Windows Phone 7.5 Review

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The Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update is finally here! If you’ve already read our “Ultimate Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Preview” from June, you’ve got a good idea of the huge amount of features that come with this update. This review will recycle some of that content in case you haven’t seen it before, but we’ll also bring you up to speed on the latest final changes that have arrived to Microsoft’s latest mobile phone platform.

First, let’s talk a little bit about where Microsoft see’s Windows Phone fitting in as the 3rd mobile ecosystem along side Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has gone in a completely different direction from what they had been doing with Windows Mobile since the turn of the century. They now intend to really take responsibility for the platform. Android has taken over the exact same model that the failed Windows Mobile originally excelled at and there are plenty of signs of the same problems. Apple went to the other extreme and manages absolutely every little thing about their iPhone. Microsoft is trying to take all of the good things about both the wild-forest anything-goes philosophy and the walled-garden my-way-or-the-highway philosophy in order to make a more middle-of-the-road type of ecosystem that will be pleasant for users, developers, carriers, and manufacturers all the same.

RTM ADDITIONS

First off, we’ll start with some of the last minute things that have been added. “Internet Sharing” is a big one, but there’s a few caveats about it. The capability to allow internet sharing over WiFi on Windows Phone 7.5 is in the operating system, but it requires certain hardware support, the OEM of the phone has to enable it, and it requires carrier support. So that means not every phone on every carrier is going to support internet sharing. Carriers really don’t like phones that can enable internet sharing without their permission, so that’s probably one of the big reasons as to why Microsoft implemented the feature the way they did.

The other big change to Windows Phone 7.5 is the addition of a “Help + How-to” app in the app listing. This is naturally just a little something that helps you learn how to use the phone if you are completely clueless. It is not pinned to the start menu by default, so you’ll still have to figure things out enough to find the app.

There’s also a lot of other things that you won’t see on older phones since their hardware may not support it. Front-facing cameras is an obvious change. Unfortunately, Windows Phone’s only included support for front facing cameras comes in the forms of API’s designed for developers to take advantage of the second camera, and a camera-switching button in the camera software. There is no native video messaging support integrated with Windows Live Messenger or the native Facebook chat. You’ll have to rely on 3rd party applications like Skype and Tango for video calling needs.

The RTM build 7720 still seems to have a couple left-over bugs. The “Local Scout” is pinned to the start menu by default, but if you tap that right away (after a reboot for example) it seems to have difficulty finding your location and will return an error saying “No location information”. If you access Local Scout from Bing search or Bing Maps instead or even just try it again, you’ll notice that it works much better. On a more positive note, the bug in 7712 where if you were replying to an instant message using the Speech interface, tapped the “Edit” button in order to manually edit the message, and it wouldn’t do anything now does go to the messaging thread for that conversation and lets you edit what it had recognized your voice as saying.

BUILD 7712

This build was the second and last developer preview version released between the original preview in June and the final release build 7720. Not so much had changed in terms of features, but the 2nd developer preview was certainly far more refined and ready for production.





Here’s our original comparison between the two preview versions. It’s important to note that upgrading a device using build 7661 to build 7712 introduced some problems with getting Twitter contacts to sync properly. A hard-reset solved the problem.

Build 7712 brought a lot of welcome fixes and a few new features. For example, the Twitter integration in the People hub arrived in this build along with the LinkedIn integration. You’ll also see a few small icon design changes, some subtle animation changes, and over all it feels a bit faster. “Find on Page” and “Forward” are still gone from IE9, you still have to tap the screen in Maps in order to hear directions, and Office 2010 can’t edit Office 97-2003 documents anymore. On the plus side, the ability to play music off of cloud-based sources like SharePoint and SkyDrive now has the streaming capability. Build 7661 couldn’t play music from the cloud at all, and original Windows Phone 7 could only do it from SharePoint (after downloading the whole song). Videos that you upload to SkyDrive from Windows Live Messenger, Live Movie Maker, or Windows Phone will now stream and play beautifully from the Pictures hub as well. That’s quite a nice feature.



Visual voicemail is now working in 7712, but it only shows up if you are using a SIM card from a carrier that supports it. In the U.S., we’ve noticed that T-Mobile’s visual voicemail support for Windows Phone 7 is great, however AT&T still hasn’t seemed to have enabled it yet.

BUILD 7661

Windows Phone 7 launched last year with a lot of hype and some great reviews. This year there’s going to be a significant update to the new mobile operating system which is said to bring 500 new features. Really, in Microsoft’s database, there are around 1000 new features, but some of them are kind of minor. I have no intention of actually counting them, but if you look at that scrollbar on this page, we have found a pretty significant number of new features to talk about. Today we’ve got a preview of the new Windows Phone “Mango” update and it continues Windows Phone 7’s concept of making your personal content shine. This is only a preview, so there may be some bugs or features that aren’t quite there yet and it’s certainly not the final version, but it’s a pretty good look at how things are coming along. Read on for our extensive preview and watch carefully cause this Mango is going to make your jaw drop.

START SCREEN, PROGRAMS, TASK SWITCHING AND SETTINGS



At first glance, you might not notice anything new on the Start screen. It’s got most of the same live tiles and the interface for arranging them hasn’t changed. When you swipe into the programs listing, however, that’s when you’ll see some improvements. First off, a search button fades into view just below the little arrow button. Pressing that will let you search through your applications listing. You can also use it to search for apps in the marketplace. You’re probably thinking, why doesn’t the hardware search button do that? It was supposed to be context sensitive in Windows Phone 7, right? Well, that’s changed. In Windows Phone 7.5, the hardware search button only ever goes to Bing search. Applications with search functions now have their own little search buttons.



