3 Weeks With Windows Phone 7.5, Part II

This is the second part of my 3 week test of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. Reading the first part before this one would probably be a good idea. The phone is now connected to various accounts like Twitter, Google and Exchange and I’ve had a look at Metro, the new design guidelines for Windows Phone. Now it’s time to move on to the Windows Phone 7.5 applications.

All the standard applications you’ve come to except on any smart phone are pre-installed: Alarm, calculator, calendar, camera, internet browser, gallery, e-mail client, messaging, maps, a market for downloading third party applications, music and video player, phone dialer and a contact list.

The standard applications don’t really bring anything new to the table: The calculator turns into a semi-scientific one when the phone is used in horizontal mode, but this isn’t something we haven’t seen before. The calendar application is fairly standard, with the option to hide or show calendars synchronized from any accounts your phone is connected to. It only supports to date views, either day or month; no week view. The month view is also unbelievably tiny. Your appointments are displayed, but it’s impossible to read anything, forcing you to return to the day view to see what you are actually doing on a given day. Unfortunately, the weakest of the standard applications is the application many people use the most: The internet browser. It’s slow and it doesn’t support proper auto alignment of text when zooming in and out while browsing desktop versions of web sites. This results in a lot of scrolling, which makes it a hassle to read a lot of text.

In addition to the standard applications, Windows Phone 7.5 also sports two applications specific to the OS: Xbox Live integration and an Office application. The Xbox Live integration is probably a great tool if you have an Xbox 360 that you use, but mine is in its box after we moved homes last year and it doesn’t look like I’ll set it up anytime soon. The Office software can come in handy if you’re out and about and have to read, edit or create Office documents. From what I can tell, the Office application can read Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents, but only create new Word and Excel documents. Practical, but let’s be honest: If you sit down to work on the company budget on your phone, you will probably go crazy after ten minutes. It’s great for those last minute changes to a presentation, though. Everything can be saved on Microsoft’s SkyDrive, making it easy to get hold of the modified version on you Windows PC.

There are also a few LG applications installed on the LG Optimus 7 E900 I’m using for this test, but since the focus here is the Windows Phone 7.5 OS and not any good (or bad) ideas LG might have had, I’ll ignore these applications.

The keyboard has it’s good sides and bad sides. At first I found myself mistyping a lot, but this is only to be expected since I’m used to another keyboard. I managed to hit the right keys after a while, but a an option to calibrate the keyboard to my writing style had been great. It supports more than one active layout at the same time, and I have both Norwegian and English configured. Switching between them is done with a click of a button on the keyboard and the dictionary used for prediction changes automatically together with the layout. Unfortunately, the word prediction is rather slow and normally doesn’t show any suggestions before I’m done writing the word. Misspelled words are underlined, though, and if you want to replace a word with something from the dictionary, simply click the word and chose from the suggestions. Nifty. Copy and paste is supported, but not cut, for some reason. Moving the cursor inside the text is implemented rather elegant: Instead of long-clicking and getting the magnification glass (like on iOS) or clicking on the text a thousand times before the cursor is where you want it (like on Android), you long-click and get a cursor you can conveniently place in the text. You can move your finger all over the screen, but the cursor will snap inside the text area. This way, you can move your finger so that it doesn’t cover the word you want to move the cursor to.

One of the more confusing aspects with Windows Phone 7.5 is the way multitasking is handled. If I launch the Twitter client, start writing a tweet, then press the Windows button to return to the start screen and eventually re-launch the Twitter client from the start screen, I’d expect to be able to continue writing the tweet. But, no. Instead the a new instance of the application is launched and the tweet is gone. To use the kind of multitasking I want I instead have to long-click on the back-button on the phone, wait a second for the open applications to be displayed and then return to Twitter from there. The same is the case for the pre-installed messaging application: If you hit the Windows button in the middle of writing a text and you accidentally re-launch the messaging application from the start screen instead of using the long-click-back-button-trick, your text is gone. Weird and not very well thought through, to be honest.

And while we’re on the subject of the messaging application: It doesn’t play too well with iOS and the Emoji application. Anniken sent me some texts containing Emoji smilies and all I got on the Windows Phone was incoherent system error messages and blank texts. Yeah, I know that we’re talking hard core first world problems here, but the OS should handle incoming text messages it can interpret in a more user friendly way.

During my testing the phone notified me of a new version of the operating system being available. Windows Phone 7.5 doesn’t support Over The Air (OTA) updates, but requires you to install the Zune application from Microsoft. It’s a 100+ MB download and even though the software itself does a lot more than just update your phone, it feels like overkill to have to download and install such a behemoth when my only intention was to get the update installed. Once Zune was up and running, however, the update process itself was a breeze and only took about 15 minutes to complete.

All in all, there is nothing about Windows Phone 7.5 applications that really makes me go “WOW”! Yes, they do have their pros, like the e-mail client’s way of conveniently letting you group e-mail accounts and show everything in one inbox, or the text messaging application’s integration with Windows Live Messenger. But there is hardly anything in the application mix that makes Windows Phone 7.5 stand out from iOS and Android.


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