|Windows Phone 7.5 is to Windows Phone 7 what iPhone OS 2.0 was to iPhone OS 1.0. Remember when the iPhone didn't have an App Store? Exactly. Windows Phone Mango is a significant leap over Windows Phone 7, the OS that we found quite a few holes in during our Dell Venue Pro review. The OS as a whole is now more refined and elegant, but the initial roll-out was full of small annoyances for most people to take seriously. Mango is the first build of WP7 that rivals Android and iOS in many ways.
A new threaded e-mail inbox displays messages masterfully, and there's finally built-in LinkedIn and Twitter support. This is also the first Windows Phone product to ship in America with Internet Sharing enabled (that's "tethering" in Android / iOS land), and there's even a new Battery Saver mode that'll cut the right corners when your battery starts running low.
The new build of Internet Explorer is also a monumental improvement. In fact, we wonder if Microsoft should just shed the "IE" label from this browser. IE has something of a poor reputation in tech circles, and the browser that ships with Mango is unlike many IE builds of the past: it's fast, fluid, and responsive. It's exactly what a mobile browser should be.
There's also improved Office and Exchange support, and there's excellent SkyDrive support. The only issue is that Microsoft doesn't allow third-party cloud services to be tightly integrated with the OS yet. Like it or not, not everyone is going to adopt SkyDrive. Even WP7 loyalists are more apt to use a cross-platform system like Dropbox. Native Dropbox integration here would be great, but alas, it's nowhere to be found.
Microsoft has also pimped out Bing Search, adding support for scanning of photos, voice search and a Shazam-like Music Search -- which listens to audio for 10 seconds and then uses Bing to find metadata about the track. But with Mango, it's really about the small things.
Local Scout is little more than Yelp, but it's so well integrated that it was instantly one of our favorite applications. You load it up, and it finds where you are and puts out nearby shopping results, food results, etc., all in Mango's beautiful Metro UI design language. It just feels right. It looks right. It's elegant. And we found ourselves thinking this with almost every WP7 app that we opened.
Even the camera app is improved, enabling users to save prior settings and automatically 'fix' photos by adjusting contrast and levels. The Marketplace is super easy to search, but of course, it's the one area that's still majorly lacking. Microsoft has reportedly been paying gobs of cash to developers to port apps over, but they need to pay more, and fast. The Marketplace looks bare -- still -- compared to iOS and Android markets. Yes, it's looking better than it did a year ago, but there is still little hope to see major apps like Dropbox, Instagram and MOG. Specialty apps like Concur and SignMyPad aren't likely to make the jump anytime soon, either.
Other niggles were solved in Mango, too. We can now sync multiple Google Calendars with relative ease. Facebook and text messages can be woven together. That said, things aren't perfect. The 'to-do' list in Calendar doesn't support third-party lists from Google, Remember The Milk or Evernote. And multitasking is still strange; while a long-press of the Back button pulls up a card-like interface, we often found ourselves loading up an app, exiting briefly, and when launching back into the app; we had to wait through the initial splash screen again.
Overall, however, the improvements cannot be understated. And despite having a single-core CPU, the UI movements are brisk. And without fail, most apps simply look better on Windows Phone than any other platform. The Facebook app here is great. The design is beautiful. The layout just makes sense. Multitouch works extremely well, and whisking through apps is a pleasure. We really like the Metro design language, and love how well it is implemented through apps in the Marketplace.
At no point did we feel that the hardware was holding us back. There was plenty of power to get tasks done quickly, and we can say one thing about using Windows Phone that we can't easily say about other platforms: it's just fun. It's hard to quantify, but the beautiful nature and simplicity of the OS just makes using it an enjoyable experience.
We'll close this section with one important point: with a Lumia device, you get an even better selection of Marketplace apps. Nokia Transport, Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps are all available exclusively on Lumia devices, and they're free. They also happen to be best-in-class navigation apps, allowing offline guidance of dozens of countries, mass transit directions and loads more. For avid travelers, this may be reason enough to consider the Lumia 900. Nokia's exclusive suite of apps is a really compelling reason to give this platform a look if you've been ignoring it.