Windows Phone Mango: First impressions

CNET takes a closer look at Microsoft's upcoming Mango update for Windows Phone.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
3 min read

Watch this: Windows Phone Mango preview

NEW YORK--Earlier today, Microsoft previewed its upcoming Mango update for Windows Phone. Expected to roll out to devices in the fall, Mango brings more than 500 new features, making it the biggest update to the mobile operating system since it debuted in November 2010.

It's an impressive number, to be sure, but we're more concerned with quality than quantity, so needless to say we were very anxious to go hands-on with the Mango software.

Well, I finally got my opportunity today and let's just say I'm hopeful.

First off, Microsoft hasn't done much with the Metro user interface, which is just fine by me because it really is attractive and easy to use, but the company said it wanted to make it smarter and easier. One way Microsoft attempted to do that is by enhancing the Start screen with more dynamic and content-rich tiles.

With Mango, you'll be able to see more real-time information in these tiles, so for example if you pin a contact to the Start screen you can see the contact's real-time status updates and notifications. The tile no longer serves just as shortcut to that person's contact card, which will be a great time-saver since you no longer have to open multiple applications to view such info. This is something that frustrated me about Windows Phone 7, so it's a welcome addition and I'm excited that developers will also be able to tap into the new dynamic tiles for their apps.

Opening multiple apps should be less of an issue anyway now that Mango supports multitasking. This is something I've been looking forward to since Microsoft announced it at Mobile World Congress, and the implementation is simple but effective. From wherever you are on the phone, you can just hold the back button to bring up a carousel of all your open apps that you can swipe through to switch to another task.

It's such an easy system that it makes me wonder why Windows Phone didn't launch with this in the first place. I feel the same way about some of the new communications features, including group contacts, threaded message view, and Twitter (as well as LinkedIn) integration into the People hub. All seem like no-brainers, but better late than never, right? By the way, the Twitter and LinkedIn integration wasn't demoed today, as the feature wasn't activated on the back end. However, I was told that it will act much like Facebook, with tweets and updates showing up in the What's New section of the People hub.

Windows Phone Mango update (photos)

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Mango also brings unified inboxes, which is nothing new to other platforms, but I like Microsoft's approach. Instead of combining all your accounts into one single inbox, Windows Phone allows you to choose which accounts you want to link. I like it because I want to keep my work e-mail separate from my personal e-mail, so having the option to link my various personal accounts while keeping work separate is definitely appreciated.

Another area where I liked Microsoft's philosophy was the new apps integration, especially combined with the enhanced search function. Using Visual Search, you can use your phone's camera to scan a bar code or QR code for a product and get search results based on that item. In my demo, they used a book, and once its code was scanned, Windows Phone neatly presented a set of search results that showed reviews, prices, places to buy, and so forth. With the App Connect feature, the system also searched the phone for any relevant apps--in this case, Amazon Shopping and Amazon Kindle.

Microsoft Senior Product Manager Greg Sullivan told CNET that with Mango, the company wanted the phone to do the "heavy lifting" for the user, so instead of making you go search for those apps, you can let the phone do that for you. It's this kind of approach that makes me really excited about Mango and Windows Phone in general. The features aren't new, obviously, but the way Windows Phone implements them is different and smart. Don't get me wrong; Microsoft still faces many challenges, including releasing these updates and new hardware in a timely manner, and the fact that Mango isn't due out till fall and new phones are due even later worries me, but nevertheless, I'm excited.

What do you guys think?