Microsoft has some tough hardware restrictions on Windows Phones in order to avoid the fragmentation headaches Windows Mobile and Android have run into. There are plusses and minuses to this approach; for example, while Windows Phones are typically underpowered compared to the latest and greatest ‘droids, they can retain their value for longer since Microsoft only updates hardware specs about once a year.
With Windows Phone 7.5 though, Microsoft has expanded the specs to include even more variety. With devices starting to trickle out to consumers across the world now, we thought we should educate prospective buyers on exactly what they can expect. Join us past the break for a crash course on exactly what you’re getting into with Windows Phone 7.5 handsets.
Processors are becoming a big marketing tactic for companies lately, what with dual core 1.5+ GHz processors making their way into high-end devices every week it seems. While some may have hoped for Windows Phone 7.5 to adopt these super-powerful CPUs with this next wave of devices, it appears Microsoft has decided to ignore that for now instead aiming to release stable and reliable hardware that compliments the software.
What does that mean to you as a customer? Let’s simplify some things about processors on Windows Phone 7.5: there are 3 different types that are supported, they are all made by Qualcomm, and they all range in how powerful they are. the MSM8x55 and MSM7x30 will be found in new devices, while the QSD8x50 were in the first-generation handsets (i.e. Samsung Focus, HTC HD7, etc.). Below is a table showing all of the processors currently supported.
Windows Phone version
|MSM8x55||1.0 GHz to 1.4 GHz||Adreno 205||7.5 and up|
|MSM7x30||800 MHz to 1.0 GHz||Adreno 205||7.5 and up|
|QSD8x50||1.0 GHz||Adreno 200||7.0 and up|
Now when it comes to picking between the 7x30 and the 8x55, it gets more tricky but the former should be about as good as the first-gen Snapdragon with more powerful graphics while the latter will be noticeably better overall. There are many more technical specs we could go on about, but to keep things simple you should understand this: the new Snapdragon processors will make Windows Phones more powerful and more efficient than ever before.
This category goes hand-in-hand with the processor talk above, and it will probably be one of the more noticeable changes for users going forward. Both of the new CPUs we talked about will include Qualcomm’s Adreno 205 graphics processor, which is an important step-up from the older Adreno 200 GPU found in last year’s devices. While the new GPU won’t give Windows Phones games as graphically complex as Infinity Blade without some seriously impressive development skills, they will make the OS more fluid and provide an overall better experience with gaming.
Speaking of gaming, the really big change from Microsoft is the new 60 FPS (frames-per-second) graphics. Previously games were limited to 30 FPS, but 60 FPS is going to make those Xbox Live titles seem much nicer and smoother than before. You can see proof of that in action with our Rocket Riot comparison feature. For those who don’t understand the difference, imagine creating a flipbook and flipping through the animation at 3 pages per second. Now imagine doing the same thing but flipping the pages twice as fast. That would make your flipbook’s animation seem a lot smoother and faster to the eye, and that’s exactly what Microsoft has allowed with 7.5. (Note: Older devices will also benefit from 60 FPS games, but the new devices will likely run them more smoothly.)
Another important piece of the Windows Phone 7.5 hardware puzzle are the new sensors that Microsoft has allowed. Namely, manufacturers can now add a gyroscope to their Windows Phones when in previous devices they could not. The gyroscope is mostly useful for augmented reality apps and some games, which sometimes can require a full 360 degree rotational axis. The result of adding a gyroscope is that those games and apps will become much more accurate and precise when moving around your phone, and may even lead to new interactive experiences.
While gyroscopes are seemingly optional for manufacturers, the other sensors found in Windows Phones today will make the transition into new handsets too. That includes A-GPS, an accelerometer, a compass, a light sensor, and a proximity sensor.
Another improvement for new Windows Phones will be even more camera options. The new chipsets will permit Windows Phone cameras to reach as high as 12-megapixels, meaning we could see a pretty huge jump in camera quality. When it comes to recording video, Windows Phone 7.5 handsets will stay the same as before with a maximum output of 720p HD at 30 FPS.
Besides larger cameras, the other big new change for cameras is the ability to support two of them. Therefore you can have a front-facing camera for video chats and self portraits, and a rear-facing camera for photos and video. Unfortunately Windows Phone won’t offer any native video chat service, but with Skype and Tango on the way we think you’ll find what’s right for you.
4G or “4G”?
When the Windows Phone head honcho at Microsoft started talking up LTE support recently, it got us thinking: will Windows Phone 7.5 handsets have 4G or “4G”? What we mean by that is whether or not Windows Phone will have HSPA+, which is a faster version of the GSM you know and love, or if it will have 4G LTE, which is an entirely new technology that makes use of low-frequency bands for high-performance speed.
For at least the short-term future, it looks like Windows Phones will max out at HSPA+ speeds. This is because the new Qualcomm processors only support HSPA+ natively while LTE will require an external add-on modem. In other words, it will be easier and cheaper for manufacturers to use HSPA+ in Windows Phones and the result will be slimmer and less power-draining handsets than with LTE. However, Windows Phone’s head honcho is already talking up LTE support so it’s not unreasonable to think we would get at least one device with the feature soon.
We hope this guide has been helpful for any future buyers looking for more information. Not every single feature discussed here will make it to every single Windows Phone 7.5 device, but the purpose of this guide is to educate you (our readers) on exactly what you should look out for. Windows Phone 7.5 takes a lot more leaps forward than just software, and the length of this guide should show just how much more potential the hardware will have.