Mango arrives with a Wi-Fi tethering surprise

Microsoft has started rolling out the Mango update to Windows Phone 7 devices, along with a couple surprise updates

It's here. Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" started rolling out to devices today, and it brought a few surprises along for the ride.

When Windows Phone 7 was first launched, it received tepid reviews. It was missing key features like the ability to copy and paste text, and many of the core functions of the device like Wi-Fi, Outlook messaging, and general OS performance were lacking.

In March of this year, Microsoft rolled out the "NoDo" update. "NoDo" was sort of like Windows Phone 7 Service Pack 1. It essentially fixed what was broken and made Windows Phone 7 what it should have been when it was launched. But, even with "NoDo" the Windows Phone platform wasn't really ready to go head to head with iOS and Android.

Now "Mango" is here. "Mango" is a major update with more than 500 changes and updates to the Windows Phone system. That is why Microsoft is now calling it Windows Phone 7.5 instead of Windows Phone 7.

I have been playing with a pre-release beta version of "Mango" for the 30 Days With Windows Phone 7 series, so I have already had an opportunity to explore some of the new features. I have been very impressed.

Here is a brief rundown of some of the highlights in "Mango":

  • Messaging Threads: Within a messaging exchange between you and another party, you can switch the messaging platform on the fly. You can start off instant messaging, switch to SMS texting, then jump over to Facebook messaging all within one message thread.
  • Group Contacts: With "Mango" you can create groups of contacts like "Family", or "Softball Team". You can filter incoming messages in the People Hub using the groups, and you can use the Group as a contact for outbound messages if you want to send an email or text message to the whole group.
  • Local Scout: The Maps app in "Mango" has a new tool called Local Scout that identifies places nearby to eat or drink, tourist sites and things to do, and places to shop. You can also use it to plan a trip by finding where you're going to travel on the Maps app ahead of time and then using Local Scout to discover what's near there.
  • Multitasking: "Mango" brings multitasking to Windows Phone 7 beyond the core functions of the OS. It's not "true multitasking", but it is precisely the right kind of multitasking for a smartphone OS.
  • Speech Recognition: There is little you can't do just using voice commands with "Mango". The speech recognition functions allow you to place calls, open apps, search the Web, or get directions to a restaurant without touching the smartphone. You can also speak text messages, and have incoming messages read out loud so you can text while driving without touching the phone or taking your eyes off the road.
  • Visual Search: "Mango" can do neat things like scan Microsoft Tags and QR codes, automatically identify and find information on books, CDs, and DVDs just by "looking" at the cover, and translate text to and from just about any language.

This list just scratches the surface of the 500 changes and updates in "Mango". Microsoft also surprised us all with a few bonus features that it had been holding up its sleeve. Microsoft launched a Web Marketplace for apps, and added Wi-Fi tethering capabilities.

The ability to piggyback on the 3G (or 4G) wireless connection to get other devices online can come in handy on occasion. Whether or not the tethering is allowed, or what it will cost will vary with your wireless provider, though, and there are some reports that the Wi-Fi implementation in "Mango" may have some other limitations to consider.

If you have a Windows Phone 7 device, you will love the "Mango" update. If you looked at Windows Phone 7 before and didn't like it, you owe it to yourself to look again next time you're in the market for a new smartphone. If you have never looked at Windows Phone 7, go check it out.

It's not perfect, but with "Mango" Microsoft might actually have a mobile OS that can contend head to head with iOS and Android.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Topics: consumer electronics, Microsoft, Cell Phones, smartphones, windows phone 7
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