fuze. I've take the Fuze. 1- Androit needs to mature 2- WM is complex and difficult but a lot more powerful 3- The design is one of the nices phone 4- Thousands and thousands of app to pick from.

While you get the Bold, I have a question for Casey:

1- What hardware features from the Fuze you would like to have in the G1? 2- What functionality in WM you are missing in the G1? 3- What apps in the Fuze woul be great in the G1?

4- what form factor/looks designed from the Fuze are missing in the G1?

Your absolutely right about the size of this phone, it seems terribly thick, but once you have it in your hands it feels just right. The pics don't do the fuze justice for the smaller length x width the phone has over many other phones.

cosmetics aside, still not a phone for "new" smartphone users for the aforesaid reasons. A WM standard device like the blackjack II or Moto Q9 is an easier stepping stone. The fact that the above comment is even made is the reason why Microsoft needs to hurry up and get to WM7, or android will have a huge running start.

Hmm I have toyed with the fuze in the store and I can definitely see the laggy and resistive touch issues. It was not easy to use the UI from the get go but I am sure with time I would have acclimated to it.

Thanks for the review. If only this had a larger display (3.2"+) and a friendly OS, it would be very tempting.

Three points about resistive over capacitive: 1) there is a registry tweak for increasing the sensitivity of the touch screen. It will never be as sensitive as in iPhone, but it can be better than stock. 2) resistive screens can be used with things other than a finger 3) HTC's market is in large part asian, where resistive screens and styli are still needed to write asian characters.

There seem to be two problems with the touchscreen as it ships. 1 ) The sensitivity is a little low, and 2 ) There isn't any haptic feedback.

Luckily, it's relatively easy to fix both of these problems. 1 with a small registry edit and 2 with a small program named Touchresponse.

Wrong.....The fuze is an awesome phone and with a couple tweaks runs very quick.....Keep playing with your pretty pics with finger friendly icons......god forbid you have to use your brains.....but looks the guy writing this review didn't use it at all......

IPhones suck.....