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Hands-on Windows Phone (Windows Mobile 6.5)

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We've largely covered Windows Phone (Microsoft's new suite name to encompass Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Marketplace and MyPhone) and our first impressions of the beta weren't good. Still, the official launch was today so what are our thoughts on the final build?

Having now had some time to play with it today I figure the best approach is to break this down into the good, the bad and the apathetic. First the good and - despite all cynicism - Windows Mobile 6.5 does provide some worthwhile updates to 6.1/6.0. Most impressive/necessary is the Windows Phone suite itself.

Windows MarketPlace we all know: it's the long awaited app store and while it launches with just circa 40 apps (200 worldwide, we are assured) that should increase exponentially. Furthermore handy features such as 24 hour refunds (how many iPhone owners would like that option?) and five handset licences per app purchase are welcome.

MyPhone is a helpful addition too and brings online backup/wipe/locate much in the style of MobileMe. What's more, text messages can be searched via the MyPhone interface and my personal favourite: the phone can be switched between silent and ring modes which is rather handy should you ever misplace your phone when on vibrate.

On the handset the new Windows Mobile 6.5 Zune-esque homescreen genuinely looks like it was designed in 2009 too and provides handy at-a-glance access to the time, weather, new emails, multimedia playback and so forth. It is also responsive with a genuine feel of inertia - even on resistive screens. Lastly, Mobile Internet Explorer 6 (confusing branding, I know) finally adds tabs, pop-up blocking, full page rendering, CCS and JavaScript support and interestingly Flash Lite support.

The bad? The most fundamental issue that can't be escaped in the Windows Phone offering is that of Windows Mobile 6.5 itself. It simply isn't good enough. What we have is a mobile OS with the same fundamental core as 6.1, 6.0 and 5.0 - wakey, wakey Microsoft! Consequently, while the new homescreen is nice you only need go a few taps before it is jettisoned and you're back in unpleasantly familiar Windows Mobile 6.1 territory.

The honeycomb menu screen also remains a stupid idea being a needless waste of space and something many handset makers had actually removed in favour of a more logical grid array. In fact HTC has already built a far superior experience to Windows Mobile 6.5 with its TouchFLO UI for v6.1. Next if you thought the Zune influences would lead to a better Windows Media Player experience think again. There may be a few more codecs, but it is just as unfriendly to use as 6.1 and hardly ties in with Microsoft's message of making Windows Phone appeal to mainstream users as well as businesses.

Even the Windows Marketplace and MyPhone have problems. The former only allows apps to be installed on internal memory meaning a microSD slot isn't going to save you (bare this in mind on budget smartphones) while the latter requires a premium subscription to do anything other than backing up your handset.

Will things get better? Potentially. Early Windows Phone handsets don't support multi-touch, but capacitive touchscreen support is now there so multi-touch could well surface in the future as seen with the HTC Leo/HD2. There is also fairly extensive manufacturer support with the HTC Touch II, LG GM750, Samsung Omnia II (pictured), Omnia Pro and Sony Ericsson Xperia X2 all launching with 6.5 with free upgrades from 6.1 being made available by T-Mobile, Vodafone and Orange on the Touch Diamond II, Touch Pro II and TG01 respectively.

The apathy? There is nothing here to get excited about. Microsoft would never admit it, but while Windows Phone indicates a more positive long term strategy Windows Mobile 6.5 it is little more than a weak (and late) attempt to paper over the cracks in 6.1 until Windows Mobile 7 rides in some time next year to save the day. This wouldn't be too bad, but the papering is poorly done and there are already better third party skins available. So existing Windows Mobile owners will welcome the new version, but I can't see any cynics being converted to Microsoft's latest OS and Apple, RIM, Palm, Google and even Symbian can sleep easy tonight. Were this a full on review I'd be looking to award a 5, but I'll reserve complete condemnation until we've had the chance to more thoroughly test Windows Phone over a few days. Safe to say, it doesn't look good.

In related news it hasn't been a happy week for Microsoft's Hotmail email service with news that more than 10,000 users' account details have accidentally been leaked on code sharing service pastebin. European account holders were the biggest group affected and Microsoft has advised all users to change their passwords and alter their security questions. Oops.

Update Gmail, Yahoo and AOL mail users have also been found to be part of the leak which is now thought to be the result of a giant phishing scam. Believe it or not, this is actually good news as it would suggest a logic behind those who have been exposed rather than a random security breach.

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