Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Windows Phone 7.5 Mango

So yeah, I'm going to start my 2012 with the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango review. I've been using a Nokia Lumia 800 in the past weeks, and before I can write a proper review for that, let's take a look first at Windows Phone. Take note that I will be only reviewing the Windows Phone OS itself, I will review the Lumia 800 along with the apps the Nokia has added on it, i.e. Nokia Music and etc.

The Metro UI

On the first boot of the Windows Phone, you will be directly presented with the Start screen. The Start screen contains the live tiles that acts as 'widgets'. The live tiles are dynamic. They show any notifications, if available, or other latest information that is associated with an application. For example, on the People tile, it shows the thumbnails of your contacts, if synced on your social networks, or if you've manually added a photo. Swipe to the left and you will see the list of the apps. You can scroll up or down there, the list will continuously scroll. The scrolling as almost the same is on Symbian OS. There is no pagination effect here unlike on iOS.


The Phone app/section contains all the basic phone functionality. There's the History tab where all your incoming and outgoing calls are logged. There's also a voice mail support here, though I haven't tested it because Globe Telecom does not support voice mail anymore. You can also tap the Search icon (not to be confused with the Search button, which launches Bing search) below to sort out names if the call history gets pretty long. The phone dialer is pretty basic. There's no smart dialing here, hopefully yet. The only options available is call and save.


The People app is basically the contacts app - evolved. I said evolved because there has been tons of new features than the usual contacts app that we see! For example, you can now sync your contacts list with your Facebook or Twitter account. Although I did't synced mine because you know, I have a lot of friends on Facebook of whom I don't personally know. :D

Tapping a contact, here I have Nokia Care, will show you the info associated with that contact. I used to only have the phone number for Nokia Care (in the Philippines) and I'm surprised that it easily pulled out all other info, i.e. Twitter handle, website, etc. Swipe to the left and you'll see "what's new". On that section you will see the latest updates of that particular contact, in this case the Twitter updates of Nokia Care. It will also show the Facebook statuses if you have it synced with the contact. And, you can also easily pin a contact on your Start screen for easy 1-click access. :)

Apart from those, you can also view contacts that you've recently interacted with. And, last but not the least, an integrated Twitter and Facebook feeds! Hooray for this social integration!


Windows Phone's calendar is nothing out-of-extraordinary but it works well anyway. Once you have your Facebook, Windows Live, or other email accounts set-up, it will pull in all of your calendar entries and put it there. I was surprised to see all of my Facebook friends' birthdays showing up on my homescreen. You can also turn them off in the Settings.


I'll be only talking about the Camera app here, not the camera performance of the device I am using.

The camera UI is pretty neat and simple. On the viewfinder mode, there's only 5 icons available, the arrow  icon which will take you to the photos you've taken, the settings icon, the zoom in/out icons, and then the video recording icon.

The settings available for imaging mode include scenes, white balance, exposure value, ISO, metering mode, effects, contrast, saturation, focus mode, and resolution. It may look basic, it lacks some other features that we can find on Symbian such as grids, and face detection. I don't like how tap-to-focus works here because when you tap on an area on the viewfinder, it will focus there, and will immediately take a photo. On the other hand, the settings available for video mode is scenes, white balance, exposure value, effects, contrast, saturation, auto focus toggle, and the resolution. Continuous auto-focus is available, but no tap-to-focus.

Games - Xbox Live

The Xbox Live Hub on Windows Phone is a pretty cool feature. It works much like the Game Center on iOS, but as you know, this will be more appealing that Game Center because hey... it's Xbox that we're talking about here! There's the collection screen where you will see all of your games that you've downloaded from the Marketplace, be it an XBL title or not, it will sort it out for you. And then you can also view your Xbox Live profile if you have it. You can edit your profile, view your achievements, your friends list, and your messages. There is also the requests section, this is where you will see your invitations for multiplayer games. Finally, there's the spotlight section in which you will see the latest promotions, upcoming games, and other Xbox stuffs that you'll find interesting.


Coming to the browser, Windows Phone obviously has the Internet Explorer 9 mobile. All you will see on the browser is the url bar on the bottom, along with the refresh/stop icon, and the more icon that will show you other options. The browser is not that good for me. It has no Adobe Flash support, and HTML 5 capability is not at it's best. Tab switching also requires three taps when it can be reduced to two. Bookmarks are called favorites, you can also pin a webpage to your Start screen that will also serve as a bookmark. Microsoft can improve the browser by moving the url bar on the top and make it go away when the user starts to scroll the page up, and a quick-access toolbar on the bottom. Sharing of webpages is also available, thru SMS, email, or on Twitter and Facebook. Default search engine is also set to Bing. An option to add more search engines are welcome.


Oh my maps! Bing Maps is the maps service provider for Windows Phone, and... it sucks. It bloody sucks, to tell you Microsoft. No need to explain further here, just look at the images below and compare them. Bing Maps is like a work of a child. Seriously.


