Beauty and the geek: Windows Phone 'Mango' vs. Android

Microsoft's mobile OS reboot turns out to be a small update that lacks enterprise security and rich apps but is a cleaner alternative to Google's Android for smartphones

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango," Microsoft's answer to Apple's iOS and Google's Android, draws you in immediately with its simple but sexy interface. It's very easy to get into messaging -- both traditional email and IM and newfangled Twitter and Facebook -- and launch widgets to track the weather or see your stocks. The colorful Windows Phone UI makes iOS look a bit dowdy, almost computerlike, and it really shows what a mess the Android Franken-interface is.

But in the case of Windows Phone 7.5, the beauty is only skin deep. The OS doesn't actually offer much. The available apps are highly simplified widgets -- there's nothing of the texture, quality, sophistication, or capability of what iOS or even Android offers. Just compare Office for Windows Phone to Apple's iWork suite or the Documents to Go suite for Android: Office's Word has no fonts, no styles, no tables or charts -- it's a glorified note-taking app. Office's PowerPoint lets you edit just text, not add slides or visual elements, whereas Keynote for iOS could replace PowerPoint on your PC.

And Windows Phone has no place in the enterprise. Although it works with Exchange, it supports very few Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies -- not even the basics any corporation would require, such as on-device encryption and complex passwords.

Microsoft's "Mango" face-lift targets the aging Android "Gingerbread" Although Microsoft has billed Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" as a major update to the shockingly limited original Windows Phone OS released a year ago, it is not a big change. Microsoft has filled in some of the glaring gaps: Copy and paste, for example, was added in the "NoDo" update this past spring. Of the 13 big holes for professional users in Windows Phone 7.0, only three have been addressed in Windows Phone 7.5: Multitasking has been added, you can now thread messages in a conversation, and the OS partially supports HTML5, though it's still far behind iOS and Android in the last regard.

What's really new in Windows Phone 7.5 are a handful of widgets, not fundamental capabilities. That accounts for the superficiality of the Windows Phone 7.5 OS; it's essentially the same weak platform with more makeup and jewelry piled on. In fact, after updating a Windows Phone 7.0 to "Mango," I could detect no difference, so I went to the Settings app to be sure it actually had been installed.

Like a beauty at a party, Windows Phone 7.5 is well suited for small talk and other forms of social engagement, and it can surprise you with unexpected depth from time to time. A Windows Phone 7.5 phone is first and foremost a cool messaging device -- what the RIM BlackBerry should have evolved into -- that also has a capable Web browser and at-a-glance informational widgets. It's a consumer device for staying in touch at a high level, not a professional device for accomplishing tasks.

If you're looking for a smartphone you can use for both work and business, the iPhone remains by far your best choice, followed by Motorola's line of Android 2.3-based smartphones, to which Motorola has added basic business security capabilities. (Pitting Windows Phone 7.5 against iOS 5 would be a Bambi-meets-Godzilla comparison.)

But if you're a professional who wants a device for strictly personal use or to do mainly messaging for a small business that relies on IMAP and POP mail, Windows Phone 7.5 is worth considering instead of an Android device. If you watch "The Big Bang Theory," consider this a contest between Penny and Rajesh.

I tested Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" -- now a year old, and showing its age -- on a Google Nexus smartphone and Windows Phone 7.5 on an HTC Arrive smartphone. Nokia announced its first "Mango" devices today, and HTC, Samsung, and others are expected to launch new "Mango" devices in the coming weeks to tempt holiday buyers. The first Google Android 4.0-based smartphones are due in November, but Google declined to provide a preview unit so that we could see what might change. What Google has revealed thus far suggests a slicker UI and improved security capabilities, but no major changes to basic functions such as email and social networking.

Windows Phone 7.5 vs. Android 2.3: Email, calendars, contacts, and social networking If you look at the specs, Windows Phone 7.5 and Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" appear evenly matched. Both can connect to Exchange, IMAP, POP, and Gmail accounts, make and synchronize appointments, and manage contacts. Both allow for "push" synchronization with Exchange. Both preserve your Exchange and IMAP folder hierarchy for mail. But the lack of meaningful EAS policy support in Windows Phone and Android means you won't likely be able to access your corporate email.

Email. Android "Gingerbread" has a poorly chosen visual scheme for email lists: It opts for white text on a black background, whereas Windows Phone "Mango" goes for the easier-to-read, black-on-white color scheme. Although "Mango" displays nice, big text for your messages' From addresses, it suffers from the use of tiny, thin, gray fonts for your message text, so messages are very hard to read. And there are no controls over text size. Android also leans toward small text, but it is more readable than in Windows Phone. Both mail clients seem designed for the eyes of teenagers and 20-somethings.

I like Windows Phone's way of handling message groups such as unread and flagged messages: Just swipe to the right to see lists of unread messages; repeat to see flagged messages. "Mango" also implements a color highlight on the subject of unread messages in the All message list, but the Unread list is simpler. Android uses the common approach of indicating unread messages or flagged messages in your message list via icons and font treatments.

One continued beef I have with Android is that it runs a separate app for Gmail accounts -- an unnecessary division of labor. Windows Phone normally provides a separate tile on its Start screen for each email account, but you can use the linking feature to get a unified inbox both in the mail client and on the Start screen. If you look carefully at the tiny To text, you can see which account the message was sent to. Android is more elegant in presenting messages from multiple accounts: It shows distinct color bars next to each message to indicate the associated account.

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