New Microsoft smart-phone software better, but still lacking

The smart-phone universe is getting crowded, as Microsoft Corp. is taking a do-over. This time, people will notice, but I don’t think the new system is as good as it can be.

The Windows Phone 7 operating system was unveiled on a variety of handsets last month. The new devices from Samsung, LG, Dell and HTC will be available Monday at AT&T. Pricing and plans were not on AT&T’s website at press time.

I tested Windows Phone 7 on the HTC Surround last week.

I was glad to see no remnants of the old Windows Mobile operating system. At first glance, the new operating system is elegant. The layout customizing options for the home screen are simple and informative. E-mail and social network account links show the number of new messages and are just one touch away.

The face of the phone includes three touch-screen buttons: “home,” “back” and “search,” making navigation easy. With repeated use of this system, though, I found several quirks that the folks in Redmond, Wash., need to address soon.

Missing is the ability to search the device for files, names or just about anything residing on this pocket computer. When I hit the “search” button on the phone’s face, I was sent to Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. That’s great if I’m looking for something online, but not so great if I just want to find something I know is on the phone. I also recommend moving the “search” button, which I accidentally hit nearly every time I turned the phone to a horizontal view.

Another annoyance is the lack of preloaded applications. I had to download and install a YouTube viewer, Facebook and Twitter applications and several others that are standard on most other smart phones. Getting to the app store takes about three or four clicks. It should take one.

The Marketplace has some empty shelves. Forget adding Google. It isn’t an option. Neither is Pandora, a customizable music app I use on phones and computers. I could choose the AT&T music app or a few others that pale in comparison.

I also couldn’t find a free timer application. The system’s clock function serves only as an alarm clock. It should do more.

Downloading and installing apps on the AT&T network was quick and easy. Applications and their tiny icons fall into alphabetical order, just a swipe from the home screen. The touch screen is smooth with no jerky feeling when scrolling.

Just like the Windows operating system on PCs, the phone version takes a few extra clicks to get to whatever it is you’re looking for.

On the plus side, watching movies with the Netflix app was very enjoyable. The phone has slide-up speakers and a slide-out kickstand. The 3G AT&T network delivered smooth motion while watching movies or YouTube videos.

For more details on the Windows Phone 7 features, visit the AT&T site,

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