This is Part 2 of a multi-page article. Part 1 talked about email, maps, Bing searching, and more.
Windows Phone 7.5 is now equipped with the most up-to-date version of Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer 9. Though moderately faster than its previous iteration (probably due, in part, to “hardware acceleration”), its best adjustments are those that make for a more convenient browsing experience. Previously, the address bar was only accessible when the phone was held in portrait mode; when you held the phone sideways and switched to landscape mode, it disappeared. Now, the address bar is always available and has been moved down to the bottom part of the screen directly above the keyboard. Though I do think that moving the address bar down is unnecessary and just asking for mistypes — you are now much more likely to accidentally tap inside the address bar and move the cursor while entering an address — I do appreciate the fact that it is always accessible now.
Tabs are also handled much more efficiently now. One of the things about the last version of the browser that drove me absolutely mad was that every time you opened the browser to view a webpage, it automatically opened it on a new tab. This would obviously result in a rapid pile-up of open tabs that only served to slow things down, so every sixth or seventh time I opened up the browser, I would have to go to my open tabs and individually close them one by one. With Mango, Microsoft has thankfully ditched this inexplicable feature and only opens pages on a new tab when you explicitly tell it to do so. It’s the little things like this that add up and, in turn, make for a majorly overhauled browser that is much less of a headache to use.
The one thing that is still missing is Flash support. I’m sure I can’t even begin to understand what sort of business would have to go on in the background for this to get done; there are probably a whole lot of licensing issues and hurdles for Microsoft to get past that I’m not aware of. That doesn’t change the fact that Flash’s absence hinders the browsing experience on WP7.5.
Unlike its predecessor, messaging in WP7.5 is no longer reserved for just text or picture messages. Mango ties in online chat as well, but the major drawback here is that, as it currently stands, this function is reserved for Facebook chat only. That’s a bit of a letdown seeing as I never use Facebook chat (nor do most of the people I know), so I would have loved to see an option to sign into Gchat. But if you are part of the contingent that uses Facebook chat, you’ll be happy to know that you can sign in, set your availability status, see who’s online, and chat with them. Chat threads also incorporate this chat function, so you can switch seamlessly from online chat to text messaging and still have the entire conversation in one place.
As for some of the more minor tweaks to messaging, there is now an option to directly add attachments to your messages, so instead of going to your camera roll and hitting “share” from there, you can do it right within messaging. Also, the chat bubbles of the messaging threads are tinted in two slightly different shades so it’s more apparent which ones are from you and which ones are from your recipient. It sounds negligible, but it really is much easier for your eyes to figure out which message is from whom when sifting through texts.
Odds and Ends
So what else can you do in WP7.5 that we haven’t already covered? Here’s a quick roundup of some other key features that didn’t fall into any of our previous categories:
You will be happy to know that cut, copy, and paste abilities have finally made their way to Windows Phone. Technically, this came in the form of a much, much smaller update that was released OTA a few days before the actual Mango update, but I felt that it was necessary to mention it in this review as it was a major oversight on the part of Microsoft when first launching the platform.
Equally important is the ability to multitask now; previously, WP7 would sort of fake multitask by freezing apps in the background. WP7.5, on the other hand, can do true multitasking and keeps apps running in the background, even allowing you to switch between them on the fly by holding down the back button.
Don’t worry about killing your battery with that multitasking, though. A nice little added feature is that of the Battery Saver, which you can set to automatically turn on when your battery starts to run low. When the Battery Saver engages, it automatically shuts off email push and stops apps from running in the background while still allowing you to make and receive phone calls and texts (and emails, manually).
WP7.5 has a “Find My Phone” function which allows you to go on the web when you misplace your phone and make it ring, lock it, wipe it, or show its location on a map (if you had enabled that function on your phone prior to losing it, that is). Besides being an added convenience, it increases WP7.5’s security, which will surely appeal to the enterprise audience.
The Xbox Live integration has seen a pretty serious revamp in that it’s actually integrated this time around. Inexplicably, in the previous iteration of WP7, you had to download a separate app to get access to your achievements, friends list, messages, avatar customization, etc. Now, that’s all in one place under the Xbox Live app and you can do everything from there.
Your calendar and schedule are consolidated now, too, pulling events from Facebook or Windows Live to which you have confirmed and automatically marking them on your calendar (and creating text notifications on-screen when the event is coming up). Admittedly, this can get pretty annoying at times though, because even when you don’t RSVP to Facebook events (which I wont do), they’ll still show up as an event on your calendar until you respond “not attending.”
Windows Phone now automatically detects untagged faces when posting pictures to Facebook or Windows Live. So when you post a picture, squares are automatically brought up around peoples’ faces with little boxes that allow you to type in their names.
There are some sensible adjustments made to the media player now too, the most notable of which (for me, at least) is the ability to turn on shuffle. Why this was not an option before is beyond me. You can also do Smart DJ playlists on your phone now as well.
Through Microsoft OneNote — part of the Office Suite on Windows Phone — you can now make and check off to-do lists that can be synced with and edited on the fly from desktop versions of Windows 7. This is a feature that will be familiar to anybody who has seen that adorable commercial with the father grocery shopping while his kids change the list to include candy and chocolate cake.
For you self-centered types, the “Me” tile on the home screen has been beefed up a bit to include some more features for Numero Uno, including notifications as well as shortcuts on the menu for checking in, posting messages on social networks, and setting chat statuses.
Live tiles in general have been drastically improved, as they actually update and show current information, which they never did previously…and which I thought was the whole point of them in the first place. This has proved to be an enjoyable change, especially with the addition of groups, which, when placed in a tile on the home screen, will display updates like “XXXX added one new picture” and will actually show the picture, or “XXXX commented on a post” and will display the text of the post, all without me having to actually click on it.
And finally, WP7.5 sports voice-to-text capabilities, which are usable in many different scenarios including web searches, Bing map searches, or when composing texts.
As you can see, there are a ton of new elements in Windows Phone 7.5, even if you’re just counting the most significant ones. And the best part is that almost all of the new features are for the better. While some of these are major additions — like Groups — many parts of the update are just intelligent consolidation, tweaks and changes to existing features that make for a more intuitive, user-friendly experience.
That being said, many of those additions and changes are features that should have been available on the Windows Phone platform in the first place (e.g. copy and paste, true multitasking, email threads, Bing Maps saving directions, etc.). Given the number of oversights that Microsoft had in the first version of Windows Phone, one could point out that this update isn’t so much an improvement as it is a necessity to make a user experience that is, at the very least, on par with Android and iOS. And bearing that in mind, there’s still room for improvement. Microsoft did a great job of addressing a whole slew of complaints with the Mango update, so here’s to hoping they continue to listen to user feedback and keep tweaking an operating system that just keeps getting better.