Is the update as sweet as it sounds?
Microsoft launched the reboot of Windows Mobile OS last year and the response it received wasn’t exactly stellar. So far, I really haven’t seen anyone use Windows Phone 7 devices outside the Microsoft circle but that could possibly change within the next few months as Nokia starts selling smartphones based on the latest Mango update from Microsoft. Lets find out what makes Mango special and does it have what it takes to compete with Android and iOS.
Microsoft hasn’t changed much in terms of look and feel with the updated OS which is a good thing as it still looks very fresh and un-iOS like that everybody else seems to be copying. The live tiles continue to look elegant and beautiful while offering you notifications. My only complain is that you can have too many of them which makes scrolling through them quite a long process. This is also something that you also notice in the main menu once you start adding more applications to the phone so adding folders will be a welcomed change in a future update.
One of the first thing I noticed about Mango is that you can now integrate your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts into the OS and populate the “People” section with contacts from those networks along with previously present Facebook and Windows Live networks. Adding my Gmail account also synced my contacts and calendar entries from Google without any issues whatsoever.
Once you have all your contacts synced, the People tile starts showing pictures of your contacts and you can tap it to get recent updates from your contacts as well as a list of of ones you’ve been in touch with recently allowing for quick communications between your frequent contacts. You can also create groups from contacts such as one for your family or office team and then with just one tap, send a message out to everyone in that group- which is pretty cool.
On the flip side, you have the “Me” tile which allows you to post status updates to your social networks or check in and change your chat status message. Along with that this section also shows you of any notifications you have from Social Networks. Although this is great in concept, it doesn’t work with everything. For example, it wouldn’t notify me if somebody sent me a direct message on twitter. Also, quite often, the notification came in quite a bit late- sometimes hours after it should have so clearly, Microsoft has some work to do in that area.
The next thing I noticed about Mango was the “Local Scout” tile present on the home screen. This option basically gathers points of interests around you such as restaurants, shops and touristy stuff. It is based on Bing maps which sadly does not have any such information for the UAE. I tried in in Dubai as well as Abu Dhabi and all lists came up empty.
One feature that did work is Bing Vision that lets you use your camera to recognize things like books and DVDs and then bring up information on them such as where to buy them from. Speaking of Bing and search, one of the things sadly lacking in Mango is Universal Search. The search button always takes you to Bing to search the web and you can’t, for example, tap it in contacts or messages and search for a contact or message. Sure, you have shortcuts within each of these apps for searching but it would have been nice to simply press the search key and start typing with the phone recognizing all databases on your device as well as giving you the option to search the we.
Microsoft has also updated the browser on Mango with IE9 taking the center stage. Like most modern mobile browsers, IE9 works well and besides one site (Google login page in Arabic), everything else I tried worked fine. Like the iPhone, Flash is not supported on Mango either and honestly speaking, I can’t remember the last time I needed flash to work on my Smartphone. Scrolling through the page and zooming in and out proved to be no challenge at all for Mango- everything worked seamlessly. In fact, the entire UI flows brilliantly and creates a stunning user experience. Another thing that works really well is voice recognition. I generally have a hard time getting the iPhone or an Android device to recognize what I have said but with Windows Phone 7, it worked almost every single time I tried.
Last and certainly not the least, Mango now supports background tasks and task switching, allowing you easily selected one of the running or paused app by simply holding the back button. This displays all the apps in a card sort of view that you can move between and select. Sadly, the background pausing and push notification features feel like what we saw when this was first introduced in iOS. I installed WhatsApp and more than once, I only got the message when I went back into the application, instead of the application informing me of a new message on the home screen- kinda defeating the purpose of instant communication.
I would like to add that the Market Place is yet to be properly supported in the Middle East- you can download free apps as well as trial version of paid apps but you cannot purchase them as of yet. Arabic is also not completely supported and my guess is that both of these features will make an appearance together- hopefully with the next major update.
Other than that, I think Microsoft has done a brilliant job of upgrading Windows Mobile to what it is with Mango. There is still some more work to do, but if you live in a Microsoft environment- such as on an Exchange Server or using Office 360, then nothing else comes close. With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Skype and the patent disputes related to Android, I see a very bright future for Windows Phone.