In the massive mobile phone market, where the war is won and lost on the operating system, it is no real surprise that Microsoft has hit back at market leaders Android and Apple. The release of Windows phone 7.5 mango is certainly trying to fight for marketshare, but has it got it right? Let’s take a look.
Still using the same tile interface as Windows phone 7 on the start screen, 7.5 has the looks, but does it follow through? Yes, it does. Everything is clean, clear, almost sauvé; the live tiles are livelier, constantly updating to bring you the latest news. Now you can not only pin apps to the start screen, but specific features within apps. You are also able to pin contacts to your start screen, giving you the very latest from their Twitter and Facebook right in the palm of your hand. In fact, you get the option to pin just about anything you want to your start screen: email folders, webpages, artists, albums, playlists, everything, making this OS built for customisation.
Another new feature is the alphabetised apps in the secondary screen, meaning you don’t have to spend time arranging them logically, and once you have more than 45 apps the letters of the alphabet appear to separate them into groups. Meaning one tap and you can easily find your favourites.
So that’s how it looks, but how does it handle? Quickly, very quickly. The multitasking aspect of the phone works very well, and everything is a lot more responsive. Music players will happily run in the background while you surf the web, and the webpage you are on will stay put while you send a text. You get the same fast task switching as before, but now there is the inclusion of an app picker which allows you to choose what you go back to, making everything a lot more fluid.
Windows phone 7.5 now incorporates Twitter, which was sorely missed in 7, LinkedIn, which is a nice inclusion and the Facebook integration is much better. If you are a Tweeter or love Facebook, all of your notifications appear in the me tile, so you can just tap your face and find out who’s saying what about you. You can also receive Facebook messages in the same way that you receive a text, infact they even appear in the same place. You can also switch between platforms, meaning that you can reply to a text with a Facebook message and vice versa making it a lot easier to keep track of communications.
The only thing that is missing here is a place for direct twitter messages, even though there is a seemingly perfect place to put them, which is a real shame.
The browser view is a big one, everything but the address bar is hidden behind a slide up menu. This means that you always get a near full screen view letting you see a lot more. What you do see is stunningly crisp and clear, making the online experience fantastic.
The email client in 7.5 mango is a step up in terms of usability in comparison to others on the market. Everything is laid out clearly in big font, and multiple emails to the same contact are grouped under the most recent message so as not to clutter up your inbox. You also get the option of keeping your accounts separate, or unifying them under one inbox, which is handy, but logically can get confusing.
Although it isn’t new the swipe feature that we saw on WP 7 to swipe between unread and flagged messages is back making this much more convenient than anything I have seen previously.
For me music is a massive part of my mobile life, and the music player here presses all the right buttons. The ability to finally make your own playlists is huge, as WP 7 really dropped the ball here. You also get a SmartDJ mix of songs that should go well together. If you want to use it then it’s a great feature, but for me not a huge selling point. The player controls are big and easy to see, although maybe not as elegant as they could be. The way it works with Zune is a complete revelation compared to iTunes everything is much easier, providing that what you are trying to add is compatible with Zune as I have found that some video files don’t like to co-operate.
Features worth a note
The mapping aspect of WP 7.5 is very good indeed. If you just want to find somewhere then the search option is usually spot on. When you zoom in for a closer look there is a seamless transition from map to satellite image, which is fantastic when you are trying to find your bearings. The directions side is also very good, keeping up with every turn you make and re-routing as well as purpose built sat have.
This little app allows you to see everything that’s close by, from restaurants to bowling alleys and swimming pools to takeaways. It gives you directions to find your way there which links back to maps, and phone numbers to ring ahead and book. I’ve found this app really handy when out and about in desperate need of a coffee, it’s definitely something worth a look when you want to try something new.
The calendar on WP 7.5 for me is fantastic, aside from working in the way you would expect a calendar to, it also syncs with Facebook events, whether you have replied or not, these then appear in a different colour on your calendar as if you put them there, giving you reminders before the event happens.
In summary Windows phone 7.5 is a great operating system, it’s elegant, yet powerful. Complex, with over 500 new features and tweaks, yet stunningly easy to use. Here’s the question that everyone wants answering though, can it compete with the likes of Apple and Android? Yes and no. It certainly has the potential to dominate the market, and the partnership with Nokia is a great leap forward, but the thing that’s holding them back at the moment is not the operating system. The thing that is holding Windows back is the consumers. When it comes to phones people are very closed minded, people that buy Apple will buy another, and the same with Android, as far as they are concerned nothing else is worth buying. The trouble with Windows Phones is that it came to the market with a decent offering to late, when a clear divide had already been set up in the smartphone market, Apple, Android and the rest. Nevertheless this is a great product, and I would recommend that anybody that wants to try something new, you will not be disappointed.