We’ve also got alphabetical letters in the programs listing just like in other list types, and tapping one of the letters will let you jump to any other letter in the list. The letters don’t actually appear until you’ve got a really long list of programs. That way, if you don’t really have a lot of apps there’s no extra clutter in your short programs listing. That’s a very smart feature.



To get to the fast task switching interface, just hold the back button down for a couple seconds. The current window will zoom out, and you’ll see a number of other screens from previous applications you’ve accessed recently. This device usually only shows about 4 or 5 screens and there’s no Palm Web OS easy way to get rid of certain ones. You have to navigate to the one you want to remove and then press the back button after it resumes. Essentially every time you press the start key, that will take an image of where you’ve been and save it in the task switcher. Now it’s important to note that the older 3rd party apps won’t resume right away. All of your apps will have to be updated in order to support the fast-resume feature when multi-tasking. Current 3rd party apps will basically restart themselves when switched to using this interface just as they currently do when using the back button in Windows Phone 7.

Settings are accessed from the same “Settings” icon, which you can pin to your start menu if you want. There’s a lot of new stuff here. First off, I’m sure you want to know the build number of what we’ve got. In the About section we’ve got OS version 7661.WP7_5_Trial and it clearly says “Windows Phone 7.5” for the software version so that’s what we’ll call it for now. It’s also now possible for original equipment manufactures to create their own custom settings panels that show up in the same place as all other settings. You’ll notice HTC’s new phones will have their cool “Attentive Phone” setting options in the normal Windows Phone settings section in the future.

What’s new with Ringtones + Sounds? There’s still no option in the settings to select a custom ringtone, but they are now organized by provider. We expect to see 3rd party apps that will install collections of ringtones here, but if you want to make your own anyway, here’s how to do it using Zune. There’s now an option to play a sound for the Camera shutter. It’s great to be able to turn that off!

In the theme settings there’s nothing new except the Orange color has been renamed to “Mango”.

The WiFi settings now have an “Advanced” button that will show you known networks that you’ve connected to. You can delete them there by turning on the selection mode and pressing the delete button. Oddly, tapping each one in the list BEHAVES like a button (it gets pressed), but then doesn’t do anything.

Bluetooth settings are pretty much the same and there’s no way to specify which profiles you want certain devices to connect to.

The email + accounts settings is mostly the same except now you’ll see LinkedIn and Twitter listed there. Unfortunately adding a Twitter account currently just says “Coming soon!”

The lock + wallpaper settings have one very cool new option. You can set it to show artist artwork as wallpaper while playing music. We’ll show you this in one of the videos below, and it really looks great. The “Change Wallpaper” button now allows you to choose from images on SkyDrive and your Facebook account, where as previously you could only use pictures that were in your phone’s memory.

There’s nothing new in the Location and Cellular settings areas, but now we have a “Battery Saver” setting! This great addition gives you the option to automatically stop background applications and stop downloading emails when your battery is getting low. You can also manually turn on the battery saver until your next charge. That sounds like an excellent feature for if you’re trying to get through an extended period of time without access to a charger. Plus, you don’t have to remember to shut off battery saver mode because everything will just come back on when you plug in to recharge. Very smart! All the way at the bottom you can also see how many hours you’ve been on battery and an estimate as to how many hours you’ve got left.

The Date + Time, and Brightness options haven’t changed either, but the Keyboard settings certainly have. Many of the options in Windows Phone 7 are gone now. You used to be able to shut off auto-correction, insert space after double tapping spacebar, insert space after selecting a suggestion, and auto-capitalize the first word of a sentence.



However, there are now a lot of new language options and a great multi-lingual keyboard interface.

In the “Ease of Access” settings there’s now an option to turn on speech for accessibility. The Speech settings have been improved too. Now there are options for reading aloud incoming text messages. You can choose between off, always on, Bluetooth & headsets, Bluetooth only, or wired headset only. Unfortunately, it doesn’t read aloud any other kind of notifications such as calendar appointments like the old Windows Mobile 2003 was capable of.

The “Find My Phone” settings have been renamed to “windowsphone.com” in the settings listing, but tapping that name still shows “Find My Phone” at the top.

Now in the Applications section there’s a new “Background tasks” setting. I assume that when developers release applications that support background processing, they will appear here with an on/off switch so that you’ll be able to decide whether or not each one should be allowed to run in the background.

In the Games settings you now have options for syncing game requests and showing game alerts in addition to connecting with Xbox Live.

Internet Explorer’s settings now include a location awareness switch as well as an option for disallowing a browser history collection. So if you don’t want anyone to ever know what sites you visited, that’s a little checkbox here. You can also now set whether links from other apps open in a new tab or the current tab.

Maps settings dialog has some new options too. There’s a setting to “read directions aloud when tapping”. This is how you get the voice prompts while driving, and we’ll go over exactly how that works later on. You’ve also got the option to rotate the map orientation with your current direction as a new setting.

In the Messaging settings we now have an on/off switch for Facebook chat as well as Group text using MMS. The option for SMS delivery confirmation has been removed in AT&T devices.

For Music + Videos settings you can still turn on/off the Zune connection, but now also have options to “include music from Marketplace in Smart DJ mixes” and “Only download new podcast episodes over Wi-Fi”. Both are great options to have if you’ve got a limited data plan.

Office settings have been very simplified. There’s only a spot to enter your user name (which will show up along side comments), a checkbox for UAG server settings, and a reset Office button. There’s no longer any way to see how much space your Office/SharePoint files are taking up on the device. There are no more conflict resolution or OneNote autosyncing options either, but maybe that’s a good thing.

