Windows Phone 7 should have had this feature a while ago, but you can now easily switch between multiple apps. Just press and hold the back button on your Windows Phone, and you’ll see a zoomed-out view of multiple open programs presented as thumbnails. Each thumbnail also has the name of the app right underneath it. Switching between apps was fairly fluid, but sometimes our device mistook a long press of the back button for backing out one screen. And while Windows Phone 7 Mango pauses applications in the background so they don’t eat up your battery life or CPU cycles, it would be nice if you could close apps from the multitasking screen, similar to webOS.
Although Windows Phone 7 lets you perform certain tasks in the background using Microsoft’s own apps, such as the Zune music player, developers are still working on third-party apps that can do the same thing. So we’ll have to wait until closer to launch to do things such as listening to Slacker while surfing the web or responding to a text message without interrupting a GPS navigation route. Microsoft is making so-called Live Agents available to developers that can take advantage of background audio, notifications, camera access, GPS, calendar, and more.
It remains unclear how much freedom third-party apps have to operate in the background. Will developers be able to create a screenshot app that sits in the background and takes pictures of the foreground app? How about building a social media app that downloads your feeds in the background?
One of the hallmarks of Windows Phone 7 is the People hub, where you can look up contacts and see what they’re up to on Facebook. Scroll to the right and you’ll see all the latest updates from your friends. If you have a lot of friends, however, you might have to do a lot of scrolling to keep tabs on your favorite people. The new Groups feature presents an elegant solution, allowing users to aggregate contacts easily into a group that you can name.
In fact, Mango gets things started for you by creating a group based on your last name. You can make this highly personalized Family group a Live Tile that lives on your phone’s home screen. When you launch the group, you’ll see your family’s social-networking updates and posted pictures all in one place. You can also send a text or e-mail to the group and chat with those who are online (via Windows Live or Facebook). We’d like to see Microsoft add a group calling feature as well, but overall Groups is a thoughtful and welcome feature that you won’t find on other smartphone platforms.
The Threads feature on our WP7 Mango device was too difficult to set up. You’re supposed to be able to seamlessly move between text messaging, Facebook messaging, and Windows Live chat so that you can easily follow a conversation without having to worry about the client. For example, someone could send you an IM from his desktop and then you could reply via text.
Sounds convenient, but setting up Facebook chat involved linking Windows Live to Facebook on our desktop and then manually syncing Facebook on our phone under settings. Microsoft promises that this process will be much less painful once the final software rolls out. Even once we got Facebook chat activated the Messaging app on our phone said no one was online, even though 10 people seemed to be logged into Facebook chat on our laptop.
Email Enhancements: Linked Inboxes and Conversation View
Fortunately, the Linked Inboxes feature in WP7 Mango worked flawlessly. Instead of just cramming everything into a universal inbox, the software lets you join specific inboxes, a good way to keep work and personal messages separate. All you have to do is open one of the inboxes you would like to link, then tap the three dots at the bottom right of the screen. Then click linked inboxes and choose the accounts you would like to link.
In our case, we linked our Yahoo and Google Mail accounts and called the linked inbox Personal Mail. This feature makes it a cinch to triage mail on the go.
We generally like WP7 Mango’s new conversation view, which enables users to more easily follow an e-mail thread. While iOS displays the number of messages in a thread to let you know that a given message is part of a conversation, Mango indents the message as a visual cue. Our only complaint is that the top of the conversation’s expanded view looks like a clickable message when it’s only a summary of the number of messages. You need to click the second object on the list to read the latest message.
Like iOS, WP7 Mango now has the ability to search e-mail stored on the server as well as what’s on your phone. Or at least that’s the plan. When we tried to search our Google account the device returned an error message saying that it Can’t connect. Microsoft says it’s looking into adding this feature in the future.