Windows Phone 7.5 review: Ready, set, mango
Maps with driving directions and local search
Maps is a core part of the Windows Phone experience and there's a new feature that makes version 7.5 a must-have - driving (and pedestrian) navigation for free.
Now, it's not quite 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.
But it can come handy (especially if you've got a co-pilot) and until Nokia joins the Windows Phone team, it's the best that the newest OS from Redmond can offer (oddly, WP6.5 had voice-guided navigation in the States).
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.
It's an odd thing to brag about, but Windows Phone 7.5 lets the user choose a custom ringtone. Don't laugh, iPhone users had to go through the same in the beginning.
Another thing that WP7.5 enables is Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. To enable sharing, you have to pick a name for the network and then the security level, open or WPA2. Keep in mind that it's up to the carrier to enable this feature, so you might not get it even if you install 7.5.
One thing that must have annoyed security-conscious people is WP7's inability to connect to Wi-Fi networks that don't broadcast a name (hidden networks). That's no longer a problem with version 7.5.
The Games hub got an update too, now you can edit your avatar, track your Xbox Live achievements and get messages from Xbox Live contacts.
Windows Phone 7 failed to wow consumers, but it's part of Microsoft's long-term plan and they are not rushing anything. It will soon be joined by Windows 8, which shares the Metro UI, the live tiles, the ARM CPU support and will be sprawling across PCs and tablets in no time.
When that's done, Microsoft will be offering a complete ecosystem - from your phone, through your tablet, to your computer at home or at work. That's exactly what Apple have had going on for quite a while and this way of doing things has had a lot of vocal proponents.
Still, WP7 lacked key functionality, which deterred potential consumers. Version 7.5 however brings things that will appeal to businesspeople, social networking buffs and people who like a novel software experience.
If you're using Microsoft software (chances are you're using at least Office at work), WP7.5 offers the smoothest, most well-rounded experience. The rich bundle of several social networks and IM clients and emails and texts is beautifully organized too.
And let's face it, the Windows Phone interface is the only UI around that's truly different - iOS, Android, even Symbian are becoming harder and harder to tell apart. The only thing that held it back was the lack of multitasking and now that's been sorted out.
Speaking of apps, two tech giants (Microsoft and Nokia) are hard at work to attract new developers to build even more apps and introduce even more services to the platform.
Second generation Windows Phone handsets are already on the way and they stand a good chance of stopping the market-share downward spiral. It will take years to catch up to Android and iOS, but Windows Phone 7.5 is a big step forward.