There is an excellent new feature in the People settings for the People hub. There’s now a button called “Filter my contact list”. This will let you hide or show contact lists from any of your accounts. So, say you only care about your Exchange contacts, you can uncheck the LinkedIn, Facebook, Windows Live, Gmail, etc. accounts. There’s also an option to only show “What’s New” posts from people visible in your contact list. So if you did that contact filter thing and unchecked Facebook, it won’t show Facebook posts from all of your Facebook friends… only the ones that match up with other visible contacts (in your Exchange or Windows Live or Gmail accounts… whatever you have visible.) There’s also an option in the People settings for using your location when checking into locations. Unfortunately I do not see any way to add a Foursquare account for Foursquare checkins, and Windows Phone still doesn’t support multiple contact folders in Exchange (while iPhone does). However Foursquare’s new app actually integrates very nicely with Bing Maps, thus making it pretty easy to check-in from there too.

There are a couple new settings in the Pictures + Camera settings panel. You still have all the other options included the switch for not including location info on uploaded photos. That’s a good one if you want to avoid stalkers. There’s also a switch for preventing accidental camera launch when the phone was locked. Windows Phone 7 had that enabled all the time and what it did was when the phone is in your pocket and the proximity sensor is covered, the feature for holding down the camera button to launch the camera didn’t work. Unfortunately sometimes people held their phones in a manner that also covered the proximity sensor and that mean the camera wouldn’t turn on from the lock screen and they didn’t know why. Another new feature is the “tap screen to take pictures” option. It’s kind of a progression of the tap-to-focus feature on some other phones, except it still only focuses in the center, and in addition to focusing will also take a picture since that’s probably what you wanted to do after focusing on what you were pointing at anyway.

In the Search settings there isn’t much new, except a few more privacy related checkboxes. Now you can send location info for Microsoft Tags, Allow search button from lock screen, and allow Microsoft to store and use images from vision searches in order to improve search results.

MUSIC+ VIDEOS



The Music + Videos hub has seen some pretty significant changes. The hub design has been slightly altered and now there’s a little “…” menu at the bottom like most other applications. The “play all” button has also been moved to the bottom. The History section is now a vertical scrolling list of square tiles rather than a horizontal panning list. The same is true with the “New” listing, and the “Marquee” of music/video apps that integrate with the Music + Videos hub is now called “Apps”.

You can tap and hold anything in the New or History section of the top-level hub in order to pin them to the start menu or (if supported) play a smart DJ mix. Unfortunately there are no “Add to Now Playing” menu commands here. It would be great if I could quickly make a playlist of the new music in my music hub, but instead you still have to navigate to the artist/album/song deep within the music library before you’ll find that “Add to Now Playing” command in a tap & hold menu.



The music, videos, and podcasts libraries are mostly the same as Windows Phone 7, however you’ll notice a couple new additions when you find an artist page. First of all the “Smart DJ” button is there at the top, and if you have a Zune pass that will create a mix of music that includes the artist you’re looking at along with streaming cloud music that really nicely goes along with that artist. You’ll also notice a new pivot tab for “Related” artists. This is another excellent feature that was imported from the Zune HD. The related tab will show nice artist tiles from musicians that you might also like if you like the one you’re looking at. This is a great way to discover new music.



Once you start playing some music, you’ll see the player has gone through some significant changes. It’s slightly more cluttered since the favorite, shuffle, and repeat buttons are now always visible next to the album art. The play, next, and previous buttons have been enlarged and moved to the top so that they line up with the same buttons that show up on the lock screen or when you press a volume button while playing music. While having them at the bottom was easier to reach, having them in the same place in all instances is a bigger advantage for building motor memory. The music player also now has a menu at the bottom. From the menu, you can play a smart DJ mix, share, save as playlist, or search for more about the current artist in the marketplace. The “Share” command is a welcome addition to the music player since previously it was only available in the Marketplace. It will send a link to the music on Zune.net so that your friends can hear what you’re listening to and you can tell them what you like about it or whatever. Unfortunately it only lets you share the music you’re listening to via Messaging or Email accounts. There are no “Social accounts” options for sharing these Zune.net links. Yes, the old Zune HD was able to share music links to Facebook and Twitter, but Windows Phone 7 Mango does not (at least in this preview build).

There are still a lot of great Zune HD features missing from the Music + Videos hub. The artist sections still don’t load a list of artist photos that you can flip through, and another big one that’s still missing is the “picks” listing. On the Zune HD, you’ve got a list of recommendations based on the music you already listen to. It’s kind of like a “related artists” listing tailored specifically to your taste in music. The Zune Social and the ability to browse your friends’ tastes in music is also still missing.



One last new feature in Mango, which I love, is the option to display artist artwork on your lock screen while you’re listening to music. This is pretty awesome especially if you’ve got a playlist or smart DJ mix going that combines different songs from different artists. As you go to the next song, the lock screen image will fade through a Zune rainbow gradient to the next artist image. It’s not as cool as the Zune HD’s screensaver animations, but it’s still very cool and looks great.

PICTURES AND CAMERA

The first thing that I love about the new Pictures hub is its live tile. It’s still a full two column rectangular tile (which I like), but it’s no longer a static image of whatever background you’ve got in your hub panorama. Now it does an awesome Ken Burns effect as it scrolls through different images. It seems to display mostly photos that have been marked as Favorites, and the slow movement means you don’t have a weird cropping stuck there. It’s really a fantastic little live tile now.



In the Pictures hub panorama, there’s now a little menu at the bottom so that you don’t have to know the secret for changing the background image anymore. It’s right there in that menu. Also, the hub panorama no longer just shows a random grid of photo thumbnails. It now shows a random grid of thumbnails that have been marked as your favorites. Favorite ratings still sync from the Zune desktop software via standard ratings metadata, by the way, so you don’t have to mark them as favorites from the phone. Also, pictures now look great with 32-bit color support!

