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Windows Mobile 6.5 Review, The Age of the Windows Phone

Christmas in October? Some Windows Mobile fans may see it that way with the curtain finally raising on Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Marketplac for Mobile and My Phone. Sprinkle in a few new phones and some will feel like kids at Christmas.

But was Windows Mobile 6.5 worth the wait? And what's the deal with re-branding to "Windows phone?" Windows Mobile 6.5 has been a staple ingredient with homemade or cooked ROMs for a while now. Does that take a excitement out of the "official" version of Windows Mobile 6.5?

For some, the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 may very well be a non-event. But it marks the beginning of a journey for Windows Mobile and a new approach to mobile computing with the Windows Phone.

Come along after the break for our thoughts on the launch, an outline of what's new with Windows Mobile 6.5, and a little more on the "Windows phone" concept.

Windows Mobile 6.5

We've had access to a Windows Phone running an official Windows Mobile 6.5 build for a few days and found it to be an impressive, stable, responsive operating system. Windows Mobile 6.5 is graphically enhanced with the new Today Screen, colorful icons (or widgets as the youngsters call them) and an overall improvement over Windows Mobile 6.1.

New Features

Here's what is new with Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional. Keep in mind that as carriers adopt Windows Mobile 6.5 to their phones some variations and additions may occur in different builds and customizations.

Today Screen: Microsoft took the sliding panels of Windows Mobile Standard and adapted it to touch navigation. You have a vertical Rolodex that is touch-friendly, and there's horizontal movement for items within that feature. 

The one thing that is still missing from the Today Screen is a speed dial or favorite contacts feature. There is a Contacts link at the bottom of the Today Screen but nothing that can sort frequently used contacts. You can set speed dials for contacts, but that's just not the same.

Start Screen: Forget the traditional drop down start menu. There's now a touch-friendly screen full of icons that can be re-arranged and customized through themes and backgrounds. Presently, the rearrangement is limited to moving the icons to the top of the screen. Future builds we've seen have the ability to move icons to wherever you want.

The Windows Mobile 6.1 drop-down Start Menu was limited in size while the Windows Mobile 6.5 Start Screen is not, scrolling and scrolling, putting more apps at your fingertips.

Additionally, the program/settings screens have moved away from that Windows 3.1 feel. The bland white background is replaced by your wallpaper of choice and the icons have more graphical appeal.

 

Lock Screen: While the Lock Screen function hasn't changed, the unlocking feature has become more useful. The unlock screen presents key information at a glance including calendar reminders, missed calls, new messages, and the date/time. You can unlock your Windows phone to go directly to these areas, adding efficiency to the OS.

 

Designer Themes: Windows Mobile 6.5 comes pre-installed with a handfull of themes by world-class designers, with more available through the Marketplace including wallpapers designed from National Geographic photos.

New Internet Explorer Mobile 6: Gone are the days of Pocket Internet Explorer, as the browser has more traits of its desktop big brother. Adobe Flash Lite has been included to allow access to flash-based Web content, and AJAX support is on board as well.

Microsoft is hoping to gain some ground back with Internet Explorer Mobile 6. In using it over the past few days, I like the Opera-like design with the address bar and navigation buttons remaining hidden until needed. The overall speed of Internet Explorer Mobile 6 seems to have improved from previous versions. It's not amazingly fast, but it is improved.

Social Networking: It's hard to ignore the popularity Social Networking sites have today. Windows Mobile 6.5 recognizes the need to be interactive with these sites and includes Facebook and MySpace applications.

News and Entertainment: Windows Mobile 6.5 includes a YouTube application as well as NewsBreak Lite, a RSS feed reader.

Mobile Messaging: A few new features have been added to Windows Mobile 6.5's messaging capabilities. They include:

  • Conversation View, which keeps e-mail sorted in one simple to read thread
  • Unified Messaging, which allows you to easily listen to your Exchange-delivered voice mails and read the transcribed text
  • Nickname Cache that allows you to quickly address new emails with access to a suggestion list of previously used addresses
  • Reply State shows you with emails have been forwarded or replied to
  • Free and Busy Lookup shows you the status of contacts
  • SMS Sync which allows you to send/receive SMS messages from Outlook and Outlook Web Access.

Note: some of these features require Exchange Server 2010.

Windows phone

Microsoft describes the new Windows phones as something to use every day from home to work to play, bringing it all together under one roof. Windows phones help you seize any moment by giving you just what you want, wherever you are. It's a sum collection of Windows Mobile and the device's features and applications. A Windows phone will go beyond Windows Mobile but isn't a Windows Phone without it.

The re-branding of the Windows phone will likely pull Windows Mobile Professional and Standard closer, most notably separated by touchscreen vs. non-touchscreen. Standard or Professional, the design of the Windows phones will be consistent to be a familiar, straightforward way to stay close to the people and things you care about, to get things done wherever you are and to sync information with the Web and your PC.

Overall thoughts

While a stable, quality OS is important to any smartphone's success, it doesn't stand alone. A successful smartphone is measured by sum total of its parts. We've all seen quality operating systems placed in sub-par devices. Regardless of how good the OS is, it can't make up for design shortfalls or the lack of functional applications.

