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In-Depth

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Lineup: A Complete Guide to U.S. Models

The U.S. smartphone market is moving fast. We size up the devices that Microsoft is hoping will carry its Windows Phone 7 platform -- to relevance or better.

The smartphone market is a rough-and-tumble place right now, and separating the pretenders from the contenders is getting easier. Android and iPhone devices are snarling and landing roundhouse blows on the likes of BlackBerry- and webOS-based smartphones.

Now, following the timely retirement of Windows Mobile, into the ring steps Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's next-generation challenger. Redmond hopes to turn this into a three-man fight, but early returns are mostly neutral. Windows Phone 7 devices have been well-reviewed, although initial sales aren't what Microsoft had hoped for.

But we're in the first few rounds of this battle royale, and Windows Phone 7 still has more than a puncher's chance. For instance, as of this March, the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace had eclipsed 10,000 apps -- figures that not even the iPhone and Android app stores reached in the same time frame. That's encouraging news for Redmond, as apps are largely what drive smartphone sales.

There's a similar growing ecosystem of Windows Phone 7 devices available. If your customers are interested in Windows Phone 7, guiding them to the right device requires knowledge of all the smartphones in major carrier stores. Let's see how the challengers stack up against each other.

Samsung Focus
When buying a smartphone, what you naturally see first is the screen. And the screen is the chief selling point of the Samsung Focus.

The Focus uses a Super Active Matrix OLED (AMOLED) screen. Super AMOLED screens are brighter, sharper, use less power and are easier to see in direct sunlight. They also just look great -- in a review, Gizmodo says, "If you're going to get a Windows Phone, this is the one to stare at the hardest." It's the only contender in this fight that has one.

The Focus is 4.8 inches long and 2.5 inches wide, with a weight of just about 4 oz. This makes it one of the smallest and lightest Windows Phone 7 contenders. The display itself is 4 inches wide, at a resolution of 800 x 480.

For picture-takers, the Focus features a 5 megapixel camera with a 4x digital zoom. This phone, however, is limited on how many photos and videos it can store; built-in storage is a stingy 8GB, which is pretty outdated these days. Samsung said in a chat with users that storage can be expanded up to 32GB with an SD card (the company also noted that swapping out cards resets the phone). RAM checks in at 512MB.

Samsung says the Focus battery should provide up to 300 hours of standby time and 6.5 hours of talk time. And, as always, these statements should come with a "your mileage may vary" sticker.

AT&T is the sole U.S. carrier for the Focus. The smartphone will set you back $99 with a two-year contract; the minimum data plan available (as with all these phones, a data plan is required) runs $15 per month.

HTC Arrive
One of the newest entries is the HTC Arrive. The primary distinguishing trait of the Arrive, as far as the HTC lineup is concerned, is the slide-out keyboard. Not only does the keyboard slide out, but once it's fully extended, the display tilts up for a comfortable viewing angle.

One drawback to note with this setup is that the Windows Phone 7 OS does much of its displaying in portrait mode only; thus, images like the home screen appear sideways when the Arrive is configured this way.

On the other hand, the Arrive comes with one big advantage: the so-called "NoDo" update, which includes the much-anticipated cut-and-paste functionality. Reviews on how well this works in version 1 are mixed; there's no doubt, however, that it's a welcome addition to the OS.

Under the hood, the Arrive is like most of the other contenders here: 1GHz processor, 576MB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage. The dimensions are 4.6 x 2.3 inches, with a weight of 6.4 oz., making it relatively heavy. That partly accounts for the cramped, 3.6 inch 800 x 480 screen; making it much bigger would result in an elephantine phone.

The camera and video capabilities are in line with other Windows Phone 7 devices, offering a 5 megapixel camera capable of shooting HD-quality video.

The Arrive is the first Windows Phone 7 phone offered by Sprint. It went on sale March 20, at a price of $199 with a new activation and two-year hitch.

HTC HD7
HTC Corp. makes more Windows Phone 7 smartphones than anyone else. And its HD7 is the biggest of those phones -- in fact, it's the biggest Windows Phone 7 device out there. At 4.8 x 2.68 inches, it'll take up more room in your pocket than any other contender in this roundup. On the plus side, that roominess allows it to fit a 4.3 inch display, nearly a full inch larger than the LG Quantum (resolution is the standard 800 x 480). Because the Windows Phone 7 OS can use a lot of real estate, that can be an advantage.

The HD7 also offers something unusual: a kickstand that flips out from the back, allowing it to sit at an easy viewing angle on a table, for example.

On the hardware side, the HD7 offers the same 1GHz "Snapdragon" processer that's standard on most of these phones. It has 16GB of built-in storage and 576MB of RAM. A 5 megapixel camera and high-definition video camera (1280 x 720) should satisfy point-and-shoot types.

