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Windows Mobile 6.5 review

Verdict

The interface improvements are welcome - and long overdue - but the changes are mere window dressing. It's simply not good enough to overthrow Android or the iPhone

Review Date: 6 Oct 2009

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: Free

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
3 stars out of 6

Windows Mobile has been in the doldrums so long it's hard to remember a time when it was deemed a modern smartphone operating system. Apple's iPhone OS and Google's Android OS are streaking off into the distance while Winmo bumbles along regardless. With the arrival of Windows Mobile 6.5 – now rebranded Windows Phone – is Microsoft finally beginning to fight back?

We've taken a detailed look at the new operating system – preinstalled on the new HTC Touch2 smartphone – and it would seem that Microsoft, at least in part, has been listening to the critics. At long last, the fiddly, stylus-driven Today screen has been ditched to be replaced by a much more finger-friendly interface.

Windows Mobile 6.5 home screen

Surprisingly, Microsoft hasn't opted to go down the custom desktop, or iPhone-alike scrolling-grid route here. Instead, you get a list of large options arranged in a vertically scrolling carousel – and in a break from the accepted norm these aren't icons but text.

Swipe your finger or thumb up and down and the list spins smoothly while the active item appears enlarged, as if it had a magnifying glass held directly over it, complete with further details. The email, for instance, shows new emails. Swiping a finger left or right on a selected item, meanwhile, reveals further options: on the Appointments item, for instance, you get the option to see your latest appointments, or to simply add a new one.

Another key improvement is the new Start menu. Previously, when you hit the familiar Windows icon in the top-left corner, the resulting list of programs that dropped down was small, horribly fiddly, and only usable with a stylus or manicured nails. Now, the entire screen is given over to a vertically scrolling hexagonal grid of icons – think Blockbusters (minus Bob Holness and the clueless students) – used not only to launch applications, but also access previously-buried settings screens.

Windows Mobile 6.5

It's nothing particularly special but it's a huge progression on what went before, and it turns the business of launching applications and accessing your phone's various settings into a far less frustrating task.

There's no jabbing of tiny menu options to unlock a phone any more, with a new mechanism and lock screen. To unlock the phone you now slide an onscreen switch to the left or right. Oddly, the switch resides at the top of the screen, but you soon realise why: it provides space for various status alerts – missed calls, new voicemail and the like – just as it does with an iPhone.

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User comments

I've been using WinMo 6.5 for some weeks now on a Touch Pro. It is still a million miles from where I would expect it to be, and is made tolerable only by the spb Mobile shell UI replacement. Heaven knows why they don't just buy out sbp and include that UI as standard. Microsoft's mistake is that they are trying to make an OS that works across a wide range of devices, with different processing power and screen resolutions. This is also a big problem for app developers. Microsoft are also trying to maintain backwards compatibility with applications - every app I have tried from WinMo 6 works on 6.5.

Overall, WinMo 6.5 is a minor update. It is so far behine iPhone OS, PalmOS and Android that it doesn't even warrant consideration. Needless to say, my next phone will not run Windows Mobile.

By profet79 on 6 Oct 2009

Wait until you see the newer builds with the start menu on the bottom. I think its from build 23047 if I'm not mistaken.
I find it a lot better - also the buttons have become a lot more finger friendly. There has also been a noticeable speed increase.

By MattKeating on 6 Oct 2009

I've been using WinMo 6.5 for some weeks now on a Touch Pro. It is still a million miles from where I would expect it to be, and is made tolerable only by the spb Mobile shell UI replacement. Heaven knows why they don't just buy out sbp and include that UI as standard. Microsoft's mistake is that they are trying to make an OS that works across a wide range of devices, with different processing power and screen resolutions. This is also a big problem for app developers. Microsoft are also trying to maintain backwards compatibility with applications - every app I have tried from WinMo 6 works on 6.5.

Overall, WinMo 6.5 is a minor update. It is so far behine iPhone OS, PalmOS and Android that it doesn't even warrant consideration. Needless to say, my next phone will not run Windows Mobile.

By profet79 on 6 Oct 2009

MR Softie

Apple anounced the Iphone 2 years and 9 months ago. what on earth has Microsoft been doing? they release a phone which is still weaker than the original Iphone all that time ago. you have to wonder if someone from Apple is working at Microsoft!!!