A “People” item is now on the Pictures hub as well. This section will show tiles that represent people who’s photos you may have recently browsed through, as well as tiles representing groups of people. From there you can browse all the pictures of your “Family” group for example. It will download and display all the images that any of your family members have posted on cloud services such as Windows Live and Facebook.

While displaying pictures, you’ll see some new menu items. You’ve still got sharing, add to favorites, delete, and use as wallpaper, but now there’s also an “auto-fix” button. This will make some adjustments to the exposure to make the photo look better. It’s similar to the auto-fix command in Windows Live Photo Gallery and works pretty well. What’s surprising is that the “Extras” menu is gone now! This used to give quick access to apps that were related to image editing. I hope that’s just something that hasn’t been re-implemented in this build. The “Extras” menu has been changed to an “Applications” menu. It does essentially the same thing and gives you quick access to loading whatever photo you’re looking at into whatever photo editing apps you may have installed.



When you share a photo on Facebook or Windows Live that has a person in it, it will tag the face and ask you who it is. It no longer auto-uploads right away, but gives you an unlimited amount of time to choose a tag and caption before you press the final “upload” button at the bottom. That’s good because previously if you took too long to think of a caption, it would just go and upload with out it.



Videos that you’ve recorded with the camera also show up in the Pictures hub library. Videos that you’ve uploaded to SkyDrive will also show, but only if they were uploaded by Windows Phone 7. Video messages from Windows Live Messenger 2011 or videos uploaded by Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 will show thumbnail previews and a play button, but at least in this build, they will not play (which is strange since they’re just WMV files). Yeah, so, did I mention you can share videos now? That’s right, the share command works on videos and you can choose from any email account as well as Facebook or SkyDrive. I did not see an option to share videos via MMS Messaging or Twitter. Hopefully we’ll at least get MMS video messaging before the final version is released.

Now what about that camera UI? It’s still extensible for the OEMs so that they can add whatever menu commands and functions they want to, but now there’s a “Save Settings” command. That means you can finally change the default video recording mode from VGA to 720p HD and it will stay that way when you launch the video recorder. Of course, you still have the zoom features and the filmstrip reviewing modes that we love from Windows Phone 7, but the touch-to-take-picture feature is new. You saw this mentioned in the settings already, and in use it really makes a lot of sense. At least on this Samsung Focus, it will still only focus in the center area, but tapping the viewfinder screen will automatically focus on the center area and then take a picture. It feels so much easier than that old two step process of tapping to focus and then tapping something else to take the picture. Newer phones and existing phones with a firmware upgrade will be able to focus on specific parts of the image that you touch as part of the “touch capture” feature. Don’t forget the option to turn off the camera shutter sound is in the “Ringtones + Sounds” settings section.

GAMES

The Games hub has seen a total redesign and it looks fantastic. The collection listing has smaller game tiles now and the Xbox Live section now shows your fully animated avatar right away. Sometimes he’ll actually sneak off to other parts of the Games hub panorama when he gets bored. Your friends listing, messages, profile, and achievements are now all accessible right inside the Games hub. The Friends tile actually shows some of your friends’ avatars in the thumbnail and will change periodically. You can see which friends are online and compare their scores and achievements for each game. There’s no need to install the Xbox Live Extras app anymore… for those features. The Avatar customization features and Avatar Marketplace are not directly built in and will require the installation of the new Xbox Live Extras app (which is not available yet.)

In terms of the actual games, one of the features we’ve seen demoed was the instant resume while multitasking. Unfortunately we’ll need updated games that support the fast resume feature. Right now, with current games, they’ll essentially restart themselves and then resume while using the fast task switcher. A few games such as Beards & Beaks and Doodle Jump have already been updated for fast app switching and it works beautifully.

PEOPLE

Before we jump into the People Hub, let’s talk about the Me tile a little. With Windows Phone 7, the Me tile was where you went to update your Facebook and Windows Live statuses, as well as see all of your updates and who has commented on them. Now there are a few new features in addition to those things. You now have a pivot tab for the What’s New feed, as well as a new tab for notifications.



That’s right! You now see Facebook notifications right there. The Profile tab shows a little bit of what’s new next to your profile picture (which you can still change, except now you can choose from cloud-based photos too). You’ve also got a few buttons for posting a message (to Facebook or Windows Live currently), Check in, and set chat status. The Check in feature hooks up to the Facebook Places feature and also Windows Live. Hopefully the final version will work with Foursquare as well just like the Check-in feature in the Bing App for iPhone, but we didn’t see anywhere to add a Foursquare account in this build.

Once you get into the People hub, you’ll see it looks very much the same as before. The recent contacts still show in a horizontal manner, while the all contacts and What’s new feeds are vertical lists. As mentioned before, the hardware search button is no longer context sensitive, so now there’s a search button at the bottom of the screen on the all contacts listing along with a “new” button (both of those were moved from the top area.) The bottom menu also gives you easy access to the People settings. Something new in the “What’s New” feed is a little button for filtering updates. You can show updates from all accounts (Windows Live, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) or just one of them at a time. This will be useful when/if the Twitter feed shows up here. (The “What’s New” feed in the Pictures hub can also be filtered this way.)

Opening up a contact will reveal some new features as well. First of all, on their profile section, if the person happens to have a Windows Live Messenger and/or Facebook instant messaging account, instead of just being able to text them, it will say “text + chat”. Tapping that will go into the messaging interface that combines texting with instant messaging so that you’ll be able to send them messages using a variety of methods.

