Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard & Professional

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INTRODUCTION

    The latest Windows
Mobile upgrade brings minor, but very welcome additions to the platform. In this article, we’ll cover both the Standard (non-touchscreen) and
Professional (touchscreen) editions and show you
what’s to love about the Windows Mobile 6.1 update. Now,
you’ll notice this is not a full version upgrade,
but just a ".1" upgrade so you know you can’t expect
a full overhaul. It really feels like just a
quick update intended to fill in a couple of gaps
between the Windows Mobile and Apple iPhone
functionality. You'll notice some similarities
between the Standard and Professional operating
systems (such as the Internet Explorer and Text
Messaging updates), but you'll also notice some odd
differences. Read on for our thorough rundown of the next version of Windows Mobile to hit your phone!

WINDOWS
MOBILE 6.1 STANDARD

    Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition has
certainly gotten much more attention by the
development team this time around. You'll notice a
new font is used through-out. I'm not sure how I
feel about this since it causes some 3rd party
applications to render text incorrectly (since the
new font takes up more pixel space.)

The new "Sliding Panel" home screen is very nice.


     It’s a huge improvement
over the "Neo" Home screen design introduced with
the T-Mobile Shadow and I’ll tell you why.  The
"Neo" Home screen layout only showed one type of
information at a time. You could not see your
appointments, number of unread emails, or profile
status at the same time. You had to specifically
navigate to those sections to find that information. 
This made it much more difficult to find those
details despite the "Neo" design being marketed as
"easy to use".  Microsoft's "Sliding Panel"
Home screen design seems to be a direct answer to my
criticisms of the "Neo" interface.

 


    The old Windows Mobile
6.0 style Home Screen is still available. Notice the
unlabeled "Recent Programs" icons at the top. These
are very difficult for new users to understand. 
Also notice that in this home screen layout, most of
the data is accessible with vertical scrolling which
means it’s easier to use with a scrolling thumb
wheel since you don’t also have to navigate
horizontally.

In the Sliding Panel
screen layout, notice in the second row of icons how
the one with a greater-than-zero number next to it
becomes more prominent. This is indicating that you
have a notification for that item.

    If you have one unread item in the notifications
panel, once you scroll down to it, it will jump
directly to that item.  If it's an email or
text message, it will show the contact's photo along
with a preview of the message. Pressing the action
button will open the full message.

    If there is more than one new message, selecting the
notification area will show the number of unread
messages for the account. Pressing the action button
will bring you directly to that account's folder. 
Also notice the right softkey at the bottom has
changed to the "Compose" command when the messaging
account is selected in the Home screen.  This
makes it much easier to create new messages since
the "New" command has been buried in the messaging
program of Windows Mobile 6.

    In the Notifications panel, pressing the directional
pad left or right also shows the number of
voicemails and missed calls in addition to the text
messages, MMS messages, and email accounts. Notice
that when the Voicemail panel is selected, the lower
right softkey changes to the "Voicemail" command
which will let you easily access your voicemail.

    The Calendar panel shows the earliest upcoming
appointment and you can slide left and right to show
other upcoming appointments or create a new one. 
Notice the bottom right softkey is assigned to the
"Today" command which will launch the Calendar
application and open it to today's date.

    The "Getting Started" panel lists and links to a few
instructional pages intended to help new users with
some of the more complicated things such as setting
up email, connecting a Bluetooth headset, and
syncing music with the desktop.  Selecting a
topic links you directly to that topic in the
"Getting Started" application.  The "View All"
right softkey brings you to the "Getting Started"
application and its full listing of topics. If you
don't want to see this panel on the Home screen, you
can easily remove it within the "Getting Started"
application.

The Music panel works in much the same way as the
T-Mobile Shadow's "Neo" interface and links up with
Windows Media Player. It will show album art and you
can browse through and select other tracks to play
all from here. 

    The photos panel lets you browse photos on your
device in the My Documents/My Pictures folder.
Unfortunately, it does not show photos in the
/Storage Card/My Documents/My Pictures folder.
That's a big disappointment since generally you
wouldn't want to keep many pictures in the phone's
memory.

