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Summary:

I mentioned two weeks ago that I was participating in a free trial of hosted Exchange services with 4SmartPhone.net. The trial expires for me midweek on May 10th, so I planned a decision over the weekend. Also, jkOTR reader Wes asked on Friday what I planned […]

4smartphone_logo_1 I mentioned two weeks ago that I was participating in a free trial of hosted Exchange services with 4SmartPhone.net. The trial expires for me midweek on May 10th, so I planned a decision over the weekend. Also, jkOTR reader Wes asked on Friday what I planned to do, so Wes: here’s what I decided and what I was looking for. Oh what the heck: everyone can read along too, if it’s OK with Wes, that is! ;)

Let’s actually start with what my needs were. I have two main e-mail addresses, one through Verizon and one through Gmail. I also have three main computing devices that I use on a daily basis: the M205 Tablet PC, a Windows Media Center desktop and the XV6700 Windows Mobile phone. All of this adds up to e-mail all over the place, so a centralized mail mechanism is a great solution. After all, who wants to read and re-read messages over and over on different devices?

In my first post on the subject, I indicated the ease and simplicity that 4Smartphone.net provides, so I won’t rehash that. Besides, once you’re set up for the free trial, the conversion to a paid account is simply a payment process. Since we’re on the topic of payment, I might as well spill the beans early and tell you that I did decide to continue service for a year.

My next year of service in the Professional plan cost me $83.88, which works out to $6.99 a month. I estimate I saved 15 to 30 minutes a day in productivity time during the trial. If we stay conservative and use the lower number, that works out to saving or gaining 7.5 hours in a 30 day month simply by having my mail centralized. No longer do I need to read or reply to a mail on one device only to wonder the next day if actually did read or reply to that message when I see it on another device.

If you don’t plan to use the full-fledged version of Microsoft Outlook, the $3.99 a month plan may work for you; the benefits of centralized mail are still realized and you can access your mail via Outlook Web Access; wireless synchronization to a mobile device is still included. I prefer to use Outlook (included with the Professional plan), which is why I opted for the $6.99 plan. Both plans are generous in terms of storage (500 MB and 1 GB respectively) and there is other little difference.

Although I’m primarily an Outlook user, I did make use of the Outlook Web Access at various times. For example, I have Outlook on the Tablet PC, but not on the WMCE desktop. Instead of running downstairs from my office to boot up the Tablet, I simply logged in to my account at the 4Smartphone.net home page, clicked the OWA sign-in button, and was then taken right to my e-mail. All in all, OWA is very usable.

Now I should mention that my XV6700 doesn’t yet support "push" e-mail, simply because the needed AKU2 ROM hasn’t been supplied by Verizon Wireless. However, a quick click of ActiveSync and the "Sync" button initiates an EV-DO connection to the hosted Exchange server where I get my e-mail, tasks, appointments and contacts: it’s all relatively painless.

By the way, the service became invaluable about halfway through the trial. I was having an issue with Outlook where it was taking up 100% of the CPU for hours. James and I chatted about the issue and decided to just rename the Offline Storage Folder, or .ost file, that Outlook was using, thinking it got corrupted. Once I did the file rename, Outlook started up just fine, but of course had no mail, appointments, tasks or contacts in it. That’s not a problem with an Exchange server (that’s backed up nightly, I might add): the server realizes that the client is out of synch and it replicates all of the mailbox contents back down to the client. After 30 minutes of replication, I was back up and running with all of the data on the Tablet PC.

I’ll take any additional questions in the comments of the post, but hopefully, I’ve provided you with my experiences to help you decide if you need this service from any provider, but in particular, from 4Smartphone.net. I’ll disclose that I never contacted the 4Smartphone.net outside of the regular customer channels that you would use, i.e.: this wasn’t a "known" test of their service in their eyes, this was just another customer trying them out. I paid for the service out of pocket and tried to remain objective in solving a problem. I can say that for me, the problem is solved by the great service that they offer. As always: your mileage may vary and you should always do your research before buying a product or service for your specific needs.

-kct

  1. Pretty cool stuff

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  2. Looks like a great option. I currently host my Exchange server with Small Business Server but if I ever get rid of it (certainly possible) I now know there’s an affordable alternative. The thought of going back to “regular mail” after having experienced Exchange is … well… unthinkable.

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  3. I am a Cingular BlackBerry user still looking for a host. I like the Cingular 8125, but I can’t change, $$$$, at this time.

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  4. Cary Phillips Tuesday, May 9, 2006

    You mentioned in your first post that you had your email accounts forwarded to the exchange server. Does this still allow you to designate which account is used when sending emails?

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  5. Will, according to the 4Smartphone.net support page, you can do this with virtual accounts in Outlook. I have no need for that setup, so I didn’t try it. Here’s the info from 4Smartphone.net:

    Q. How many different email addresses can I have on my account?
    A. For receiving email, you can have as many email addresses, or aliases as you need.
    For sending email, by default you can only use your account email. However, if you are a Pro or Enterprise user with Outlook, you can setup multiple virtual accounts in Outlook which will allow you to send email with different identities (or reply addresses).

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  6. You mentioned that your Gmail account is one of your primary email accounts. How does the OWA compare to Gmail? Can you search as well as with Gmail?

    I have been considering an Exchange solution for contacts, tasks, and calendar synchronization, but I’m not sure how it could be better than Gmail on its own. With Gmail you can have multiple POP3 clients accessing the same incoming email, and with SMTP through Gmail, you can keep track of your sent mail.

    I’m not sure I would want to give up threded email conversations either.

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  7. Probably the only real knock against this service comes into play if you use it with a Gmail account, as I have. For some reason, 4smartphone.net does not support POP3 accounts with SSL access, which Gmail is. You can get around this by using mail forwarding within Gmail, which is great for receiving mail, but there is a problem with sending mail. If you send mail using Outlook or your handheld device, it will not show up in your sent mail folder within the online Gmail app, and vice versa (email sent from the Gmail web page will not show up in the sent mail within Outlook or your handheld). This is bad for me, because I use both often (on my home/office pc I use the Gmail web app for it’s great features, and “on the go” I use my PPC6700 to send/receive email). I would love to find out if anyone has figured out a way to make this work, even if it takes a bit of work.

    Otherwise, I love 4smartphone.net, they are still the closest thing to Blackberry-like service on WM5. FYI, my service provider is Alltel, and I do have the AKU2 ROM update, but I still don’t use Push because of the massive amount of battery it uses. :)

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  8. Good point if you use both an Outlook client and the Gmail web client. I do the mail forwarding with Gmail but only send mail from Outlook. In lieu of the Gmail web client for sending mail, I use the Outlook Web Access feature that 4Smartphone supports so that I can sendreceive e-mail from any PC web client, plus there’s the benefit of having everything in Sent Items. Not a great solution by any means, but it’s an option.

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  9. Just signed up as well. Phone’s syncing no problem but can’t get appointments/contacts etc entered on phone to show up on desktop. Is this a limitation of Exchange or is it me doing something wrong.

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