It's been very roundabout, but in Windows Phone 7 the fabled Zune has finally hit the UK. While the connection to the iPod rival here might seem academic, it obviously isn't to Microsoft, since the tile that takes you to the Music and Video hub is labelled prominently with the Zune logo.
Since the screens in WP7 can be swiped left and right forever in a carousel, it's hard to pick one that could be considered the 'main' media screen, but we'll arbitrarily start with the one labelled Zune. This one enables you to choose Music, Videos, Podcasts, Radio and Marketplace.
Swipe to the right and you get the first of two History screens – sort of. This gives you one big tile telling you what was last played (or, if it's currently playing, the name of the song and the timecode).
The second part of the History screens is a load of smaller tiles, but since it can show different songs from the same album with no differentiation, it's a bit confusing.
More than that, though, it highlights one of the weaknesses in Microsoft's OS. Instead of just fitting on one screen, the smaller History tiles can spread off to the side. However, a big swipe to that side will take you straight past the ones that have fallen off the side, and you'll end up at the New screen instead.
To get to the other History tiles, you have to scroll very slowly. This is fine once you know about it, but there's absolutely no indication on WP7 when there's more on that screen to be scrolled to, and when you're just going to the next menu option.
It's not like you miss out on any major media options because of it, but since the whole point of the History tab is to save you time, it's definitely a problem if you spend a few minutes flicking back and forth wondering where that album you saw a sliver of went.
Moving onto the New screen, which is next, shows you what you've recently added, and suggests connecting to the Zune software to add yet more content.
After this is the Marquee screen, where apps that can be considered part of the Music and Video hub (such as YouTube) will appear.
And then you come full circle back to the Zune screen. From here, selecting Music will bring a new set of screens for choosing what to play. You start off at Artists, but scrolling to the right will take you through Albums, Songs, Playlists and Genres.
Your options are arranged alphabetically in a long list. By double-tapping anywhere that's blank (although it's hard to miss names sometimes) or tapping on a letter square, you can bring up the alphabet and choose a letter.
The Album screen displays the artwork for each record. It's nothing as fancy as the iPhone landscape Cover Flow view, but is infinitely more practical while being almost as pretty.
One of the key issues with WP7's design comes out when using these lists. There just isn't very much room with those big fancy fonts. Band names, song names and albums frequently don't fit in the space provided.
To be fair, you probably know your own music collection, and we can't imagine there's many people who'd glance at 'Another One Bites The D…' and wonder if Freddy Mercury liked the taste of dog, but function definitely takes a back seat to form here.
Choosing an album brings up the artwork at the top of the screen, with the list of songs underneath. Again, the large font size means you will definitely have to scroll to get to the bottom, but it's no problem if you're starting from the first song.
Once you start playing, there's the main music player screen, which we think is just a beautiful bit of UI design. The names of the artist and album dominate, along with the album art. Below that is the name of the current song and, in truly inspired move, the names of the next three songs that will play.
This is somewhat unnecessary if you're just listening to an album in order, but to being able to see what's coming if you've just shuffled all of your songs is fantastic. You can even then tap those songs and see a full list of how the player's decided to shuffle your music and skip much further down the list if you want.
The play/pause, forward and back controls are at the bottom of the screen – though you can also skip between the next or previous songs by flicking the album left or right. This is something we always yearned to be able to do on the iPhone, and it looks fantastic when you're shuffling through songs from different albums.
Flush to the album art is the time counter for the song. Stupidly, you can't manually scrub through songs or videos, meaning that the only way to get to a certain part is to hold the forward or back arrows and go through the whole thing. It's something that might never bother you, but as soon as you try to use it and it doesn't work, you'll be spitting at the boneheadedness of its omission.
Background music is one the few multitasking capabilities of Windows Phone 7, so there's the matter of how you access the controls quickly without going through the Home screen.
