Windows Phone Mango review: 3 ways that it’s awesome

Daniel Bader

October 13, 2011 12:03pm

When Microsoft decided to create a new mobile operating system, it had a few key things in mind: keep it simple, fast and touch-friendly. Windows Phone 7 looked nothing like the desktop-emulating Windows Mobile that it had been shoehorning onto touchscreen devices for years.

It offered a usage model big on expansive, horizontal frames, swiping through monochromatically-drawn screens. It was pure 2D austerity. Where it excelled was in its tight integration with Microsoft products such as Office, XBox Live, Windows Live Messenger, and third-party services like Facebook. Its Live Tile feature promised less time inside apps to obtain basic info like the temperature, or your unread message count. It had a smooth browser and a fantastic keyboard. It had, for a 1.0 version, a lot of potential.

But in its rush to market, there were some important features missing. Without an accessible API, third-party music apps couldn’t play in the background. More importantly, push notifications, which were implemented well enough, were limited in what they could show and how often they could report. Internet Explorer, the backbone of any mobile OS, was based on code nearly four years old, without support for HTML5 or CSS3. Minor grievances were also levelled at the release: where was the threaded messaging?; why was scrolling so choppy inside third-party apps?; and why did each app have to “resume” for up to ten seconds each time you returned to it? Oh, and where was copy-and-paste?

Quickly after the initial release, updates were promised. First, an update to allow for better updates. Then the NoDo update added the copy-paste functionality that was missing from the beginning. And since then, promises. Promises of a Mango future that would herald a new era of Windows Phone dominance. Of multitasking and quick app resuming, of Twitter integration and built-in music discovery. Of threaded messaging, deep in-app Live Tile support; of a new standards-compliant web browser that screams. Promises of greatness.

Does it deliver? Can it possibly live up to expectations? We’re going to look at three of my favourite “WOW” features in Mango, and see how it differentiates itself from the competition in the process.

For a more detailed overview of the original Windows Phone release, read our ‘Is Windows Phone For You?

One

Multitasking on Windows Phone Mango is also known as fast-app switching. What this means is that, like in iOS, an app’s operation is suspended in the exact place you left it, and once returned, will presumably continue right where it left off. This feature, along with many benefits that traditionally come with multitasking like third-party music apps playing in the background, were conspicuously missing on the first release of Windows Phone. Microsoft promised they would do right by their loyal fanbase, and they’ve succeeded.

When I loaded Mango onto my LG Optimus 7, there were few apps that supported fast-app switching. To activate this, you hold down the back button until a static view of your open apps appears; swiping left and right navigates between them. If the app is not yet Mango-optimized, it will “Resume” for several seconds, as it was terminated, not suspended, when you left it. Mango-optimized apps resume instantly, popping back right into a game, or navigating right back to the tweet you were reading.

Since the OS is already smooth as butter, one of the most satisfying experiences was when Rdio was updated to support background music playing. Previously, the app would terminate, and music would stop playing, if you returned to the home screen. Now, you can not only continue to listen while doing other things, but from the lock screen you can control playback. By pinning the Live Tile to your home screen, it’s possible to see a photo of the album art, an example of  one of Windows Phone’s many austere design aesthetics.

But more importantly than any individual tenet of Mango multitasking — hold back, swipe left or right, resume — it feels somehow more complete than its iOS or Android equivalent. More akin to the defunct webOS model, Mango ensures that workflow is uninterrupted. You still have toast notifications at the top of the screen, but if the application supports fast-switching, the transition is almost instantaneous. Multitasking, while an obvious choice, is my first WOW on Mango.

Two

Music discovery is a fairly new aspect to mobile operating systems. Apps like Shazam and Soundhound have built huge databases to fingerprint snippets of songs and identify them, forging relationships with content providers to hopefully sell you a song in the process.

Microsoft makes mandatory a Search button on all its Windows Phone devices, and while in its first iteration took you to a rather comely Bing search screen, it has been entirely revamped for Mango. When you press the button you are taken to a familiar Bing dialog box, but on the bottom are three little symbols: a music note, an eye and a microphone. The former two are new, and flesh out the search experience entirely. The music icon will pick up the signature of a song with a high degree of accuracy, and display bits of information about the tune, including artist, year and album title. In addition to this, Canadians now have access to the Zune Music Pass, with its collection of millions of songs. If you subscribe to the Pass you can stream or download the song free of charge; if not, you can purchase the tune for 99c.

