Getting Ready for Windows Phone 7

As announced on my Twitter feed, I just pre-ordered the HTC HD7 as my first Windows Phone 7 device. When I got my current Windows Mobile 6.0 phone and I connected it to my PC, Windows immediately suggested downloading the Windows Mobile Device Center. This allowed me to easily sync all my contacts, calendar entries and to-dos that I managed in Outlook to my phone.

Alas, Windows Phone does not synchronize directly with Outlook, but only with the cloud. It’s a could world now, I guess. So my options were to get an Exchange Online account or use a more consumer-oriented service such as Windows Live or GMail in conjunction with Google Calendar. I already have all my email stored on GMail, and I would rather not have them have all my other personal information as well. Hence, I decided to move my calendar and contacts to Windows Live. Also,there is the Microsoft Office Outlook Hotmail Connector, so I can continue using Outlook as my primary personal information manager, something Google doesn’t currently support (except for calendar syncing). After configuring Outlook to use the Windows Live account as its default data file, the experience in Outlook is now almost as it was before, except that in the background everything is synced to the cloud (and thus my phone).

I originally wanted this article to be a write-up of the things one would do to prepare for Windows Phone 7, but Paul Thurrott beat me to it, so check out his article on the WinSuperSite which is much more comprehensive than anything I would have written, anyway. There are a couple of things, though, that I experienced during my move to the cloud, that I would like to point out.

Moving contacts from Outlook to Windows Live not as easy as I thought

the first one is importing contacts from Outlook into Windows Live which did not work as I would have expected. Exporting contacts via a CSV file did not work for me, because my German Outlook seems to produce a format that Windows Live does not understand. I found a website describing the format Windows Live expects, but converting the data is not trivial, so I gave up on this.

Turns out, there is a much easier way: dragging and dropping the contacts in Outlook from my local to my Windows Live contacts folder. Unfortunately, this didn’t copy over all of my contacts (five got lost somewhere along the way) or even all of their data. Partly this is because Windows Live doesn’t support all of the fields Outlook has, but there are also fields like “job title” that didn’t simply make it over, although both Windows Live and Outlook have them. Don’t know why. Other fields seem to be limited in size, for instance some company names were cropped after 40 characters. Outlook warned me about this during the copy operation, though it didn’t tell me which contacts were affected. The same goes for all the other data fields that weren’t copied over. I still have no idea what wasn’t copied, I just have to hope that the most important data is there which seems to be the case, though.

Finally, after I had copied the contacts over in Outlook and it had synced with the cloud, the contacts didn’t immediately show up on the Windows Live website. only after I added a contact through the web interface, there they were all of a sudden. This may be an internal Windows Live synchronization issue that was kind of irritating at first but isn’t really a big deal.

Windows Media Player versus Zune

Until now I have been using Windows Media Player as my primary media organizer and player. It’s also my application of choice for syncing music to my Windows Mobile phone (and my iPod shuffle). With Windows Phone, the Zune software (just got the new 4.7 release) is used for this. The software certainly looks very stylish (its inspired by the Zune’s Metro UI), but there are couple of things it doesn’t do. Most importantly, it doesn’t play DVDs or the internet radio stations I listen to.

Since I would like to have all my media in one place, I will probably continue using Windows Media Player. Since both Zune and Windows Media Player are based on the Music and Video libraries built into Windows 7, the Zune software will hopefully pick up the changes I make to my collection in Windows Media Player. Since I don’t have a lot of music and the HD7 has 16 GB of internal storage (compared to a measly 2 GB on my current phone), I will no longer have to micro-manage what songs I sync to the phone but just sync everything  and there shouldn’t be a need for me to spend a lot of time with the Zune software.

Looking forward to Oct 21

Although Amazon hasn’t yet posted a date when my HD7 will ship, Oct 21 is said to be the date Windows Phone 7 launches here in Germany. This is one of the rare occasions that us Europeans get their hands on a new piece of technology before it is available in the United States. I really hope that my phone will by in the mail next Thursday. Since I have all my stuff on Windows Live now, I should just have to enter my Windows Live ID an the device should get everything from the cloud.

I actually haven’t been this excited about a new phone since I got my first one in the late 1990s (a Nokia 5110 in case you are interested). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Windows Phone has made cellphones cool again, but it has certainly added excitement to the mobile space and I really hope they can position themselves as one of the top three platforms alongside iPhone and Android. The deep integration with Windows Live, Zune and Xbox Live certainly sets them apart form the other platforms. I’m not a big gamer myself, but I could see myself playing some casual games on the phone to pass time. I’ll have to see what Xbox Live can do for me.

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