This summer, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to try out a Windows Phone, something I'd been itching to do for a while. I was intrigued by the clean, sleek look of the OS, but I couldn't help but wonder if it would actually be useful for travelers. I know that many tech-savvy travelers will inevitably gravitate towards the latest iPhone or a popular Android device, but after some time with a Windows Phone, I can clearly say that they should consider these relative newcomers, as well. With the release of Windows Phone 7.5 and beyond, phones boasting this platform provide a clean, well-designed, and fully capable OS and app marketplace that offer travelers everything they need and more. Keep reading to find out the best features and outstanding apps that prove Windows Phones are ready to go on the road with you on your next trip.
The main point of my tests was to take the Windows Phone operating system for a spin, not so much to test out the capabilities of the phone ( which was a Samsung Focus 2 running Windows Phone 7.5.) To give it a proper test, I took it on the road to see how well it would serve me, both on local outings around Seattle and a weekend trip to the Olympic Peninsula (to see how the maps and other apps handled a more rural setting.) I used it for directions, finding places to eat and things to do, took photos, shared them on Facebook, and checked in places on foursquare. Pretty much everything I usually do on a trip, I did on this Windows Phone.
The best things that a smartphone can do are help you do the tasks, find the info, and communicate what and when you need, all without getting in your way. The Windows Phone, for the most part, does just that. Its clean, sharp UI shows you just what you need, presenting a main screen full of big, color-coded, easily-clickable icons. The bulk of your apps are safely tucked away, waiting for you when you need them. I'm also a huge fan of the main font ( Segoe WP for the font nerds out there ), it's so big and clean that it makes reading on the phone, even in bright light, easy on your eyes. After all, the last thing you want to do when you're exploring is to have to strain your eyes trying to find a place to eat.
Foursquare, Facebook, and TuneIn screenshots
Arguably for most smartphone users, the most important aspect of any phone is the selection of available apps. After all, I'd guess that a majority of people won't even consider a phone if they couldn't ask for advice and share photos on Facebook, or search for a place to eat on Yelp. Fortunately, the Windows app marketplace is full of useful and popular apps: Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp are just the tip of the iceberg. While it's missing (at the time of this article) a few of my personal favorites, Instagram and Urbanspoon, I didn't find myself wanting when I was on the road.
Photosynth on Windows Phone 7.5
I found one app that stood out from the rest that I tried out: Photosynth. This photo capture app goes above and beyond, allowing you to essentially create panoramas on steroids. Instead of simply capturing a horizontal collection of images, you can keep snapping images of your surroundings and it stitches them together into a uber-realistic, almost 360-degree representation of what you see. If you've ever really wanted to share what a place felt like with your friends and families, but were never satisfied with a single photo, this app is for you.
Local Scout and Maps screenshots
I was pleasantly surprised by a handful of built-in Windows Phone features, which all proved to be helpful on the road. First, Local Scout is a helpful little built-in app that shows you nearby restaurants, bars, shopping, attractions, and other highlights. I found that it worked well both in Seattle proper and out in the more rural Olympic Peninsula. Secondly, Bing Maps is a solid mapping solution; you can search for places, get directions to and from them, and otherwise orient yourself when necessary. Plus, it has built-in voice directions, which can be quite helpful on a road trip. The voice is loud, clear, and the directional cues always seemed to come at just the right time. (It was doubly nice because it gave Kelly a chance to take a break as navigator.) However, I ran into a few glitches in my tests, the phone would occasionally get confused and think I had gone off the prescribed route, which would require me to click a button on the screen to recalculate the directions. Lastly, sometimes the tiniest, almost hidden feature can surprise you the most. I was poking around my photo album and I noticed a little button labeled "Auto-Fix." With one click, you can fix small color or exposure issues with your photos before you share your trip photos with your friends. No other software needed.
Thanks to a healthy and growing app marketplace, solid mapping and directions, and helpful built-in features, I believe Windows Phones are a good option for travelers looking to choose a new smartphone. While it's missing an app here and there, it has the apps travelers need and more. It's a well-designed phone operating system; as someone who loves a well designed UI, it has a modern, clean feel that makes it incredibly easy to read and use. Overall, I believe that Windows Phones deserve serious consideration when you're in the market for a new phone. Spend some time using one the next time you have an opportunity and I'm sure you'll agree.
You can get Windows Phones from every major carrier in the US, there are too many to list individually. Amazon, as always, provides a nice snapshot of what's available.