It’s been a big month for Microsoft. The Windows Phone team has been touring the country celebrating the launch of their newest devices, all of which come with the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system, otherwise known as Windows Phone Mango. I had the opportunity to try out Mango and play with some of the new devices at the Windows Phone Night Market in NYC. Read on to see my favorite features, criticisms and thoughts on Windows Phone 7.5/Windows Phone Mango!

Note: I tested Mango on the Sprint HTC Arrive.

Windows Phone Mango devices all have fairly similarly hardware specs due to Microsoft’s strict requirements for Windows Phones: Start, Search, and Back buttons, a large WVGA (800 x 480) format display capable of rendering most web content in full-page width and displaying movies in widescreen and a 4-point multi-touch screens. All Windows Phones also have external volume-control, power/sleep, and camera buttons. Windows Phones has automatic portrait/landscape rotation, but there are some apps that don’t support this, which can get annoying.

Mango still features the same bold and clean UI of the older Windows Phones; there were no major changes in terms of design. The main screen contains interactive live tiles that link to apps, websites, map locations, or contacts. With Mango, the live tiles will dynamically update to show you important information on the spot, such as the number of unread messages or emails you have, your next calendar appointment, or even a rotation of your Facebook friends’ profile photos. You can choose what color you want your live tiles to be by selecting a theme.

Emails and SMS messages are finally grouped by threads in Mango. You can also create unified inboxes for your email with “Linked Inboxes.” The voice-to-text function was pretty accurate for me. I even was able to have my text messages read aloud to me whenever I got a new one and reply to a message by voice. On Windows Phone 7.5/Mango, contacts are all integrated into an app called “People Hub,” which pulls contacts from your email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Windows Live accounts. Mango finally allows you to create contact groups and message everyone in that group at once. If you have contacts across different accounts with the same name, they merge automatically. Say you have a friend who is your Gmail contact, Facebook friend, and a Twitter followee. When you click on that person’s contact card, there are options to send them an email, write on their Facebook wall, or even mention them on Twitter. Inside the People Hub, you can also view and interact with posts on your Facebook newsfeed/Twitter timeline. While “People” lets you see updates from your friends, another built-in app called “Me” shows you information from, unsurprisingly, your own profiles. It’s also where you can send updates to all your social media accounts at once (or just the ones you select). You can even check into Facebook Places– no Foursquare love from Microsoft though. Basically, you can manage your social media accounts from your Windows Phone without the need for downloading any third-party apps. I really like how Windows Phone has built-in, no-fuss integration with social media services and found it something that would definitely appeal to our generation of increasingly social-media dependent college students.

The browser on Windows Phone is Internet Explorer 9. I like how the ability to share a website on social networking sites is baked in, and how easy it is to pin a bookmark to your start screen. I also thought it was nice that the user can choose whether they want to see the mobile or regular versions of websites by default. I didn’t like that it took two taps to switch between tabs or the lack of a “forward” button.

Getting to the robust Bing search tool is a snap because of the dedicated Search button on every Windows Phone. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, you cannot switch from Bing as your default search engine. The good thing is that the Bing search has some very interesting and potentially useful features. For example, “Local Scout,” which uses your location to find nearby dining, shopping, and entertainment results and aggregates reviews on venues from Yelp and Citysearch. One big thing I really missed was a Spotlight Search function similar to iOS’s that lets you quickly search all the data (contacts, apps, bookmarks, messages, etc.) stored on your phone. Hopefully that’s something Microsoft will consider adding in the next update.

Windows Phone still lags far behind Android and iOS as far as app choices go, but you will find that the most popular big-name apps have aleady claimed a spot in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Prior to Mango, you couldn’t browse the marketplace from a web browser, so that’s definitely a huge improvement. Another new feature: multitasking. The app-multitasking capabilities introduced in Mango seem to work pretty well. (Yes, Windows Phone is definitely late to this party.) A simple press-and-hold of the Back button will let you swipe between open programs.

There are still a few areas where Windows Phone could do some catching up, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds like Microsoft already has plans to address most of these issues in upcoming releases. Overall, Mango filled in most of the holes in the previous Windows Phone and added some extra snazzy features that could potentially make it a worthy contender in the smartphone market.