Voice search in Windows Phone 7 was restricted to US phones. Now the UK and a couple of other countries also let you search Bing and Bing Maps by talking to your phone.
What's more, you can dictate text and Facebook messages as if they were texts, and have replies read to you.
The readback works very well unless you're somewhere noisy – like walking down the street – but it's great in the car, where it's a quiet environment. That's the case even if you're playing music on the phone, since it gets paused automatically when messages arrive.
Bing search and maps
Voice search isn't the only new option in Bing. The rather pointless News results have been replaced by Images.
You can use the Local Scout to look for places nearby to shop and eat.
As usual, the database is a little better in the US, but it does find local venues in London. Annoyingly, the UK doesn't get the best new feature in Bing Maps, though: reading directions aloud as you walk or drive.
We're not so keen on the way the view is permanently split between the map and directions instead of being able to zoom in on one or the other either.
There's an intriguing new option called Bing Vision, which is similar to Google Goggles. With it, you can photograph text, have it OCRed in the cloud word by word, pick the words you want by tapping on screen and either search on the text or translate it into another language.
This works well on clearly printed text or even text on screen, but not so well on a blurry printed receipt. It also recognises QR codes and Microsoft Tags, plus bar codes for US books, DVDs and CDs.
There's also a Shazam-style search for recognising music that's playing and buying it from Zune Marketplace.
The Marketplace is finally easier to search, with results divided between music, games and apps, so that you can actually find what you're looking for.
You can find apps on the new Web Marketplace and send them directly to your phone as well.
On our test handset, what we got was a Hotmail message with a link that downloaded and installed apps (very like BlackBerry AppWorld). On some other phones we've seen, hidden text messages trigger the install directly. Either way, it's convenient.
Installing apps and games is also much clearer too. Click Install and you see a list of your existing apps with the icon for the app you're downloading and a progress bar, so you're not left wondering where the app will end up.