Drive-by Mobile Tests

I went on a quick stroll through Best Buy today, and tried a lot of the devices I’ve been reading about for the last couple of months:

  • The iPad 2 is impressive if only for its reduced mass and flat back, which led many to claim that it feels totally different to hold compared to its predecessor (The white version is stylish, but I think the black bezel better complements the screen.) But for all other purposes, it’s a tiny update to the original iPad: even better for new users, while us early adopters stay current.
  • My first impression of the Motorola Xoom was nothing like that of the many tech reviewers – the hardware was solid, and the UI is at the same time surprisingly powerful and usable, especially for the first version of a totally new UI. Apps intended for smaller phones scale to tablet sizes better than iPhone apps do on the iPad. Holding the tablet in portrait orientation is actually pretty nice – I think most reviewers are just too accustomed to the 4:3 iPad. The biggest surprise, however, was that the Xoom’s browser sucks. It does tabs like a desktop browser, but beyond that, its performance trails far behind any mobile browser created in the last four years. It surprises me that an internet services company – the one behind Chrome, even – lags so far behind on mobile browsers.
  • I tried Windows Phone 7 (if that’s the current name, I’ve lost track) on an HTC 7 Surround. Color me very impressed. The entire OS experience is streamlined incredibly well, and it’s honestly the biggest innovation in user experience and interfaces since the iPhone. Everything about the OS is effortless, even more so than Apple’s. It is very communication-centric, streamlining access to various messaging and social networks. This won’t be a super-modular geek phone, and is definitely trying to create a pretty different experience from that of most other smartphones. Windows Phone 7 seems less intimidating and more effective, perhaps with the tradeoff of a more limited feature set. To me, it seems like the perfect business successor to the BlackBerry, as well as an excellent device for personal messaging and social networking addicts.
  • I tried big phone after big phone. I didn’t touch a phone with a screen below 4″. I even fumbled with the 5″ Dell Streak, which pushes the limits of what should be called a phone, and started to feel like I was supposed to just hold an iPad to my face. I still don’t like this trend in gigantic screens; typing is admittedly much easier, but I have plenty of big devices – I don’t need another one in my pocket. (And no, I’m not happy to see you.)

So all in all, 2011 is turning out to be a pretty darned awkward year for all these mobile touchscreen devices. Maybe this will give manufacturers some room to breathe and give traditional PCs some innovative efforts after being so focused on the mobile space recently.