    The "Settings" panel lets you change the Profile,
access the Wireless Manager, change Ringtones,
change background images, and open the Task Manager.
Also note, the bottom right softkey command shows
"All Settings" which will bring you to the Settings
control panel.

    The text messaging section has gotten a nice update.
Notice how the icons have multiple letters on top of
each other?  That means it's a conversation.
Conversations are only viewable within the text
messaging Inbox folder.  The "Sent Items"
folder still shows messages chronologically, but as
you can see below, the sent messages also show up in
the text message conversation windows.

When you’re typing a
message, the number of characters now appears in the
upper left part of the title bar.

Messages you send
appear in line with the messages you receive. This
makes it easier to follow the conversation, but more
difficult to manage text messages in a received-time
order. That's probably a fair trade off.

Unfortunately, you
can’t mark text messages as Unread anymore.

You CAN select
multiple messages in the Messaging program now. 

The "Several" option
lets you use the up/down arrows to select multiple
consecutive emails.

There is now a default
email signature included that says "Sent from my
Windows Mobile phone."

 

    When you press the
"Start" button on the Home screen, you are now
presented with a "Recent Programs" listing. 
This is much easier to read and use than the recent
programs listing that was at the top of the default
Windows Mobile 6 today screen (which did not have
any labels.)  The disadvantage is that there is
one more step to access the Recent Programs. 

    In the Home Screen
settings, you can turn off the "Show Recent
Programs" option, which will let the Start button
send you directly to the All Programs folder. 
You’ll also see a "Sliding Panel Media" and "Sliding
Panel" Home screen layout options. The "Media"
version adds the photos and media player options to
the sliding panels.

   

Pocket Internet Explorer
has a new Zoom feature. You'll notice the "Zoom
Out" command is in a different place than the
equivalent on Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 on the second page.

    Another great new
feature for Windows Mobile Standard is the
Copy/Pasting capabilities. It's not as easy as
Windows Mobile Pro where you can just select
anything by tapping and dragging your stylus and
then tap-n-hold to bring up the menu (or tap Ctrl +
C on the SIP keyboard).  Instead you have to
turn on the selection mode in the menu, move your
insertion point to the beginning of what you want to
select, then turn on selection, move your cursor to
the end of what you want to select and then press
the Copy command.

    Then you can paste the
content elsewhere. Unfortunately, the copy/paste
capabilities are only available in Internet
Explorer, Messaging, and Office. This is a pretty
unfortunate, since I copy/paste information in
Contacts, Calendar items, and tasks on Windows
Mobile Pro all the time. 

There is now a "Clock
& Alarm" icon in the All Programs menu.

It really only gives
you easier access to setting daily alarms or
changing the time.

    The "Managed Programs"
item in the Settings are lists applications that have been
installed remotely by your system administrator via Mobile Device Manager 2008. This will be a great
feature for large enterprise businesses with many
mobile devices to manage.

    A "Setup E-mail"
option is now available in the Settings area. It
just links to the new email account wizard in the
Messaging application. It's good to have the
redundant link here because I'm sure many people
will look for it in the Settings area.

    Both Windows Mobile
6.1 Pro and Standard include a "Getting Started"
item on the home/today screen and in the programs
folder. This is a basic HTML based help file
designed to give you tips on learning how to do some
of the more complicated things like setting up a
Bluetooth headset, setting up email, or
synchronizing with Windows Media Player for music
from the Desktop. There's also a link that lets you
easily remove this item from the Home/Today screen.



    The
video above will show you some of the new features
in Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard including: the
Sliding Panel home screen layout, the new task
manager, threaded text messaging, multiple email
selections, recent programs listing, Internet
Explorer zooming, and copy/pasting.

Click below to see what's new in Windows Mobile
6.1 Professional

WINDOWS
MOBILE PRO

    The Professional version
of Windows Mobile Pro 6.1 didn’t get as much of a
make over as the Standard version, however it does
benefit from some nice new features.

