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Microsoft unveils Mango update: hints at cheaper phones, gets all inter-connected

We’ve managed to get some hands-on time with the new Windows Phone 7 update Mango (coming soon!), and a ton of new information on what looks to be a substantial update when it arrives this autumn.

The update, proclaimed to contain over 500 new nuggets, was split into three sections, Conversations, Apps and the Web.

Conversations showed of the new WP7 system of threading. This ties together all messages sent between you and a friend, expanded from not only text messages to include Windows Live messenger and Facebook chat.

App-wise, Microsoft are looking to make your phone to act as a hub for everything else; connecting to (amongst others) Hotmail, Exchange, LinkdIn, Twitter, Skype, and there were some logos even we couldn’t guess.

Windows Phone now has around 18,000 apps- in under seven months of existing- though there was sadly no word on how many downloads this has translated into…

The Mango update will bring a much-needed multitasking feature, whilst office apps will gain instant updates between your phone and PC.

Microsoft revealed several updated apps, and even a new one, tying in with British Airways. The new app adds some cool extra features to your flight check-in- with seat selection including a very cool 3D view courtesy of Microsoft’s Silverlight software. It also allows you to store your boarding pass directly to your phone’s front screen, avoiding that awkward lack of signal dilemma at the airport.

Gaming-wise, you’ll be able to see your friends’s avatar and games- even compare scores and accomplishments. Sadly, no cracking games were added to the roster, “amazing games” listed were already available on the rivals’ smartphones.

For business, Microsoft Office has gained some cloud-based features, including collaboration and cloud file storage. It’s also compatible with Sharepoint, Office 365 and Skydrive.
One nice touch was the embedded PDF reader- showing how new Windows Phones are looking to draw together different apps for a better user experience.

On the web, Microsoft said that the Windows Phone version of Internet Explorer 9 would “match the desktop exactly” using the same code. We weren’t quite sure what Quick cards will bring the experience, but it promises to bring several site’s information into one place.

Local Scout will connect into Bing, offering up search results suited to where you are – Cinema listings, local restaurants etc

Microsoft also showed a HTML 5 test, pitting a Windows Phone handset against the iPhone 4.

Whilst the iPhone managed just 2 frames per second (fps), the WP& device got up to 25fps running the Mango update. (We’d like to see how it fares on whole sites and not just an isolated test from Microsoft’s site. )
We were shown how video loaded straight into the browser- and that was straight into full-screen.

Bing has picked up a handful of new features, an images tab can now show you visual results for your search-term and a local tab shows you relevant results for what’s nearby. For example, if you searched for ‘Coffee’, you’d get local results for nearby Starbucks.

There was also a Bing Music icon, but weren’t shown much else about that.

The on-stage demonstration gave us the refined voice features, allowing a user to reply whilst dealing with other tasks, or even without looking at the phone whilst listening to music. It still doesn’t remove the fact that you may look ever-so slightly unhinged talking to your phone.

We liked the separate icons for work and private email, and a cool function locked down your work email, meaning emails can’t be forwarded onto unscrupulous types.

We were glad to see the integration of calendar and emails- colour-coded to match work and pleasure. (It even pops up in emails containing dates if anything clashes with it. Microsoft are going for the globe too, with the Mango updated phones set to arrive in Japan, Brazil, Russia and Korea.

Achim Berg, VP of Windows phone marketing, said that this will be matched by a wider range of entry prices for the Windows Phone 7. It’ll be interesting to see whether this means cut-priced exisiting models or new competitively marked phones.

It was also, finally, confirmed; we should be seeing new phones from existing manufacturers, whilst Acer, ZTE and Fujitsu will also be offering some new phones this year.

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