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Windows Phone

Windows Phone 7 : Taking a Quick Tour (part 1)

11/24/2010 7:57:22 PM

1.Starting with Start

On a PC, you’d call it the desktop. On other smartphones, it’s the home screen. But when you power up Windows Phone 7 for the first time, the place you find yourself after setting up is Start.

The Start screen is many things: It’s a launch pad for apps; a source of news and information; a gallery of shortcuts to favorite contacts, pictures, and other important things. Start is the center of the Windows Phone 7 universe, so important there’s even a dedicated button on your phone (the Start button, naturally) to instantly whisk you there from anywhere on the phone.

Notice how lively the Start screen looks compared to other phones. In place of static rows of icons, you’ll see stacked colored blocks. Microsoft calls them Live tiles. Think of them like tiny animated billboards. Some flash your tally of missed calls and messages, or the details of upcoming appointments. Others are purely for entertainment. The Games tile, for instance, shows your bobbing Xbox avatar. The Pictures tile displays a favorite photo, while the faces of your contacts pop up on People.

1.1. Personalize Your Phone

Microsoft made the Start screen easy to personalize. You can push tiles around with your finger, pin new tiles to Start, or decorate them different colors. Windows Phone has two background themes—light and dark—and 10 different accent colors to choose from. If you grow tired of a tile, it’s easy to remove it.

1.2. See All Your Apps

The Start screen has a hidden side. Swipe left on the screen, or tap the arrow on the top right, and you’ll see the Apps list, an A-to-Z catalog of the programs installed on your phone—or, I should say, most of the programs. There’s one important exception: games. Any game you install shows up only in the Games hub. For anything else, look here.


2. Saying Hello to Hubs

All smartphone makers today face the same essential quandary: How do you cram enough information on a phone’s tiny screen? Live tiles are one creative solution. But Microsoft designers didn’t stop there. In Windows Phone 7, they introduced a new organizational concept called hubs.

Hubs are horizontal panoramas of related information. Only a slice of the hub is visible at any one moment, but it’s easy to see the rest—simply swipe your finger left or right on the screen to pan across.

Hubs make it easier to show lots of useful info without resorting to tapping open multiple apps. The People hub, for example, packages together an address book, a list of recent contacts, and an up-to-date feed from Facebook and Windows Live—all within three quick flicks of each other. People is one of six hubs on the phone. The others are:

  • Pictures

  • Music + Videos

  • Games

  • Office

  • Marketplace

3. The Lock Screen

The lock screen appears automatically if you don’t touch your phone’s screen for a short period (the default is one minute, but you can easily change it). Its main purpose is to protect you from doing something embarrassing, like pocket-dialing someone as you walk down the street. Think of it like a cover sheet for your phone. When the lock screen is visible, your touch-sensitive screen no longer responds to random poking. Getting past the lock screen requires you to swipe your finger. If you turn on your phone’s password-protection feature, you have to swipe and then tap in your secret four-digit code.

But the lock screen is helpful in other ways, too. It shows the time and date; your next calendar appointment; the number of missed calls, e-mails, or texts; and whether you’ve set an alarm. It’s also designed for fun. For example, turn it into a portable picture frame by replacing the background image, or wallpaper, with a photo from your on-camera collection.


4. Pushing Buttons

Every Windows Phone 7, no matter which company makes it, comes with a basic set of buttons designed to save time and make life easier.

4.1. Back

As you hop around from app to app and hub to hub, Windows Phone keeps track of your travels. The Back button helps you retrace your steps (think of the Back button on a web browser). Pressing Back returns you to whatever you were looking at last, eventually taking you all the way back to Start.

Back also serves as a means to cancel or escape. Press it to exit a menu or cancel out of a dialog box.

4.2. Start

The Start button does two things. Tapping it (as you might expect) immediately transports you back to the Start screen, no matter where you are or what you’re doing on the phone. Pressing and holding the button for a few moments activates the phone’s speech recognition feature.

4.3. Search

The Search button make it easier to find stuff on or off your phone. As you’ll quickly discover, the button is context-sensitive: What it looks for depends on what you’re doing when you press it.

To findPress the Search button from
Something on the WebStart, Internet Explorer
An e-mailAn e-mail account
A place or addressMaps
A contactPeople
A new appMarketplace
A callCall History

4.4. Camera

It’s not one of the Big Three, but the Camera button is special nonetheless, and it does something that sets it apart from other smartphones out there: It lets you take a picture fast, even if the phone is asleep or locked. Just hold the button down and count to three. Boom—you’re ready to snap away.

4.5. Volume

By making the phone’s built-in speaker louder or softer, the volume buttons do what you probably expect. But they also do something you probably don’t: Expose a hidden audio menu. The volume bar shows the current loudness and ringer settings. You can tap the Ring icon to toggle between vibrate and silent modes. If you’re playing music or listening to a podcast, you’ll also see a set of basic playback controls.

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