When Windows Phone 7 (WP7) first launched, the focus was on the bold new direction that the user interface took, concerns over its long term viability, and criticisms regarding major missing functionality — like wireless tethering, copy and paste, and multitasking. In the last month, Microsoft has released the newest version of WP7, commonly known as "Mango." While it addresses many of those big concerns (such as adding support for front-facing cameras and introducing a multitasking model),many people are overlooking the slew of minor improvements made to the OS. Now that my WP7 phone has had Mango on it for a few weeks, I have found 10 small changes that have made it a much more pleasant phone to use.
1: Internet Explorer's new address bar
Something that drove me nuts in the original WP7 was that in Internet Explorer, you had to work to get the address bar to show, and it would only show in portrait mode, not landscape more. With Mango, the address bar is always showing in both views. This makes navigation much easier, and you do not have to fiddle with screen orientation to show it.
Mango finally lets you use your own ringtones. It is a bit clumsy, but at least the option is there. You need to go to the Zune software you do your sync from, find a song that meets the requirements (MP3 or WMA format, under 39 seconds long, less than 1 MB in size, and DRM-free), set the Genre to Ringtone, and sync it to the phone.
3: Facebook chat integration
If you look under Messaging, you will see a new Online tab. Here, you can use Facebook chat. While I do not like using Facebook chat within my browser, I do like having other clients to work with it on my desktop, and having the choice on my phone is nice. Now my wife has one more option to get my attention!
4: New search options
The original WP7 search system just sent a search to Bing, and that was it. Now you can search locally (Scout); discover what song is playing; scan QR codes, Microsoft tags, books, CDs, and DVDs; or speak your search query. All these choices are accessed with the icons at the bottom of the screen in the search system.
5: Shaded "bubbles" in messages
Like other phones, WP7 would put the messages back and forth into "bubbles" showing who was speaking. But unless you paid close attention to the bubble position and shape, it was easy to confuse who was who. In Mango, the different bubbles have a slightly different shade to help differentiate the speakers. It is subtle, but it does make following the conversations much easier.
6: Upload video to Facebook
One of the most glaring omissions in the original WP7 (up there with the lack of custom ringtones) was the inability to upload videos to Facebook directly through the phone. Now you can share videos just as easily as you could share pictures. Oh, and speaking of sharing pictures, the broken Facebook upload that came with the July Facebook app update is fixed, so your pictures upload properly now like they used to.
7: Threaded email conversations
Email conversations are now threaded by subject, which makes it much easier to follow them. WP7 gets praise for its email client in general, but this was something that most folks had been asking for. You can turn this feature off in the email settings if you like, though. But I've found that it is a great use, especially for my business email account, and I am sticking with it.
8: Spoken map directions
I have to say, I hated using my phone for maps because I was constantly having to look at the phone. Why? Because unlike every GPS unit or application out there, the WP7 map didn't speak directions out loud! Well, Microsoft fixed that in Mango, and you can now count on your WP7 device to replace a dedicated GPS unit.
9: 10-minute snooze
One of the little things that drove me nuts in the original release of WP7 was the alarm system. It only had a five-minute snooze, and there was no way to change it. What's the point of that? For those of us who use our phones as an alarm clock, that doesn't make much sense. Mango fixes this by increasing the snooze time to a full 10 minutes. It is still inexplicably unchangeable, though.
10: Facebook birthdays on the calendar
I am not a huge fan of Facebook as a Web site, but as a system for keeping in touch with people, its critical mass of users has made it to become a big part of my life. All the same, I prefer to talk to close friends on the phone or text message them rather than send them Facebook messages. Now that the birthday reminders from Facebook show up on my phone's calendar, I get reminded in the middle of the day about it, so I can give them a call or send them a text message, which is a little more personal than a Facebook Wall post.
Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.