Did you hear the news? A new model of a certain black, rectangular, touchscreen smartphone has just arrived. Its new software contains what the company says are hundreds of new features.
The most eye-popping enhancement is speech recognition: you can tell this new phone to call someone, text someone or give you driving directions. I refer, of course, to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5. Gotcha! Yes, Microsoft is belatedly trying to take on the iPhone and Android phones with its own phone software.
Phones from Samsung and HTC are already here, whereas other manufacturers are expected to follow suit in the coming months. The Windows Phone 7.5 software, code-named Mango, is also available as a free upgrade for older Windows Phone 7 phones such as Dell Venue Pro.
Windows Phone 7.5 is gorgeous, classy, satisfying, fast and coherent. The design is intelligent, clean and uncluttered. Never in a million years would you guess that it came from the same company that cooked up the bloated spaghetti that is Windows and Office.
What is Windows Phone?
Most impressively, Windows Phone is not a feeble-minded copycat. Microsoft came up with completely fresh metaphors that generally steer clear of the iPhone/Android design (grid-spaced icons that scroll across home pages).
The home screen presents two columns of colorful tiles. Each represents something you've put there for easy access: an app, a speed-dial entry, a Web page, a music playlist or an e-mail folder. More than ever, the text on them conveys instant information, saving you the effort of opening them up.
A number on a tile tells you how many voice-mail messages, e-mail messages or app updates are waiting. The music tile shows album art, the calendar tile identifies your next appointment. A tile for your sister might display her latest Twitter and Facebook updates.
Windows Phone first appeared, incomplete, a year ago. There was no copy and paste. No way to add new ringtones. No multitasking. No tethering option (which lets you use the phone as an Internet antenna for your laptop). No unified e-mail in-box for multiple accounts. No message threading. No Twitter integration. It's all complete now!
The Mango update
In Mango, Microsoft has addressed all of these shortcomings. Most of them bear that new Microsoft finesse and excellence, but there are some footnotes.
For example: You enter the multitasking switcher by holding down the phone's Back button. But this 'multitasking' is the iPhone variety: when you switch out of an app, it doesn't keep running in the background, instead, the app you're leaving goes into suspended animation.