Windows Phone 7 Review

It’s now time to take an in-depth look at Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system now that the project has finally seen the light of the day after years of tumultuous developments. This review is quite long so I’m first going to give you a quick history reminder about the development of the OS followed by description of the product’s features and my opinion of it.

Officially unveiled back in February 2010 during MWC in Barcelona, Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft last attempt to be relevant in the mobile market after the slow demise of Windows Mobile 6.X that took place during past few years. Contrary to popular belief Windows Mobile as we knew it wasn’t a bad OS, but it greatly suffered from Microsoft’s total lack of support and interest in its product and the only reason why it managed to survived this long was because OEMs like HTC poured R&D and money into developing alternative UIs to compete with Apple’s iPhone and later, Google’s Android. What many people don’t know is that Windows Phone 7’s development initially started back in 2004 when it was called Windows Mobile 7 (code named Photon) but because of a lack of motivation, foresight and some relatively stupid decisions taken by the Redmond company (like the Danger acquisition that later gave birth to the Kin devices) the development was a total mess and in Fall 2008 Microsoft finally decided to stop all ongoing Photon / Windows Mobile 7 development and re-start everything from scratch with a new team composed of the developers of the Zune media player and Windows Media Center.

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OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark: Adreno 205 vs SGX540 / HTC Desire HD vs Samsung Galaxy S

GLBenchmark 2.0 has finally been released to the public today nearly 2 years after being unveiled during MWC 2008. The opportunity was too good so I decided to run it on the HTC Desire HD and Samsung Galaxy S to compare the Qualcomm’s Adreno 205 vs the Power SGX540. I did a chart (posted below after the break) so you can compare the full detailed results of both handsets and not only the overall score. This is really important because only looking at the overall results is actually a bit misleading in this case. As you probably already know the PowerVR SGX540 is currently the fastest mobile GPU currently available in retail devices and so far nothing has come close to it (besides the Tegra 2 which is pumping out results close to the Galaxy Tab in OGLES 2.0) but Samsung is currently the only OEM shipping handsets featuring this GPU. The newest entrant is the Adreno 205 which is part of the latest MSM8255 and MSM7X30 chipset from Qualcomm and used in several HTC devices. The Adreno 205 is an updated / tweaked version of the Adreno 200 found in the original QSD8250 chipset. Anyway check out the results below:

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HTC Glacier GPU / CPU Benchmark revealed

A T-Mobile employee has uploaded partial GLBenchmark 1.1 results of the upcoming HTC Glacier handset a few hours ago. Many blogger think that the score of 1432 Frames in the GLBenchmark Pro ES 1.1 CPU Skinning is a proof that the device is powered by the new MSM8260 or MSM8660 dual-core Snapdragon. Well sorry to disappoint you but this probably isn’t the case at all. First off performance doesn’t scale like that (you can’t just multiply x2 previous single core Snapdragon results and claim that this is how the dual-core will perform. Secondly, my HTC HD2 is faster at this particular skinning test. See the results below:

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Mobile GPU performance comparison

Google can deny it all day long but the fact is that the Android ecosystem is suffering from hardware fragmentation and things aren’t looking like they are going to get better any time soon. One of the main hardware difference between Android devices is he GPU which is part of the SoC (System On a Chip / Chipset) powering the handset. There’s currently three big players in the market today: Qualcomm’s SnapDragon SoC with the Adreno 200 GPU, TI OMAP 3XXX with the Power VR SGX 530/535 and finally Samsung’s Hummingbird (S5PC110A01) with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU all three of them feature a CortexA8 CPU core. Android and Me wrapped up a couple of benchmarks comparing them and the final verdict is clear as bottled water. Samsung’s Hummingbird is heads and shoulder above the competition thanks to the SGX540 GPU, followed by TI’s and Qualcomm’s chipsets. This should come as no surprise, the SGX540 is currently the most powerful mobile GPU on the market but one has to take into account the quality of the drivers. Qualcomm has been far behind in this sector ever since its acquisition of AMD/ATI’s mobile GPU division nearly 2 years ago. Benchmarks conducted on Windows Mobile devices like the HTC HD2 (SnapDragon with Adreno 200/AMD Z430 GPU) have shown up to a %500 increase in performance in some bechnmarks when homemade/tweaked drivers where used instead of the ones supplied with the retail device. This doesn’t mean that it can rival Samsung’s SGX540 equipped handsets like the Galaxy S line of Android phones but SnapDragon based devices would have graphics performances more in line with what you should expect from a hing-end smartphone in 2010. It will be interesting to see how things will be like on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7  platform (Only Qualcomm is certified to provide chipset for the first WP7 handsets) now that Microsoft will provide/certify the drivers. From what I have seen the graphics performance of the prototype devices is tons better than what we have now on the market. It has been said by me many times (and others who have played with the Samsung Taylor): the UI of WP7 ( Direct3D fully hardware accelerate by the Adreno GPU) is more responsive than the iPhone. Things will only get better in the future when devices like the HTC Mondrian WP7 handset will supposedly feature the updated Snapdragon core and when Google finally sets minimum performance and hardware requirement in a future version of Android (rumored to come in Android 3.0).

