As I mentioned in the Live Search review a week ago, there are two new items on the MSN Mobile homepage Windows Live Mail Beta and Windows Live Search Beta. I've covered Live Search and found it very promising. Now as part of my ongoing project to review and compare the various mobile web based email services (the Gmail Mobile review is here), this is my take on Live Mail. I was originally planning on covering Hotmail Mobile (which is still on the MSN mobile start page) but instead I'm looking at the Live Mail beta and comparing it with Hotmail Mobile.
Live Mail Mobile is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. You could call it just a re-skinning of Hotmail mobile - but it's a rather smart re-skinning. The changes seem to be an effort to adapt to a wider variety of devices with a more attractive presentation and increased usability on the target device. The following three pairs of screenshots show Hotmail on the left and Live on the right. Note the increased use of images in Live versus the mostly text-only Hotmail. Live is definitely more attractive and the images are small enough to have minimal impact on page load time especially once they are in the browser's cache. The screenshots are from the Netfront emulator posing as a Motorola V180 with an 128x160 px screen. Hotmail actually has two different layouts, the mostly text one shown here and a graphical version. In my testing, the graphical version is only displayed if Hotmail detects either a MS Smartphone or a larger screen device such as a Palm or Pocket PC PDA. This makes sense as the graphical version uses a table!! based layout which is 240 px wide.
Live Mail has only one basic layout but varies the line length based on the browser's capabilities. I'm not sure that I like the way this affects the Inbox view. Hotmail shows more of the message's title and author even if it occasionally wraps to the next line. Live chops off the title and author so that it always fits on the line. Personally, I prefer to see more of the these critical fields even if it looks a little sloppy due to the wraping. I do however, prefer the way Live displays the message body. Hotmail puts the full From: and To: address at the top on the message which takes up a whole screen on the phone. Live omits the To: and shortens the From: but adds the very useful date and time which are nowhere to be found in Hotmail.. Live adds the Sent Mail folder that was missing in Hotmail Mobile
Live Mail has some thoughtful usability features which aren't immediately obvious. Thanks to Mobile access everywhere! - the official Windows Live for Mobile blog for revealing them. For one, although this is true of Hotmail as well, there are numeric Access Keys to all the items in the menus. Access Keys are hot keys that you press to open a link or perform an action. To me, Access Keys are a mark of a well designed mobile page. It saves several key presses to just hit 6 for Contacts or 4 to compose a new email instead of scrolling down to the applicable menu item. In addition to Access Keys on all menu items, Live Mail adds two special access keys, # which takes go to the beginning of the menu and * which goes to the top of the page. Another cool feature (borrowed from Outlook on the desktop) is that if you type a partial contact name in the To: field, then when you Send, Live Mail will either complete the email address for you or present a list of alternatives to pick from if there is more then one match. Again like Outlook and most desktop mail clients, you can add the sender of any received email to your contacts with a single click on the small icon in the From: field in front of the sender's name. Speaking of Outlook, you can import your contacts from OutLook or Outlook Express using the instructions at http://www.imagine-msn.com/Hotmail/Post/Manage/ImportContacts.aspx. Live Mail and Hotmail share the same Contacts and Inbox so you can seamlessly switch from one to the other. Unlike Gmail, neither Hotmail or Live Mail can display attachments.
To sum it up, Live Mail for Mobile seems to be a useful evolution of Hotmail Mobile. It is still missing a few features of other services such as GMail's attachment handling, Yahoo's ability to synchronize it's address book with a variety of Desktop email clients, Yahoo's mobile email alerts which give it a Blackberry like push capability and Yahoo (again) and Mail2WAP's capability of accessing any POP or IMAP mail server. Still, if you are a satisfied Hotmail user either on the desktop, mobile or both, you should definitely take a look at Live Mail mobile.
Direct Link to Live Mail: html