Hands on with Windows Phone 7: games, Xbox Live, and Marketplace

22 titles currently on the Marketplace priced 79p to £5.49

Hands on with Windows Phone 7: games, Xbox Live, and Marketplace

Following yesterday's Windows Phone 7 launch event in the ICA, London, there was an opportunity to get some hands on time with the UK launch devices and check out some of the games on the pre-release Marketplace.

For the record, I spend the most time with Samsung's Omnia 7 - a very flat and thin metal cased device with a 4-inch AMOLED screen.

It's not the biggest WP7 phone. The HTC HD 7 - which I also played on - is slightly larger at 4.3 inches. It's not metal cased but still feels well built, although perhaps a little too large to comfortably go in your pocket.

Fluid UI

Aside from the hardware - there are six Windows Phone 7 devices at launch in the UK and nine in the US - the Windows Phone 7 user interface is extremely nice to use, being fast and highly reactive as you sweep down and across the screen.

It has a sort of folding style: when as you swipe across the screen, the highlighted tile animates as if you were folding a book's page. It's fairly subtle but a neat touch.

The main home page - a column of coloured icon boxes - is set up with various key services such as music, Facebook, email, and photos but you can customise it with any apps or services on the phone: the full list is displayed as you swipe right.

You can hold down any of these icons to transfer them to the main page. You can also hold down any icon to move it around the main page in a similar way to un/pinning with Windows 7.

Getting to the hub

In terms of gaming content, the most important icons - or 'Hubs', as Microsoft calls them (these are the six main Windows Phone 7 service features it requires OEMs to support), are the games/Xbox Live hub, and the Marketplace hub.

The Games hub is defined by your Xbox Live avatar. You can set one up directly on the phone if you don't already have an account. In this way Xbox Live acts like Apple's Game Center for iOS devices.

This hub is also the place where you launch the games you've downloaded, as well as dealing with all the Xbox Live community services from Xbox Live such as gamerscore, friends, and so on.

The Windows Phone 7 Marketplace is broken down into Music, Apps, and Games sections, with games broken down further into Xbox Live, Top, New, Free, and Categories.

At the moment, the Top and New lists are the same, consisting of 22 games. This includes six Xbox Live-enabled games, and two free games, one of which is Xbox Live-enabled.

Categories are: Puzzle & Trivia, Action & Adventure, Card & Casino, Board & Classic, and Strategy.

Filling out the catalogue

The Xbox Live games - which, as the name suggests, all include some sort of Xbox Live connectivity - are, bar two, published by Microsoft Game Studios.

These are Hexic Rush, Flowerz (which is also free), Rocket Riot, and Twin Blades. The third-party games are PopCap's Bejeweled LIVE, and THQ Wireless's Star Wars: Battle for Hoth.

The other free game is Puzzlepuzzle!

In terms of the other paid games available, what was most surprising was the number of generic titles from small or individual developers. Examples include games such as The Eye, Mosaic, Text Twister, Build Down, Crossroads, Simon Says, and Nuts of Justice. Hardly household names.

Of course, the Marketplace won't go live for another week or so, so there's time for high profile games to submitted. Microsoft has announced that EA Mobile is bringing The Sims 3 to Windows Phone 7, for example.

It's also significant to see the range of price points: plenty of games were 79p, some 99p, while others came in at £1.99, £2.49, £3.99 (Bejeweled LIVE and Star Wars), with Rocket Riot, the most expensive at £5.49.

In terms of how the games actually play, the match-three games like Hexic, Bejeweled, and Flowerz all played much as you'd imagine them to play on a big screen smartphone.

Similarly, Star Wars: Battle for Hoth - a tower defence game - hardly pushes the available horsepower, and seems exactly as it is on iPhone.

Aside from the free games, each of the above paid titles offers a trial demo - you can download to play the opening levels and then choose to purchase the full game if you want.

Yet without any 3D games available it's difficult to gauge how far Windows Phone 7 will push mobile gaming compared to the likes of iPhone 4 or Galaxy S.

But there are certainly plenty of opportunities, particularly in terms of how developers use Xbox Live features.