Written by Joshua Hufton
When I signed my first cell phone contract ten years ago, I was an overly excited newbie. I was quick to overlook spotty service and crappy phones for the novelty of the thing. Features like custom ringtones, camera functionality, internet connectivity, crude gaming applications—even an “easy tip calculator”—impressed me with their utility and fusion. Text messaging became a legitimate, even preferred, communications pillar beside email, instant messaging, and speech. I was connected to the grid in a way I never was before, and became addicted to the immediacy and independence with which these things came.
By the time I activated this ancient flip-phone, I had already shoveled several hundred hours of my life into Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow. I was just breaking the habit of lugging that old GameBoy Color (and additional Pokemon carts) everywhere, seemingly replacing a narrow-purposed device with a more utilitarian one. Still, I thought to myself, it would be nice to have a phone that could play games like this.
Yet I define that first phone now as I did when I originally signed the dotted line: by its limitations.
It could take crappy pictures, surf doggypaddle the web, and calculate a 20% tip for those who couldn’t round and double the first digit of a check. It could do all these things for near $100 a month. But for games it was particularly lacking. A tiny screen, questionable controls (Intellivision anyone?), lack of third-party support, and multiple poorly designed carrier-specific marketplaces were all at fault. I was taken by a vexing desire to combine mobile phones with a legitimate portable gaming device for my precious front-pocket real-estate. I dreamt of the day when my music, but more so my games, would follow me around as my phone did, all in one glorious device.
Then the iPhone seemed to be it, but it wasn’t supported by my carrier.
The way I saw the situation, I had two options. Either pay $100 per month for a great phone and gaming device with terrible service, or pay the same amount for a crappy phone without great games but with good service. Did I want to subscribe to a gaming device that makes calls, or a phone that can play games (crude, unsatisfactory ones, I might add)? I decided to lug around the old DS for my gaming fix and stick with a phone that could make—and retain—phonecalls.
It is important to know that at this point, I had been through several phones and multiple carriers. That naïve excitement for what used to be a novelty had long since worn off. At this point, I had the gall to expect both a good phone and good service. The next logical step was obvious, albeit painstaking. I resolved that phones for each and every carrier were destined to get better; service, on the other hand, I couldn’t justify as readily as something that would improve likewise. I chose the better carrier and a less-than-ideal phone.
I watched the indie game scene explode on the iPhone while I waited, and waited, for this stellar device to get picked up by my stellar network. Teased by rumors and hearsay for months, I continued shoveling $100 into the pockets of the better carrier monthly, always wincing for spending so much on something that, due to its limitations, required I also lug around a dedicated gaming device (and iPod too) as well. Still, I could more easily justify the expense for a reliable mobile communicator (and of course that indispensible tip calculator) than I could for games.
When the Xbox LIVE enabled Windows 7 phones were rumored, I was ecstatic. These devices took advantage of Microsoft’s pre-existing—and superior—online games marketplace (to which the only real competitor is Steam). These devices could bridge the gap between my home console and my portable gaming, carrying over my avatar, Achievements, and bulk of the transcendent Xbox LIVE experience to the palm of my hand. Additionally, the user interface seemed as or more attractive and intuitive than the iPhone’s, and the resolution and functionality on at least one Windows 7 device seemed to align itself directly in opposition to Apple’s landmark phone. Girlish enthusiasm surged. My inner geek nerdgasmed. I can’t wait to pick this guy up!
But the other carrier(s) got this one too.
I had had enough. No longer did I care about reliable service that could make calls in the boonies or could hold onto a call throughout a spotty connection. No longer did I care that all my friends and family were part of the better network. Finally, after all this wishful thinking and hoping, I found a deal, cut my contract, and bailed for the crappy carrier (also, as it were, to the recently announced worst customer service in the business).
I’ve been with my Windows 7 phone now for nearly a month, and I couldn’t be happier. In fact, with this device I am convinced that among the options for gamers wanting a phone currently, there are only two: the Apple-based wrong choice and the Microsoft-based right choice. I’ll tell you why.
As mentioned earlier, I defined those earliest phones very much by their limitations. I don’t need to further explain them. But similarly, dedicated portable gaming devices like the GameBoy and DS do one thing and do it well, they’re just limited in their scope; it becomes silly to sling around an armful of single-purpose electronics to communicate, listen to music, organize oneself, play games (and of course calculate tips), etc. The iPhone, despite the camera, perfected touch screen, Apple usability finesse, and the mighty iTunes app store (and not to mention the musical superiority), doesn’t offer games for the console gamer. It is a purveyor of applications, sure, but the experience is not streamlined for games, nor do they offer the buffet of AAA home console titles in my living room.
The Xbox 360 is the best current-gen gaming platform. But even if you disagree with me, we can agree on this: with it comes the superior home console LIVE experience. The Windows 7 phones neatly trim XBLA and put it in your hand. Suddenly, whether you like it or not, your portable gaming is an extension of your home console gaming: you use the same avatar, you collect the same Achievements, and you maintain the same friends list. No buddy codes, no Trophies, no additional log-in’s, usernames, passwords, or avatars. One. Cohesive. Package.
Of course, the carrier could be better, but it can and does make phonecalls. Emailing, web browsing, and texting is all streamlined much as Apple has done it, and all looks remarkably and wonderfully consistent across Windows 7 devices. True, Android phones are both on the right carrier and are very much gaining ground, but they lack the sexy unified look of the iPhone and Windows 7 devices in addition to these phones’ superior online marketplaces.
The Windows 7 phone changes everything. It, like the iPhone, settles for a less-than-ideal touch screen interface but similarly, makes the most out of it: touch commands and transitions are as fluid as Apple’s device, if not a little more satisfactory. Functionality-wise and usability-wise, Windows 7 phones are as good or better than the iPhone, yet they are more focused around a dedicated, streamlined, and perfected gaming service to which most gamers are already connected.
And Achievement mining has never been as fun or convenient.
If you still want an iDevice, please do get the iPad: its larger screen is more conducive to games anyway (I don’t think it has a tip calculator though). But for three simple reasons Windows 7 phones stand out: they are iPhone clones, they’ve got Xbox LIVE connectivity, and of course, they’ve got Achievements.
Joshua is a recent graduate of Full Sail University’s Masters Program in Game Design.
Check out his website – http://www.huftopia.com
Follow Joshua on Twitter – @huftopia