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

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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.

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