First things first, this review will be from the point of view of a Microsoft enthusiast and will largely include my opinions and hatred of Android that all writers on this website share.
I’ve had a Windows Phone for around a year now and I love it. Last year for Christmas I received my HTC HD7 and it was the best thing I’d ever been given. The UI amazed me, the fact that it had Microsoft Office was so cool that I could hardly put it into words. I even wrote this epic review on the 4.3 inch The best bit of all was that it connected to my Xbox Live account and my games got me achievements. However after about a week usage I began to notice a few major flaws in the first version of WP7.
However it was announced within a month or two that NoDo, the first big update to be announced for my new phone, was to be released in March and that Angry Birds (the main reason that I had wanted a smartphone) was to finally be on Xbox Live. I was very excited as all of the things that made WP7 inferior to Android and iOS were going to be fixed. In reality all we received was copy and paste. And Angry Birds was not released for another four or five months.
After this series of let downs when Mango was announced I was not expecting great things but I looked on the WP7 website and liked what I saw. Groups seemed like a good idea. And the social network integration looked like something that I would use. On the October 15th I finally downloaded Mango. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Read on past the break to find out why.
My first impression of Mango was, to put it bluntly, OMFG MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. The first thing that you notice is just how much Microsoft have worked on the live tile idea and the UI. Almost all the tiles on my home screen have been improved, from the new font on the Xbox Live tile to the flipping panels on the People hub, everything had this wonderful polish to it. There will be more on that later.
My HD7 has a fairly good 5MP rear shooter which captures decent quality pictures. To get the best effect I have to change the settings every time as the settings do not save once you exit the camera app. However Mango brings the possibility to save your camera settings. It is also much quicker now to upload your pics to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as it now can be done from the touch of a single button.
The first thing I noticed about the Games hub was the change of font on the home screen. It has been changed from the generic Xbox Live logo to one with a cool and crisp monochromatic look. This looks fantastic, especially in combination with the futuristic look of the Metro UI. As you enter the Games hub, the light grey theme is continued in the background. This is a choice that I am not entirely sure was the right one. Just as this began to bug me, I was impressed by my avatar (in my case wearing the clothes of Ezio Auditore) running on from the side of the screen.
Cosmetics aside, the actual functionality of the Games hub is greatly improved. The game list, which before was in a layout similar to that of the homescreen, is now in a straight list which makes accessing my 30+ games much easier. On top of that the integration of your phone with your Xbox is massively upgraded. Not only does it show you your Gamerscore but it shows what subscriptions you currently have through the colour of the text. It is also much easier to edit your account details straight from your phone. Other improvements to the Games hub come to the news section, linking to things such as new games released, deals of the week and gamer spotlight. Where before Mango there would be just a headline and a caption, there now is an image relating to the article. This, although a very minor change, for me makes a section which previously I would ignore actually very interesting.
Internet Explorer 9
Ok, a phone running IE9. As some people (with sense) will know Internet Explorer is a toilet. All computers should run either Google Chrome or Firefox and Safari is the only mobile browser that I have ever liked. However, hatred for IE aside, the way that the web is displayed on Mango is actually very good. The search bar has been moved from the top of the screen to the bottom, making it much more accessible on the plentiful 4.3 inch screen of my HD7. I can see this as being very handy on larger devices such as the 4.7 inch Titan. All of the options for browsing the web are all located in the sliding toolbar at the bottom of the screen just below the aforementioned search bar.
Before Mango the People hub was nothing more than the contacts list for a Windows Phone. Sure it downloaded live updates from Facebook and it created contacts from your friends on Facebook but that was nothing that special. But now, there is one thing that makes it stand apart from contact lists on Android, Symbian and iOS, and that is groups. A group is a separate list of contacts within your actual contacts. To make a group you simply go through your contacts and select them to go into groups. The group will then stick to the top of the page. You can even pin a group to the home screen. One of the best features of the new People hub is that you can send group texts or e-mails by simply going on a group and sending a group message. All of these things are something that other smartphones cannot do.
