A gamer's introduction to Windows Phone 7

It took Microsoft awhile to figure out how to enter the smartphone game. Apple’s iPhone has been dominating for years, and the Droid has carved out its own slice of the market too. Now, not unlike when Sony and Nintendo already controlled the console market the early 2000s, Microsoft is pushing its way in as a third contender for people’s attention and money. Is its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) another Xbox, or could it be the next Zune?

WP7’s isn’t going to be judged here by its OS, its camera, its ability to make calls, or by the number of fart apps it has. Though it’s worth noting that the OS is a nice change of pace from what’s established, WP7 has a great virtual keyboard, the camera seems alright, and it’s already got a few fart machines in its app store. GR isn’t a tech site, we’re a gaming site, and today we’re going to look closely at its properties as a gaming device.

We played all the games on the Samsung Focus, which is carried by AT&T.

Xbox Live in your hands

Any smartphone worth its digital salt has an app store filled with games that take five seconds to learn and 30 seconds to get sick of playing, and the Marketplace on WP7 is already getting its fair share of those. Windows Phone 7’s real edge when it comes to gaming is the inclusion of Xbox Live. Once we got our hands on the device we quickly scrolled down and went straight to the icon marked Xbox Live on the clean front page interface.

You sign in with the same name you use on 360 and soon enough your Avatar pops up on screen. Of course, if you’re like us it also means the Windows Live/Hotmail email you signed up for XBL with will be made your primary email on the phone, even though our Hotmail account currently operates as a halfway home for all the spam we’re too lazy to clean up.

Immediately we saw some new value added to the Avatar, which depending on what type of games you play and whether you use Kinect, may be something you barely notice. Once our somewhat accurate character popped up wearing its Super Meat Boy shirt, we felt much more of a connection to the account and more investment in what we’d be doing in the games.

Above: Don't worry, Xbox Live Extras is a free app

The Live interface on its own is good, giving you about the same profile info as you can see when signed into your 360 or Games for Windows Live (however unlikely that is). You can check your profile, see what your friends are doing, send and receive messages via Live, compare Achievements, all that stuff. And should you desire to change that Super Meat Boy shirt to a Red Dead Redemption shirt, a similar Avatar dress up section to what’s on the 360 can be opened up pretty quickly.

For 360 users the familiar interface will be comforting, as will the process of purchasing games via the store, as any credit cards you attached to your account to buy XBLA games are there to be used on this new Marketplace. Even better, you pay for said apps with real money amounts, not silly XBL points. Tthe store has a good, but certainly not huge, selection of games to choose from.

Though seemingly any game can appear on the app store, similar to the Indie Games channel on 360, it’s the more high profile games that get the Live treatment. That label in theory distinguishes games that are of higher importance than the games in the regular app store, but how does that play out in reality? Read on for our impressions of some of the first WP7 games.

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  • 435 - January 16, 2011 10:23 a.m.

    @Snowyjoe Microsoft intends to launch worldwide soon. And, man, if I could afford it, I'd jump ship to a WP7 device -now-. I've fiddled with a coworker's phone, and it is delish. Actually makes me hate my Android phone a little.
  • Snowyjoe - January 15, 2011 8:12 a.m.

    @Hydrohs Ok fine, outside of the US and EU. Microsoft need to learn that Kinect will never sell in Japan, but everything else would >.<
  • Spybreak8 - January 15, 2011 5:49 a.m.

    Ilomilo is fun to play on the 360 but I would like to just take it to the phone instead of buying the mobile version. I wish the publishers would allow you a universal license so you can buy Tetris once for all your platforms.^^
  • Conboy - January 14, 2011 11:30 p.m.

    I've had the Samsung Focus since Thanksgiving weekend and have thoroughly enjoyed it. It's my first true smartphone, so I cannot make any comparisons to the iphone or any Android phone. Over 6,000 apps since since it's launch, additional good games are Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst and Need for Speed Undercover. Thanks for the article Henry.
  • Urbundave - January 14, 2011 2:22 p.m.

    I just picked up the HTC7 Mozart (On Orange in the UK) and it's fantastic. The OS works brilliantly and I have yet to have 1 problem or annoyance. The app store seems to be growing rapidly but obviously is no way close to the Apple app store. I've tried most of these games and they are fun. Once january is paid for Fruit Ninja will definately be purchased.
  • Hydrohs - January 14, 2011 12:14 p.m.

    @Snowyjoe They are selling it outside the States. I've been debating between a Windows Phone or an Android phone for some time now. I'm leaning towards the Windows Phone, the games seem to be of higher calibre.
  • Snowyjoe - January 14, 2011 11:04 a.m.

    I'm a PS3 owner, but I'm looking to buy a new smart phone, and ilomilo has just got me sold!!!! I also like the interface of it as well Too bad they don't sell it outside of the United States
  • Tomsta666 - January 14, 2011 8:43 a.m.

    XBLA on-the-go sounds like a very interesting proposition. When the time comes to renew my phone, I will definately be looking into Windows Phone 7, for sure!
  • Modroneman - January 14, 2011 6:54 a.m.

    I'm very tempted to get the windows phone 7. Just for the achievements! :) ReCaptcha: staraing oxytropus
  • KnightDehumidifier - January 14, 2011 3:35 a.m.

    As hopeful as it seems, I kind of want Microsoft to just revamp the Zune to run with Windows Phone 7 in mind. I really hope.
  • Baron164 - January 14, 2011 2:02 a.m.

    I got a Samsung Focus and I've been loving it. The games have been great and as a platform its a solid start.
  • Deutero - January 14, 2011 1:21 a.m.

    nice feature, thanks master Gilbert
  • EricBratcher - January 14, 2011 12:49 a.m.

    I know what you mean. Given that Hank is a points maven who has played some seriously craptacular games just for the cheevos, I expect he'll do everything he can to keep the phone we got to write this article. I'm gonna have to cut off his arm to get it back.
  • santaclouse37 - January 14, 2011 12:12 a.m.

    Well, now we know what Batman5273's next phone is going to be.
  • Daver123 - January 13, 2011 11:53 p.m.

    Interesting article; Apple's offensive DRM policy has convinced me to jump ship and I will probably wind up switching to a Windows phone. Does anybody know if you appear as "online" to your Xbox Live friends while playing games on a Windows phone?
  • Phazon117 - January 13, 2011 11:44 p.m.

    Lol Windows Phone 7.