    The big thing in Internet Explorer is the "Zoom Out"
command. It's located at the top of the menu in the
right soft key so you only have two button presses
to activate it (Right soft key, action).  This
new feature is very comparable to the mini-map view
in the Nokia Browser (as seen in my N95 review). While Nokia's browser only shows
the mini-map if you hold down a directional button
for a long time during scrolling, Internet
Explorer's zoomed out mini-map can be activated at
any time through the menu commands. I much prefer
this interface since it feels like I have more
control over what I want it to do.  Internet
Explorer's interface for zooming is also superior to
the iPhone's Safari browser in that its zooming
capabilities are instantly user-discoverable just by
reading the text-labeled buttons.  If you
disagree with this statement, please respond in the
discussion with a screenshot of the Safari browser
showing a "Zoom In" or "Zoom Out" button that is
readable in English. 

    Another great thing about
Internet Explorer's zooming interface is that it's
easily hardware-key accessible.  Compare this
to Opera 9.5 Beta and SkyFire, which require the inefficient use of a
touch screen and ignore the 2nd golden rule of human computer interaction design
Double tapping on the browser screen does not
activate the zoom in command, by the way. This is
probably because tapping on the browser screen is
supposed to activate hyperlinks and Microsoft
rightly did not want to interfere with that standard
user interface convention.


    The "Zoom Out" command
isn't available until the page finishes loading and
that could be a while since Internet Explorer's
rendering engine has not been updated. If some one
could put the Opera rendering engine inside this
Internet Explorer interface, you would have the
perfect mobile browser.

    With "Fit to Screen"
turned on, you can see how Internet Explorer
reformats pages when zoomed out.  Also not in
the Zoomed out mode, the left soft key is now
assigned to Zoom In, and the right is assigned to
Cancel.  You also see a rectangular box in the
window that you can move around with the directional
buttons.  Alternatively you can tap anywhere in
the web page to zoom in.

    In the "Desktop" view
mode, Internet Explorer does a pretty good job of
rendering the page as intended. You can see this
better when zoomed out. However, it’s not very
useful like this since the text is impossible to
read while zoomed out and you’ll have lots of
side-scrolling to do while zoomed in.

Switching to the "One
Column" view and zooming out is actually usable. You
can read most of the content this way.

The "Text Size" menu
has been replaced with a "Zoom Level" menu. This
will resize both pictures and text now.

    There is now a native
"Task Manager" application and it works quite well.
Notice how "End Task" is assigned to the left
softkey. This makes it very easy to close
applications using hardware buttons (which was not
so easy at all in Windows Mobile 6.0). The Task
Manager can also be assigned to a hardware key so
that you can easily bring it up whenever you need
it.

You can also view all
of the processes running on the device.

There’s a new Domain
Enrollment icon in the Settings>Connections tab.
I wasn’t able to get this to work on Windows Server
2003 R2.

Just as in Windows
Mobile 6.1 Standard, the "Managed Programs"
control panel lists applications that have been
installed remotely by your system administrator via Mobile Device Manager 2008

    The Calendar still has
the useless greyed-out "Reply" command in BOTH of
the most prominent user interface locations. 
The left soft key is where the "Edit" command used
to be, which made editing appointments quite easy. 
The second easiest to access menu location is the
default selected command under the "Menu" softkey. This
happens to also be the predominantly useless "Reply" command. 
If we
can’t get the "Edit" command back where it should
be, at least put it at the top of the Menu where it
would be easier to access; 2 steps (Menu + Action)
instead of 4 steps (Menu + Down + Down + Action.)

    Instead of just a
blank screen, when you go to an empty messaging
account, you see a message saying, "To create a new
message, tap Menu, then tap New."  This is to
help people find the "New" command which has been
buried since it was replaced by the "Delete" command
in the left soft key.

    SMS text messages now
show up as conversations.  I think it’s kind of
weird that it shows messages from Me in the "Inbox". 
While you can't mark messages as unread anymore, you
can use Jeyo Mobile Companion 2.0 to mark them as unread
via the desktop.  You can also use this program
to backup and restore text messages to another
device. So say I switch phones on the weekends, I
can transfer the text messages from one Windows
Mobile phone to the other and the conversations will
remain seamlessly intact.  By the way, the left
softkey's "Delete" command will now delete entire
conversations.

Text message
notifications still pop up like normal when you're
not in the Messaging application. If you're viewing
a conversation, they just show up in the thread like
an instant message.