The contact page still has a “What’s New” feed for each contact, but now you can swipe horizontally to get another option for Pictures. This will show all of the cloud-based photo albums that the specific contact has shared with you. Next up is the “History” tab which very nicely lists all of the recent communications types that you’ve had with this contact. It will show instant messaging threads, text messages, emails, and phone calls here.



The big new thing with the People hub is the groups feature. After you’ve set up some accounts to sync, you’ll see at the top of the All contacts list a “Family” group item. Tap that and it will give you a little intro about groups and also give you a whole list of suggested people to add to the Family group. The suggestions are based on your last name, so it probably won’t show all the people on your mother’s side of the family, but still that’s a pretty nice feature for the Family group. Adding other people to groups is largely a manual process, you have to add them one by one. There are no filtering options like in Outlook on full Windows where you could group contacts by Category names. These contact groups also have no relation to Outlook-based contact groups and don’t sync with anything so don’t expect to be able to manage them (or use them) from a desktop PC. That’s very unfortunate. Another limitation that I ran into as soon as I started adding people to my “Family” group is the fact that it only supports 20 people max. That’s not even enough for my uncles, not to mention aunts and hundreds of cousins. I’ll have to narrow it down to the 20 coolest family members.



Once you get a group set up there are a lot of really cool things you can do with them. Opening a group will show a grid of live tiles for each contact in the group. Each tile will do its animation thing and flip over to show each person’s status message or a new photo post. All the way at the bottom you can text or email everyone in one fell swoop. You can also pin the entire group to your Start screen as a single live tile. What’s awesome about that is that the group’s live tile will animate with pictures of the people in the group as well as the latest status updates or photo posts from just those people. Also in the group is a consolidated “What’s New” feed that shows wall posts and updates for just the people in that group. The same is true with the Pictures section. You can see all the pictures of this specific group of people in one place.

Twitter integration is not currently working in the preview version that we’ve got today however, we hear that it will be part of the People hub with the ability to Tweet, re-tweet, comment, reply with @mention, share web pages, and share photos. You’ll also be able to Click on @mentions and #hashtags to view profiles or other Twitter posts related to a topic.

EMAIL AND MESSAGING

The new messaging hub is really well done. It combines SMS/MMS messaging with Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger. Not only that, but all messaging types are supported by the Messages live tile, lock screen indicator, and the speech interface. I was very pleasantly surprised when my brother sent me a Facebook chat message, the notification appeared at the top of my phone and then a voice asked me if I wanted to read it aloud. After reading the message, the voice asked if I wanted to respond or ignore. So I said respond and then told it what I wanted to say. The phone’s voice recognition converted my speech into a Facebook instant message and sent it back to him. I didn’t even have to touch the device! Of course, that works with incoming Windows Live Messenger IM’s as well as text messages. Awesome!



In the actual Messenger app, it shows conversation threads just as before, except all types of messages are aggregated within the thread. You’ll notice a little label in the threads that indicates on which network each conversation block took place (Facebook, Windows Live, or Text). There’s also a pivot tab that lists all of your contacts who are currently online via Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger. They’re all organized alphabetically and there isn’t any way for you to organize them differently. All of your Live Messenger and Facebook chat groups are ignored. Fortunately, recent contacts will automatically be grouped at the top, so that’s very useful. It’s also weird that this listing does not show Windows Live Messenger contact photos. It only shows photos for contacts that are in your contacts list, but all Messenger contacts do show if they’re online.



When it comes to email, Mango brings some nice innovations too. First off, you can now link email accounts so that they’re all available in one live tile and program listing. A lot of people were complaining that Windows Phone didn’t originally have a unified inbox, and this is Microsoft’s answer to that. Linking inboxes actually gives you a lot more control. When you open one email account inbox, the pop-up menu at the bottom has a command called “link inboxes.” Tap that and you can choose which other inboxes or inbox groups you’d like to link to. After you link multiple accounts they’ll only show up as one item (which you can name whatever you want) in the programs listing and as a live tile if you’ve pinned it to the Start screen. Now say you want to look at the different accounts that you’ve already linked without unlinking them… that’s no problem either. Each inbox account appears in the linked inboxes’ “Folders” menu.



Speaking of folders, some people use server side rules and filters to organize their emails into sub-folders. Most other mobile email applications only give you notifications for emails in your top level inbox, and Windows Phone 7’s live tiles behave the same way. Microsoft’s solution to this in Mango is the ability to pin folders to the Start screen. This is a really excellent feature that’s sure to help you make your most important emails more accessible. When you’re looking at a folder in any email inbox, under the pop-up menu is an item called “pin to start”. That’s all you have to do to get a nice live tile on your start screen that shows the number of new emails in a specific email subfolder.

Another new feature that we hear is coming, but doesn’t show up in this build is the ability to set automatic replies and “out of office” status for Exchange accounts.

Those are some incredible new features, but there are still a few things missing in the email implementation. The first one that’s really embarrassing is the fact that Draft email folders still don’t sync with IMAP or Exchange or Windows Live servers. They don’t even sync with Exchange 2010 or Office 365. Being able to edit draft emails on a mobile device seems like a no-brainer, but in order to do that you’ll need a Palm Web OS device or iPhone. Microsoft still hasn’t added the simple reply/forward status syncing to Exchange/IMAP/Windows Live email accounts either. Well, actually, it works with Exchange 2010 only. So if you want to be able to keep track of which emails you’ve already replied to, you’ll have to use Exchange 2010. I wish Microsoft could fix this simple and obvious bug for all email accounts though.

CALENDAR AND TODOS

Tasks are back!! Not only do Exchange tasks now sync with the “To-Do’s” tab with-in the Calendar, but now Windows Live Hotmail To-Do’s sync there as well. Windows Live’s To-Do’s list never used to sync with anything. It seems strange to call them “Todos” since Outlook calls them tasks, but whatever… at least you can see, edit, and manage the things you have to do at work and in your personal life. Most other smartphones still don’t sync Exchange tasks, and it’s great to see this feature back in Windows Phone… and in full force with Windows Live Hotmail.



