I’m a long-time Windows Phone user, but until version 7, you might’ve called me a Windows Phone sufferer. Windows Phone 7 turned me back into a fan, and while that product left some things out like “cut and paste” (which I never used anyway), it was a massive improvement over the older product. Well, 7.5 is to 7.0 what Windows 7 was to Vista. It not only improves most everything, it packages up all of the improvements that came in to the 7.0 product in patches to create a much better initial impression.
Now, let’s be clear, a new phone is about a third software, a third services (including the carrier), and a third hardware. We are missing that last third, in terms of hardware designed specifically for the new features like wireless tethering. The hardware designed for this new OS, due in about 30 days, will complete the offering. Nokia is clearly going to try to make a huge statement here, and would be the company to watch.
Now be aware I’m a Windows Phone user, so I took to the new OS like a duck to water, but it is very different than either Android or iOS, so others may struggle with some of these differences.
Let’s start with a baseline.
Let me spend a few moments by focusing on the big differences between this new WP 7.5 platform (I’m going to abbreviate Windows Phone from now on), Android, and iOS. Android is nearly a clone of the Apple’s iOS effort, but the two firms are on opposite vectors. Both OSs are based on icons, but Apple works very hard to provide a prepackaged experience, while Google is more on the build-it-yourself vector. Apple is very restrictive on hardware, with a limited line of devices, while Google phones come in all shapes and sizes. In hardware, the WP products have more variety than Apple but far less than Google. But the WP interface uses tiles, which will also show up in Windows 8, rather than icons.
These tiles are active and have several advantages: They are very easy to see, they provide information so you know when to open a related App, and they are faster, keeping your eyes more on what you are doing and less on your phone (thus the old WP ad).
Taking pictures with WP is a signature feature not often talked about. It is done using one dedicated button that wakes up the phone, puts it in camera mode, and then takes the picture. If we were camera gunslingers, this phone would dust any other platform on the market, and if you like capture moments (think kids or pets) no other phone I’ve ever used is as fast.
Improvements in WP 7.5
Think speed and you are 90 percent of the way there. This is a much faster product. Rather than just some of the tiles being active, most are active now. The browser moves from IE8, which was focused on quality and security, to IE9, which is focused on speed and wider compatibility. It amazes me how critical the browser is in smartphones, and how little ink we spend on talking about it. This browser is seriously fast, rivaling the speed I get on my PC, and it should since both are running IE9.
Internet Sharing, what some have called tethering, is also an improvement, but you’ll likely not be able to use it unless your carrier OKs it and you have a phone that supports this feature. Unlike true tethering, which typically requires you to connect the phone via a USB cable, turn off its phone features, and only works with one device (generally a PC due to drivers) at a time, Internet Sharing works with up to five devices, including your Wi-Fi iPad, Kindle, or handheld gaming system.
WP 7.5 now organizes conversations by people. When you look at an email, it will place below it prior emails, text messages or other correspondence that relates to that person or topic. This makes it a lot easier to look back and remember who this person was, and remember what the heck you are talking about (I get a lot of email). This is likely the way things should be done even on PCs, but you notice the benefit more quickly on a phone due to its small size (you can see a lot more messages that are important if they are placed together). This phone really is showing one of the most interesting approaches to social networking, a place where Microsoft’s relationship with Facebook could pay dividends over the coming years. I’d expect to see a major portion of the future advancements here. For instance, when a text comes in, the phone automatically displays it in the context of what came before it, and you don’t even have to open the app. So added social context is an advantage of this version, and expected to be better with the next.
Web services have also improved, from the ability to find and install applications to connections to Xbox Live and back into Microsoft Office. It’s a vast improvement over the initial WP7 product, but less so over the patched WP7 offering, which takes us back to the comparison between Windows Vista and Windows 7. Microsoft has fielded a strong competitor to Apple, and done so while avoiding the temptation of just copying iOS. This is a very different product that will appeal to those who want something better packaged than Android, with stronger social networking features than both Android and iOS, and more hardware choices than Apple provides.
Waiting for hardware
However, as mentioned above, this is really only two thirds of a review, because the Mango hardware isn’t due for another month. All of us testers are working with older products. The success of WP 7.5 will definitely depend on how good the hardware is, and all eyes are on Nokia, which has bet the farm on this platform. Nokia will, because of these high stakes and its focus, likely have the strongest Mango line of devices, setting the bar for this platform. We’ll revisit this in about a month and share how the Finnish company did. In the end, Mango is what Microsoft should have always done. If the lumbering giant can just get over its name, get some compelling hardware, and maintain a strong marketing program, it could be a player. Those are a lot of “ifs” though. Against Apple, which is clearly more focused on fewer products than Microsoft, success will depend on Microsoft overcoming all of these “ifs.” The product is good enough to win; the real question is whether Microsoft will flood it with enough resources to ensure that win. We’ll see.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.