My next step in RomWorld is to look at what will become Nokia’s primary smartphone platform, Windows Phone. I had actually installed Mango before doing all the Android stuff in my last two posts but the rom had been very buggy. Now it seems much more stable. Obviously I had been keen to try this out anyway and developing a Windows Phone app or two had been part of the motivation for getting the Htc HD2 in the first place.
So without further ado, here’s My look at Windows Phone Mango, and remember, this is a rom of the beta build 7592 running on a Windows Mobile device. Ogh, and as there is no screenshot app availiable, please forgive the less than stellar pictures in this post.
blackSideSeven v2.06.7592 Mango
Windows Phone Mango is very different from your typical homescreens, apps and widgets interface of Symbian 3, Maemo and Android. The change takes some getting used to and live tiles can feel restricting. Thankfully, for the most part they fulfill the glace and go mission quite well, and the simple interface with clean lines, block colors and large fonts, is actually nice to use, and very intuititve. Crucially, with this rom, it is stable enough to use (as of version 2.06) and if you want to give it a go you can download it from xda-developers.
Homescreen and menu’s
The home screen – a screen that instantly says this is not your typical home phone OS. The large tiles and black bar to the right of the screen look like a waste of space and to some extent, they are. However, the tiles come into their own a bit more as you start to use the OS, providing that clear information about the services they link to. The menu’s are laid out simply and the ability to search on the menu will be nice as the menu gets longer. You will see they are kind of obsessed with left justifying everything, but the option to have an icon grid layout for the apps menu would have been nice.
Multitasking works OK in Mango. Hold down the back key and you will be able to scroll through a card view of open apps. The image for each app is effectively a screen shot of the app immediately before exiting it, so they are not live images. It’s all fairly easy and intuitive. The only problem I really have is that to close an app you have to go to it and then “back out” of it by pressing the back button through each screen. With internet explorer I’ve found my self almost having to back through my web history. Apart from that, it works well.
Phone and communications
As a phone it does the basics well, but in addition, the integrated services really help the picture. Plus, it has one of the best, if not the best, email client out of the box for a mobile device. The glance and go concept with the live tiles is important as well. One nice feature is contact linking – this joins the details of two contacts together – you might want to do this for if the same contact is stored on different services, but you don’t want to merge the details, or perhaps if people live at the same house and have the same number etc. Another feature that is nice is the level of service integration out of the box.
Music and Media
Zune player is not bad at all and a reasonably nice interface to look at. I like that you can swipe the album art to skip forward or back, though I don’t like that you can’t move the tiny progress bar to skip to another place in the song. Zune also will alolow you to swipe through to screens giving more information about the album and artists, which is a nice touch. It integrates well with the lock screen so you can control your music without having to unlock the phone which is always appreciated.
Ignoring the camera harware, which isn’t especially good on the HD2, the interface terface is fairly clean and easy to use and if I had a real HD7, I could unlock to the camera app with the shutter button. Phone’s can be seen in the Pictures hub.
Other Apps and features
The web browser is based off internet explorer, which I have found decent to use but not brilliant. Much like the android browser, you get the full screen to see what you are browsing, and have pinch to zoom and other such features. ONe thing I think (and this goes for most mibile OS’s, is that context sensitive keyboards would be nice – i.e in the web browser, the “/” would be there, though it’s nice that “.com” has it’s own key.
Bing search integration is actually really good, and the results are in hub form with lists for web, local and others. Phone numbers in the results open the dialer, urls, the browser, and addresses open the maps – simple really, but doesn’t always happen that way on other devices.
Bing Maps seems decent at showing a location and providing directions, though I haven’t used all the features. It seems decent, though less well equipped than Ovi/Nokia and Google maps.
XBox Live definable needs a mention. In some ways it’s just a games hub, but the reality of it is the XBox name makes it a bit bigger than that. I tried a couple of games out – PES 2011 and Sudoku (yes, I enjoy puzzles like that). The XBox Live hub syncs with your XBox Live account and so I was able to earn points from my phone which was nice. The hub has so much in the way of bit’s to try, that at first I didn’t realize one column was web links about new games and not taking you to a place to download them. PES 2011 was nice to play and ran smoothly, though load times were a little long. Coming from my N900, I have missed games at that level. It’s easy to see that the XBox name does carry weight and the range of games available was decent. Here’s hoping for more XBox integration in future versions.
One last feature I ought to mention is the speech settings. Voice commands work really well, and you can set it to automatically read text messages and caller names to you, something which is great when driving, and you have a bluetooth headset connected (Be safe folks – Keep both hands for controlling the car and not your phone when driving). Even better for driving is that you can dictate a response text message.
One thing I hope will change for the full Mango release is the level of personalization. You can really only change the back and foreground colors right now and the backgeround colour is a choice between Light and Dark (i.e white and black).
In general it’s very stable, thought there is a known issue with the rom that caused a bit of frustration. One thing that impressed me though is how fast the WiFi and Bluetooth connected to devices – almost instantly, and much faster than android did (not that it was slow, but the difference was certainly noticeable). In general everything is smooth and fast with very little lag, except for the “resuming” screen shown when switching back to some applications (mostly ones developed before the mango multitasking system was put in place).
All round this is a solid mobile OS from Microsoft. Very intuitive and easy to set up and go, though lacking some customization as a result. I did enjoy using it though and can see myself using it as my main phone in the future. There are areas where it is clear Nokia and Microsoft have thought similarly (especially thinking about the N9 UI here) with the idea of one handed use (portrait mode is best), swiping (tiles and menu, hubs), home-screens for notifications (live tiles), swipe up lock screen. All in all, this gives me hope for Mango, and for Nokia’s decision to adopt Windows Phone, and with better (which Nokia will surely provide, and I’m sure others will as well) we could see this flourish in the next 12 months.
I have learned that it is possible to take a HD2 and have it upgraded all the way to the Windows Phone 7 Mango RTM, which should be the same as what we see on the first few real Windows Phone devices. I’ll give it a try and give another report on windows Phone then, including feature missing from my current version like Twitter integration.