Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

I like the new Windows Mobile 6.5 interface, specially the new home screen, which is brilliantly executed. Running on the new HTC Touch Diamond 2, everything looked smoother, cleaner, and matched the iPhone's lick factor.

While everything seems to have been touched up, simplified, and polished to no end, what really makes this version of Windows Mobile 6.5 isn't the new, revamped browser—which uses the engine deployed in 6.1 but feels a lot faster and has a good new interface—or the honeycomb start screen—which I don't find particularly impressive—or the cleaner UI designed for one-finger operation or the speed or the touch gestures.

To me, what really makes this new operating system great is the new home screen, combined with the lock screen. The lock screen doesn't look very good aesthetically—somehow, the elements don't appear tight enough—but it allows you to see what's cooking in your digital life with just one glance. Turn the screen on and you will see whatever pending alerts, mails, calls, short text messages, or any other element that requires your attention. No need to get deeper into the phone applications. From there, if you want to drill down, just slide-to-unlock the notification and you will be taken straight to the info.

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface RocksS

Once you unlock your phone, you are taken to the home screen. This is the true jewel in the operating system: A simple list of categories which let you access information without having to get into the phone applications. It sounds like the lock screen, but from here you can get deeper into the information itself. Here's how it works:

When you slide your finger over the list, it scrolls like it's passing through a visor. The visor transforms the text line into the information itself, so if you go through "text", it will show you the last received text message. Once you are looking at that, you will effectively have access to all your SMS messages right on that screen: Just swipe your finger like passing the pages of a book and it will change the text message. The same happens with all the other categories. There is even a custom "Favorites" category, that would allow you to navigate through whatever you want to put in there, from weather reports to Messenger's messages.

Then you have the start menu, which is accessible through the now-obligatory Windows flag start button, which must be present in all Windows 6.5 cellphones. Microsoft calls this the "start experience." I call it: "about time something makes sense in your damn phones." The start page shows all your available applications displayed as icons in a honeycomb. You can scroll up and down the honeycomb to start apps. No more start menu. The honeycomb is supposed to make it easier to see the icons and click on them. It works well.

Of course, Windows Mobile 6.5 is not perfect. I doesn't seem to support multitouch, for example. However, it's a huge leap over the previous fugly versions, which were completely unpalatable. If it fulfills its promise, this one will make Windows users think twice before getting an iPhone or an Android phone.

From this first touch on, it looks like Microsoft is back in the game. They don't have the upper hand yet, but they are clearly waking up. We will see what happens and how deep these changes really are once it gets released.