Windows Mobile 6.5 Receives A Chilly Welcome

The new Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system, is now being reviewed.  Unfortunately, those reviews are not good.  The general consensus is that rather than truly upgrading the OS to compete in an increasingly cutthroat industry, the new mobile Windows has gotten little more than a facelift.

“Windows Mobile 6.5 isn’t just a letdown,” says Gizmodo’s John Herman.  “It barely seems done.”  He expresses very little surprise at this, noting several times in his review that the OS is playing an unsuccessful game of catch-up.  Looking at the nuts and bolts of the system showed, in his observation, that the Windows Mobile OS “hasn’t been fundamentally changed in years.”  It also bears a “strong resemblance” to the 6.1 version, and suspiciously significant similarities to PocketPC 2002.Then, upon visiting Windows’ App Store, he ranted that it “isn’t even a 6.5-exclusive service,” and most of the available apps for 6.5, 6.1, and 6.0 will work equally well on all three versions.  In summary, he compares Windows Mobile 6.5 with the Zune HD, which is not even a phone, and gives the win to Zune for a better handset.

ZDNet’s Matthew Miller pulls no punches in his review, calling Windows Mobile 6.5 a “disappointment,” and says he “would never recommend anyone actually purchase a new device just to get this update on their smartphone.”  His biggest beef is with the new start menu.  It has replaced the PC-style drop-down menu most users expect to see, with a home screen more resembling that of an iPhone.  He railed at the shortcomings he saw in customizing the start menu, saying, “You CANNOT place icons where you want to, CANNOT add or remove icons, and you CANNOT create folders and manage the icons to create an efficient device.”  Miller sees the new start menu scheme to be a sizeable step down from that of earlier Windows Mobile systems, and calls the 6.5 start menu upgrade “ridiculous.”

The one area where Miller seems willing to give Microsoft some credit is when he calls the Internet Explorer a “nice improvement.”  However, he complains that there seems to be very little change in any other aspect of the “new” OS, specifically citing the Pictures, Videos, and Windows Media Player applications, which still evoke the near-antique Pocket PC, and which Miller unhesitatingly calls “pathetic.”  He also notes that a stylus is still needed to operate the touchscreen, despite its being touted as fully touchscreen friendly.  Miller’s list goes on and on.

Marginally higher marks were granted by VentureBeat’s Dean Takahasi, who calls Windows Mobile 6.5 a “big step up from the crappy Windows Mobile experience of the past.”  Most of his critiques are cosmetic, including the App Store – which has apps priced at a confounding twenty dollars – and the finger touchscreen interface, as well as an interactivity with Microsoft Office that other smartphones cannot match.

At the conclusion of Takahashi’s review, he nearly switches the object of his article to the Apple iPhone, extolling its virtues in areas where Windows Mobile 6.5 is lacking.  Its advantages, according to Takahashi, include its vastly superior multi-touch system, as well as accelerometer-based controls that optimize the running of several applications.  “And there’s still far more choice available on the iPhone,” he concludes, putting the nail in Microsoft’s coffin.

Windows Mobile 6.5 offers a new backup feature called My Phone, which is one area in which it seems to have garnered some approval among reviewers.  TechCrunch’s Robin Wauters calls the download a “no-brainer,” and praises the feature’s ability to back up all the phone’s data, including photos, contacts, and calendar, to a password protected website.  If the user’s phone is replaced, or if data is lost on the current phone, the website makes it possible to restore anything backed up there, from contacts to documents and video, with “just a few clicks.”

SlashGear’s review is among the most unbiased, and rather than playing to the public’s disillusionment with Microsoft or making blanket statements about the OS, they get very specific with the details of 6.5, both in operation and in Microsoft’s business decisions.  SlashGear suggests that Microsoft Exchange, which releases next year, will enable Microsoft Mobile 6.5 to really shine.  However, with Windows Mobile 7 also being released in 2010, the sense of “upgrading” to 6.5 this year is questionable – and not really questioned by SlashGear.  The SlashGear article will be useful to the consumer who is interested in all the small adjustments to the system’s usability that will speed up the system’s productivity.

To summarize the reviews of the system, all you need is a paragraph. If users are looking for a grand leap forward in the evolution of the Microsoft mobile platform, they should wait for Windows Mobile 7.  6.5 is more capable than its predecessors, has more stability and speed, and has excellent integration with Exchange.  Its advantages will become more pronounced once Exchange 2010 launches next year.  Most users, however, will describe Windows Mobile 6.5 as an unremarkable crossbreed of old and new elements, which will not hold up against more advanced competitors Android, iPhone, and webOS.

Though the extent of Windows Mobile 6.5’s criticism seems less than that of Windows Vista, the OS definitely has a losing battle in front of it as it struggles for public acceptance.  Microsoft, however, despite their mistakes, has an uncanny ability to learn from them, and the discerning public may now eagerly anticipate Windows Mobile 7 as the product of a great deal of trial and error – with emphasis on the error.

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