It appears the leaks were true. Zune on Windows Phone Mango has received a nice update. Using the Mango emulator provided with the Windows Phone Developer Tools, we were able to access certain hidden features like Bing Vision, Bing Audio, Local Scout, and more.
As a result, the Music + Video hub’s now playing screen is accessible, as well as Marketplace search. This has opened the door to a whole host of interesting information and screenshots.
The most obvious change is the relocated media control buttons. Formerly spaced out at the bottom, the media controls have been moved to the top left of the screen. This might seem like a strange idea at first, but it looks better overall.
In addition, the drop-down media controls–accessed via the volume control rocker–have been redesigned to fit directly over the now playing controls. The result is a slightly larger drop-down box, but it eliminates the duplicate media controls. Interestingly, the volume now appears as a fraction (i.e. 18/30), rather than a standalone number.
A subtle, yet logical, change is the darkening of the artist image on the now playing screen.
Microsoft has also made the advanced music playback settings–repeat, shuffle, and favorite–more obvious. Instead of being located ‘behind’ the album art and accessible with a tap, the settings are located along the right side of the album art. Strangely, the option to favorite a song appears to be missing from the emulator. Single track repeat has also been added. It’s a simple feature, but it can be very useful. Tap repeat once to repeat the current playlist, twice to repeat the current song, and again to clear.
More settings can be found by tapping on the ellipsis (‘…’) at the bottom of the screen. This allows the user to play a Smart DJ mix, share the current track, find more content in the marketplace, or save now playing as a playlist.
The lock screen has also received an update. While playing music, the media controls are visible at the top of the lock screen, eliminating the need to press two buttons, power and volume, in order to pause or adjust the current track.
If artist imagery is available, it will be displayed on the lock screen while music is playing. Pausing the music returns the lock screen to its default image. This can, of course, be disabled.
We were also able to try out the on-device podcast support included in Windows Phone Mango. It’s pretty slick. Users can search for podcasts on the Zune Marketplace. Selecting a result brings up a pivot with an overview of the podcast–album art, hosts, description, etc.–and the list of episodes. From here, users can immediately begin streaming an episode or drill down for the actual episode description and additional options like downloading to the device or subscribing to the podcast feed.
Like on the Zune software client, podcast subscriptions on Windows Phone can be tweaked to fit the user’s needs. The number of episodes to keep can be specified, as well as playback order and whether or not to download new episodes via the phone’s data connection.
The updates to Zune in Windows Phone Mango are a very nice improvement. Many of the features it once lacked–Smart DJ, over-the-air podcasts, single track repeat, etc.–have been added, making it on par with the Zune HD. In fact, once could argue that, total storage space aside, the music experience on Windows Phone Mango is almost superior.
Windows Phone Mango will be released this fall. For more news on Mango, check out the rest of our coverage.