Some reviews have complained about the small battery of the HD7. Most reviewers ran out of power before a full day's usage. It's odd that HTC would put an underpowered battery in a phone with such a large display.

The HD7 is available on the T-Mobile network (which may be AT&T when you read this, as the acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T broke at press time) for $199 with a two-year commitment.

HTC Surround
The name of this HTC phone tells you what feature it promotes above all others. It's all about the sound, which is provided by a speaker hidden under the phone -- when you slide it out the bottom, as you would a physical keyboard, you get a long, thin speaker instead. At one end is a button that, when pressed, adds "surround sound" to the experience.

Given this phone's major selling point is the speaker, it's worth noting that reviews generally said the speaker was disappointing. Most didn't notice much difference between the Surround and other Windows Phone 7 devices in terms of the external sound. This is due more to the tiny size of the speaker, rather than any design flaw on the part of HTC -- you're simply not going to get good sound out of a speaker that small.

The Surround also comes with a kickstand, similar to its HD7 sibling. The physical dimensions are 4.7 x 2.42 inches, and a 3.8 inch display with a resolution of 800 x 400, putting it squarely in the middle of the pack.

The power behind the phone is a 1GHz processer, with a somewhat skimpy 448MB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The camera is the standard 5 megapixels, and video can be shot in HD at 1280 x 720 pixels.

Like the LG Quantum, AT&T is giving away the Surround for free with a two-year commitment of at least $15 per month for data.

LG Quantum
Those who just can't get the hang of an onscreen keyboard will want to look at the LG Quantum, which sports a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard.

The Quantum, an AT&T offering, is larger and heavier than most of the contenders here, at 4.7 x 2.3 inches and more than 6 oz. This is undoubtedly due to the keyboard. Reviews of the keyboard generally give it high marks for the large, easy-to-use keys. Of course, there's a virtual keyboard if you don't feel like sliding out the physical one.

Inside, the Quantum features a 1GHz Qualcomm chip, 16GB of built-in storage and 256MB of RAM. The display is 3.5 inches at 800 x 480 resolution, and a standard thin-film transistor screen, which means it won't be as sharp as the Super AMOLED display found on models like the Samsung Focus.

The camera is 5 megapixels with auto-focus and has a built-in flash in addition to a nice 5x zoom; it also shoots video.

LG lists a battery time of 350 hours on standby, and six hours of talk time. At press time, the phone was free from AT&T with a two-year contract and $15-per-month minimum data service.

Dell Venue Pro
The Dell Venue Pro is Dell Inc.'s first Windows Phone 7 device, and offers something unique in the category: a slide-out keyboard with portrait orientation. The keyboard slides down out of the bottom, which takes better advantage of the predominantly portrait orientation of Windows Phone 7.

Like all slide-out keyboards in this roundup, it's a full QWERTY keyboard, with the Windows Phone 7 virtual keyboard also available.

The Venue Pro tends to be on the large side: 4.76 x 2.54 inches, and weighing in at a hefty 6.74 oz. It also features a large, 4.1 inch AMOLED screen. AMOLED screens use less energy than normal displays and have high refresh rates, but they can be hard to see in direct sunlight. Because they're a generation older than the Super AMOLED screens, they won't be quite as sharp, but compared to non-AMOLED displays, they really pop.

Inside the phone, it's the same specs as the other phones, with a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB or 16GB storage. The camera specs similarly mirror the other contenders: 5 megapixels and HD video at 1280 x 720.

Dell offers tiered pricing plans for the Venue Pro, for which T-Mobile is the U.S. carrier: $99 for the 8GB model and $149 for the 16GB version, both needing the two-year commitment. Interestingly, T-Mobile doesn't sell the phone directly -- it's only available from Dell.

Decision Points
Microsoft has wisely required Windows Phone 7 OEM partners to meet minimum hardware specs, so the experience of using the underlying OS should be similar; some phones have a bit snappier response than others, but for the most part there won't be huge variations in user experience from phone to phone.

Some of the most common decision points will revolve around items like a physical versus virtual keyboard, screen size, size, weight and battery life. Windows Phone 7 takes a middle ground between Android and iPhone devices: it allows for more variation than the one-size-fits-all iPhone, but not as much as the huge array of Android handsets.

Currently, OEMs aren't rushing new Windows Phone 7 devices to market at the rate that they're producing Android phones. Much of that is undoubtedly due to a "wait and see" attitude until more market data is available -- if, and when, Windows Phone 7 sales start taking off, more phones will surely follow. In the meantime, the present lineup offers enough variety of features, functions and price points to make them viable options for your business.

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