Last week Microsoft presented me with a Samsung Focus smartphone that was running a recent pre-release build of Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango." Mango is the version of the OS that will replace Windows Phone 7, which launched last year.

Windows Phone Mango brings many new things to Microsoft-powered smartphones, as you can see in the video below. From a messaging perspective, you'll find combined email inboxes, an improved messaging system that lets users switch between text, IM, and Facebook chat on the fly, and new integration of Twitter and LinkedIn into the social aspects of the People app. In this pre-release build I was testing, Twitter and LinkedIn support were missing.

Many other updates are found in the People app, including new group support for mass messaging and email as well as targeted social networking feeds. New check-in support has been added to the phone so that it is now easy to check-in at a restaurant or an event, and social networking photos (with face tagging) are also available within the People app. The Calendar has been updated to includes tasks from Exchange accounts and appointments from Facebook. I'll reserve final judgement for all of the new social features until after the final product ships, but so far, at least, Microsoft appears to be moving in the right direction.

Search has been extended all around with special handling of movies, products, and places. A new visual search tool can be used to identify items or read bar codes - or even translate text into different languages (think menus). Local Scout makes it easy to find nearby places to go for food, shopping, or entertainment. I've always been a fan of Bing, loving its clean look and organized content. Now things are even better.

The new, and much-hyped, task switching and multitasking features are very nice to have, and I'm looking forward to seeing new apps that take advantage of the background audio system and various other APIs that are being made available to developers. Users won't have access to pure multitasking in the Android sense, but what Microsoft is offering with Mango appears to be a step beyond what Apple offers in iOS. And that's more than enough multitasking for countless millions of consumers, if Apple's sales figures indicate anything.

Microsoft has really been touting the Internet Explorer 9 integration in Mango, with its HTML5 support, but users are also going to love the Smart DJ playlists that the Zune player can create, and gamers will approve of the 3D avatar support and Xbox Live messaging that has been added to the Games Hub. IE9 sounds great in theory, but I'm still not convinced that what we get from it is on par with the WebKit browsers offered by Android, iOS, and webOS. It's good (and very fast), but in a different way that just doesn't seem quite has handy on a mobile phone.

While Windows Phone will still not suit every potential smartphone user out there, I feel that the changes Microsoft has put into Mango go a long way towards filling any gaps that existed in the initial release of Windows Phone 7. The best part is that while Mango catches up with the other major smartphone operating systems, it still manages to remain true to itself. It's different, to be sure, but Microsoft's OS is beautiful, fast, and powerful as well.

You can get a look at all of these features and more by watching the video above. The Mango release of Windows Phone is expected to show up in devices this fall.

Michael Oryl is the Philadelphia-based owner and editor-in-chief of MobileBurn focuses on cell phones, smartphones, tablets, and related hardware. Republished with permission.