REVIEW: Windows Mobile 6.5 Improvements Leave Much to Be Desired

 
 
By Jeff Cogswell  |  Posted 2009-10-07
 
 
 

REVIEW: Windows Mobile 6.5 Improvements Leave Much to Be Desired


My experience with Windows Mobile dates back about a decade, when I purchased my first Windows CE device-a PDA, not a phone. Since then, Microsoft has evolved the Windows CE operating system into what would become Windows Mobile in its various versions. The most recent version, Windows Mobile 6.5, was released in early October.

For the past two years, my primary phone has been a Windows Mobile-based device, an HTC 8525. It came with Windows Mobile 5.0, but I upgraded it to 6.0 shortly after getting the device. I've recently had the opportunity to try out a brand-new phone also made by HTC-the AT&T Pure-that runs Windows Mobile, 6.5. (The Pure, which has 144MB of storage and a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus-costs $150 after rebate and with a two-year contract.)

eWEEK Labs puts Windows Mobile 6.5 through its paces. Check out the images here.

So, is Windows Mobile 6.5 an improvement over past versions? Yes. Does it match the iPhone in usability? No.

The Windows Mobile on-screen keyboard is definitely improved in this version. I could type with my finger, which was not the case with previous versions. The phone vibrates for a split second each time you type a letter, providing haptic feedback. For the most part, I was able to type without errors.

One thing that has always confused me about Windows Mobile is the Today screen. Windows Mobile has its own Today screen, but, due to various agreements, manufacturers are allowed to replace it with their own Today screen. This means that a device you purchase from one manufacturer may look completely different from another manufacturer's device when it starts up-even if the phones were sold through the same carrier.

In the case of the Pure, its Touch Flo 3D screen starts up in place of the default Windows Mobile Today screen.

At the bottom is a scrolling interface that let me slide my finger from left and right to immediately switch to various pages.

One Touch Flo 3D page lists applications. Users see a list of program icons; clicking on any one of them starts up the application. There's another page for settings, as well as a search page that will launch a browser.

This is where things start to get confusing. You can also click the Start button in the upper-left (or press the Windows button on the device itself), and you'll get to another start screen of sorts (a standard Windows Mobile 6.5 screen listing various applications). This page is separate from the Applications page that you get to from the Touch Flo 3D. (In fact, this screen is really the same as the Programs screen found on earlier Windows Mobile devices, albeit better looking.) Within this screen is the usual Settings icon, which takes you to a settings page-again, different from the one the Touch Flo 3D takes you to.

But if that's not confusing enough, also included in the Touch Flo 3D screens is a page called "AT&T." This page contains yet another list of applications-some of which are contained in various other Programs pages. The screen also includes its own Apps and Tools icons that take you to another applications page and tools page, respectively.

To be fair, this isn't totally the fault of Microsoft-we're seeing three different manufacturers having their way with the device. But it's kind of surprising that Microsoft would allow such a mess to occur.

Browser Support: Internet Explorer and Opera


Browser Support

The Pure comes with two browsers: Internet Explorer and Opera. The browser icon you see will depend on which of the different applications/programs pages you're on.

In this review I'm focusing on Internet Explorer because the Opera browser was apparently added by either AT&T or HTC and isn't standard with Windows Mobile 6.5.

Microsoft Windows Marketplace for Mobile is open for application submissions. Read more here.

Internet Explorer on the Pure is a definite improvement over earlier versions, although I did have some problems with it. In general, the browser has a much nicer look. (Of course, it helps that the screen has a much higher resolution than earlier devices. The AT&T Pure screen is 480 by 800-which is as tall as a lot of laptop screens in pixels, even though the screen itself is only a couple inches high.)

To test the browser on the Pure, I went to eWEEK.com, which immediately detected I was on a mobile device and sent me to a mobile version of the site.

I wanted to see how the standard site would look, so I set Internet Explorer to identify itself as a desktop. Yet when I went to eWEEK.com after making this change, the server still saw my browser as mobile and dished out the mobile version.

Using a header utility on the Web, I was able to see that IE was identifying itself as "Windows CE (Pocket PC) Version 5.2" for the OS and "Windows Phone 6.5" for the agent.

I then went to CNN.com. The page loaded nicely, but then IE popped up an error message that said, "Adobe Flash Lite - Insufficient Memory." I wasn't sure what that was all about, but after I closed that message out, the page loaded quite nicely.

The device's entire screen is devoted to the Web page, with a small icon in the lower-right corner that provides a list of options, such as zoom, when clicked. Initially, the text was tiny-almost too tiny to read-but I was able to see much of the CNN.com page, which was nice. I zoomed in just a tad and got a really nice view of the page.

However, although Internet Explorer is certainly improved, it often froze up while downloading common Web pages, even though I was on a high-speed Wi-Fi data connection. I couldn't click the Stop button to halt download, and the Menu button in the lower-right did nothing. All I could do was sit and wait.

Familiar Features


Familiar Features

When I explored the device further, I started seeing some familiar features. There's a Notes application that's basically identical to the one on my older HTC phone with Windows Mobile 6.0. In fact, the old drop-down menu was back, requiring me to get out the stylus. That's when I realized that Microsoft may have prettied up the Windows Mobile interface in some places, but it still has a long way to go to appease those of us who have been spoiled by the iPhone.

Further exploration revealed more of the same. For example, once inside the Settings from the main Windows Mobile Applications page, I saw many of the same icons I had on earlier phones. On the Settings page itself, the screen was all fancy and new, but when I opened the Settings programs themselves (such as the Memory setting), I saw the same old thing: There were some slight improvements-for instance, the Memory page has a couple tabs at the bottom with a neat 3D look, and one of the tabs has been moved to its own settings page-but, by and large, not much has changed.

So will this be the iPhone killer? Perhaps we should look to the CEO of Microsoft, who reportedly said Microsoft "screwed up" by releasing Windows Mobile 6.5 and should have gone to 7.0 right away.

Perhaps Version 7.0 of Windows Mobile will change the world of smartphones. But, until then, we're stuck with a prettier interface on top of an operating system that's much the same as it was 10 years ago, before the OS was even considered for phones-only for PDAs with a stylus.

Jeff Cogswell can be reached at jeff.cogswell@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

 

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