Windows Phone 7.5 Mango: Australian Impressions

Mango, aka Windows Phone 7.5, will officially begin rolling out from today. But are the proclaimed 500 features worth it, does it meet the needs of Australian users, and just how will you get it?

The initial rollout of Mango will be via carriers, which means you won't necessarily see an update right this minute if you switch on your phone. That said, we know that Vodafone, Optus and Telstra have all approved updates for their existing range of WP7 phones, so it shouldn't be a massively delayed process down under.

We've been hearing about Mango since May, and the release is said to have more than 500 new features. I've had a quick preliminary play with a Mango device (the Samsung Omnia 7), and for me the most important of those new features is multitasking. The lack of an ability to switch between apps meant that I never gave Windows Phone 7 any serious consideration prior to this. I have a device on my desk to check prices and availability for WP7 apps, but outside that context it never gets used.

At its simplest, Mango multitasking is pretty basic -- hold down the back key and scrolll through the five most recent apps -- but that's still a big step forward on the previous one-app-and-that's-it model. Apps written to take advantage of it can perform more complex tricks (like continuing background tasks such as playing music), but even in its most basic form it gives WP7 workhorse potential that simply wasn't there before.

Some of the other improvements don't work out as well in an Australian context.

For instance, in May Microsoft made a big fuss of how integrated Bing search enables features like Local Scout (which identifies search-relevant terms in your area, useful for shopping and dining out) and Quick Cards (which shows related apps and other info when you search for products, movies and placement).

Quick Cards doesn't appear to work at all, reflecting the much weaker subset of features we get in Bing down under. Local Scout did a reasonable job of finding restaurants near me, but was no help at all with movies. That's odd, since the standard web version of Bing actually can find local movie times in Australia. On Mango, I got nothing at all helpful, and the only suggestion for a locally relevant result under the 'local' list was an entirely irrelevant address in Arizona. Clearly, search-related features still need a lot more work for non-US users.

Newly-updated IE9 includes HTML5 support, which worked OK with basic demos, but often floundered in contexts that don't primarily expect touch. I didn't have any joy trying the world's biggest PAC-MAN, for instance. Searching by voice doesn't work particularly well either; I could only get it to recognise phrases by speaking very slowly and distinctly, and even then it sometimes missed entire sentences and asked me to try again.

I haven't played with WP7 long enough to offer a definitive verdict on it (or to test some of the new social features), but despite the glitches it's a fairly promising update. Of course, the big challenge is that ultimately we're all really waiting to see what happens when Microsoft's long-brewing partnership with Nokia actually delivers some phones. On its own, Mango looks perhaps a little less juicy by comparison.

What are you hanging out for with WP7? Tell us in the comments.

More: Windows Phone 7.5 Review: Bring On The Hardware

Republished from Lifehacker