We agree with Microsoft's decision to re-brand these phones to Windows phones. Windows Mobile is but one aspect of these phones and coupled with functionality and design, you get a phone that will take care of your entertainment, productivity, social, and communications needs.

Windows Mobile 6.5 is an improvement over 6.1. From the improved graphics to the improved functionality of the Today Screen, even with the familiarity through running cooked ROMs, the changes and improvements aren't dissappointing. The addition of social networking connectivity, the Marketplace, My Phone and other native features offers more stability (fewer third party conflicts), diversity, and productivity.

Windows Mobile 6.5 is but a start of a journey by Microsoft that will eventually lead to Windows Mobile 7, and it seems to be a good start. Some say Windows Mobile is dead, but I'm beginning to believe that it's just getting started.

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.

30 Comments
  • Microsoft forgot to put the recently launched apps on top of the start menu. :( :(
  • Last year around this time I was waiting for news on WM7.. why is it one year later and nothing has changed? Instead we have a half assed stopgap thing released that took them over a year to finally get out the door when it should have never been made.
  • not much as expected user friendlier and new things... :( looking for some new feature. common!!!
  • My BIG question is when the heck is it coming for the Verizon Touch pro2 ???
  • Well if you have been using WM for ten years than you should know what its made for.. Wm is made to be a robust, capable, customizable, OS that is meant to be used closer to a laptop than an MP3 player.. If your looking for a simpler more basic smart phone and are wiling to give up on all of the useful apps, having a real home screen, and the other benefits than you should leave.. You'll get a better messaging, gaming, and media experience elsewhere.. WM was NEVER made to be the best at.. Wm was made to be the best at what it is the best at.. The iphones icon grid looks just as ancient as wms deep system menus.. Its a joke how one sided people can be.. Titanium (wm6.5) is the worst homescreen for a windows phone and it outclasses BB, Android, web os, and the iphone by years.. All of these phones are so user friendly with large touch screens why do I have to go in out of apps to check basic info like weather, or my to do list.. Lets be fair when we pass judgement..
  • Sorry George, I think perhaps your love for WM has clouded your judgement a bit. I think Gizmodo's review is much more spot on: http://gizmodo.com/5374876/windows-mobile-65-review-theres-no-excuse-for... I have been using WM for nearly a decade and 6.5 is little more than window (no pun intended) dressing. Other than marketplace (which I have already installed on my otherwise stock 6.1 ROM Sprint Touch) 6.5 seems to offer little over HTC's Touchflow or SPB's Mobile Shell 3.5 (which I currently use on my Touch). Especially if you already use Opera or Skyfire for your browser. With WM7 MIA until perhaps late next year, I may jump ship to Android or WebOS when I get a new phone in the next few months.
  • i envy u.
  • I've seen some of the builds on youtube. the more recent ones look great. The build on the gizmodo review and this review is a much older build. I'm disappointed by that. just an example of the difference between them.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87wCTIDnbeg on the gizmodo article it shows you the contact page and it's awful. as you can see, the build on youtube looks much better.
  • cf PointUI http://www.pointui.com/
  • Right now, there is nothing jumping out at me to want 6.5, particularly with all of the modifications I have done to my Sprint Touch Pro2. In all honesty, I am more excited about the Marketplace than anything! Already downloaded a few free apps (WeatherBug, AP News) and look forward to an influx of other cool apps - those apps such as Shop Savvy which are allegedly coming to Windows Marketplace. Other than that, I'd rather have the newest version of TouchFLO 3D (manila 2.5) or the Sense UI, or Mobile Shell running on my device, even if 6.5 was under the hood...
  • I really want to like 6.5, but I can't stand the new Start screen. There's nothing wrong with moving to a full-screen menu, but the staggered icon layout is pure novelty for novelty's sake, offering no benefits and several drawbacks. Why shoehorn a hexagonal arrangement into a rectangular frame? It makes the icons look thrown on the screen randomly (even cutting off at the top and bottom edges), breaks with alphabetical order (now you can't jump focus to a further point by hitting the first letter of the app in question), and it wreaks havoc with efficient d-pad navigation. For instance, if you press to move right, the focus either moves upper right or lower right; on a rectilinear layout, the focus would shift to the immediate right. This not only affects devices with d-pads, but any other hardware navigational controls, like trackballs. Just because touch-only black slabs are fashionable doesn't mean that MS should dismiss usability for front-qwerty and other form factors. Overall, 6.5 seems like a decent step forward, but the Start screen is a huge step backward. I hope MS follows the hacker community's lead of incorporating more apps into Today screen panels, as XDA devs have done with Titanium. It's nice to have apps that don't actually need to take up the full screen -- like Twitter, S2P, or various quick launchers -- run as plugins. Then we can bypass the Start screen 80% of the time.
  • Great Review! Can't wait for it to be availible for my T-Mobile Touch Pro2! I am wondering though, can now send messages with outlook? Can messages be archived with My Phone. I am currently using Jeyo Mobile Companion for my SMS backup.