Basically, tap either of the volume buttons when music is playing and it brings up a small overlay at the top of the screen. From here you have play/pause, forward and backwards options (along with volume control, of course).
One of the features HTC has added to Windows Phone 7 to make its handsets stand out is the Sound Enhancer app. On the Trophy, this enables you to add Dolby Mobile and SRS Enhancement to your music and movies (there's separate options for each), or to add equaliser settings.
SRS Enhancement was the real winner here. Without it, music was flat and boring. It wasn't bad, but it just didn't have much life to it (especially over the included headphones). Enabling SRS added a huge amount of depth and great three-dimensional quality to sound coming from even the most basic earphones.
Videos are arranged in a similar manner to music, though instead of album, artist and so on, you have All, Television, Music, Films and Personal. Each video has a thumbnail to represent it, and the date it was added.
Hit the video and it starts playing fullscreen. A tap brings up the play controls and the time counter. As we said before, you can't use this to skip to a certain point in the video.
Video quality in terms of the screen was great. Colours look completely natural, and there's plenty of detail on offer. The contrast ratio is nowhere near that offered by the AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy S, but it's still above most other phones.
However, there's one issue with video quality. As we'll mention later in the Connectivity section, the Windows Phone 7 connection software insists on transcoding every video you put onto your phone. In our other Windows Phone 7 device reviews we've mentioned how slow that makes it, but there's another issue.
Every time you encode a video, you inevitably reduce its quality. Even if you re-encode into the exact same format it was in before, just the process of conversion will cause more digital artefacts to creep in.
Let's say you rip a DVD to put on your Trophy. That video has been encoded once to MPEG-2 on the DVD. Then let's say you rip it into H.264/MPEG4. That's a second encode, with much more compression than the first. In theory, this format is just fine for WP7, but the Zune software insists on transcoding it anyway. That's a third compression.
We compared the video we ended up with on our device to the version it was supposed to be (on our PC). Sure enough, the phone's version had more artefacts in motion, less definition (note: not lack of detail from the phone's smaller screen, but rather objects bleeding into each other) and was just generally worse.
Playing Devil's Advocate, we should point out that we've seen phones before that claim to support certain video formats but they never work in practice. This system dodges that bullet completely, so there is some merit to it. But not much. Frankly, to any technophile it's going to be totally infuriating.
The radio function is as basic as they come, but was functional enough. It's simply a big number on a line representing the spectrum. Swipe the number slowing to manually find a frequency, or flick to have it search automatically for the next viable station.
When you find a station, you can tap the star symbol with the plus sign to add it to your favourites (tap it again to delete it). You can browse your saved stations by hitting the star symbol at the bottom-left corner. There's no way to rename the station, so you'll have to know them by number.
Audio quality is obviously dependent on the station, but it was pretty passable. We think Microsoft could have really gotten a jump on its rivals by including an internet radio by default (this goes double here in the UK, because the BBC uses Windows Media Audio for some of its streams, so they can be hit and miss on some apps).
Well, we didn't get that, but we do get a pause button, which is always handy. Small mercies, and all that.
Incidentally, radio stations are stored in the History page of the media hub, which is great for getting back to them quickly.
The Marketplace in the Music and Video hub is as slick as you like, although this makes the front pages a little hard to navigate. Flicking between the new releases is especially difficult without accidentally hitting one, which can then cause the preview to play and interrupt your music.
Things are a lot simpler if you've got something specific in mind. The easiest thing to do is just hit the Search key below the screen when anywhere in the Music and Video hub. This will take you straight to the Marketplace search screen.
Every artist gets their own special background once you start looking at their songs and albums, which gives the whole thing a very personal feel. If the iTunes Store is like going to Asda for your music, this feels like going to the little record shop up the road that not only has every album your favourite band ever made, but their posters up on the wall.
Sadly, tracks aren't cheap at 99p each (well, not cheap relatively), but you can listen to a 30-second preview if you want to try before you buy.