Windows Phone 7 and Mass Storage Support = FAIL
As has been long rumored, the story on Windows Phone 7′s mass storage support isn’t a good one, and it really doesn’t have a happy ending. Suffice to say that it is actually even a slight bit more user hostile than iOS at this point.
First, the SD cards included on some phones are not removable and are not accessible via MTP. WP7 uses a “unified” file system, which hides the complexity of the separate SD card storage and internal Flash storage. The SD card slot is not designed to be user-swappable. The way it works is this: When you buy a WP7 device that has a SD card slot (not all of them do), and turn it on for the first time ever, it initializes the SD card storage as part of the boot up process. It uses this storage in concert with the internal flash storage sort-of like a RAID system. When you are using the phone, all of the storage on the device appears as one monolithic “hunk” of storage (which is nice).
However, you cannot remove the SD card. Now, to be clear, none of the SD card slots on any of the released devices are easily user-accessible with a “slot” on the exterior of the device. Microsoft requires that the SD card slot be placed under the battery cover and not be externally accessible. Many of the phones actually have SD cards internally, but they aren’t even in the battery compartment. Instead they are located inside the shell of the phone itself, completely inaccessible other than if you crack open the case. On some devices they are instead quasi-user-accessible, but these are behind the battery cover and aren’t designed to be swapped. The support of SD cards is effectively a way for manufacturers to cheaply modify the amount of storage sold with their phones, without having to actually modify the design of the hardware itself. So, in six months if Samsung feels like they need to sell a “32 GB” phone for competitive reasons, they simply swap out the SD cards on the phones they’re selling for higher capacity ones. As Paul Thurrott explained here, it is possible for the end-user to replace the SD cards on their devices, but this is NOT supported and it will wipe the device back to “blank slate” status (brand new). You cannot swap media in and out on the SD cards, or use them “pre-filled” in any way. And, according to Myriam Joire (tnkgrl) on the recent Engadget Mobile Podcast, doing so will also void your warranty. From Paul’s article:
What you canâ€™t do is swap it out without hard resetting the device. Thatâ€™s because the storage on the card and the internal storage is comingled, and the system makes no differentiation. Thereâ€™s no way to know where something (an app, song, whatever) is stored, and if you do pop out the card, the phone will complain. And it wonâ€™t be readable on your PC, so you canâ€™t use it to transfer content in either direction.
So, that covers the SD card. Now, as far as MTP support for the device as a whole? Yeah, that’s a no-go as well. And as I said, it is even more user-hostile than iOS at this point. There is absolutely NO mass storage support on the device of any kind, even for photos. In iOS, while the device’s file system is generally locked down, you do get Mass Storage support when you connect the phone to your computer. This limited MTP support allows you to have easy access to the photos on the device, and you can use that storage space like a USB drive. You generally can’t access the files from within the phone (though some apps work around this limitation), but you can on other computers. Not so for Windows Phone 7. All file transfers to and from a Windows Phone 7 device must be done via the Zune Software. Period. Now, it does support the cool wireless syncing (though there appear to be a bunch of ifs and buts in that regard, but it still works well enough if you follow the “rules”).
This is the relevant section of the Engadget WP7 review:
A couple of other important aspects to note about Zune and Windows Phone 7 is that the desktop software and these devices are now extremely interconnected, and the Zune desktop software allows wireless sync. Not only do you use the Zune software to sync your music and videos, but you’ll be able to buy apps from the marketplace on your computer, you can sync photos in the Zune application, and your general account and device management is handled through the app now. It’s a pretty similar arrangement to that of the iPhone and iTunes, and we can’t really complain about Microsoft taking that page out of Apple’s playbook. Microsoft has always been good about syncing, but this makes the process slightly less obtuse than its ActiveSync options from the Windows Mobile heyday.
As far as Mac syncing goes, Microsoft has released a beta utility which does syncing of music, videos, and photos to the device (and at least photos back to your computer). It gets the job done for the most part, but it’s a little rough around the edges at this stage. Still, it’s great that Microsoft is being inclusive here, and the process was mostly without incident.
This was confirmed, again, in the most recent episode of the Engadget Mobile Podcast. Myriam explained that she was unable to upload all of her pictures in a batch from her test phone, and was unable to get to them via mass storage support. When you connect the phone, you get no “drive” of any kind in Windows or OSX.
You know, I have to say… Now that I’ve actually had some hands-on time with Windows Phone 7, it’s really quite nice. There are a few things that piss me off. Last night, those pictures that I took with the Mozart, I couldn’t upload them easily to our servers in a big batch because there was no mass storage support on the phone, to connect to my mac and upload to the livestream. So I ended up having to email them individually to one of the Engadget editors. I’m sure there’s a way to gather them all together and email them in one shot, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that really quickly.
One of the other contributors to the podcast then responded and explained that you need to use the Zune software to sync the photos down to your computer’s hard drive. They all then went on an extended rant about how “this is just wrong” and then described the SD card issues in more detail (worth a listen if you’re curious about this whole thing).
So, looks like my suspicions were completely right… To sum up:
Windows Phone 7 is completely locked to the Zune software. You cannot use MTP to put files onto the phone, and you cannot use it to get files off of the phone, even photos. The file system is completely inaccessible to the user, and if you pull that SD card out, not only will you lose all data on the phone, but you also won’t be able to actually read anything on the SD card itself in Windows, and you probably voided your warranty.
Why, Microsoft? Why?