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Microsoft retains control over key Windows Phone 7 features, functions

Unlike Windows Mobile, where vendors often skinned the phones to provide a better user interface, you know what you're going to see when you fire up a Windows Phone 7 device: eight tiles (in your choice of colour) marching down the screen in pairs, each providing a live view of what's behind it.

For example, the Calendar (a double-width tile) shows you the highlights of your day's schedule, e-mail, a count of unread messages.

The People tile lets you see an ever-changing montage of image of the folks you care about; the Games tile features your Xbox Live avatar (if you have one), and lets you know if you have any messages from the service. Each tile offers its own little peek under its app's covers.

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Manufacturers and carriers are allowed to install up to six tiles worth of their own apps (don't worry, you can have lots more than eight tiles; they scroll).

You navigate by finger taps and familiar gestures such as swipes and pinches. The three required buttons give you hardwired Back, Menu and Search commands. And if pressing buttons or touching the screen isn't possible, voice recognition powered by Tellme will launch searches and apps and dial the phone.

Integration with Facebook is baked into the OS, so you can do anything from writing on friends' walls to changing your settings, right on the phone. The device's contact list will slurp in your Facebook friends, as well as contacts from various e-mail accounts such as Gmail, Windows Live and Microsoft Exchange and integrate them into a single view of an individual. In fact, when you provision any social network on the phone, its data gets automatically integrated into all apps.

Since that could make for a formidably large contact list, you can create a tile for a frequent contact and pin it to the main screen for easy access. In fact, you can pin virtually anything to the main screen in its very own tile - your favourite music, pictures, local weather, or anything else the phone can access. To keep things tidy, you can drag and drop tiles into your preferred layout.

The OS recognizes addresses, and the phone will display locations on a map if you tap on them. Zoom in, and when you get close enough the view switches from a map to a satellite photo of your destination. The phone also recognizes phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and responds appropriately when you tap them.

Battery life? Microsoft says it's aiming at a full day's use per charge; we'll test that out and let you know.

What version one of the phone doesn't have is just as important as what's included:

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At launch, it will not support multitasking of third-party apps. There's no cut and paste. There's no tethering. There's no Flash support in the browser. Sound familiar? It's an echo of the pieces Apple decided to forego in its first iPhone.

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