For some mysterious reason, Office and Exchange were two areas that weren't given the time of day in the first version of WP7. Sure, Office was there, but there was very little Exchange and Skydrive support (you could access OneNote docs on SkyDrive, but nothing else), and it felt more like a basic doc creator that had a difficult time keeping up with third-party apps like Quickoffice and Docs to Go.
SkyDrive plays a much more important role in the Office now, as you can now easily sync every type of document -- Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote -- between your phone and the cloud. Same goes with any folders that have been shared with you. All of this, in addition to Office 365 and SharePoint docs, can be found in the brand new Locations panel within the Office app.
Word and Excel together offer nine new document templates to help create your docs faster. Word now supports copy / paste and the ability to add comments to specific words or phrases, while Excel offers quick formulas such as sum, max, min and average. But what about PowerPoint? There's not much in the way of improvements here, aside from smoother transitions between slides and better text rendering.
Speaking of Microsoft Office 365, you can also sync your account -- including your corporate email, calendar, contacts and tasks -- with Outlook Mobile. Once you've set up the account, you'll be able to download Lync from the Marketplace, which gives you a lot more interaction with your company (such as multi-person chat, employee searches and the opportunity to join conference calls directly from a meeting in your calendar).
Support for Information Rights Management, which is geared to help protect confidential docs, has also been added to Mango. That comes along with other Exchange features such as the ability to set up Out of Office messages, sync tasks, use alpha-numeric PIN codes and search your Exchange server for older emails and attachments that normally wouldn't still be in the phone. Oh, and lest we forget -- you can now set up multiple Exchange accounts, a blessing for anyone that works for more than one company or has more than one Gmail account set up as its own Exchange server.
The Exchange and Office support was an absolutely crucial area to improve on in order to win back disenchanted corporate customers that used Windows Mobile until the bitter end.
Miscellaneous improvementsCustom ringtones
We admit -- sometimes it's the little things that drive us completely batty, and WP7's lack of quality ringtone options were the epitome of this. Any person who used an iPhone for the first couple years can relate to the frustration of only having a few ringtones to choose from, most of them either way too soft or just plain annoying.
Fortunately, custom tones made the list of 500 features, but there's a twist: you can only get these custom tones by loading an MP3 or WMA clip no longer than 40 seconds into Zune, placing it into one of your music folders, right-clicking the tune in order to edit it and changing the song's Genre to "ringtone." Then simply sync to the phone, select the song in your device's settings and viola! Nothing to it, right? Easy peasy, if
you have software that can crop your favorite music into 40-second segments. Otherwise, get used to the awesomely bad MIDI-style beats found in your phone's ringtone catalog. Don't get us wrong -- we're glad to have the opportunity to throw in our own songs now, but there has to be an easier way.Internet Sharing
How's this for another bittersweet feature addition? Internet sharing, another way of describing the mobile hotspot feature, is now included in all new Mango devices. Let's rewind: that's right, we said all new
devices, which means all existing phones -- including our very own Samsung Focus test unit -- will remain devoid of said awesome hotspot.
Now, we'll play the realist card here. Microsoft was mum on even mentioning this feature at all when we tested the preview build -- it was only confirmed last month -- which tells us the mobile hotspot feature was inches away from not being included in Mango at all. Looking at the bright side, this could just mean that it may take extra time to get the kinks ironed out for existing devices and might come out in a future update, but the folks at Redmond weren't able to give us a firm commitment on it. So, for the time being, current Windows Phones will have a disadvantage here.Video chat
Technically, video chat isn't one of the 500 promised features -- it's an API that developers can take advantage of. But the inclusion of front-facing cameras in many new Mango devices gives us a feeling that we won't have to worry about a shortage of possible apps in this department. In fact, Tango video calling is ever-present in the HTC Titan and Radar, the first Windows Phone 7.5 devices announced by the Taiwanese company. Sure, video chat isn't guaranteed to be supported by the handset you choose, but just do a little research before you purchase the phone to be absolutely positive you'll find a client that works.Connect to hidden WiFi networks
This feature, as small and insignificant as it may seem, could be considered one of the most important additions to Windows Phone, because of the affect it's previously had on corporations who purposely keep their WiFi networks hidden for privacy. For a corporation like Microsoft that takes so much pride in its collaboration with businesses, it seemed like such an odd thing to leave out in the initial version of the OS. However, it's ready for Primetime now, so perhaps all can be forgiven.Battery saver
Battery getting low and you're waiting for that all-important phone call to come in? At this point, you may not care so much about getting your email or having apps run in the background. Enter Battery Saver, a Mango feature that, with your permission, will turn on automatically once your phone is low enough on juice. You can also set it to turn on anytime your device isn't hooked up to a charger, which is roughly 99 percent of the time we don't actually need to charge it.Internet Explorer 9
Steve Ballmer said it himself -- Windows Phones sales haven't exactly been stellar. And it's not exactly the biggest surprise, considering the type of rebuilding phase Microsoft's mobile OS has gone through over the last few years. Swapping a platform used by millions with something more "youthful and fresh" isn't going to earn customers and praise overnight, especially when it's a brand new ecosystem that has to start from scratch. We've said before that Mango is the OS that should've come out last year to give Windows Phone relevance in the market, and it's true -- but it's understandable that the company was nowhere near ready to push such a sophisticated platform out. There just wasn't enough time. But it's a much different landscape now for Windows Phone, and Mango is a better fit than its predecessor. The major update took less than a year to make it out, an impressive feat for the overhaul that was involved. Additionally, the Marketplace now supports 30,000 apps and is growing at an explosive pace which will likely speed up as the platform becomes more popular and developer-friendly.
While Windows Phone still needs a glass of water to get rid of a few hiccups -- and let's face it, every mobile OS has plenty of their own -- it ironed out a lot of the wrinkles from earlier versions and made it a much more feature-laden, user-friendly experience. With Mango, WP7 has caught up with Android and iOS in nearly every way, and in some areas it's even surpassed the other two in functionality. Despite a grim first year, the bright future of Windows Phone is forcing Ballmer to wear shades.Myriam Joire contributed to this review.