Beginning with software, I’ve said before that I’m a fan of the Windows Phone 7 operating system and that hasn’t changed. It still has a lot of growing to do and I maintain that Microsoft was forced to release a rushed product, but buried beneath the surface is an amazing OS struggling to emerge. Like Android, iOS, webOS and other great mobile platforms, we need to give Windows Phone time to mature.
Thanks to Microsoft’s coding wizardry and HTC’s hardware, Windows Phone 7 flies on the Arrive. I find that despite nearly identical guts resulting from Microsoft’s strict hardware requirements, some phones handle the OS better than others — and the Arrive is one of those phones. I have yet to experience any jitters or slowness when it comes to native OEM apps. Third-party apps, however, are a different story…
Since Windows Phone 7 affords roughly the same experience on all devices by design, I won’t bother getting into the basic functions of the OS. Instead, I’ll focus on a few big features introduced by Microsoft’s NoDo update.
My Arrive unit provided by Sprint came with version 7.0.7389.0 of the Windows Phone OS installed, which I presume will ship on the release hardware considering how close we are to launch. This build includes Microsoft’s highly anticipated NoDo update, though in my opinion the update is seriously lacking. I’ll cross that bridge in a different section below, however. For now, let’s look at some new functionality.
The most widely publicized feature introduced by NoDo is the ability to copy and paste text. Microsoft’s implementation is curious at best, though it is functional and should silence some of the chatter surrounding this missing feature.
A single tap within a text field will highlight the poked word, and the text selection can then be extended in either direction by tapping and holding on one end of the selection, then dragging. When a selection is made, a copy icon appears above the text. Once text is copied, a paste button appears above the virtual keyboard, or on the bottom of the screen when the device is slid open and the physical QWERTY is in use.
Because of the way Microsoft implemented the solution, however, not all text can be selected and copied. The areas of interest are covered for the most part, including emails, SMS, URLs in Internet Explorer, text on Web pages and so on. The issue we’ve seen brought up by numerous developers is that in order for read only text within third-party apps to be selectable, it must be contained within a textbox. As it turns out, many developers neglected to build their apps this way, and they will have to rework things in order to enable copy/paste. For example, users cannot copy text from a tweet in the official Twitter app, and they won’t be able to until Twitter reworks the app.
The other big addition to NoDo is “tombstoning” support for third-party apps. Tombstoning is Microsoft’s name for state saving, or the ability of Windows Phone 7 to “pause” an app sent to the background and then resume function at the exact same point when it is called to the foreground. Microsoft’s current implementation is less than ideal, however, and I’ll discuss it further below.
Beyond software, the HTC Arrive packs guts that fall in line with the rest of the Windows Phone 7 devices announced late last year. Highlights include the now-obligatory 1GHz processor, a WVGA display, 16GB of internal storage, a 5-megapixel camera with support for 720p HD video recording. It also packs a 1500 mAh battery said to deliver 6 hours of talk time per charge.
Finally, and in typical HTC fashion, the audio quality on voice calls is remarkable. The ear speaker is incredibly clear and it gets louder than most people will ever need it to get. Likewise, the “SRS WOW HD surround sound” speaker broadcasts callers on the other end with great clarity when speakerphone is enabled, and it does a surprisingly solid job with music and audio form movies and TV shows as well. Couple HTC’s solid speakers and circuitry with Sprint’s stellar network, and now you’re cooking with gas.
Sprint’s HTC Arrive is a remarkably solid device. Other Windows Phones with landscape QWERTY keyboards currently on the market are — how can I put this nicely? — not nearly as solid. The display is covered with scratch-resistant glass, the plastics that surround it are nice and solid, the battery cover is sleek brushed aluminum and the rest of the back cover is rubberized to assist grip.
The 184-gram Arrive might be a bit on the hefty side for some users, but I love it. I can’t stand phones that feel cheap and plasticky, and the Arrive most certainly does not feel cheap or plasticky. It’s definitely on the thicker side, although it is thinner than older HTC devices with the same form factor. The slide-out QWERTY keypad adds the majority of the girth, of course, but it’s more than worth it; more on that later.
In terms of appearance, the Arrive looks like an HTC HD7 from the front, with stylish silver mesh above and below the WVGA touchscreen to cover the ear speaker and the microphone. It also has a similar darkened chrome bezel surrounding the front of the case. Thankfully, however, the Arrive feels nothing like the HD7. T-Mobile’s supersized phone is a great handset that we thoroughly enjoyed when we reviewed it, but it is far from HTC’s most solid device — thanks to a light plasticky feel and a flimsy, paper-thin battery cover.
Beyond that, you have the power/lock button on the top of the phone next to a 3.5-millimeter audio jack, a volume rocker and a microUSB port on the left side, and a dedicated camera button on the right side of the phone.
The slider mechanism on the Arrive is very solid, though it’s a bit odd until you get used to it. When the display is slid all the way open, the mechanics of the slider pivot and result in the viewing angle you see in the images, which is not adjustable. The simple fact of the matter is that some will like it and some won’t — and I don’t. I would far prefer to keep the display parallel with the keypad because it suits my typing style better. It’s a smartphone, not a laptop, and you type with your thumbs, not with all 10 fingers. With the screen pitched forward like it is, the display points down toward my chest when I type instead of pointing straight at my face. It’s odd, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker for me.
First things first… the display. While it might not bear a sexy name like “Super AMOLED” or “Super LCD,” the display on the Arrive is fantastic. The screen is obviously one of the most important components of a cell phone, and it pains me that some otherwise terrific devices are ruined by less-than-stellar screens.
The display is not one of HTC’s larger offerings, and it’s a good thing. With the added bulk of a full QWERTY keypad, a case big enough to accommodate a screen over 4-inches would make the Arrive the untamable beast. With a 3.6-inch WVGA (800 x 480 pixels) display, the sizing is just right.
The Arrive display is vibrant and it renders colors quite nicely, though some deeper colors do appear a bit washed out at times. I leave the brightness cranked up to 11, though, and it looks fantastic. HTC also made use of a little trick Apple popularized with the iPhone 4, and it will soon become the standard display design among manufacturers — at least, it should. On most cell phones, the display panel sits beneath the outer-most glass surface and there is a bit of space between the two. On the Arrive, however, the LCD is glued to the back of the glass touchscreen with no space between the two. The result of this seemingly minute detail is a much, much better user experience; it feels as though you’re actually touching the images rendered on the screen rather than touching glass above the images.
My only real complaint regarding the display is the glass; if I had my way, touchscreen smartphones with displays that lack oleophobic (oil resistant) coatings would be banned.