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The future hardware powering Windows Phone 7

As you probably already know by now all Windows Phone 7 handsets will be powered by a Qualcomm SoC. The specifics of the chipsets used are still unknown but we do know that it will have minimum click rate of 1Ghz which hints at a SnapDragon or similar architecture (the QSD8x50, MSM8x55, MSM7X30, QSD8x50A all qualify). The only reall info we have so far comes from the leaked HTC Mondrian ROM which mentions the presence of a QSDx50A chipset on board. So how is this piece of hardware interesting? Well, first off it is still unreleased and when the HTC Mondrian finally launches this fall it will probably one of the first devices to sport one. Secondly it’s the new shrunk down (45nm) version of the now famous QSD8X50 found in the majority of high-end Windows Phone and Android phones and is clocked at 1.3ghz (compared to the regular 1ghz chips shipping now). But the most interesting aspect of this new SoC is the updated GPU known as the Andreno 205 (the current SanpDragon CPU is the Adreno 200 aka AMDZ430). This new unit has been tweaked to have better OpenVG and Flash perfomance as well and improved shader performance:

This GPU features dedicated 2D Open VG graphics hardware along with 3D hardware which provides faster, higher-quality 2D rendering, simultaneous use of 2D and 3D, and lower power use.

•Hardware-accelerated SVG and Adobe Flash®
•Significant improvements in shader performance over Adreno 200 GPU
•Streaming textures that can combine video, camera, SVG and other image surfaces with 3D graphics
Supported APIs:

OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL ES 1.1, OpenVG 1.1, EGL 1.3, Direct3D Mobile, SVGT 1.2, Direct Draw, GDI. Concurrent CPU, DSP, graphics, and MDP

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Android 2.2 SDK available for download

Android developers rejoice! The Android 2.2 SDK is now available for you to download it and start building your apps. Here are some of the new APIs:

Apps on external storage

Applications can now request installation on the shared external storage (such as an SD card).

Media framework

Provides new APIs for audio focus, routing audio to SCO, and auto-scan of files to media database. Also provides APIs to let applications detect completion of sound loading and auto-pause and auto-resume audio playback.

Camera and Camcorder

New preview API doubles the frame rate from ~10FPS to ~20FPS. Camera now supports portrait orientation, zoom controls, access to exposure data, and a thumbnail utility. A new camcorder profile enables apps to determine device hardware capablities.

Graphics

New APIs for OpenGL ES 2.0, working with YUV image format, and ETC1 for texture compression.

Data backup

Apps can participate in data backup and restore, to ensure that users maintain their data after performing a factory reset or when switching devices.

Device policy manager

New device policy management APIs allow developers to write “device administrator” applications that can control security features on the device, such as the minimum password strength, data wipe, and so on. Users can select the administrators that are enabled on their devices.

UI framework

New “car mode” and “night mode” controls and configurations allow applications to adjust their UI for these situations. A scale gesture detector API provides improved definition of multi-touch events. Applications can now customize the bottom strip of a TabWidget.

Head over here to grab the bits

HTC HD Mini Review: is it worth it?

Announced back in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the HTC HD Mini is the company’s latest (and probably one of the last) Windows Mobile 6.5.3 handset to hit the market. Marketed as a slimmed down version of the HTC HD2 the HD Mini’s announcement was unfortunately overshadowed by Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 unveiling one day earlier. How does it stack up against HTC’s similar priced and speced Android devices especially now that we know that not a single WM 6.X device will ever be upgradable to Windows Phone 7? Time to review the HTC HD Mini.

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