In mid-2010, I was one of the lucky few to get a prototype Windows phone, the Samsung Taylor. Over six years later, it still works fine. And today, it represents an interesting slice of time in the life of Microsoft’s now-failed but wonderful mobile platform.
As I recall it, the Taylor was one of two hardware prototypes that Microsoft carted around in early 2010 as it showed off Windows Phone 7 Series, as this platform was first called. Also, there were basically two sets of each, as the software had to be specially—ahem—tailored (I’m here all week, folks) to support the video-out capabilities needed for public demonstrations. So some had the production builds on them, and some were compiled for demo purposes.
My first hands-on moment with Taylor—and that other Windows phone device, whose name now escapes me, plus of course the Windows Phone OS—came in May 2010, when I visited the Microsoft campus. I was led into a dark basement room in a secret location and was able to spend two days documenting every screen in the system—with photos and via an incredible set of notes—which I used as the basis to start writing the book that became Windows Phone 7 Secrets.
But I waited two months until I had a phone of my own. Finally, in mid-July, I received a Samsung Taylor from Microsoft, which I could use for my writings about Windows phone, in the book, and on the web. It helped me complete Windows Phone Secrets—which I did in late July, literally the day before my family left for our home swap—and I used the phone internationally on that trip, in Germany and France.
Microsoft warned me at the time that the device I’d received did not represent shipping hardware, though the underlying software was near-complete. I didn’t care. I was in love.
Here’s how I described it at the time.
When Microsoft finally presented me with a Windows Phone prototype that I could take home and use out in the real world, they were curiously embarrassed by the device, which I was told repeatedly didn’t represent “ship quality” hardware, and wasn’t indicative of the thin, light, and gorgeous hardware that’s really going to sell to consumers. They shouldn’t be so down on it. The prototype is fine.
The developer device is a Samsung Taylor SGH-i707, and it comes with all the hardware one would expect given the Windows Phone 7 required specifications.
Interestingly, Microsoft was also apologetic about the device’s screen, which displays at the lower of the two possible Windows Phone 7 resolutions, 480 x 320 (HVGA) instead of 800 x 480 (WVGA). Then you turn the thing on and just laugh out loud—I told you there’d be moments like this—because the display is simply gorgeous. In fact, it’s largely identical to the excellent Zune HD screen, featuring the same resolution and the same superior OLED quality. (The Samsung screen is much bigger than the Zune HD screen, however.) Colors appear to jump off of this screen, and the blacks are so black, they almost appear infinite. Did I mention this was a gorgeous screen? Oh yes. It is.
As a non-ship-level device, there are ports and plastic covers, and holes all over this device. There’s a huge 5-megapixel camera that sticks out of the back by a tiny amount, another embarrassment to Microsoft. (Hey, it takes great high-resolution photos and video.) The headphone jack and USB connection port both have awful plastic covers that are hard to pry off when you’ve just cut your fingernails. A similar cover appears over the mini-SD slot, though that’s no biggie since no Windows Phone 7 device will ship with such a memory port anyway. (Through a combination of internal and SD-based memory, the prototype sports about 8 GB of storage.)
There are speakers on the top and bottom of the phone—take that iPhone, and every other Apple mobile product—and, if I’m not mistaken, microphones on both the top and bottom too. Oddly, there’s a front-facing camera that isn’t connected to anything.
All of the required buttons are present, including Back, Start, and Search across the front, a dedicated power/sleep button on the side, volume up and down and, glory be to God, a camera button. This button is particularly genius, because it connects to a new software feature in Windows Phone that Microsoft calls “pocket to picture.” So even if you’ve locked your phone, you can tap this button and take a picture, almost instantaneously. There’s no fumbling with the device’s lock screen and passcode, and then finding and launching the camera app. You know, like you have to do on an iPhone. Oops, the moment already passed: The story of your life with iPhone.
The system’s performance is generally amazing. It awakes instantly, of course, and navigation through the various phone UIs is fluid and fast. I have had some performance issues around media playback and Zune software syncing, but then maybe I shouldn’t have been trying to play a 720 x 480 DVD rip of “Avatar” in the first place. (Shocker: It plays.) I haven’t yet had a chance to test any full-screen XNA games, but from what I can see, this should be a decent game player.
I [also] don’t have a firm handle on battery life, and of course we can’t judge Windows Phone on this prototype. In regular usage, the phone doesn’t last the day, basically, and I’ve been leaving it plugged in while writing for the most part. It does have a removable battery, naturally, and because it’s a GSM-type device, I was able to pull out my iPhone 3GS’s SIM and just make the switch. (Irony alert: My iPhone 3GS reports a stronger 3G signal in my house than does the Windows Phone device. I suspect Windows Phone is more accurate given that I’m in a dead zone. And this is after the software update.)
Overall, the prototype isn’t all that interesting aesthetically but then it’s not the car crash that Microsoft seems to believe it is either. Their over-the-top reaction to this device makes me believe that we’re going to see some pretty stunning hardware come this fall’s launch. I can’t wait to see what’s available then.
Looking at it today, the Samsung Taylor is small and stubby, with a very small screen by today’s standards. The little covers on the USB, headphone, and microSD ports remain ridiculous.
The version of Windows Phone OS on there—6414.PPEscrow, a pre-release version—will never be updated. Microsoft offered to update it to the final shipping version of the OS, but I declined, and the device was subsequently never upgraded to “NoDo,” the first major upgrade. (The one that added Copy and Paste.) The firmware, amusingly, is revision number 184.108.40.206.
The OS is familiar but dated. It features the empty space next to the Start tiles that bothered so many people and was later removed. Yahoo! Mail is prominently displayed on Start. The store is still called Marketplace, and the Music + Videos hub is still Zune. (As I recall, you had to sync this device with the Zune PC software, as you did with a Zune music player.)
The Office hub is called Office 2010. 🙂
Anyway, I love that this thing still works. And I still feel the pull of that year, when Windows Phone was still new, and special, and full of promise.