History And Home Screen
The home screen isn't immediately visible when you turn on a WP7-based smartphone. Like iOS, there's a lock that functions as a privacy shield, displaying only the date and time, Wi-Fi signal strength, and battery level. You reach the home screen by sliding up the image.
Microsoft's overall aesthetic is minimalistic, with large fonts set against a solid background. Although the inspiration behind the Windows Phone Design System isn't specifically called out in the company's documentation, slides of public transportation signs reveal a proclivity for clean, clear, and modern typography. As we discussed in Windows 8 In Videos: An Operating System Reimagined?, Microsoft is using Metro design principles to unify the look of its products.
Back to our phone. Its home screen follows the same basic tents of Microsoft's desktop and Start menu formula. You see a number of shortcuts, similar to what you might find on a Windows desktop. However, swiping to the left reveals the full list of installed applications, similar to what you'd see in the Start menu.
Each of the squares on the home screen, which Microsoft calls tiles, are analogous to app icons in Android and iOS. There doesn't seem to be a hard limit on the number of tiles you can have, and you're able to rearrange and pin them in much the same way you would on a desktop PC. Interestingly, up to 15 of the tiles can be live at any given time, meaning their appearance constantly changes. For example, the "People" tile continuously rotates images of your contacts and the "Picture" tile constantly cycles through pictures you've taken with your camera. The downside is that some live tiles have a background agent responsible for downloading updates when the phone is on, which drains battery life and your data plan.
But because WP7 is designed to be power-conscious, whenever the screen is locked, all Wi-Fi connections are turned off unless the phone is streaming multimedia or downloading something. It'd be nice to have the option to disable live tiles manually. However, that's only possible if you pay $99 bucks to get developer access and unlock the phone.
The only major complaint we have about the home screen is that it makes ascertaining the battery's life difficult. As you get down into the 10 to 30% range, it's not immediately clear how close you are to running out of talk or standby time, given the small icon. You have to browse into the phone's Settings panel for a more in-depth read-out.
As far as customization is concerned, you're really only able to change the home screen's color palette.