The Windows Phone Marketplace maybe not as good as the App Store, but give it time. It has just started last year. The Marketplace now has over 50,000 applications available. Anyway, coming back to the Marketplace app itself, the home section of the app lists 5 categories. One for the manufacturer shop, in this case, Nokia collection, apps, games, music, and podcasts. Think of App Store + iTunes, it's Marketplace. It has everything here, not just apps but also music. There's a special section if you flick the screen to the right, sort of app of the day I think. Another cool thing on the Marketplace is that you can try an app before you can buy it. This is good to see if the app is worthy to buy, don't it? By the way, there is no carrier billing option available for Marketplace, I hope Microsoft will add such option.

Music and Videos

Up next is the music and videos part of the Windows Phone.

Music and videos are all integrated on the Zune Hub. Your music, videos, podcats, radio, and the music store are there. Zune also saves all of the history of the songs and videos that you played. It even remembers the videos that you played from YouTube! :)

There's also a section for your new music and videos that you have recently bought or synced from your computer. I do only have one rant about the music player though, there's no scrubbing support on it. Silly Microsoft.

And lastly, you can also see the apps that have an integration to Zune Hub.


Microsoft got it right for the email client on Windows Phone. The interface is clean, intuitive, and easy to use. There's message grouping that groups all of your sent and received mails from a single contact, there's also an unread section so you can easily go through your unread emails, and also an urgent section for the emails that needs immediate attention. There is also a very useful feature here, called Linked Inbox. If you have many email accounts to manage, Linked Inbox will come very hand for you for sure. It puts all of your emails together in one inbox. Syncing is also a breeze, it supports POP and IMAP emails.


 Another great feature of Windows Phone is the built-in Microsoft Office integration. Notes is not a separate app on Windows Phone unike on Symbian and iOS where there is a dedicated Notes app. OneNote is coming to the rescue here. Create a note on your phone and it will instantly appear on your PC or other devices such as the iPhone if you have OneNote installed on it. This comes useful if you're working on-the-go and want to resume working on it once you get home. There is also a support for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, although you can only create Word and Excel documents at the moment, with pre-loaded templates also available.


This section is almost self-explanatory. There's the usual settings that will allow you to customize how the phone works according to your preferences. There's just room for more improvements, like better category sorting i.e. in connectivity, device settings, etc. The settings are just cluttered this time.

Microsoft has also included all of the settings for each built-in application. There's also a dedicated settings for the background tasks handling, as you know, Windows Phone 7.5 currently does not have the real multitasking.

Bing Search

Windows Phone has 3 mandatory buttons for each and every phone. That's the back button, the Windows button (or Start button), and the search button. The search button works in a quite different way. When you press it, the Bing search will appear. You can search the web using the search field on it, or try searching in other ways using the 3 icons below. There's the Bing music search that works similarly to Shazam which will identify the song that's currently playing. 

There's also the Bing Vision search, the works in a similar way to Google Goggles. It can look for QR codes, DVDs and CDs, books, and Microsoft Tags. It can also scan and search texts.


For my wrap-up, I can say that Windows Phone is good. But not good enough - yet - to compete with the Android phones out there and the iPhone. It needs many improvements that I will try to list below.

What Windows Phone Needs:
- Real multitasking support: The current implementation of multitasking is not good, not even par on iOS' way of multitasking, and more over not par with Symbian's.
- Proper screen orientation settings: Windows Phone is primarily aimed for a portrait use. But some apps just rotate landscape and it's very annoying! For example, when I'm on the People app's main view, it does not rotate sideways, but when I start to select contacts and open them, it will rotate unknowingly!!
- Better integration with PCs: This is a Windows Phone. It's made by Microsoft. When I connect it to a Windows PC, there is no drop and drag. What the hell??! And the fact the it needs Zune to sync photos, music and videos is not really good. I don't like it. Why not make syncing of Windows Phones a built-in feature on the next Windows version, the Windows 8? Drop the need for Zune, and make all operations buttery smooth. Take a look on iTunes and Mac.
- Developers, developers, developers: I want Instagram on Windows Phone. That means Microsoft needs to attract more developers for the Windows Phone Marketplace. It currently has about 50,000 apps but not all of them are quality ones.
- Slightly more open access: You know it - sideloading of homebrew apps, etc etc.

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I agree with you on the 1st, 2nd and 4th points. It's really shameful that while Mango supports multitasking, most of the WP7 apps don't even realise this, and the fact that only around 30% the top featured apps support multi-task shows that MS needs to be more strict in their apps policies.

I'm not sure what qualms you have about using Zune, as I find it not to be the PITA which is iTunes. Still, I'd love for a drag and drop implementation for WP7. I guess MS is just trying to change the perception of it's users here (visually) for Win8 since it's almost similar to the Zune interface.

Anyway, I hope you'll have good moments with your Lumia, I'm expecting (and hoping) for MS and Nokia to really work hard together this year and set the pace for the smartphone world. I really want the 710 bad.

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