Again, this is not something particularly unique to Microsoft’s OS, but the smoothness and speed with which it picks up the notes (along with some beautiful equalizer animations), identifies the song and allows for playback through its own store is remarkable. Microsoft, perhaps like only RIM before it, has taken it upon itself to integrate essential and nominal services into the OS framework, which allows for phenomenal traction of content.

The discovery process extends to words as well. In addition to being able to identify bar codes using the built-in QR scanner, the search panel can also scan for words and sentences, translating them into dozens of languages. While the end result isn’t always perfect — I attempted to identify several French phrases, and the English was stilted but understandable — the speed at which it does so is incredible.

Three

Social networking is fundamental to many of our daily lives. We check Twitter before we eat breakfast, and Facebook is the last thing we update before we go to sleep. While Facebook was tightly integrated into Windows Phone at launch, its featureset has been beefed up, and Microsoft has added Twitter integration to the mix.

Before you go thinking you won’t need dedicated apps for the services, much like HTC allows you to consolidate your feeds into its Friendstream widget, Microsoft uses your social networking accounts to augment your personal information, not others’. While you can see your friends’ status updates in the People app, what’s more interesting is how they relate to you. If someone sends you a reply on Twitter, your Me Live Tile will flip over every few seconds to inform you of an update. In the People column, it shows you the big, bright profile photos of the last four people you’ve interacted with. You can now create groups of your friends or family and filter your feed for only those people. It’s simple yet flexible, and highly efficient.

Thoughts on Efficiency

Microsoft has made it very clear they want nothing to do with the aesthetic or usage models of its main competitors. That is a good thing. I find that with Windows Phone Mango I am able to get in and get out without feeling like I’m missing anything. This was Microsoft’s big mistake during their initial marketing push for WP7: they didn’t understand that people don’t want to use their phones less. Instead, they should have argued that while you will end up using your phone less you won’t feel like you have. Time is saved by swiping, scrolling and tapping through menus that become like a larger mesh infrastructure; each app, modeled by necessity on Microsoft’s Metro styling, feels uniform in a way even Apple cannot enforce in iOS. There is something primordial about horizontal swiping; it’s hypnotic and practical, and becomes more so with repeated usage.

Little Victories

Mango is peppered with improvements, and it’s not one individual feature that helps it rise to the top, but an amalgam of all of them. Let me give you a small example: in the Messages hub, you can log in to Facebook chat and see all your friends online. Mark messages you on his way out: “Hey, just about to leave, what is the address again?” You reply, “I think it’s 1500 Maple View Rd, but let me check.” Mark leaves and logs off Facebook chat, and Windows Phone will seamlessly switch to texting Mark in your next message. It does this without making a show. It just works.

Similarly with threaded messaging. If you want to select an entire thread, just touch the left side of the screen; there is no indication to do so, but the first time I tried deleting multiple emails manually, a hint appeared directing me to the left side of the display.

The immersiveness continues with what we call “Deep Linking”. This allows, say, a weather app to pin a Live Tile on your home screen for a single city, or for a Google Reader app to pin a single category. Apps also have the ability to poll for changes once every 30 minutes; this allows for background updates without eating into battery life.

Lastly, the area in which Windows Phone has improved the most is in its browsing speed. Now based on Internet Explorer 9 code, it is not only faster but renders modern pages with aplomb. It can play HTML5 video from inside the browser (though, like in iOS it enforces full-screen watching) and is CSS3-compliant, so pages no longer break like they used to. I’d argue that while it is noticeably faster, and I’ve always liked the text rendering better on WP7 than Android, it cannot yet compete for sheer compliance; many HTML5-powered mobile sites still loaded their low-bandwidth mobile versions. But sites load quickly — much quicker than before — and look great, and that’s all you can really ask for in a mobile browsing experience.

