Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) first impressions

I have spent the past week or so playing with a Samsung Focus preloaded with the final build of Windows Phone 7.5, previously codenamed Mango. I have always appreciated what Windows Phone has to offer: a clean and intuitive user interface that works well, to put it simply. Windows Phone originally shipped lacking a few features, though. The NoDo update, for example, added copy and paste but the operating system still felt like it was lacking. Windows Phone 7.5 adopts Microsoft’s motto to “put people first,” and it does a fairly good job of that. There are hundreds of changes in Mango and in this hands-on look, I highlight a few changes that stood out to me during my time with the OS.

Groups and Chat integration

Microsoft’s focus with Windows Phone 7.5 was putting your friends and family up close. The SMS inbox now automatically integrates with Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger, allowing you to stay connected seamlessly. I asked Microsoft’s Windows Phone product manager Greg Sullivan if support for Google Chat and other clients, such as AIM, is in the works. He said they were not but that the groundwork is there, so if a third-party developer wants to create an app that integrates those chat clients, it can be done.

I loved the photo and social network integration when I first played with Windows Phone. It meant I could simply open up the photo app to see the latest images from my friends on Facebook. Windows Phone 7.5 takes that idea a step further and allows you to create “Groups.” This feature let me view updates that were posted by a select group of people, like my family or a subset of friends. It worked well and allowed me to quickly sort through the fluff for what I really care about.

App Connect

App Connect stood out as an especially compelling new feature in Windows Phone 7.5.  If, for example, you are planning to go to the movies and you use your Windows Phone to search for a nearby theater, the phone will automatically pull in any movie-related applications that are installed and query them for results.

I installed Flixter to test this functionality. After performing a quick search, I noticed that the movie “Killer Elite” was playing nearby. I tapped the movie name and the phone brought up showtimes and information about the show. However, swiping to the right also revealed a new “Apps” area that listed “Movies by Flixster” and other related programs. When I opened Flixter it automatically searched and found “Killer Elite,” and then provided reviews and other information.

TellMe text-to-speech

TellMe technology now lets you search the web or compose a text message using just your voice. The search option accepts voice commands, and it worked really well while I was driving in New Jersey and needed to quickly find a nearby Dunkin Donuts. In addition, the SMS voice-to-text functionality was nearly flawless. I spoke “Testing voice commands using text messages,” and it correctly typed out my message for me, allowing me to safely text my friends and family without having to divert my eyes from the road.

IE 9

Internet Explorer 9 worked very well and I love that Microsoft decided to include the search bar at the bottom of the screen instead of the top; it makes much more sense this way on a mobile device where your thumbs are always near the bottom of the display. Web sites looked great and were smooth thanks for support for hardware-accelerated graphics and a new JavaScript engine, but Windows Phone 7.5 still does not support Flash content. Of course, that’s certainly not a deal-breaker.

Windows Phone 7.5 Apps

Windows phone 7.5 enables apps to take advantage of a number of new features. Those developed for Windows Mango can be paired with App Connect for search integration, are capable of multitasking for quickly switching between apps (simply hold the back button to activate), support for double-sided and multiple Live Tiles and more.

Weather Live for example, a $1.99 Weather application that has been updated with Mango support, allows users to create multiple Live Tiles for different weather locations. I was able to easily pin weather information for New Jersey and New York to my home screen for quick at-a-glance notifications.

There are plenty of other Windows Phone 7.5 applications that take advantage of new Live Tile features. FourSquare, for example, shows the leaderboard for check-ins. I’m excited to see how other applications begin to take advantage of the advanced options.

Wrap-up

When I sat down with Microsoft’s Windows Phone product manager Greg Sullivan last week, he told me that Windows Phone 7.5 still actually has the build number “Windows Phone 7.1,” but that there were so many changes it couldn’t simply be a single iteration upgrade. I agree. Windows Phone 7.5 adds so many features that it would take pages and pages of text for me to cover them all; and each one makes the platform more user friendly and fun to use.

Microsoft and its Windows Phone partners, which now includes Nokia, have big plans for the platform moving forward. The company and its carrier partners are currently training in-store employees to use and assist customers with devices in an attempt to boost sales. We’re also expecting gorgeous new hardware from HTC, Samsung and Nokia in the coming months.

Windows Phone 7.5 is definitely a step in the right direction and I’m excited to watch the platform as it progresses even further. If you already own a Windows Phone device, Microsoft has already begun rolling Mango out to various devices.

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