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Reviews

Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard & Professional

By Adam Z. Lein April 1, 2008, 9:30 am

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!

POCKETNOW VIDEO OF THE DAY

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 editingCalendar items was easier in both Operating Systems

  • I wishthe Copy/Paste function was easier to use in the Standard Edition

  • I wish the Copy/Paste function worked in moreprograms in the Standard Edition

  • I wish the threaded text messaging view also showedcontact photo thumbnails

  • I wish Internet Explorer used a much fasterrendering 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 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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