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Probably it is necessary to have an actual device. But I'd rather not have to buy a phone with a contract. Is that possible?

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You can buy a phone without signing a contract, but you'll have to pay full price for the device (a few hundred dollars, depending on the phone). – Adam Lear Feb 12 '11 at 22:35
The cheapest way would be to wait two years, and then buy all the remains of Nokia. - On a more serious note, you might want to checkout - though WP7 will take some time to show up there for underpriced products. (Watch out for dual Android+WP7 phones if) – mario Feb 12 '11 at 22:37
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The WP7 "emulator" in VS 2010 is not just an Emulator, it's a virtual OS identical (MS words, not mine) to the one on the phone. In theory when you develop in VS 2010 is should be no different than a physical device (GPS and such are handled a little differently of course). All the other phone development environments (to my knowledge) use a traditional emulator and not a virtual OS.

In my mind the only reason for a physical device is to test performance and UI responsiveness.

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All you need is a suitable Windows PC - the dev kit including Visual Studio Express, a phone specific version of Expression Blend and and the phone emulator (which runs as a virtual machine) can be downloaded for free.

Once you have an application and want to test on real hardware you'll need to sign up to get access to the app store - $99/year if memory serves - and this in turn will allow you to unlock a number of phones (I believe 5).

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I've heard of people who do Android development and just buy a bunch of Android phones to use as test and I would assume no contract there. There is an emulator that comes with the SDK, but that doesn't help when you use features such as Geo-location. The problem is that it may be hard to pick up a used WP7 phone since they have been on the market for only 4 months so far.

If you can stay away from geo-loc and other hardware specific features then you should be ok to use just the emulator.

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You don't need to stay away from geo-location:… – Murph Feb 12 '11 at 22:10
I knew there were tools that could help test/debug geo-location related features but I wasn't sure how reliable they were. Thanks for the link! – Jetti Feb 12 '11 at 23:01

Visual Studio 2010 for mobile development comes with an emulator, I'm sure.

But to fully test out the user experience of anything you do, you'd ideally run it on the real thing.

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As of earlier today they announced that they will be selling phones without contracts for devs!

They are currently still priced at $500 and up however.

WP7 Dev Phones link -UPDATE: Link is no longer valid/was originally mis-typed. I will see if I can correct this later.

You should set up a WP7 App Hub account so that you can get future updates like this, since that was how I was alerted to this.

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Are you sure you've got the right link? That link just seems to be a login page for some website. – D.W. Jan 18 '12 at 21:14
@D.W. ... That is odd. I had a working link back in Feb. 2011 I thought... I will take it down for now, and can hopefully find a correct one later and update. Thanks for the catch. – Panky Jan 20 '12 at 22:41

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