    But replying to text
messages brings up a new screen that shows the
conversation in an instant-message like window.
The "Me" text shows up in a very bright blue color
while the other person’s name shows up in bright
green. These colors are not used anywhere else
within the operating system and they really don’t
belong here. If anything, they should have used the
same colors used in Windows Live Messenger (I.E. Not
these). Unfortunately, you do not have the option to easily
go back to the way it was before, however, threaded SMS can be
disabled with a hack.

When you type a
message, the character count appears in the title
bar next to the Start menu. I’m disappointed that
contact photos do not show up anymore and the time
only shows up if the message was received today.

You can still copy
incoming SMS messages to the SIM card, but not sent
messages.



This video takes you through some of the new
features in Windows Mobile Pro 6.1, such as Internet
Explorer zooming, the Task Manager, and threaded
text messaging.


BUGS AND WISHES

    Every
time I connect to ActiveSync with Windows Mobile 6.1
Pro or Standard, the above error appears. This is
because I am syncing my Calendar with both an
Exchange Server (at work) and my personal Microsoft
Outlook (not connect to Exchange). This set up has
worked flawlessly in previous versions. Maybe
Microsoft will release an ActiveSync update to fix
this. Hopefully they won't "pull a WiFi ActiveSync"
and remove the capability to sync multiple calendars
all together.  In the meantime, the work around
is to go to the ActiveSync options, uncheck the
desktop Outlook calendar for syncing, let it sync
up, then re-enable the second calendar in the
ActiveSync>Tools>Options dialog. This will make it
work until you do another remote synchronization
with the Exchange server via direct push. 

The new font in Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard causes
the text in some 3rd party applications to display
incorrectly.

In
terms of wishes:

  • I wish editing
    Calendar items was easier
    in both Operating Systems
  • I wish
    the Copy/Paste function was easier to use in the
    Standard Edition
  • I wish the Copy/Paste function worked in more
    programs in the Standard Edition
  • I wish the threaded text messaging view also showed
    contact photo thumbnails
  • I wish Internet Explorer used a much faster
    rendering engine
  • I wish I could mark text messages as unread

PURCHASING

    Windows Mobile 6.1 is not available for
purchase as an upgrade for existing devices yet. It
is currently unknown as to which devices will
receive upgrades, but most likely they will be free
downloads.

PROS


  • Very nice
    zooming enhancement to Internet Explorer


  • "Sliding Panels" Home screen
    on Standard Edition


  • Copy/Paste finally
    available on Standard Edition


  • Threaded
    text messaging, finally!


  • Instantly
    download the rest of messages in POP3/IMAP email
    accounts without doing a send/receive

CONS


  • Internet Explorer's page rendering is still slow


  • "Reply" button is still in
    the calendar


  • Copy/Paste on Standard only
    works in certain programs


  • Can't
    easily change text messaging back to original view


  • New font
    in Standard edition can make some 3rd part programs
    unusable


  • Very
    difficult to Copy/Paste URLs on Standard Edition


  • Not many
    enhancements for Professional Edition


  • Internet
    Explorer can still only open one URL at a time

Overall


OVERALL IMPRESSION

    Windows Mobile 6.1 is certainly an
incremental upgrade meant to stave off defection
until Microsoft can release a completely overhauled
Windows Mobile 7.  In terms of feature
functionality, the only real advantages the Apple
iPhone had over Windows Mobile Professional were the
zooming web browser and threaded text messaging.
Both of those holes have been (mostly) filled by the
6.1 upgrade.  Windows Mobile still needs a much
faster web browser rendering engine, but at least
they got the interface right. 

    
The Standard Edition
of Windows Mobile 6.1 is a much bigger upgrade. The
new "Sliding Panels" home screen layout is very well
designed, and is sure to sell many new phones in the
future. Most of the confusing parts of Windows
Mobile have also been fixed. 

    
Overall, unless you're
dying for a zoom-able browser and threaded text
messaging (both of which are also available from 3rd
party developers in potentially lesser forms of
usability), the Windows Mobile 6.1 upgrade is not a
very compelling upgrade for existing users. 
For new users on the other hand, there are
definitely some major improvements (especially in
Standard Edition) that we can look forward to.


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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!