Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Search

In Windows Phone 7.5, there are a plethora of new features that are integrated into search. Previously, it only allows you to basically go to Bing! and enter your text or keyword into the search box. Now, the search is deeply integrated and can seamlessly jump into apps if necessary. Not only that, there are also Music Search, Bing Vision, and Voice (Search).

Voice (Search)
With the Voice update in Mango, now you can hold the Home button and say stuff like "Call John" or "Text Jack" or "Open Maps". Along with all that commands, it also allows you to do searches with Voice - so you can say "Find Pizza".

This is very helpful for searching during driving. I have used this feature several times and it works pretty well. Plus, it's easy to enable, just hold the "Home" button and speak. Also, if you receive an SMS, you can say "Reply" or "Read" to reply or read respectively - and then dictate your message to the phone.

Android has had this feature for a while, but the Froyo, Gingerbread, and Honeycomb versions that I have used (HTC G2, Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Galaxy Tab) were not accurate and cannot recognize non-western names. Let's see whether Ice Cream Sandwich will bring improvement on this. I was expecting Mango to be the same way - but I was surprised that it actually recognizes most of my contacts, including the ones with non-western names. It is not as impressive as Siri in iOS5 (yet), but it's not bad, not bad at all.

Music Search
Music Search is basically like running Shazam, but much better. There is no limit on searches, it also finds songs better by displaying artist, song title, and album, but also shows you where or how to play or buy it from the Marketplace.

Previously I used Shazam - which works OK, but the free version only provides limited functionality and music searches. The Mango Music Search however, is very simple to use and unlimited in usage. I also found out that it is actually more accurate (at least in my experience). After searching for music and getting a result, I can go to the Marketplace - and then either purchase & download or play the song. Since I have a Zune subscription, this works awesomely. The integration with the OS itself is also worth it - I do not have to open an app nor open the Marketplace separately.
Shazam is good, but the Music Search is better.

Bing Vision
Bing Vision allows you to search using the phone camera. It can recognize text, Tag code, UPC code, QR code, etc and display the product information at an instant. It also can search based on book cover, CD/DVD covers, and game covers. Initially I thought this is just a novelty or to just making search easier. But, not only it does make search easier (e.g. capture the cover of the book vs typing the title), but it can also capture text (like document scanning).

Search Result
Search result is now getting smarter. When I searched for "pizza", it automatically displayed the result in the "local" pivot area. I can swipe and go to the "web" area if I want, but the "local" area makes much more sense. Then if I select a search result from result, Mango brought me to the pivot card for the result (which is most likely a pizza restaurant) - which is filled with the contact information, hours, neighborhood, etc. I can swipe and see all the reviews aggregated for the restaurant. Another swipe got me to the "apps" pivot area - which enables me to launch related apps such as Foursquare or Twitter etc via App Connect.

When I searched for "moneyball", it displayed the result in the "web" area, with local showing cinemas on the top. I can that one of those if I want to watch the movie at the local theater which then - just like the restaurant - shows its own hub, with "about", "showtimes", and "apps".

App Connect
App Connect is super useful. So basically instead of launching an app from the Start or Home screen, I can seamlessly launch relevant apps from connected apps/area. One of those connected area is the search result screen. So for example, if I want to watch the trailer for "Moneyball", after searching it on Bing, I can just go to the "apps" pivot area and tap on "Flixster" or "IMDB", which will launch directly to the the Moneyball page within the respective app. Previously before Mango - or on iOS or Android - I will have to go to "Home" and open up "Flixster" and navigate to the "Moneyball" page.

There is a video about App Connect in the Bing blog, you can watch it here.

So overall the search experience has tremendously improved. I am using search more and more on my phone now and looking for further future improvement in this area in the next Tango release.

My other WP Mango Reviews:
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Update Process
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Email & Calendar
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: People & Me
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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Email & Calendar

This is the 3rd part of my Windows Phone 7.5 Mango reviews - which talks about Email. See previous reviews here and here. In the initial release of Windows Phone, email was already quite good. It syncs seamlessly with my Exchange account, Hotmail, GMail, etc. Each inbox will create a different "email app" and I can pin each one of those to the Home screen.

I can also be selective about how to sync the folders, how long should it went back to sync, etc. The interface was a delight to use - the typography was good, text and formatting are pleasing, attachment are supported, and the notifications of new emails on the Live Tiles are purely awesome.

Overall, it was a good and nice experience. So what did Mango bring to the table?

Mango brought quite robust improvements for Email. First of all, email conversation is now threaded. This is a must have feature nowadays. The top email shows a bit summary of how many emails are in the thread and how many are unread. You can open/close the thread by tapping on the top email. For selecting the whole thread, you can select the top email (just like before) by tapping on the left of the email - or you can select individual emails within the thread.

Another new feature is now there is an option for combined/linked inbox. So instead of having separate "email app" for Outlook/Exchange, Hotmail and YahooMail and GMail etc, now you can linked them anyway you want. For me, I separate my work email (Exchange) and my personal emails (Hotmail & GMail - into a linked inbox). So now, instead of having 3 Live Tiles on my Start/Home screen, I have 2 tiles. The linked inbox has a separate icon and you can name it what ever you want.

When composing a new email from a linked inbox, it will ask you which email account to use for sending the email. Another cool feature here is that now you can email to "Group". So instead of typing the recipients one by one, you can just email to "Family" group and Mango understands that and will insert the email for the people in the group. Very neat and certainly something that I will use a lot - since I do a lot of group emails (such as to family/church groups/work etc).

The Calendar has a subtle but awesome feature upgrades and additions, mainly multi-calendar support, Facebook calendar integration, and sync with Tasks/To-Do in Exchange. Multi- calendar support means you can view events from other calendars within the same calendar, filter them, color coded, etc. It also auto-sync with your Windows Live calendars, which include US Holiday calendar. When creating an event, you can specify which calendar the new event belongs and syncs to. If you are integrating your Facebook account, this will then include your Facebook events.

Mango also natively allows To-Do list or Task list, and if you put a due date, it will automatically put it in the calendar. If you are using Exchange, then there is an option to sync it with your Exchange Tasks.

There is also a new set of APIs that allows apps that take advantage of the built-in gyro, accelerometer, etc. to be able to communicate with the calendar.

Overall for Emails and Calendar, I was happy before - but now I am happier. There are several things that I found that I hope Microsoft will address or add in the future for Emails and Calendar, but the current Mango features really do provide the essence of what I need.

My other WP Mango Reviews:
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Update Process
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: People & Me
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Review: Search
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