When Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system debuted, it stood apart visually from other mobile OSes. Windows Phone 7 eschewed the desktop-like interfaces seen on iOS and Android. Instead, it went with rectangular “Live Tiles” that host various apps and interactions, organizing them in a constantly cascading home screen. It was just as intuitive and overall, it functioned well. But a year later, it feels stale.
Luckily, Microsoft has rolled out a juicy update to the Windows Phone family: Mango.
The “Metro” UI and general navigation through the platform remain largely unchanged from Windows Phone 7, but Windows Mango (officially, version number 7.5) makes some notable improvements to the way it integrates social networking. The web browser has been upgraded. It also does everything a mobile OS is supposed to do — use hardware sensors, search and app discovery features to help make the most of your handset. Basically, Mango bumps Windows Phone from good to great.
Microsoft loaned me a Samsung Focus handset (for AT&T) loaded with the new release. Mango will be available as an upgrade on any Windows Phone 7 device starting Tuesday.
Mango will be available as an upgrade on any Windows Phone 7 device starting Tuesday.
After a quick boot, the phone’s lockscreen shows you the vitals: time, date, what’s next on your calendar, and message alerts. You swipe upwards to send it on its way and reveal the home screen filled with rectangle-filled Live Tiles. Phone, People, Messaging, Mail — you have full control over what Live Tiles display and what order they’re in.
But that’s all the same as before.
The biggest change to Windows Phone 7 is in the revamped People Hub, where your phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts can be stored together in one big, long alphabetical list. As in Windows Phone 7, you have filters: All, What’s New and Recent. All is that big list of all of your contacts; What’s New is a recent social media activity stream, which you can keep lumped together chronologically or organize by platform (just Facebook updates, just tweets); and Recent shows the people you’ve called, messaged or e-mailed most recently.
You can simply search by name to dig up a contact from the All list, but the most effective way to utilize the People Hub is by organizing your contacts into groups. For instance, on my test phone, I created groups for Family, Housemates and get-gadget. Once your groups are organized, click through to see a grid of their images (pulled from their Facebook or Twitter profiles, or a photo you set yourself), names, or their most recent status updates. Below that, you get the option to send a text or e-mail to everyone in the group. Flick to the right and you get “What’s New”, a collection of their most recent social networking updates. Flick again and you get pictures members of the group have uploaded. As a person who hates the clutter, repetitiveness and general bullshit I have to wade through on Facebook (Really? A newsfeed next to my Newsfeed?), this is a godsend. Now I can just check out the friends and contacts I’m immediately concerned with without slogging through all the narcissistic whining of people I keep forgetting to hide from my Facebook Newsfeed. Depending on my mood, I can check out just the streams from my college friends, my San Francisco friends or my colleagues at work. You can even pin a group (or a single contact) as a live tile to your home screen. Tres bien!
The only downside to this whole scheme is that if you sync your Twitter and Facebook accounts to the phone, all of those contacts get dumped into your contact list. The resulting alphabetical list is completely unmanageable, but again, you can search for a specific name. I found the Recents filter to be the most useful.
In the messaging app, the speech bubbles of you and your contact are now differentiated with a gradient of your chosen color scheme — your sent messages are a few shades darker than your messaging contact’s. Before, both were the same shade, so this is an improvement.
Just like in Windows 7, if you’ve synced your Google account to the phone, the Calendar app only syncs your primary account’s calendar. However, if you’ve synced your Facebook account to the phone, it will also sync Facebook events to your calendar, which is convenient.
UPDATE: In the original post, this review incorrectly stated Mango couldn’t link multiple e-mail accounts and couldn’t properly filter social networking contacts. These oversights have been corrected.
In Windows Mango, the default search engine app is Internet Explorer 9, and the browser is a significant upgrade over Windows Phone 7’s IE8. Pages load quickly, and sites like Reddit load up without error (in WP7, the text on Reddit wouldn’t load properly). The only problems I noticed with the sites I visited were some occasional spacing issues on headlines. Like in iOS, Flash (and Silverlight) aren’t supported. With Mango, the browser’s chrome (the URL bar and nav) shows up in both portrait and landscape modes. In Windows Phone 7, the chrome disappeared in landscape orientation to allow for a sort of “reading mode.” Microsoft says users didn’t like that, so it put it back.
Rather than provide you with a straight list of search results, Mango will show you an app as the top result whenever it’s appropriate.
But you don’t have to use the browser to search. There’s a hardware button for that.
When you use the phone’s capacitive search button, it takes you straight to Bing search. Rather than provide you with a straight list of search results, Mango will show you an app as the top result whenever it’s appropriate. It shows apps you have on your phone, or apps you can download that are related to your search, or could be used to help your search. This is followed by news results (the most recent buzz about your search topic), web results, and related searches. If there aren’t any app results pertaining to your search, then often a sponsored site will take that top spot.
Search for “Angry Birds” and the first result is a link to the Angry Birds app. Search for “Mexican Food” and the first hit is a sponsored result for the local Wahoo’s location, followed by a Wikipedia page and other web links.
Mango also adds a Google Goggles-like visual search and Shazam-esque music search to the mix. Visual search didn’t work that well when I tried to scan barcodes. The only item I could get to scan properly was my deodorant. Book cover scans didn’t return any positive results at all. The text identification and translation function worked decently. Music search, however, was fantastic. It identified everything from nuanced classical to lyric-heavy pop. The only thing that threw it off was the beginning of “People Are People” by Depeche Mode, which admittedly, sounds similar to a number of other Depeche Mode songs. Once the vocals kicked in, Mango identified the song in a snap.
If you’re searching location, Bing Maps can be a little slow to load on the zoom when the data connection isn’t that strong, but if you zoom all the way in on some public buildings, like the mall, a floorplan pops up and you can see maps of each floor level. It’s a nice tool for optimizing where you’re going to park on your next mall trip.
Windows Mango also ships with some new and improved default apps. Pinned to the homescreen is an app called Local Scout, which is essentially Microsoft’s answer to Yelp. Give it permission to determine your location, and it collects the top-rated nearby places to drink, dine, shop, or have fun. You can choose to organize places by distance, rating, relevance, cuisine, shop category or attraction type. You can scroll through reviews culled from Citysearch, TripAdvisor and Open Table, among others.
The choice to make this app built-in is a smart one, as the results are useful and appropriate. If you have a favorite restaurant or destination, you can choose to pin it to the homescreen from the app. But aside from making it easy to call them, I don’t really see why you’d need to do that unless your favorite restaurant is constantly changing its hours or something.
Overall, the Mango upgrade presents Windows Phone owners with a more complete package than the launch version. Interface details have been well-thought-out and executed. If you’ve already got a Windows Phone 7 device, I see no reason not to upgrade. And if you don’t have one, consider checking one out.
Photos by Jon Snyder/get-gadget
- AT&T to Debut Three Windows Phone ‘Mango’ Devices
- Microsoft Patching Up Windows Phone 7’s Ragged Update Process
- Windows Phone 7 Update Adds Multitasking, New Internet Explorer
- Microsoft Makes Windows Phone More Social