Posey's Tips & Tricks
Getting Around with Windows Phone 7.5
While Microsoft Windows Phone 7 didn't feel like a complete product at release, the new Windows Phone 7.5 update, which includes new search and navigation features, helps to breathe new life into the mobile OS.
As someone who makes a living writing about all things Windows, I just had to get a Windows Phone 7 device the moment that they hit the market. All in all it was a good phone, but parts of the Windows Phone 7 operating system felt a bit lacking. The operating system reminded me of the many previous Microsoft products that were released before they were really finished. Of course Microsoft usually adds in the missing features in the first service pack for a product, and I hoped that would be the case for Windows Phone 7 as well.
At some point last spring Microsoft announced a major revision to the Windows Phone 7 operating system that had been dubbed "Mango." The Mango release, which started rolling out last month as the now called Windows Phone 7.5, added over 500 new features to the operating system. While the rollout is currently being done in waves, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a bootleg... err... make that prerelease Windows 7.5 phone.
As I mentioned earlier, the 7.5 operating system has a lot of new features. There are far too many for me to even list them all here. However, one of the areas in which Microsoft has really improved the operating system is in its search and mapping capabilities. The original Windows Phone 7 devices had an integrated GPS and included various search capabilities, but these features were a bit lacking. Unlike most of the smartphones on the market, the original Windows Phone 7 operating system didn't even provide verbal turn-by-turn GPS directions. If you wanted such capabilities, you had to download third-party GPS navigation software.
As with most of the other new 7.5 features, I have spent some time getting to know the new mapping and search features. Even so, I hadn't really had a chance to try them out in the real world. My car has an integrated GPS, so I had never had a reason to use my Windows Phone 7 for directions.
This last month had been a bit different though. I had been flying back and forth between South Carolina (where I live) and Redmond. Given the nature of what I do for a living, I have been to the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond many, many times over the years. You would think that I would know my way around, but a couple of weeks ago Microsoft threw me a curve ball. Normally when I visit the Microsoft campus I either stay in downtown Seattle or in Belleview -- both of which are in close proximity to Redmond. This time, however, Microsoft put me in downtown Redmond.
I took a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, but after that I was on my own. I wanted to get some dinner, but had no idea what (if anything) was nearby. This was the perfect opportunity to try out my phone's mapping capabilities.
I was really amazed by just how effective Windows Phone 7.5 was in this particular situation. I started out by performing a verbal search. I simply held down my phone's Start button until I received the voice prompt and then said "Marriot in Redmond." The phone instantly pulled up the basic contact information for the hotel that I was staying at, as well as some reviews and a link to the hotel's Web site.
What was really nice however, was that the About page that displayed the hotel's contact information also included a Neighborhood link. When I clicked this link, the phone displayed several pages related to the immediate area. One page was related to restaurants and bars, another was related to shopping and still another page was dedicated to events happening in the area.
Granted, a simple Web search could probably have given me the same information, but the 7.5 phone makes the information a lot easier to use. Whenever I would tap on a listing for a restaurant, the phone would give me the address and phone number, a link to the restaurant's Web site, the price range, the restaurant's hours and some reviews. There was also a link that I could tap to get directions to the restaurant from my current location. What was nice was that this information was presented on a series of "cards" -- a consistent format for each restaurant. I didn't have to go hunting around each individual restaurant's Web site for the information.
Up to this point I was impressed with Windows Phone 7.5 OS. Not only did the phone provide a lot of very useful information, but it did so in an intuitive and easy-to-read manner. There was no hunting around for the information that I needed. However, there was one particular feature that absolutely blew my mind, and it was this feature that motivated me to blog about my experiences.
The restaurant that I decided to visit was located in large shopping mall. Rather than guiding me to the mall and then leaving me to figure out where the restaurant was located within the mall, the phone actually gave me an indoor map of the mall showing where each store and restaurant was. Not only that, but the restaurant that I had chosen was clearly marked on the map of the mall so I knew exactly where to go.
When I got home I did a little bit more research into the indoor mapping feature. Apparently there aren't a lot of indoor maps available right now, and I just got lucky that there was a map for the mall in Redmond. However, Microsoft is working toward creating indoor maps for large shopping centers and sports complexes across the country. These maps should prove to be extremely useful when they are completed.
These and some of the other new features have made the 7.5 phone extremely useful during my recent travels. I am looking forward to using the phone more extensively in the future.
Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.