  • Yes. My Phone syncs messages.
  • maybe I'm missing something in how this actually appears once in daily use, but I like the 6.1 Today screen much better than the 6.5. 6.1 gives you missed calls/texts/emails and pending calendar items as shown in the screenshot above. does 6.5 do this as well? or do you have to take some action from the rolodex Today view? I much prefer all of my daily and instant info at a glance instead of having to touch some icon to see what's up on my phone. before I get a TP2, what gives??
    dtreo
  • Looking at the screen shots I can't believe how I feel in a time warp from the old Windows Mobile days I used to endure. I bet it's just as rigid, sticky, buggy and as dull as an office in Slough. But, I guess it will keep it's fans who are afraid to let go of the apron strings.
  • WinMo is not for everyone.
  • not much as expected user friendlier and new things... :( looking for some new feature. common!!!
  • Hopefully we see some of the fantastic Zune HD interface make a permanent addition to Windows Mobile 7.
  • in the review, the new Lock Screen is noted as: "Lock Screen: While the Lock Screen function hasn't changed, the unlocking feature has become more useful. The unlock screen presents key information at a glance including calendar reminders, missed calls, new messages, and the date/time. You can unlock your Windows phone to go directly to these areas, adding efficiency to the OS." can you please post a shot of the Lock Screen on a phone with a pending text, missed call, unread email and a calendar item so that we can see what it would look like on a typical day? Thanks!
    dtreo
  • Apparently the WM 6.1 bug has not been fixed. I'm trying to sync my Verizon Imagio (with WM 6.5) to two PCs. The sync was successful on the first PC (XP with Office 2003). On the second PC (Vista with Office 2003), none of the items on the WM device are transferred to the PC.
  • Has the ability to sync with TWO different PC's been fixed? That ability is huge for me and was a bitter disappointment with the bug in 6.1. Is MS even claiming you can sync between two pC's anymore?
  • Apparently the WM 6.1 bug has not been fixed. I'm trying to sync my Verizon Imagio (with WM 6.5) to two PCs. The sync was successful on the first PC (XP with Office 2003). On the second PC (Vista with Office 2003), none of the items on the WM device are transferred to the PC.
  • Wow... this 'article' appears to have been written by a Microsoft employee...?
  • You can "revert" to the normal start menu. I did it once but heck if I know how I did. The new start page takes too long to work. The start menu is faster. Better. I-phoneFooEe.
  • the WM team must be copying or the same bunch of people from HTC TouchFLO3D!
    The TASK is totally gone from the TODAY 's screen / lock screen !
    Although I can change a task to become a ALL day even on calender, but it's just not the same... :(
  • WHAT A GREAT REVIEW !
    What a lousy comments. The power and versatility of WM is coming from a robust deep OS. The UI is just a skin for the OS and you can choose whatever skin (UI) you like and personalize to your like. If you believe you can become a better person just becasue you change your suit and tie. Be aware you are not fooling anyone.
  • I agree with your comment. I think many people miss the point (not anyone on here): People should be looking at the robust-ness of the OS, and not just some fancy device. Many idiots out in the world see fancy aesthetics and not the content. I think Windows Mobile does offer a lot for many people across the world, but Microsoft def dropped the ball though. They had the head start but lost site (of course they needed to clean up the mess that Vista left). I use WM 5.0 and i still love it. I still find new programs to enhance my productivity and entertainment. I am not sure if other mobile operating systems could natively remote into your home PC and be able to stream music or video over the internet and/or network but i know Windows Mobile can. Its just an example of why i think Windows Mobile should get more credit than it deserves. With Windows 7, i find the integration with my device and my laptop is tighter than every before.
  • Very descriptive article :-) thanks to the author. Hope for lot more information about mobiles with windows operating like http://buyergen.com
  • I think this also was a great article. It's so cool with a windows mobile. I just loooove the design:-) - Ray J.- Mobilhuset:Mobil uten Abonnement
  • I really want to like 6.5, but I can't stand the new Start screen. There's nothing wrong with moving to a full-screen menu, but the staggered icon layout is pure novelty for novelty's sake, offering no benefits and several drawbacks. Why shoehorn a hexagonal arrangement into a rectangular frame? It makes the icons look thrown on the screen randomly (even cutting off at the top and bottom edges), breaks with alphabetical order (now you can't jump focus to a further point by hitting the first letter of the app in question), and it wreaks havoc with efficient d-pad navigation. For instance, if you press to move right, the focus either moves upper right or lower right; on a rectilinear layout, the focus would shift to the immediate right. This not only affects devices with d-pads, but any other hardware navigational controls, like trackballs. Just because touch-only black slabs are fashionable doesn't mean that MS should dismiss usability for front-qwerty and other form factors. Overall, 6.5 seems like a decent step forward, but the Start screen is a huge step backward. I hope MS follows the hacker community's lead of incorporating more apps into Today screen panels, as XDA devs have done with Titanium. It's nice to have apps that don't actually need to take up the full screen -- like Twitter, S2P, or various quick launchers -- run as plugins. Then we can bypass the Start screen 80% of the time.