I could go on…

I could continue to talk about the myriad bug fixes, or the way apps never seem to crash. I could remark on how drastically improved is scrolling through lists which, before, was jerky as all get-out. I could, and will in an upcoming article, talk about how fantastic the integration of the Zune Pass is into the whole Windows Phone ecosystem.

Mostly I just want to remark how, if I have two phones in my pocket — which I often do — I am more likely now than I was last week to pull out my Windows Phone to obtain the same piece of information. This is something a lot of people observed when they first picked up an iPhone, its remarkable ease of use. I also don’t have to worry about battery life: this thing lasts all day, and then some. The keyboard is ridiculously responsive, with an enviable autocorrect system that Android users wish they had.

There are limitations — tethering and WiFi hotspot support has not yet been enabled on my particular device– which will likely be addressed in a patch. The Marketplace is rife with barely-functioning apps, many of which haven’t, and probably won’t be updated for use with Mango. The toast notification system is limited in its function; like pre-iOS5 Apple products, once the notification disappears, there is no way to retrieve it. VoIP software, due to the limits on background updates, cannot run in the background, limiting the potential for Skype or Tango-like apps to inform you of an incoming VoIP call.

…but why don’t you try it?

Let’s be honest here: Microsoft isn’t going anywhere, the low market share of Windows Phone 7 is only poised to increase. As Nokia, Samsung, HTC and other big names begin releasing Mango devices on modern-day hardware, it’s going to become very clear that Redmond is building a pretty strong case for #3. They’re not pushing against Android quite yet, and iPhone users are likely going to scoff, but there’s plenty to like and a lot to love about Windows Phone Mango. It’s a great underdog story, and better, it’s a great product. There’s a lot of work to still be done in building a decent app portfolio — webOS lived and died on that shortcoming — but Microsoft, unlike HP, won’t let that happen. More than anything, it’s the most cohesive mobile platform since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.

We’ll go more into Mango as the first new handsets become available.

  • Jack

    i think windows mobile OS is made for old people…the font size is way to big!

    • jackson

      I think that’s design.. =) Some people complain that the text is small…you cannot please everyone i guess.

    • Len

      Ya, for me everything is just so damn bulky. 8 Massive icons per page with no nice looking widgets, this seems much too simplistic for me. I like the touch friendly desk top feel of Android so Ill be sticking with it.

  • francis

    Awesome review !! thank you. I have yet to receive Mango on my focus and I cannot wait ! I’ll probably get a new WP7 device anyway as I really want to skype with my family.

  • InfinitiGuy

    How many years has Microsoft been trying to make their mobile OS a success? I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

    • starduck

      They’ve been working on wp7 for 1 year.

      Before that, with Windows mobile 6, they had one of the most widespread mobile OS in the world. So I don’t see the point you’re trying to make. The reason they aren’t the top dogs in the industry is because they lost what they had a few years ago, not because they’ve never achieved it.

  • Brendon

    Anyone that wants the advanced Bing search features that the us has,
    go into settings->region+location->Browser & Search language->English (United States)
    Now you will have Bing local scout, and the advanced Bing Vision

    • Mesonto

      Wow, thank you for this tip. Absolutely fantastic!

    • Matthew

      well that worked like charm!

  • frederick edwards

    <3 Mango, and I've been running Builds and RTM on my OLD Samsung Focus since they were first released into the wild.

    Rogers Canada updated me on day 1 without even requiring me to force the update: it all went smooth as silk.

    So I am in love with Mango, now where are the damn phones!

    Give me a Titan, Focus S, N800, etc.. hallloooooooooooo?

  • kenypowa

    Good review. WP 7.5 has good potential to be #3.

    It won’t touch iOS or Android, but RIM should be very worried especially in light of recent major outage.

  • jellmoo

    Mango has really changed the playing field. This is what Microsoft should have initially launched. The user experience is by far the best of the mobile platforms,and the baked in features are fun and useful, as opposed to gimmicky or gaudy.

  • Mattymo

    It will for sure touch iOS in the next few years or so. The OS is amazing.

  • Matthew

    Thanks to Mango, I am proud to be a winmo7 phone owner and be part of the underdog story.

    I hope it becomes #3 or #2 (#1 is out of reach I think) so I can say “I was there on the ground floor”. Its a great phone and it sets me apart from everyone else and that’s a nice feeling. I know something that most people out there don’t.

