Windows Phone 7 NoDo update review

Windows Phone users have been desperate to get their hands on the first major update (codenamed NoDo), hoping that it will resolve a number of annoying v1.0 niggles as well as delivering the promised copy/paste feature.

NoDo still no go

At present, NoDo is stuck in the quagmire of Microsoft’s complex WP7 release process. Depending on where you are in the world, you might be receiving the update already, waiting for carrier testing to complete or waiting on Microsoft to do a phased roll-out out of the release.

It’s a messy process and frustrates many users. Microsoft say there is no way around carrier testing, but the fact of the matter is it’s not always carrier testing holding things up. According to the status page, my carrier (o2 UK) has approved the release but Microsoft is yet to roll it out. There seems to be a very cautious approach to deploying updates at the moment, with it being early days Microsoft isn’t 100% confident of rolling out changes quickly and to large numbers of users. To be fair the stakes are high – bricking phones on a large scale would be a PR disaster. But phasing in changes people are clamouring for is sure to cause annoyance when some people have the update and others don’t.

I got sick of waiting for the update and took matters into my own hands. My HD7 was occasionally randomly rebooting and the marketplace usability and reliability was proving annoying. The excellent XDA forums currently has a guide for updating the HD7 with an unbranded NoDo ROM. I followed this guide and was up and running right away.

Unbranding the phone turned out to be a great move. The o2 splash screen on bootup is now gone and startup appears to be quicker because of this, but more importantly the Internet Explorer search now uses the phone’s built-in Bing application rather than the awful o2-chosen Yahoo search. This is how it should have been in the first place.

Another reason for unbranding your phone is that you should receive future OS updates immediately rather than having to wait for carrier approval and Microsoft’s slow release process. This is because Microsoft gives priority to unbranded phones and pushes out updates right away – another reason that the majority of users on carrier-branded phones are getting irritated.

What NoDo delivers

So far the NoDo update has proven very worthwhile. It’s not a major update in the sense that the user interface is very different, but there are very noticeable performance increases across the board. Much improved are the panorama and pivot controls which are heavily used by many applications. These are now silky-smooth and more responsive. The gorgeous-looking IMDB app was a touch choppy on the previous OS release – it’s now even more impressive to see in action.

The Marketplace app desperately needed some attention – it was prone to crashing and the search system was almost unusable. Microsoft have now changed the search so that if you’re in a specific area of the Marketplace such as apps, it only returns that type of result rather than including music and video. This is a big usability improvement and the performance of searches is now far quicker. The app hasn’t crashed yet either.

Microsoft have improved application loading times and the time needed for apps to resume from being tombstoned. The improvements in loading times are out of this world. The Traffic Cop game from the marketplace used to show a splash screen for a good 20-30 seconds. Now the splash screen lasts for less than a second. When I first got my HD7 I used to like demonstrating The Harvest to people because the graphics are excellent, but the load time was embarrassing, seeming to take over a minute. The game now loads in a few seconds. The magnitude of improvement seems to be in the region of 30 to 50 times faster – impressive stuff.

Overall, the update further improves an already fluid and responsive interface, adding polish to what was already a very good user experience. Every page transition and animation now seems faster. There are still some usability issues in the music player and inconsistencies in the built-in applications, but these are minor and should hopefully be fixed in a future release.

For the next update Microsoft need to get more confident with rolling out updates and find a way to ease people’s frustrations during the process – otherwise there’s going to be a lot of us running unbranded phones.

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