What about multiple Calendars you say? Yep, those are there too. Each calendar you add to any of your Windows Live, Exchange, and Google accounts will show up. Not only that, but Windows Live Group calendars that you’ve subscribed to will also show. Unfortunately shared Exchange 2003 Public Folder calendars and SharePoint/Office 365 Team Site calendars don’t seem to work here.

But wait, there’s more! The Mango calendar app supports Facebook events and not just for the date, time, and description. You can set it to only show Facebook events that you’ve responded to if you want. When you open a Facebook event, in addition to all of the details that the organizer has included, there’s also a “wall” tab where you can see and post comments, as well as a “Guests” tab where you can see who’s attending, maybe attending, or not attending. Of course, there’s also a respond button for Facebook events right there at the bottom.

One last Calendar feature that I’m glad has returned is the ability to choose a snooze time when snoozing an appointment reminder. You can now tap the appointment reminder name in order to open it in case you want to see more details in the notes.

OFFICE

Windows Phone Mango features a completely redesigned Office hub and some excellent new SkyDrive integration features. The panes of the Office hub are much more well organized as well. The first pane lists recent OneNote pages in a vertically scrolling live-tile list. OneNote notes are now purple instead of the orange they were in Windows Phone 7, and there’s a search button in the bottom menu. The search only supports page titles, not the contents of each note. Also in the menu is a command that will allow you to pin “new” to the start page. This is great for a quick shortcut to create a new note. The notebooks button at the bottom will automatically show all OneNote notebooks in your SkyDrive as well as any that you may have opened through SharePoint. You no longer have to manually set up a OneNote notebook sync relationship via the SkyDrive web page.



The documents pane also now lists documents as Live tile squares and also has its own search button at the bottom. The search interface for documents is a little different though. You’ve got pivot tab options at the top to search all documents or just specific locations such as SkyDrive, SharePoint, or your Phone’s memory. Again, the search only works on file names, not contents, but that’s okay.



Lastly is the Locations pane which lists all of the locations you can access documents from. “Phone” is going to be whatever you’ve saved to your phone’s memory. “SkyDrive” will show up for your primary Windows Live account, and other SharePoint or Office 365 locations will show here as well after you set them up. The + button at the bottom is for adding new SharePoint document library locations. Browsing a SharePoint team site hasn’t improved much since Windows Phone 7. SharePoint tasks and links still appear as non-editable text, and picture libraries still don’t show up. It’s mostly just for document library access.

Setting up Office 365 in the Office Hub is very easy now. All you have to do is go to Settings > Email+Accounts > Add an account and enter your Office 365 email address and password. After that it says, “Your email is set up now. We have also set up your Team Site, which you can access from the Office Hub. Your Office 365 plan includes Microsoft Lync for instant messaging, phone calls, or audio conferencing. Lync Mobile will be coming to Marketplace soon.” The only issue is that when you go back to the Office Hub, you do have to sign in again with your Office 365 credentials before you can access the SharePoint Team Site content.

One, new and horrible feature/bug is that Windows Phone 7.5 can no longer edit Office 97-2003 documents! You could edit them in Windows Phone 7, but apparently this build of Windows Phone 7.5 does not allow it. That seems unusual since competitor smartphones can edit older Office documents. Here’s why Windows Phone 7.5 can’t edit older Office documents

OneNote has a couple nice new features. Instead of download all of the files attached to notes, you’ll have to tap the ones you want and it will warn you about having to download large files. It still has most of the limitations of the Windows Phone 7 version of OneNote. It doesn’t support ink, drawings or math. However, they did thankfully add “To do” checkbox support so that it’s now better than the iPhone version of OneNote.

Excel has some important new features, too. Now you can select multiple cells and create your own formulas. There’s also autosum and filtering features now, and even an “insert chart” command.

BING AND LOCAL SCOUT

Windows Phone 7.5’s version of Bing has finally seen some updates. It’s been kind of embarrassing seeing the Bing iPhone and iPad apps with so many excellent features not available on Windows Phone (or even Windows 7). Now with Mango, Windows Phone 7.5 has the same Bing Vision feature from the iPhone version. This is a great addition with some excellent capabilities. The Bing Vision option turns the camera on and you can point it at things like books, movies, CDs, bar codes, MS Tags, QR codes or anything with text on it. Search results will appear over the image and you can then tap the one you want more information on. If it recognizes any text in the image you’re pointing it at, the “scan text” button will be available at the bottom. After you press that it will take a picture and show boxes around each letter it recognizes. Then there’ll be a “Translate” button at the bottom, as well as a “Copy All” command in the pop-up menu. Pressing the “Translate” button will let you choose a language you want it translated to and then actually super impose the translated text over the image that you originally took. Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. I kind of wish there was a special business card scanning feature built in that would add the person straight to a new contact.



The voice search is still there, but the button has been moved to the bottom. Things are a little bit improved with normal searches now since it finally has an images section. So I can say, “images of Angelina Jolie” and it will go straight to a bunch of thumbnail photos of Angelina Jolie. This is the same as the Bing Images search function on the Bing app available on every other mobile platform so it’s good to see that Windows Phone will finally get it later this year. Oddly, after selecting an image in the image search, you can’t swipe the screen to go to the previous or next images in the search. Hopefully that’s just a bug in this build.