  • jackson

    Love my Windows Phone 7. I think its a good start, people needs to give it a chance, use it and you will find the Mango is ripe.

  • Big 3

    the icons r too big. imagine how many app pages you will end up having especially wif bloatware included from manufacturers and providers

    • Bruce

      There is NO App that you can NOT remove from a Windows Phone!!!

  • Tom

    “It’s a great underdog story..”

    That’s the only part of the post that I don’t agree with.

    MS has unlimited cash (from Windows & Office) and influence to buy the loyalty of allies like Nokia, and to fund massive development efforts even after initial attempts failed.

    Given the importance of this market to them, there really wasn’t much question that eventually, they would get it right. It was their tardiness that allowed Android to become the Windows of the smartphone market.

    Hardly an underdog.

  • Geof Harries

    I have an iPhone 3GS and an unlocked Samsung Omina 7 running Mango. Gotta say; the WP7 device smokes the iPhone when it comes to usability and overall fun-ness (I’m pretty sure that’s not a word).

    But, what I’m waiting for is Nokia’s device release at which point I’ll move completely to Windows Phone full-time. Please, please, MobileSyrup, do a review of these devices as soon as you are able to get your hands on one.

    Speaking of which, any insight as to what Bell is doing with Windows Phone devices? They’ve completely disappeared as phone options from their bell.ca website.

    • Keith

      I just checked bell.ca and clicked on Mobility and Windows Phone was promiently displayed on the main page. That said, they. along with every other Canadian carrier, have not announced any 2nd gen phones yet.

  • Dan

    It looks like DOS for mobile… would it have killed them to use a button or icon in the UI? o_0

  • Stuntman

    Regarding the integrated social networking views, I have this ability on my HTC Desire Z. I found that I did not like to integrate my twitter and Facebook feeds as I use them for different purposes. I much prefer to look at them separately. I can see the value in having both Facebook and Google+ together as these feeds are more similar, but separating them is no big deal either. I have yet to find it useful to have all different types of feeds from my contacts all mashed together. That is why I just keep them separate on my phone.

    Regarding efficiency, I do agree that the novelty of my smartphone hasn’t worn off yet. I’ve been using smartphones for a year and a half and have my current one for almost a year now. I still find myself wanting to use it as the novelty hasn’t worn off. Perhaps MS is just too far ahead of its time.

    I’m still not sold on live tiles. You still have to actually look at your phone for those updates and then if your tiles take up more than one screen, you have to scroll anyway. The tiles also seem to not make efficient use of the space it takes up sometimes. I guess I’m just used to my Android phone where icons take up less space than a live tile. I just cannot see why I need my browser tile to be so big when it doesn’t change. I just think that there are too many dead tiles taking up too much space.

    As for trying it out myself, I’d be happy to, but every single phone store I walk into does not have a working demo model of a Windows Phone device. Most are dummy models that have the home screen painted on. Whenever I see a WP device on display on a pillar in a store, it’s running the automated demo and I don’t have an opportunity to actually try out the UI myself. I just don’t understand why every other featured smartphone in stores have working models and yet none of the WP devices are. This is now almost a year since its release. I think that not having a working demo available is one reason why it doesn’t sell well.

    • skrutor

      I have the exact same issue with Windows phones. I walked into a Best Buy yesterday, and as I’m looking for a new phone, thought I’d try out WM7 to give it a shot. There was not a single working device with it running. I asked the Best Buy mobile guy, and he told me that they have never received training for WM7, and have never had working demo units. The only time I’ve ever been able to play with WM7 was at a Rogers store in Montreal, and the security sensor was so sensitive that it kept going off every time I wiggled the phone, so I gave up.
      Does Microsoft really believe that their name is so powerful that customers will buy the phone sight unseen? I get that a stolen phone costs money, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to let customers actually try the features? I want to see how the little things in the OS matter to me. Something I just noticed on a Nexus S yesterday is the way the app menu scrolls like film strip on rolls. These little things appeal to me, and no dummy phone, youtube video, or website review will be able to make up for hands-on experience.

