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Email has been enhance with the addition of a conversation-style layout, just like SMS are on many phones. Along with Threads, this makes it really easy to keep track of all the messages you've exchanged with someone.
Meanwhile the calendar further emphasises the Windows Phone philosophy of integration, with support for Facebook events. Simply pop into the calendar app and it will show your Facebook happenings just like they were any other calendar event - it will even notify you if two events clash, which is a mighty useful tool.
One more thing on the socialising front; if you're listening to music on a headset, you can have messages read out to you and dictate a reply all through voice commands. We didn't have a chance to give this much of a try but the demo was impressive.
All told, Microsoft has created undoubtedly the most integrated, slickly presented set of tools for keeping in touch with your friends and organising your social life that we've yet seen on a phone. We haven't yet had time to ferret out any foibles in the new features but thus far, consider us impressed.
Multi-tasking is probably the single biggest addition to Windows Phone Mango. The inability to quickly swap between apps on the original version of the OS was a shocking omission when it launched so it's good to see it finally implemented. As with the iPhone, among others, it isn't 'true' multi-tasking whereby to apps fully run simultaneously. Instead it pauses background apps, ready for them to leap back to life in an instant.
To bring up the multi-tasking view, you just hold down the Back button and you're presented with a carousel of large thumbnails, which you simply tap on to bring full screen. It's nothing new but it's neatly done, and certainly beats the iPhone and Android implementations.
Apps in general are set to improve too thanks to the opening up of the Windows Phone API. Now apps will be able to send updates to Live Tiles, pull information from contacts or calendars, and of course maintain that swipey navigation style.
One such example is the upcoming British Airways app. This allows you to book your flight, choose your seat – through a very slick 3D interface, and find out where your terminal is. But not only that, you will get a pop-up to tell you that check-in is now available, and once checked-in you can pin your boarding pass to a Live Tile, which is locally stored so will work even without a data connection. The Live Tile will even flip round intermittently, showing the QR code for your ticket. Very neat!
With 18,000 apps already available for Windows Phone, Microsoft is already nipping at the heels of the other smaller smartphone players and it seems like it won't be long before it's comfortably in third spot. What's more, the overall quality of apps seems to be good, with Microsoft obviously able to drag developers onboard quicker than all but Apple.
Search has also seen a big improvement with the addition of Bing Vision and Bing Music. The former uses the phone's camera to identify products via bar codes or simply image matching to then bring up information about the item – we were shown the example of a book. Bing Music, meanwhile provides a one stop means of finding out what music is playing, just like Shazam. Both a not new but the fact that they're available at the touch of a button – the Search button – is a real boon to usability.
Normal search is also enhanced by location data, giving you instant access to a whole load of locality based searches just from one search word. Search for 'coffee' and it'll tell you about coffee, show you where the nearest coffee house is,
Microsoft made a big song and dance about IE9 being on Windows Phone Mango, claiming it was exactly the same code as on the desktop version of the browser. This it demonstrated by showing how fast it was at rendering an HTML5 test, as compared to an iPhone 4. However, while it did seemed fast, Microsoft failed to mention the lack of Adobe Flash support and was reticent to explain its absence.
The other big hitters of Windows Phone, Office and Xbox, didn't have much in the way of big updates except Office now has integrated SkyDrive support, allowing you to edit documents stored in the mystical magical cloud! Excel can now handle formulas as well, while PowerPoint better shows full slideshow animations.
So, Windows Phone 7 Mango is not a complete reworking and there aren't that many headline grabbing features that are things the OS should have had long ago. The wacky interface that takes some getting used to is also just as in your face as before. What's more, some of the shiniest gems are only available if you jump head first into the Microsoft eco-system, which many don't want to do. However, the combined small improvements, along with Windows Phone's already very slick, heavily integrated interface make for a phone OS that feels like it's particularly suited to the way most people use their phones nowadays. iOS, and even Android, may have a simpler approach on the surface but get to learn it and we suspect Windows Phone may prove a better experience for many.
Video coming soon...