REVIEW: Windows Mobile 6.5 Improvements Leave Much to Be Desired

eWEEK Labs tested Microsoft's new Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system on the AT&T Pure device and found that while Version 6.5 is definitely an improvement over previous iterations of Windows Mobile, it has too many vestiges of the past.

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.