Mango packs about 500 new features into Windows Phone, per Microsoft, so picking one favorite is quite difficult, but if someone cornered me and forced me to do so, I’d probably have to cave and say Internet Explorer 9 mobile. In the initial release of Windows Phone 7, the browser included was a hybrid of IE7 and IE8 and was still better than most browsers on other platforms out there, but it certainly had its flaws. Microsoft hopes to close some of those gaps with IE9 in the Mango release. I’ve had some time to play with the Mango beta and I’m pretty pleased with the direction of the native browser. Here are my thoughts.
The first thing you will notice when opening the browser for the first time is that the address bar is now coupled with the toolbar making more room for the viewable area of the webpage. You’ll also notice that the address bar-toolbar combination is now at the bottom, which to my knowledge, has never been done before, but I could be wrong. When I first saw the bottom-dwelling address bar I was hoping that it had been moved for testing purposes only and was hoping it would be back at the top come final release. Well, the address bar is staying at the bottom and you’ll no doubt love the change. I was skeptical at first, but after using it, it just makes sense. Your thumbs are usually planted toward the bottom of the phone’s screen anyway, so having the address bar right beneath them definitely saves time and the combination solution really makes for some noticeable real estate for viewing web pages. The address bar also now displays when in landscape mode, which was an obvious omission in the initial release,
The con with the new layout is that the favorite, add favorite and recent buttons have now been relegated to a sub menu which appears when you press the “…” button. A menu comes up with IE’s browser options: tabs, recent, favorites, add to favorites, share page, pin to start and settings (Another change I noticed is that when the menu bar is up a small status bar drops from the top of the screen with your time, battery, wi-fi and carrier signal strength). What this means is that you must tap the “…” button, pull up the menu and select “Tabs” to navigate to the tabs page, when before, it was just a tap at the bottom of the screen. Not a huge issue, but a noticeable extra tap. The pivot for favorites/history is now also removed in the beta, so instead of being able to switch back and forth between the two on a single screen, you now have to go back to the toolbar menu and select them individually.
Real world usability for IE9 is close to the previous version in Windows Phone except it does seem a bit faster at loading pages thanks to the now full GPU hardware acceleration baked in. Pinching and panning is smooth like butter and even better in this release. Flash support is still not included and may never be for that matter, but we’ll have to wait and see there. HTML5 is the new technology being touted in this version. Microsoft has recently gone full steam ahead with their support for the HTML5 markup and it’s evident in IE9 mobile. Being a mobile browser, you may not notice most of the HTML5 goodies (HTML5 test site here), especially if you are like me and have the browser set to mobile web-page view by default, but it’s nice to know that the HTML5 capability is there. Rendering is much better on many webpages in this version of IE. The only exception, for me, is the mobile version of Yahoo!, which renders as a text-only mobile webpage. Every other site I’ve tried renders beautifully.
In conclusion, the new and improved Internet Explorer mobile for Windows Phone Mango is definitely an upgrade over the previous version in initial releases of the OS. The speed, compatibility and standards compliance is greatly improved and the new location of the address bar is refreshingly welcome, even if it means a few more taps to get to some options. IE9 mobile is just one of the major changes coming in Windows Phone this Fall and I can’t wait to see what the Windows Phone team hasn’t yet revealed.