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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The Settings app in Android can be confusing. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi -- not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. Windows Phone's settings are much clearer, avoiding any such confusion.

Pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, work equivalently on Android and Windows Phone. But neither OS does much more in terms of available gestures beyond those and swipe -- a real contrast to iOS. Instead, both rely on menu actions after you long-tap objects you want to manipulate.

Windows Phone lets you set custom sounds to various alerts, so you can more easily tell your device from someone else's. Android doesn't allow for such per-alert tone configuration.

For text entry, I find Android's on-screen keyboard to be easier to work with than Windows Phone's, with more readable keys. I wish Android used contextual keys like .com and underscore (_) more often, as Windows Phone does, but Windows Phone's messing with the placement of some basic symbols, such as the asterisk, is really annoying.

Text selection and copying. Android falls short in its text selection. If you're tapping away and realize you've made a mistake not caught by the autocorrect feature, such as when entering a URL, it can be difficult to move the text cursor to the typo's location. If you tap too long, the screen is filled with the Edit Text contextual menu. It took me a while to figure out how to tap long enough to move the text-insertion cursor to a new location without opening that menu. "Gingerbread" has tweaked text selection so that it's more precise than in the more broadly deployed Android 2.2 "Froyo," and there's now a slider to move the text cursor -- but these enhanced controls are not universal across apps.

Windows Phone handles text selection a little better. It seems more sensitive to when you want to insert the cursor within text, and it displays a large colored insertion cursor when you do so, providing a visual clue as to where the cursor will end up before you lift your finger.

Copy and paste -- even basic selection -- is often not available in Android. In some fields, tapping and holding brings up the Edit Text contextual menu that lets you copy or paste the entire field's contents; in others you can't even do that. Although the browser lets you select and copy text, this ability is not universal. For example, you can't select text in email messages.

Windows Phone is a little better in this regard, as more text objects are selectable than in Android. But it's still not universal: You can't, for example, copy and paste selections from a tweet -- just the whole tweet.

Both Android and Windows Phone 7 support physical keyboards, so people who don't like onscreen keyboards can get devices with a physical one instead.

The winner: Windows Phone 7 -- as long as you're under 30 years of age or have your reading glasses handy. It is easier to navigate the OS and apps alike in "Mango" than in Android, especially if you keep your app portfolio small.

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