Another crazy new feature in the Bing app is the Music Search button. This one jumps in on “Shazam” territory. Say you’re at a lounge or in the super market or where ever and hear a song that you like. Tap the Bing button no matter what other app you’re in and then tap the music search button and it will start listening to the song. After a few seconds, if it recognizes the song, it will give you a little notification pop-up with the album cover image, name of the song, artist, as well as a close button and a Marketplace button. Press the Marketplace button and it goes straight to the Zune Marketplace entry for that album where you can instantly stream or download the song (if you have a Zune Pass) or purchase it. Doesn’t get much easier than that! In actual use, it has worked very well for most popular songs. For a more obscure song, it recognized the title and author correctly, but didn’t load album art and didn’t link to the Marketplace correctly. For an unfinished feature though, I was very impressed.



The last new feature in the Bing app (not including Bing Maps) is the Local Scout. Pressing the local scout button puts you into a totally different hub-like interface with a thin map rectangle at the top and a number of panes that you can flip through for various local location recommendations. It’s a similar idea to the “What’s nearby” feature on the Blackberry version of the Bing app, but it’s much better looking. The first pane lists places to eat and drink within the area. Many of them include the type of food, price range, and reviews. The next pane lists things to see and do. That area is great for finding interesting events and attractions in the area. There’s also a pane for shopping which lists nearby stores and what type of stuff they sell. Finally is the highlights pane which shows some special highlight things as well as your personal favorite locations. Some things that are missing from the local scout, that I think should be included, would be movies. Yes, movie theaters show up in the “See + Do” section, but you can see what movies are playing at the theater when you tap its location. At least that doesn’t happen in this build. Local weather might be nice to have too. You can pin the local scout to your start screen if you want quick access to it, but in this build when accessing it that way it cannot find my location. I have to start it from Bing or Maps in order for it to know where I am.

To find things that other Bing apps on other mobile platforms have menus for, you have to run a specific search. For example, typing or saying “Movies” will get you a list of movies showing nearby along with their star ratings. Tapping that area will give you a longer list where you can then select a specific movie. Then you’ll get a lot more details about the movie including nearby showtimes and buttons to buy tickets. There’s supposed to be an “apps” pivot in this area that will deep link the movie name to movie related apps like IMDB. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be included in this build. However, the “buy tickets” button does link to the MSN Movies app in the marketplace. So that doesn’t work at the time either, but I imagine maybe the MSN Movies app will eventually support deep linking for ticket purchasing. Another example is, “Weather.” Typing or speaking that into Bing will show a nice graphical weather forecast. You might also notice that some of your searches will also include app suggestions. For example, a search for “photo” will give you the “Photo Crop” app at the top of the web results. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though. Really there should be an “apps” pivot tab in the Bing app that lets you find apps related to your search term.

The select and search feature is still supported by Bing. That’s the feature where you can tap a word in IE or Word or a other text-field areas and then press the hardware search key to run a Bing search on the selected phrase. Luckily that hasn’t changed with the hardware key function changes.

There are a few things still missing from Bing that I really wish were here. The most important one is the Bing Travel features. Bing’s Travel section on the desktop is fantastic. You can search for flights, get price prediction graphs, find last minute flight deals, browse cool location pages that aggregate all sorts of related travel information. Wouldn’t that be awesome to have on a mobile device when you’re actually travelling? It turns out Microsoft did make those features for Bing Mobile, but only on the iPhone. Hey that sounds like a good commercial!

MAPS

I know there’s one new feature in the Maps app that you want to hear about… turn by turn directions. Well it’s there, it’s kind of awesome, but there’s one bit of bad news. The voice prompts do not play automatically as you navigate! I know it’s ridiculous and stupid, but here’s how it works. Start the directions like you normally would from any location. It will show a small map and the list of directions. Tap the screen once anywhere and it will speak your instructions for the first turn… or sometimes the first few turns if they are within close range. As you drive, a small confirmation sound will play every time you make a correct turn. If you make a wrong turn it will make a different sound and tell you that if you want to calculate a new route, tap the screen. Also while you’re driving, whenever you want to hear voice instructions for the next turn, just tap the screen anywhere. At first I thought that would really suck, but you don’t have to tap a specific area of the screen to hear the voice instructions. Just tap anywhere, you don’t have to look at it. So in real life, it’s actually not bad at all. I can be driving along and if I know where I’m going I just have to listen for the confirmation sound that tells me I made the correct turn. But if I’m thinking to myself, “Where do I go next?” all I have to do is touch the screen (without taking my eyes off the road), and it will tell me. That’s actually kind of nice because I’m not constantly being interrupted with voice instructions. I’m not sure how much caching it’s capable of, but I noticed one time where the map image wasn’t loading and there was no signal strength that the voice prompts and navigation cues were still working. Oh, and it works with a Bluetooth headset as well. I tried it on the motorcycle helmet and could clearly hear the voice instructions and turn confirmation sounds… it was just a little more difficult to tap the screen in order to hear the next instruction.

Another new maps feature are Favorites. This is similar to what you’ll find in Google Maps. You can set locations as Favorites and they’ll always show up on the map with a little flag and star. Unfortunately and unlike Google Maps, Favorites don’t sync with Bing Maps on the desktop via your Live ID, or at least I can’t find where they’re stored currently.

In terms of map views there are still only the two regular street and aerial views. The super cool Bing horizontal street side view for panning through photos of buildings along the street did not make it to Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. There’s no “Bird’s Eye” view either. Those features are still only available on Bing for the iPhone… although to be fair, there are a lot of features here that you’ll never see on the iPhone. Indoor maps for certain large venues is a good example of that. We’ve seen indoor maps of the Manhattan Mall demoed, however it doesn’t currently work on the build of Mango that we were given for this preview.