  • Joseph

    XBox 360 got Halo as a flagship game that helped sell the system. WP7 needs a flagship app. The feature set is is excellent. But it needs a successful app.

    • clint

      I would argue that the OS IS the killer app. I rarely go into other applications because the bulk of what I do is accessible right from the OS.

    • nlm

      Skype.

  • Stu

    I genuinely hope that they can carve a piece of the pie for themselves, as I believe competition is necessary & healthy for the advancement of technology… but I’m also afraid that they may be arriving too late to the party at this point.

    “Have I missed it? Have I missed the battle?”

    “You have missed the war.”

  • Gab

    fine… I’ll try the windows 7 launcher for android…

    • Ron

      It will probably crash when loading it..

  • Bryce

    I’m going to pick apart your number one. Although the multi-tasking is great. It is broken in some ways. Let’s say I open Evernote and then go back to the home screen. If I click and hold the back button, I can resume Evernote from where I was at. However, if I click the Evernote tile, the app completly restarts from the beginning. Should’t it identify that this app is still in the multi-tasking track and resume it instead of restarting it.

  • Bryce

    I would also like to know how you pinned wifi settings to the home screen?

    • JvdM

      Try the “Connectivity Shortcuts” app. It gives you quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth and Celluar settings as well to the Airplane Mode. And you can pin them to your home screen.

    • JvdM

      You can download the “Conectivity Shortcuts” app from the marketplace. Pretty neat, quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, Celluar Settings and Airplane Mode.

  • Keith

    Great review. Mango is an awesome update but now it really makes me want a 2nd gen phone and I’m only 8 months into my contract. I haven’t looked into it yet and it is not something I know much about but I’ll probalby look into buying a Samsung Focus S or HTC Titan if they can run on Bell. Are all SIM cards interchangeable?

  • I

    Thanks for the review, but my next phone will be Blackberry. I’m not big fan of Blackberry but I do not want Google, Apple and Microsoft to kill RIM and buy their patents as it was done with Nortel and Motorola. I do not want them to use my money for killing businesses in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge, that will increase unemployment in the region and can cause new round of economic crisis in Canada.

    • Joshua

      It’s going to take more than buying one phone to save the company at this point. The company, in my opinion, has been mismanaged for quite some time. Their OS is not fluid or user intuitive. I had a BlackBerry for years before switching. I don’t want a Canadian company to go under either but they need a change in strategy and management to get things back on track.

  • raynz

    Great review! I really enjoyed this read. Keep up the good work!

  • willy

    There’s a reason they’re not competing well against the competition. Buying a blackberry will only make them think that their phones still have a market and punishing yourself in the process. You are not helping them at all.

  • I

    At least I will try. $200 is not big price. We can lose much more.
    There are not many companies left in Canada: Celestica closed plants in Canada and opened in China, Bell moved Service Desk to India, AMD bought ATI, Nortel is killed, automotive plants are closed.
    RIM is the one of the largest companies in Canada and RIM’s death will be huge impact on the Canadian economy.

  • Dustin

    Still waiting for my update, and too apprehensive about potentially bricking my HD7 to force it… If Bell doesn’t hook me up soon I might lose my patience. :[

  • Matthew

    If anyone that lives in Scarbs wants a windows phone, goes to a store or retail outlet to try one and can’t, let me know at mm 77 can @ hot mail and we’ll make arrangements so that you can try mine. I am happy to spread the winmo love! Mine is an LGO7 like the one in this review running Mango.

  • Matthew

    anyone that wants to try a windows phone and can’t at a retail location, and you live in scarbs, let me know on here and we’ll make arrangements for you to try mine. I have a LGO7 just like the one here in this article running Mango.

    Happy to share the winmo love!

  • ravinder singh

    hay… this handset is verry speed fast, touch is verry fast

  • Greg

    If you are just looking for social networking or music downloads then you may be happy with Windows Phone.
    I bought it for productivity and have been very disappointed.
    No tethering.
    Can not synch with MS Office directly, especially Outlook. Window site is full of third party workarounds and hope that the next update MAY fix this.
    You have to use Windows Live. No choice, no workarounds.
    A lot of apps are not available for Windows.
    Can’t even use Skype, a Microsoft company.
    I am very disappointed.