Sunday, October 16, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) Operating System

This review was hard to name, simply because Windows 7 is not *officially* calling their update the "Mango" update anymore. However, anyone who's been following the development of the WP7 platform for any period of time knows that the newest update that's been talked up like crazy by consumers and tech blogs alike is named Mango. Officially, the update is "Windows Phone 7.5" and I have been itching to get my hands on some sweet Mango of my own. This is, after-all, Microsoft's last stand in the smartphone market. If they don't make it this time, they're calling it quits. It is understandable, therefore, that they would by trying their darnedest to get as many features into WP7 as quickly as possible. So the question must be asked: Is WP7 Mango everything you'll ever need and want from a smartphone? Or will it even at least get you by until more updates come? Find out by reading the full review after the break...

The beauty about Windows Phone 7 is that they approached the smartphone market much like their fiercest competitor, Apple. They released a product that, according to many (and I agree), was unfinished... only to make it better with updates later. The "NoDo" update that Microsoft released to its phones, for example, was the first update that allowed the user to do "copy/paste," a feature that most smartphone users consider a given with their smartphones and take for granted. This update came out four to five months after the release of the operating system and now, approaching a year after the original release, we've received Mango, an update that catches the phone's software up with all the other smartphones on the market. At the time of this writing there are several Android phones and even the original iPhone 4 that could beat their hardware in a competition, however. There are several additions to the WP7 lineup on the horizon that, in theory, have hardware that will make them serious competitors in the "Superphone" market. But even though they'll be sporting "Mango" out of the box, they'll now have to compete with big players like the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S II for a spot in the hands of proud new smartphone owners. All this, while approaching the holiday season means we're going to have quite a battle for consumer's hearts on our hands, (not to mention the battles that are currently going on in the courts).

Historically Apple and Microsoft tend to leave each other alone, probably because they know if they did sue each other into oblivion the world would implode and we'd all die, therefore dropping the value of their stocks significantly. This is probably also, in part, because WP7 and iOS don't (blatantly) copy each other at any turn. Android and iOS have most definitely "shared" a few things, hence the lawsuits. WP7 seems to have taken a fresh approach to the smartphone operating system, while keeping the basics in place enough that switching to it from another smartphone operating system is not a problem. They've built on this approach with WP7.5 (Mango). They took the original aspects of WP7 and improved on them while taking the next step and adding in some new features that make it a very pleasure experience. I'll cover the major difference between them in this post, but if you want to read more on WP7, visit this post.

One of the more frustrating things about the original Windows operating system was that multi-tasking wasn't the easiest thing to do. Mango has improved on this. By simply pressing and holding the "back" button, you are able to bring up a window that displays a small version of the screen of all the most recent applications you've accessed. You can then scroll from side-to-side, viewing them and then to go to one you just tap on it and it brings you there. This is a major improvement from before because you used to have to hit the start button to bring yourself back to the home page and then re-open the app that you wanted to use. It basically skips a step for you.

Bing Search
Picture of the Bing Search window with the
bottom bar open to show labels.
Bing has always been a powerful search engine on WP7, but it's become even better. There are four key aspects that have changed.

1. There is now a music identification button. When you tap this button, you can hold the phone in front of a speaker that is playing music and it will identify what song is playing, who it is by, and then give you a link to the Marketplace where you can purchase that song. This makes the "Shazam" music identification app irrelevant.

2. Local scout. This button allows you to see what is close to you and organizes it into categories: shopping, food, and attractions. The first two are self-explanatory, but the last one shows you things to do in your area. When tapped in Duluth, MN, it brings up attractions like the Boardwalk, the Zoo, the aquarium, and Twin Ports Brewing Company. This will also allow you to tap on the business and see it's own little "card." This tells you information about the business like phone numbers, addresses, websites, hours, and so-on. If it's a multi-level mall, you can even see what shops are inside and get a map of the building.

3. There is a microphone button at the bottom. This button was included in the original software, but it was to the right of the search bar. This simply allows you to speak what you want to search instead of typing it.

4. The final button is called "Vision." It is Google Goggles, only with Bing behind it. You can take pictures of QR codes, barcodes, documents, and words and it will search them. Not quite as advanced as Google Goggles yet, but they're getting there.

The settings menu for speech where you can
choose when you want the speech
interaction to turn on.
Speech Interaction
This option is something that I've been craving from my phones for a long time but nothing has delivered very well until now. On Android the closest thing I could find is Vlingo Virtual Assistant, but this is built into the software and is native to the phone. What it does is simple; it reads your text messages and/or e-mails to you as you receive them... but only if you tell it to. When you get a new text message, Windows notifies you and asks you if you want it read of if you want to ignore. You, or course, respond with, "Read it." Windows then reads your message and then asks you if you want to respond. You, or course, say yes. It then prompts you to speak your message. You speak it. Windows asks you if you want to send. You say yes. The message is now sent and you haven't even touched your phone (assuming you are wearing a bluetooth headset or a set of earbuds). You can even set it so that it only does this when certain headsets are connected, when they're not connected, or not at all (turn it off). I personally set it to "bluetooth only," and then can easily and safely send and receive text messages while driving. This is literally the only system I've found that allows you to do this, this well without having to spend extra money on a specific bluetooth headset that will do it. It works with any bluetooth!

Live Tile Support
Live Tiles on the home screen of WP7.5
Until now, the "Tiles" on the home page of WP7 have been rather bland. With Mango, third-party developers have been given more freedom with what they're allowed to do to their displayed tile when you add it to your home page. For example, Weatherbug is now allowed to display the current weather on the tile that is displayed on your homescreen. This will develop even more as developers take advantage of this new feature.

Until this update you were literally stuck with the ringtones that were pre-loaded on the phone. You could not download more for free. You could not download more by paying money. You couldn't set sounds or music as a ringtone. You were stuck. Now, you can do whatever you want. You can download soundboards and set those sounds as ringtones. You can set music or sound clips as ringtones. I haven't found a good application that will allow you to cut new ringtones from songs, but I'm sure that will be the next big thing.

Lock screen with music buttons.
Music Playback
This may be a small thing for some people, but WP7 has added a feature to the lock screen. If you're listening to music, you can pause, skip to the next song, or skip back to the previous song with the touch of a button and without unlocking the phone.

Xbox Live
Games are displayed in a more organized fashion in Xbox live and are easier to access. You can also easily monitor downloads from the Xbox Live screen.

Shared Inbox
Instead of having a specific tile for each e-mail you have synced to your phone, you now have the option to combine two (or more) inboxes into one tile. This reduces clutter on the home page and makes it easier to see all new messages.

Social Network Integration
Facebook chat is now easily accessible by swiping sideways under the same tile as text messages. By swiping to the right, you can view all your Facebook friends who are currently online and chat with them just like you would in a text message conversation. This uses data, but does not use your text plan.

WiFi Hotspot
There is now support to turn your Windows phone into a WiFi hotspot if you have the correct data plan. By simply going into the settings menu, selecting, "Internet Sharing," and turning on the switch, you've made your phone into a WiFi hotspot that most WiFi enabled devices will connect to.

These changes are the big ones that I think really affected the way I use my phone. There were TONS of other changes to the operating system, but they were either minor, or were changes that more-so affected how smoothly the phone runs rather than extra features. For a full list of changes to WP7 with the "Mango" update, visit this site. As of 12/19/2011, the only phones that come pre-loaded with Mango are the Samsung Focus Flash, the Samsung Focus S, the HTC Titan, and the HTC Radar, but that will be changing soon.

If you would like to try a "trial run" of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5 platform, visit from your smartphone.

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