By Gz_nigelcarter1a on 6 Oct 2009

Microsoft way

Matt: This is the same story that has been played out since the beginning of Windows Mobile. Next version (or even build) is going to fix it all.

Unfortunately I don't believe that happening anymore, culture of mediocrity has crept into Microsoft in potentially fatal way. Deadline is kept and launch is done even if the product is not really there, just drum the marketing machine a bit louder to get visibility and silently fix most glaring problems. This same flaw plays out in Vista, Windows Mobile, Bing, MSN, IE, and numerous other Microsoft products. When management is satisfied/incetivized to merely launch a product on time it gives a wrong signal throughout the company.

By attek on 7 Oct 2009

Other way round

"you have to wonder if someone from Apple is working at Microsoft"

Actually, a significant player at Microsoft (one of the good guys) jumped ship and now works for Apple. I suspect he'd have been too embarrassed to front up press and analyst sessions bigging up WM6.5.

By PaulOckenden on 7 Oct 2009

InvoiceMax

Ditching the stylus will make signing the touch screen a tad difficult for users of PDA who need signature software applications running on their PDA - does any current 6.5 user/tester know if the stylus is completely defunct within 6.5?

By atkinson_ad on 8 Oct 2009

@atkinson_ad

The stylus is still needed for 6.5, there lies most of the complaints.

I seem to remember reading that the official line from Microsoft is that 6.5 is targeted at business users and will keep the stylus, while WinMo 7 is aimed at consumers, and will therefore be finger driven.

And if you believe that was their intention....

Personally I like Windows Mobile, the stylus doesn't bother me on the whole, but then I've been using it since the iPaq days so I guess I'm used to it. If I were a new user then that would probably not be the case and I'd go for a Google device.

By StuartN on 9 Oct 2009

Windows Mobile, the wrong solution

I'm using 6.1 on an O2 Stellar and its poor. Its a corporate policy so I can't change the phone.

I've tried skinning it with other software but if the fundamental o/s programs are designed for a keyboard/cursor/pointing device the a skin is only skin deep (couldn't resist myself, sorry).

The thing is that I've designed GUI's in the past for touch interfaces and you have to think entirely differently than when you know a keyboard is available....

By MikeHellier on 11 Oct 2009

Style over substance

Microsoft seem to have concentrated on the UI, which although unchanged since WM2003 was perfectly acceptable when paired with a shell from HTC or spb. IE didn't need any work either as Opera is pre-installed on almost all WM phones.
Long standing problems such as setting up VPN connections, zoom settings in Excel and other such business essentials remain untouched.
Even Nokia use a stylus, and I can't imagine Excel without one. For a touch screen you can't beat a stylus, only work around the absence of one.

By tirons1 on 12 Oct 2009

I tried Windows Mobile. I may possibly recover without therapy.

But I rather doubt it.

I actually worked on early versions of Windows CE (as it was known back in the day). As with most things Microsoft, it looked at the time as though, given a few years and several major releases, it might turn into something that wasn't utterly painless. (This was back when Win2K was The Next Hot Thing™, mind.)

Fast forward a decade or so, and I was given, by a very well-meaning friend, a Samsung Omnia II with WinMo. The hardware is sublime; the environment Samsung built as desperate camouflage for Windows is probably as good as humanly possible, though incomplete.

I understand the name change; WinCE was all too descriptive of any thinking user's reaction - but this was horribly misnamed. It should have been "Broken Windows, Immobile." Just one item should serve to compare: in six months of dealing with *development builds* of WinCE, I never, ever saw an OS crash on production hardware. Within three hours of using the Samsung, I'd encountered five. Three of them required me to remove the battery to restart Windows; it was that badly locked up.

I've been moving away from Windows on the desktop since XP showed us how grossly negligently defective security could be, but WinMo 6 was worse than my most bizarre Vista-induced nightmares. This is the sort of thing you wouldn't give your worst enemy - because not only is it a waste of money, you wouldn't want your worst enemy to have that much more motivation to do you wrong. And this horribly antediluvian imitation of a functioning phone system will thwart the most advanced hardware and most determined fanboi usee. Avoid at any cost; I went back to a Motorola RAZR V7 from the Samsung, and after horribly complaining about the RAZR for over a year, it was amazing how much less it sucked. (Not that it doesn't suck, mind you, but there is a fundamental difference between three femtobars and total vacuum.)

By jdickey1 on 30 Dec 2009

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