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Mango is Here, are Grievances Gone?

September 29, 2011

Back in February, I summarized some impressions of Windows Phone 7. Although there are things to like about WP7, that article dwells mostly on negatives. If Microsoft bothers to come late to the game, it should at least not be lackluster, and so that article focused on areas it came up short compared to rivals iPhone and Android.

This week I received the first major update to the WP7 platform since it was released. There was previously a minor update (nicknamed “NoDo”) last spring that added cut-and-paste (and some undetectable performance tweaks). That one was underwhelming, but the latest update (nicknamed “Mango”) does not disappoint.

It’s too bad that WP7’s share seems to be declining, because despite some faults it’s a very nice phone OS. And the latest update corrects many of those issues, making it on par with the competition. Is it too late for Mango to turn things around?

Fixes and Improvements Since My Article

With Mango’s arrival, let’s re-evaluate things that I previously complained about:

Cut-and-paste- Cut-and-paste arrived last spring. While I missed it in the initial release, once it came I rarely use it anyway. Nice to have though. Unfortunately, it is not ubiquitous where there is text, unless the app supports it. For example, you can’t copy text from a tweet in the Twitter app (making it difficult to do a traditional-style RT).

Email- Now you can view email threads. Nice. There’s also an option to link multiple email accounts to a single inbox. You can choose which one’s are linked.

Timeout of the lock screen- You can now set a lock-timeout. Meaning if you blank the phone briefly, you don’t need to re-enter the passcode within the timeout. This is going to save me a bunch of thumb pressing. You can even set the lock timeout independently of the screen blank timeout.

Ringtones- Originally, ringtones other than those pre-loaded on the phone were not supported. I couldn’t find one I liked, so defaulted to the most obnoxious one available, a mock-rocking metal riff (and have received much negative feedback from office-mates and those that had to endure it). Now mp3s are allowed, and I can use music I actually like.

Themes- It has the same harsh-on-the-eyes themes, but they renamed the “Orange” theme to “Mango.”

Buttons- The wonky buttons are hardware, so they don’t change.

Apps- Enough time elapsed since my last article that the marketplace has more apps. Of the several I wished for, more than half now exist, and the prospect of finding useful apps continues to look up. However, as I noted before, sometimes WP7 versions seem like shallow substitutes compared to their other-platform counterparts. For example, the Amazon app cannot access multiple wish-lists, it only accesses the first alphabetical list. My lists called “Fiction” and “Non-fiction” are not visible to me, and those are the lists I need when I’m browsing at the library.

Marketplace- My complaint about the Marketplace mixing apps with songs is fixed (this was actually in the NoDo update).

Camera settings- Now camera setting preferences may be saved, which was sorely lacking from the previous version. Also, you can touch the screen to snap a shot (previously you could only use the dedicated hardware button).

Maps- Maps now provide vocal turn-by-turn directions. The funny thing is that instead of talking when nearing the turn, you must tap the screen to make it speak. I wonder if this was to escape some patent restrictions? Until now there were no free turn-by-turn apps (unlike iPhone which has MapQuest), but at least now there’s an option, albeit sub-optimal.

Visual Voicemail- Good news: the phone now supposedly supports visual voicemail. Bad news: AT&T is not yet using it. There’s some rumors they will eventually, but no definitive timeline.

Other Changes

Multi-tasking- Some people want multi-tasking. I had an iPhone when Apple launched multi-tasking, and it didn’t really change the way I used it. So figure the same is true now, but it’s there.

Explorer- The new browser supports HTML5. I tried some test sites, but they didn’t really work. I guess a mobile version is still limited. What’s more striking is that the address bar moved from the top of the screen to the bottom. Every browser ever places the address bar at the top, so this seems strange. The row of buttons to access bookmarks and tabs that were on the bottom are gone (accessed now by clicking to the right of the address bar, so an extra click is needed to reach them), making more room for the web page.

Social integration- In addition to the mainstream mail services and Facebook, this update also links to Twitter and Linkedin accounts. This means you may see updates from those social networks in the “People” contacts application, or post to Twitter directly from the photo album.

Miscellaneous- There’s lots of minor things you notice while using the phone that help the usability in most cases (for example when browsing applications, you can easily index by the first letter of their title instead of scrolling). I’m still discovering these little touches that make the phone better to use.

Impression

With Mango, WP7 is much improved. In fact, it’s now on par with iPhone (no comment on Android due to lack of experience with it). Still, some more apps would be nice, but it’s getting there. People may overlook Windows because it doesn’t have the same cachet as the other platforms. But it’s a disservice to not consider WP7 a good smart phone candidate.

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