There are two main changes to the media applications. The first of these changes is to the main page after clicking on the tile. The panoramic homescreen has been improved. Now each of the sections can be scrolled up and down in a satisfying way. The second of these changes is to the music playback screen. The fast forward/rewind/repeat buttons have moved to the top of the screen while the three pause, like and shuffle buttons are now (thankfully) brought to the side of the album cover instead of on top of it. These appear upon tapping the screen. My favourite of the changes to the playback screen is that the names of the songs that are to follow change by flipping over in a ripple effect, a change which I find quite fun, regardless of its simplicity. We are now at last able to use songs as custom ringtones, but there is a catch. In order to use a song as a ringtone we need to edit it so it is less than 40 seconds long which, for many people such as myself, requires far too much as I do not have any simple way to edit songs.
So far the improvements to the WP7 messaging service have been my favourite improvements of Mango. The changes were discrete and I only noticed them after a few days of using Mango. Not only can you send and receive SMS but you can chat on Facebook, Twitter, Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger. As I write this I am having a three way conversation on Live with my fellow bloggers Chris and Xavier. All of this occurs in the same place and has the same layout as texting. Also if you scroll along to the next section in the Message hub, you will find a list of all the people online where it is possible to communicate with them. The experience of messaging has been built upon, from the changes in colour between messages sent and received, to improved dictation, the whole thing is a great improvement.
The two updates to email on Mango are threaded conversations (finally) and merged inboxes. For example I have merged my Talk21, Gmail and Hotmail accounts into one personal email inbox. At last WP7 has some features that are usualy taken for granted on other operating systems.
At last it is possible to pin Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents to the home screen. Previously it was only posible to pin OneNote documents.
In Excel we are at last able to use some formulae. Sure, there are only a few different options such as sum, average and other basic functions but it is a start and I hope that we will see more equations and an improved spreadsheet experience in the future.
I have not noticed much difference in PowerPoint, Word or OneNote but the other main difference in Microsoft Office for WP7 is that the options for uploading documents to the cloud are far more extensive, something which I have never actually used but would like to experiment with.
There are a few additions to Bing in Mango. The first of these is Bing Scout, quite a useful addition to your phone. It uses your location to find nearby shops, restaurants and things to do and it shows you details about them and even gives them ratings based on reviews. Then it will give you information such as opening times and even stage by stage directions to where it is.
Next is Bing Music. This is a built in application that listens to a piece of music and tells you what it is. You can then click a link to find it in the Zune Marketplace. This is very similar to the services offered by Shazam for months and the song identification is just as good.
Then comes something very good. Bing Vision uses the camera to do an array of different actions. You can scan text to copy it and even read Microsoft Tags (LOL – Xavier). It is also one of the best QR readers I have ever used, reading multiple codes within seconds. It also scans text.
There are over 500 different updates, changes and additions in Mango and I have covered some of the main ones in the above sections, but I would like to take some time to mention some of the smaller changes from the production of the update (no award speech). The calculator app, with the addition of actions such as square rooting and other functions, has been improved greatly. The layout of the Marketplace has changed so that each section of the Marketplace is far more accessible. I can now also access the Marketplace via the web so I can hunt for great new apps even when I’m not at my phone, similar to the experience available for iOS and Android. The Battery Saver feature is a simple part of Mango but it is one of my favourites. When activeated, it shuts down all background applications increasing battery life. It can also be set to turn on when the battery reaches a low enough level.
Why is there no WiFi tethering on older handsets? It is the one biggest disappointments for me, while phones such as the horrendous HTC Wildfire can do what my phone cannot. This annoys Xavier a lot as this means I will still have to steal some of his tethered HSDPA for the forseeable future.
The next complaint is about the auto correct. I have always had terrible spelling so quite often I will spell words wrong. On things such as my computer when I spell something wrong it comes up with the correct spelling 99% of the time, but on my phone the auto correct is awful compared to that on iOS or even stock Android.
Although this is nothing to do with Mango and how to improve it in the next update (Tango/Apollo/Windows Phone 8 or whatever it will be called) it would be nice if there were more apps in the Marketplace. With the current count at just over 31,000 the number of good apps on this OS is miniscule compared to its competitors. Android has recently surpassed 500,000 despite the fragmentation on Android causing havoc for developers and the lack of paying customers on the Android Market and Amazon Appstore in the USA.
After using Mango on my HD7 for over a week now, I am impressed by how much the 7.5 update has improved Windows Phone. It would be great for Microsoft to address some of the minor downfalls that I have listed above, and I hope that with the new Nokia Windows Phones appearing tomorrow I hope the hardware will improve to a level that the operating system deserves.