The indoor maps feature is quite unique and useful. Once you find and zoom in on a venue that supports the feature, you’ll get a little indicator of floor levels which you can use to switch to maps of different floors, or a directory of stores at the location.

INTERNET EXPLORER

The big thing about Internet Explorer on Windows Phone 7.5 is that it is now on par with the full desktop version of Internet Explorer 9. That means full GPU hardware acceleration and HTML 5 support. In terms of actual tests, running HTML 5 websites on this normal old Samsung Focus blows away the browsers on the iPhone and Android. You may have seen the comparison demos before and thought they were using a prototype Windows Phone with better GPU hardware acceleration or something that would speed it up… no, this is a two year old processor, running HTML 5 much faster than brand new stuff. HTML5 videos play without issue here on IE9 where they won’t play at all on other platforms, and zooming/panning is as smooth and fast as ever. IE9 also supports DOM, XHTML, ECMAScript, HTML5: Video, audio, geolocation, canvas, local storage, etc. I am very impressed! Although the current Bing API embedded map implementation actually caused the whole phone to crash, so there’s still some work to be done. If you’d like to try some HTML 5 tests for yourself, go to http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/mobile



A few other new things that have changed in IE are the address bar and pop-up menu. The address bar is at the bottom now and all other functions are in the pop-up menu. It’s better like this since the address bar is easier to reach and there’s more screen area for looking at web pages. However, it does now take two taps to get to things like tabs and favorites. The Share command has been updated in IE as well. Now there’s a “Social Networks” option in the Share menu along with the normal messaging and email options. Choosing it will allow you to post a link to Windows Live, Facebook, LinkedIn and presumably others like Twitter when that support is finalized.

MARKETPLACE

The Marketplace hub looks very similar to how it did in Windows Phone 7. There’s now a search button at the bottom since the hardware search button only goes to Bing now. There’s also a new graphic panorama design for the games section where as previously we only had panoramas for the top level, music, and apps sections. There’s also a new section called podcasts where you can browse through and subscribe to various podcasts right from the device. You no longer have to subscribe to podcasts from the Zune desktop software. If you don’t want to subscribe and download a number of episodes for a certain podcast, you have the option to just stream it right there over the internet. Yes, there are video and audio podcasts available. Unfortunately, there’s currently no “Share” menu for podcasts.

The Marketplace search has been hugely improved and now offers pivot tabs for different types of Marketplace content such as music, podcasts, apps + games. Zune Playlists still only show up in searches and unfortunately can only be streamed. I really wish some of those excellent custom Zune playlists could be downloaded straight to the device in full (without using the desktop software.)

A few things are still missing from the Windows Phone Marketplace. I wish it had the Zune “Picks” listings that you’ll also find on the Zune HD and desktop Zune software which recommends things you might like. The Zune Videos Marketplace is still non-existent on Windows Phone as well.

SPEECH



Here’s a closer look at the Speech interface in Windows Phone 7.5. It has been greatly improved over the 7.0 interface. Now you’ve got commands for calling people, finding things using Bing search, opening applications, and texting people with dictation recognition. While you’re on a call you can also call some one else or say the word “press” to enter digits in automated phone messaging systems.

Caller ID names or phone numbers are announced when a phone call comes in. It’s really good to see this feature come back to Windows Phone. The text to speech doesn’t start until after the normal ringtone plays for a couple seconds.

The best feature of the speech interface is being able to take part in full SMS, Live Messenger, or Facebook chats using only your voice. Most of these things should work with a Bluetooth headset, however I’ve found that to be a little buggy on this build. The speech UI has crashed on me and I had to reboot the phone in order to get it running again. Obviously, this is unfinished, but I have to say very promising.

Unfortunately there are many features still missing that Windows Mobile original had in 2003. The speech UI in Windows Phone 7.5 still cannot control the media player, nor does it announce or interact with calendar appointments. It also has no way to tie into GPS navigation instructions. Ideally on a smartphone like this I would hear an appointment reminder announced to me out loud when it was time for me to go to a location and do something on my calendar. Then it should ask me if I want to start navigating to that appointment’s location (if it recognizes a location in the location field) and if I say yes, then it should calculate directions and start telling me how to get there.

LANDSCAPE SUPPORT



Back when the original Windows Phone 7 was released, one of the most annoying things about it was the lack of landscape view support especially on devices like the HTC Pro 7, HTC Arrive, and LG Quantum which included a landscape sliding keyboard. Unfortunately landscape support was very inconsistent. What has changed in Windows Phone 7.5 Mango?

Well, it turns out, not so much. We’ve been told that Mango will include enhanced landscape support, but in our unfinished preview device we still saw plenty of unfortunate inconsistencies. Of course, the device we’re using does not have a landscape sliding keyboard, but in most cases simply holding the device on its side should rotate the screen contents where supported.

It’s one thing for the hubs to be portrait orientation only, but in areas where a keyboard can be used, one would hope a landscape sliding keyboard would be supported. Unfortunately, the contacts search, phone history search, maps search, and even programs listing search don’t rotate for landscape keyboard support.

CONCLUSION

Holy cow there are a ton of new features in Windows Phone Mango! We didn’t even get to try the Twitter integration since that’s not working yet. We’ve been told that it’s working on internal servers, but the public Windows Live servers will have to be upgraded before that works. We also haven’t been able to try the app deep linking, background tasks for 3rd party apps, and in-app live tile pinning just yet, but from what we’ve seen in this preview build running on existing Samsung Focus hardware, there is a lot to look forward to. Many of these new features are mainly bringing Windows Phone up to speed with the competition, yet there are a number that are quite innovative and sure to make Windows Phone stand out above the crowd. All the analysts are predicting Windows Phone’s imminent success for a reason, and this is probably just the beginning.

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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!