When Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system debuted, it stood apart visually from other mobile OSes. Windows Phone 7 eschewed the desktop-like interfaces seen on iOS and Android. Instead, it went with rectangular “Live Tiles” that host various apps and interactions, organizing them in a constantly cascading home screen. It was just as intuitive and overall, it functioned well. But a year later, it feels stale.
Luckily, Microsoft has rolled out a juicy update to the Windows Phone family: Mango.
Mango will be available as an upgrade on any Windows Phone 7 device starting Tuesday.
The “Metro” UI and general navigation through the platform remain largely unchanged from Windows Phone 7, but Windows Mango (officially, version number 7.5) makes some notable improvements to the way it integrates social networking. The web browser has been upgraded. It also does everything a mobile OS is supposed to do — use hardware sensors, search and app discovery features to help make the most of your handset. Basically, Mango bumps Windows Phone from good to great.
Microsoft loaned me a Samsung Focus handset (for AT&T) loaded with the new release. Mango will be available as an upgrade on any Windows Phone 7 device starting Tuesday.
After a quick boot, the phone’s lockscreen shows you the vitals: time, date, what’s next on your calendar, and message alerts. You swipe upwards to send it on its way and reveal the home screen filled with rectangle-filled Live Tiles. Phone, People, Messaging, Mail — you have full control over what Live Tiles display and what order they’re in.
But that’s all the same as before.
The biggest change to Windows Phone 7 is in the revamped People Hub, where your phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts can be stored together in one big, long alphabetical list. As in Windows Phone 7, you have filters: All, What’s New and Recent. All is that big list of all of your contacts; What’s New is a recent social media activity stream, which you can keep lumped together chronologically or organize by platform (just Facebook updates, just tweets); and Recent shows the people you’ve called, messaged or e-mailed most recently.
You can simply search by name to dig up a contact from the All list, but the most effective way to utilize the People Hub is by organizing your contacts into groups. For instance, on my test phone, I created groups for Family, Housemates and Wired. Once your groups are organized, click through to see a grid of their images (pulled from their Facebook or Twitter profiles, or a photo you set yourself), names, or their most recent status updates. Below that, you get the option to send a text or e-mail to everyone in the group. Flick to the right and you get “What’s New”, a collection of their most recent social networking updates. Flick again and you get pictures members of the group have uploaded. As a person who hates the clutter, repetitiveness and general bullshit I have to wade through on Facebook (Really? A newsfeed next to my Newsfeed?), this is a godsend. Now I can just check out the friends and contacts I’m immediately concerned with without slogging through all the narcissistic whining of people I keep forgetting to hide from my Facebook Newsfeed. Depending on my mood, I can check out just the streams from my college friends, my San Francisco friends or my colleagues at work. You can even pin a group (or a single contact) as a live tile to your home screen. Tres bien!
The only downside to this whole scheme is that if you sync your Twitter and Facebook accounts to the phone, all of those contacts get dumped into your contact list. The resulting alphabetical list is completely unmanageable, but again, you can search for a specific name. I found the Recents filter to be the most useful.
In the messaging app, the speech bubbles of you and your contact are now differentiated with a gradient of your chosen color scheme — your sent messages are a few shades darker than your messaging contact’s. Before, both were the same shade, so this is an improvement.
Just like in Windows 7, if you’ve synced your Google account to the phone, the Calendar app only syncs your primary account’s calendar. However, if you’ve synced your Facebook account to the phone, it will also sync Facebook events to your calendar, which is convenient. If you’ve got multiple e-mail accounts, they appear as separate apps, rather than being streamlined into a single combined inbox. This is odd.