Samsung Focus 2 review: Taking it easy
Bing Maps at the wheel
The basic mapping solution in Windows Phone is Bing Maps. They offer driving (and pedestrian) navigation for free in certain parts of the world but will inevitable take a hit once Nokia Drive gets really going as it offers free voice-guided navigation almost anywhere.
As for Bing Maps's voice-guided navigation - here's how it works: first you set up a route and listen to the first instruction, then when it's time for the next instruction, the phone will beep and highlight it. If you tap it, the phone will read it out to you, but only then.
The Maps app uses a big font with white letters on black background that make reading easy. It still requires you to take your eyes off the road though, it won't put SatNav apps out of business.
Real-time traffic information is also available.
That's not all the new Maps can do for you though. The app will locate nearby points of interest with the new feature called Local Scout and it will even show you indoor maps of malls.
Local Scout has a tabbed interface to sort the various points of interest - eat+drink, see+do, shop and highlights. You can pick items from a "I care about" list to get the relevant options only.
You can browse businesses, read people's review and find directions and contact information.
Office is one of the key selling points of Windows Phone. Document viewing and editing is absolutely free and integrated into the OS.
SkyDrive automatically syncs between the phone and your computer. In case you missed it, Microsoft are offering free 25GB of storage with each SkyDrive account (but individual files are limited to 100MB).
The Locations tab lets you browse Office docs stored on the phone, in SkyDrive, through SharePoint or in Office 365 (a paid service that includes Office web apps).
The Office hub breaks down into three sections - Documents, Locations and Notes.
Anyway, let's look at the two most important apps - Word and Excel. They share the Documents panel, which lists all available documents of the relevant types (in order of last used). Both viewing and editing of files is supported.
The Excel section of the Office hub offers Auto-sum function and you can now tap and drag to select multiple cells.
Editing is pretty straightforward and easy to use even on a mobile device. You type in the text and you can use the Format key to change the formatting of the selected text. You can also insert comments.
Formatting options include the standard bold, italic and underline, as well as text size, highlighting and font color. For highlighting and font colors you have only three colors to choose from, which is a little limiting but should be enough for most cases.
Collaboration for both Word and Excel files is enabled with SharePoint. It allows syncing, sharing and web publishing but you'd need to use the right SharePoint server. You can attach those files to emails, though you need to do that from the Office hub. You can't do it from the email editor, which caused a little confusion at first.
PowerPoint files will thrive in the Documents section too - but they are for viewing only, you can't edit them or create new ones.
OneNote is Microsoft's collaborative note taking tool. It has great (and easy to use) support for lists of multiple levels, you can add photos and voice memos and you can send notes via email when you're done. OneNotes can be synced with your SkyDrive or Windows Live account so that they are accessible from everywhere. Pin-to-homescreen is available too and so is the To-Do feature that turns the selected line into a to-do item that can be checked off.
Anyway, the apps support pinch zooming and work very well for viewing even complex documents. But Microsoft's fondness for simplicity may have over-simplified the editors. Still the innovation that Mango has brought to Windows Phone Office is great and shows Microsoft is dedicated to improving the Office experience further.
Organizer and apps
Organizing skills are very well presented in the Windows Phone OS. Your garden variety apps for organizing your life are all preloaded and even if you need something more Samsung or the Marketplace will provide you with it for free in most situations.
Samsung's AllShare application has been around ever since the Galaxy S and we're glad to see it preinstalled on the Focus 2. It provides a simplified way of sharing your multimedia content via Wi-Fi, while Photo Studio gives you a set of shooting options for the built-in camera.
The Calendar can view sub-calendars for each account you have and you can give each a different color to make it easier to tell apart. You can also disable sub-calendars if they're getting in the way.
The calendar offers day and agenda views too for more comprehensive hour-by-hour browsing of your appointments.
The WP calculator is nothing extravagant - it has the simple portrait view of basically all calculators on the planet, while turning it over to landscape reveals the more complex scientific mode.
The alarm app is simple to use. You get the alarm time with an on/off switch to the right.
The Now application doubles as Daily Briefing, the app that serves to provide you with up to date information on current news, weather, stocks and calendar events.
Windows Phone Mango provides users with the basics in smartphone organizing but, as we said in the beginning, if you need anything more the Marketplace is there too - it offers apps for just about everything - most of which are free.WindowsPhone.com remotely protects your data
The Windows Phone website is the cloud of sorts for all WP7 smartphones. All you need to do to use the site is register your email (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) and then setup an account on your Windows Phone device.
The options given to you on the windowsphone.com website are limited to billing information and security. You can update your billing information, view the apps you've bought and go to the web version of the WP Marketplace and buy new apps. Note that they will be sent to your phone to be downloaded locally on the device, unlike on the Zune app for your PC or Mac.
The features most important to users are the Find, Ring, Lock or Erase. To use them you'll have to input a phone number out of a total of 37 countries. After you've done this the website will have access to your phone's location so you'll be able to pinpoint its almost exact location.
The other features are pretty self-explanatory - Ring will use your phone's ringtone to send a single if you've lost it around the house, Lock will lock it with a 4-digit PIN code and Erase will wipe all your sensitive data off the device so you don't have to worry about it falling into undesirable hands.
What we didn't like about the windowsphone.com cloud is that it doesn't allow wireless sync like on the iCloud, for example. We just think that any cloud-based service should offer this. Also the number of countries that allow tracking your device is limited and many countries where WP is available won't have access to these much-needed features.
The rest of the website includes guides on each individual feature of your phone and depending on where you live there's a very detailed list of providers and operators that offer WP handsets.