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Hands-On With Windows Mobile 6.5


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winmo-iMicrosoft today announced its latest smart phone operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5, which will be available on new phones in the second half of 2009. We’ve had a chance to go hands-on with the new OS and are ready to bring you our initial opinions of the follow-up to Windows Mobile 6.1, which was released in the Spring of 2008.

If there’s one thing to take away from the update, it’s that the operating system is much more “finger friendly,” in that you won’t have to rely on the stylus as much as you did in Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional to tap or navigate around the screen. In fact, Microsoft designed the entire UI so that users could navigate using just one hand. There’s also an improvement in overall aesthetics.

A Zune-like Home Screen
The new home screen is similar to the sliding-panel found in Windows Mobile 6.1, but it looks even more like the Microsoft Zune UI. It’s much more user-friendly than previous versions. The text is bigger and crisper, and the whole interface is very intuitive. Scroll down to view more options or left/right to check out specific options within a category.

Microsoft is calling each panel in this version a “widget” and further widgets will be supplied by developers. It hopes that there will be a weather widget, and more from whomever wants to develop new ones. We would love a Facebook or Twitter widget that informed us of new updates, or even a Flickr one that showed us new photo uploads. Or imagine one that let you control Slacker radio.

New Lock Screen
From the lock menu, you can now view missed calls or see how many new e-mails or messages you have next to a small unlock key. It’s a much more friendly display for folks that like to pop a phone out of their pockets real quick just to see what’s new. If you want to see messages or missed calls, swipe your finger along the lock icon to unlock your phone.


If a call comes through, you can choose to choose to slide out either a green answer button or a red hang-up button. We asked why we couldn’t just tap the icon to answer or deny a call, and Microsoft told us that this system helped avoid accidental pocket answering. The lock screen is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of small, but useful, changes. Let’s take a look at what happens when you click the Start button. Here’s a hint: the old Start menu is gone.

Honeycomb Home
Yep, the old Start menu is really gone. When you click the Start menu in 6.5, you’re presented with a new honeycomb-based user interface. Microsoft says the honeycomb look helps maximize the touch area, so that icons can easily be pressed with a finger. Further, icons at the bottom of the display are cut in half, forcing the user to recognize that more applications exist beyond that initial first offering. You’ll see similar icons to those that were normally under the Start > Programs folder in 6.1.


If you hold your finger down on an application icon, you can move applications, but only using the option “Move to.” In other words, unlike on the iPhone, you can’t move icons anywhere you’d like. Worse, you can’t create new folders to organize apps like you can on a BlackBerry. Folders and the ability to organize apps at will are two areas where Microsoft can improve this screen.

Improved Browser - Flash Lite
Internet Explorer Mobile 6 now supports Flash Lite 3. That means you’ll be able to view some Flash Web content, like menus or options within Web forms, on your mobile phone. We’ve seen this support before on devices like the Nokia E71 which runs the Symbian S60 operating system. However, this Flash support isn’t for the full desktop Flash 10 version that sites like Hulu.com use. That means you won’t be able to stream video from these content providers just yet, although this support is expected in the future from Adobe.

With the new IE Mobile 6, you can easily zoom around Web pages and view them in full size, as they were meant to be displayed by Web developers. The act of zooming in and out was smooth on the test device we used.


Despite its improvements, the new browser still falls far short of those on the iPhone and various BlackBerry devices. On Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, we will probably still install third-party browsers like Skyfire.

My Phone
Microsoft also announced its new My Phone service which lets you back up any information on your phone including contacts, appointments, text messages, photos, video, and more. Should you lose your phone and replace it with a new one, you can log in and sync up with your My Phone account so that none of this information is lost permanently. What’s more important is that this service lets you quickly upload photos to your Windows Live account for sharing with family and friends. Unfortunately, you can’t directly send photos to Facebook or Flickr from My Phone, a feature that would make the service much more useful.

Windows Marketplace For Mobile
Micosoft joked saying that its Marketplace is Handango.com, and while that’s not far from the truth, the software-maker is following Apple’s App Store and the Android Marketplace with a store of its own, officially dubbed the Windows Marketplace for Mobile. We wish it was called the Zune Marketplace and that music and video were available along with apps, but that’s not the case for now and we’ll keep on dreaming.

The new marketplace will let you browse and add new apps from any handset. Microsoft’s goal was to create a standard that Windows Mobile owners could expect on every Windows Mobile phone. You can also purchase apps from your PC using your Windows Live ID, although an official desktop version of the marketplace has not been announced. Developers, who helped create over 20,000 applications for Windows Mobile phones in the past, will be able to offer apps in the store following a security and comparability check from Microsoft.

Final Thoughts

Microsoft did a good job in creating a compelling user interface for smart phone newbies. Unfortunately, we think that more advanced users coming from BlackBerry, the iPhone, or the brand new Palm webOS (should it succeed as we expect) will feel like they are a generation behind when using Windows Mobile 6.5.

Our test device was still a bit sluggish, but we understand that Microsoft is waiting for speedier devices to hit market with faster CPUs and more RAM. That will certainly help performance. Still, there are small details that were very clearly ignored by Microsoft. Palm’s webOS is completely Web-based, running off of HTML, Java Script, and CSS, and it link your contacts with social networks. That’s true integration with the cloud, as opposed to Microsoft’s version that only links your phone with services it provides. Further integration isn’t seamless. In fact, it takes more effort on behalf of the user. The iPhone’s OS remains generations beyond Windows Mobile, both in terms of aesthetics and its nearly lag-free performance. On the other hand, we appreciate that new Windows Mobile devices will continue the tradition of allowing multiple applications to run at once, something you can’t do on the iPhone.

Stay tuned for a full review of Windows Mobile 6.5 as soon as we’ve had extensive time with the device, but for now, we’re still drooling over webOS and the iPhone and hoping Microsoft has something bigger up its sleeve with Windows Mobile 7.

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