Which Windows Phone 7 smartphone will you buy?

Surely that question isn't unexpected. Last week I asked "Will you buy Windows Phone 7?" and the majority of Betanews readers responding by e-mail said they will buy, while some said they will not. You've had two days since Windows Phone 7's official launch to explore the features and learn about the nine handsets that will be available later this month (across Europe) and next month (in the United States). Now it's time for you to share with the world which phone you will buy or would buy if available on your carrier. Please answer in comments or e-mail joewilcox at gmail dot com.

Fred Schultz was among the Betanews readers who wants to buy a Windows Phone 7 handset but won't because there is no device yet available for Verizon (in the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile initially will carry WP7 smartphones). Last night he e-mailed: "OK, now after seeing it I am obsessed, and a little PO'd that Verizon doesn't have it. I would buy it on day 1!" I asked: "Whoa, are saying you'll switch carriers and buy on November 8th, Fred?" To which he replied: "Too complicated, family plan, 5 cells, Fios TV and Internet at home, but I will threaten."

I followed up by asking Schultz to ignore carrier considerations and choose the phone if he would buy. "Focus for sure, though I wish it had a keyboard," he responded. The Samsung Focus has 1GHz Qualcomm processor, 4-inch AMOLED display with 480 x 800 resolution, 8GB internal storage, 5MP camera with LED flash, 720p video, GPS, Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi N and 3 hours of talk time, among other features (Note: Microsoft states talk time that is much less than other sources).

I shouldn't ask you to do something I wouldn't do myself. So I reviewed the available handsets, too, and there are five choices here in the United States. Since I have accounts with AT&T and T-Mobile, I could choose any of them. On AT&T: The aforementioned Focus, LQ Quantum and HTC Surround. On T-Mobile: HTC HD7. The Venue Pro is available from Dell.

I found choosing a "what if I could buy" phone to be surprisingly difficult. Either that's going to work for or against Microsoft and its partners. For two days I've been reading punditry about how Windows Phone 7 is going to cut down Android, in part because Microsoft set minimum performance standards and features for phones (Examples: GigaOM and Google Watch). I love the minimum standards idea and recommended something like it years ago (circa 2004-05, in my JupiterResearch analyst days). But there's a downside I didn't foresee: OEMs tend to save every penny they can in manufacturing. Minimum is just that, the least they're often willing to do. As such, the nine handsets soon to be available all seem pretty much alike to me.

That's not a good thing, and it reminds me of the beige box PC era, when all Windows computers looked pretty much alike other than the manufacturer's logo on the outside. Exactly what differentiates one Windows Phone 7 handset from another? From my review of the handsets: Plenty of nuances but not a lot of got-to-have features or capabilities. So one phone has a 4-inch display and another's is 4.3-inches, but screen resolution is the same on both. One device is touchscreen only and another adds a keyboard. OK. that's one more choice than iPhone. Battery life is longer or shorter, which is reasonable consideration for any phone.

For size and shape and the important basics, the biggest differentiators appear to be the carriers, the pricing they're setting for handsets and the services they tack on, like AT&T and its WP7 smartphones' connections to U-verse (I've had the IPTV service since February 2008 and simply love it). Sameness is where WP7s are too much like Androids. Differences among Android devices often are, if anything, negatives because of the number of even recent handsets released with older versions of the mobile operating system. The positives are something Windows Phone 7 won't offer: Different user interfaces. Some manufacturers differentiate their handsets and the user experience by slapping new UIs on top of Android.

Criticism aside, I'm encouraged by a few differences among the handsets, such as the HTC Surround's slide-out speakers. Then there is something that matters more in a competitive marketplace: While I don't see WP7 devices differing all that much from one another, Windows Phone 7 OS makes the UI look, feel and operate differently than Androids, BlackBerries, iPhones and Nokias. That's hugely important to Microsoft for generating sales and market share, but not so good for WP7 manufacturers and carriers competing against one another for sales.

So which phone would I choose?  If I could afford to buy, I'd likely get HTC HD7, because of the dual-LED flash for the camera and T-Mobile availability. I have unlimited data with T-Mobile, while AT&T caps at 2GB per month. What about you? Which WP7 smartphone will you choose, if any? Please answer in comments or e-mail joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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