In some cases when you search on WP7 Mango, you’ll be able to access a Quick Card, which is designed to help users get stuff done faster. When we searched for Green Lantern, the page listed a bunch of local theaters. Once we tapped on that, a Movie Quick Card loaded that displayed a thumbnail of the movie poster, rating, and synopsis. Scrolling to the right listed local showtimes and presented the option to buy tickets (though the MSN Movies app). WP7 Mango also includes Place Quick Cards and Product Quick Cards.
The Bing app landing page has a new icon that we think WP7 Mango users will be pressing a lot. It’s a shortcut to Local Scout, which is like a hyper-local City Search. This feature provides recommendations for restaurants, sightseeing, and shopping within a 25-mile radius. When we launched Local Scout from our midtown Manhattan office, it listed 20 local eateries based on distance, but you can change the ranking criteria to highest rated, relevance, or cuisine. You can also pin any one of these businesses to your home screen.
WP7 Mango looks to steal some thunder from Google Googles with Bing Vision. This feature lets you use your phone’s camera to scan barcodes and QR codes, as well as the covers of commercial media to look up more info online. For instance, when we placed a book near our Samsung Focus’ camera within a few seconds a thumbnail of the cover popped up on our screen. Tapping on that launched a Product Quick Card, and from there we could read reviews and check the lowest prices. Google Googles goes even further by including landmarks, books, artwork, wine, and scanning contacts, but at least Bing Vision is built into the OS.
Similar to Googles, Bing Vision will also translate text from on language to another (including French, German, Italian, and Spanish). To try this out, we pointed our handset at a piece of paper with the following phrase on it: “¿Sabes lo que el clima va a ser hoy en día?” Sure enough WP7 Mango translated the sentence correctly.
Internet Explorer 9 for Mango has a lot more power under the hood, thanks to hardware-accelerated graphics. You also get support for a bunch of standards, including HTML5. What we noticed first is that the address bar is on the bottom of the screen, which we like because it lets you see more content up top. We’re not fans of the way IE9 handles tabs, though, because they’re not really tabs at all. You have to hit the menu button to the right of the address bar, and then tabs to see thumbnail views of open sites. We much prefer iOS 5’s approach of presenting desktop-style tabs right underneath the address bar. The next version of Android for phones will likely follow Honeycomb’s lead and do the same thing.
IE 9 in WP7 Mango lets users share pages via social networks, but we wish it took less steps. You have to press the menu button, then share page, then social networks, then your network of choice. We think Facebook (and eventually Twitter when it’s ready) should be listed right on the first share page along with the messaging and e-mail accounts.
To test IE 9’s hardware acceleration in WP7 Mango, we visited Microsoft’s fish tank test drive site, which illustrates a bunch of fish swimming around in a tank and logs the frame rate. Our device notched a brisk 27 fps, while the iPhone 4 barely mustered 2 fps. Unfortunately, the real-world browsing experience on our Mango device was worse than on iOS or Android. When visiting the desktop versions of CNN.com and NYTimes.com, we couldn’t play any of the videos because WP7 Mango lacks Flash support (at least for now). Android supports Flash, and iOS uses HTML 5 for playing web videos.
We also noticed that many mobile sites looked more robust on Android and iOS. While Yahoo.com on our Samsung Focus had just text links, the homepage looked richer on the other two platforms, complete with photos for the lead story and the ability to swipe or click through other top stories. Microsoft explained that site owners are in many cases detecting the older, less-capable IE7 mobile browser and that the company is working with them to get them to update their sites by this fall.
Anyone who has created a Wii or Xbox Live avatar on their game console will appreciate the ability in WP7 Mango to trick out a 3D Xbox Live avatar right on your phone’s screen. You can customize everything from facial features and clothes to accessories. The Games Hub also integrates more deeply with Xbox Live to allow gamers to compare achievements, see who’s online, and send and receive messages and accept requests.
We had fun playing a demo of Sonic the Hedgehog, but we haven’t yet seen the kinds of immersive, console quality titles that iOS offers, such as Infinity Blade and Rage HD. The good news is that Microsoft and its partners are hard at work in bringing more exciting titles to the Windows Phone stable, including Splinter Cell and Let’s Golf. Microsoft’s own upcoming Windows Phone exclusive games focus more on casual gamers. Where’s Halo Mobile?
On the Zune front there’s not a ton of new stuff other than Smart DJ. Similar to Pandora or Slacker, this feature creates a mix based on a artist, album, or song from your library or the Zune catalog if you’re a Zune Pass subscribers ($14.99 per month). We created a Smart DJ mix from The Strokes and liked most of the selections Zune chose. Other new features include direct podcast downloads from the Marketplace and Shazam-style song identification via Bing.