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Summary:

I have a love/hate relationship with my Windows Mobile 5 Phone Edition cell phone/PDA. The image to the left is what my phone’s Today screen is looking like these days. I like my phone’s interface to be very clean and functional. Everything I need quickly is […]

I have a love/hate relationship with my Windows Mobile 5 Phone Edition cell phone/PDA. The image to the left is what my phone’s Today screen is looking like these days. I like my phone’s interface to be very clean and functional. Everything I need quickly is right there. With a 200 Mhz processor and only 64 MB of onboard RAM, I have to be very picky about the applications I install on my Cingular 8125. After nearly a year with this device and after trying a lot of software, I’ve made peace with it. On those days that I don’t have my laptop with me, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I can accomplish from my phone.

Here’s some of my picks for the software that can make the web worker most productive on the go.

Start with a good launcher. Clicking Start -> Programs all the time is just silly. I’ve tried many and have settled on spb Pocket Plus. spb Software makes some fantastic software for Pocket PCs. In addition to its ability to house icons for your most accessed applications, PocketPlus gives you battery, RAM and drive meters, the ability to control system functions, multiple tabs and the ability to control the application entirely with the D-pad when you want to.

Make it easier to get to your communications. By default, Windows Mobile puts a tiny icon up in the top menu bar to tell you when you have a missed phone call, text message, email or voice mail. It’s a one-time thing. The next alert replaces the previous one and it won’t remind you again. PocketMax PhoneAlarm is the answer.

In addition to a visual count of missed communications, the application let’s you set profiles you can switch to on the fly. When you sit down on the plane, it’s much faster and easier to quickly select the “Airplane” profile from the Today screen which disables the phone and turns off the volume in one click, instead of manipulating all those settings manually. When you land, switch back to the profile you were at before. You can set timers on the profiles to switch automatically. How many times have you turned your ringer off for a meeting and missed an important call hours later because you never turned the ringer back on? PhoneAlarm handles all that beautifully. I’m running the lite version due to my underpowered phone. A smartphone version is just out.

Keep your most important information accessible. The default screen tells you that you have 16 Active tasks, but you have to open the Tasks application to see them. You can see what you’re doing next, but what about your appointments in the next week? Any time you have to waste opening an application just to look at the details in an appointment is time, well, wasted. spb Diary gives you a more complete view of your calendar, contacts, tasks, messages, notes and special events. It’s very customizable, but not quite as powerhouse and overwhelming as its main competition, SBSH’s PocketBreeze/ContactBreeze. I urge you to try both spb and SBSH’s products for yourself in the trial versions and decide which is more to your liking. They’re both good.

Find a better PIM. Windows Mobile built-in personal information management applications are a good start for your calendar, tasks, notes and contacts, but it doesn’t take much more to get something better. Lots of possibilities in this category. I’ve tried most of them. For a long time I used WebIS PocketInformant (shown here), preferring it over its closest competition Agenda Fusion. The issue I had with PocketInformant is that for my slower phone, it does too much and is too big. I’m looking for that sweet spot between the built-in applications and a full-featured PIM so I’m currently using Agenda One, a new product by Developer One, the makers of Agenda Fusion. Cleaner interface, lighter feel. Don’t count out Palm OS leaders Iambic as they bring their flagship Agendus to the Windows Mobile platform (currently in public alpha testing).

Also consider:

  • Resco File Explorer – File browser, FTP, registry editor and more. A must-have and a significant improvement over the built-in file explorer.
  • A LogMeIn Pro account – sign in from your phone’s browser, and you can remotely control your desktop PC from your handheld. Handy for looking at the file that’s only saved on your PC sitting back in your home office. Unfortunately, this application only works for accessing Windows PC operating systems.
  • Google’s Gmail application – If you use Gmail, you’ll never fire up a browser or the lame built-in Messenging app to check email after trying this Java application.
  • Microsoft Windows Live Search for mobile (beta) – Google makes a Java version of a map application that’s barely passable. This Windows Mobile-dedicated application blows the Java versions away. I once got out of the DC Metro at the wrong exit and while I knew I had 4 blocks to walk to my destination, I had no idea which direction to start. I used this little beauty and the address of a store I was standing in front of to plot my course step-by-step. Faster and cheaper than calling 411 to get a business phone number, too.
  • Microsoft Voice Command – Navigate around your device using your voice for completely hands-free operation. Much better than the built-in voice recognition. New version works over bluetooth. Biggest downside: requires nearly 4 MB of RAM and it must be installed to main memory. It’s worth making room for.
  • WebIs Flex Wallet – Keep track of all the important data in your life. Don’t fret if you lose your phone, lock this application down with a secure password.
  • Tengo – Super fast text entry. I find it faster and easier than the phone’s slide-out keyboard.
  • Ilium ListPro – If you’re the type that likes to make lists to keep track of your lists, then this application is for you.
  • eReader – Why carry paperbacks? I always have a few novels on my SD card.
  • Astraware Bejeweled 2 – It can’t be all work. This is my all-time favorite handheld game.

Now that you have a peek inside my phone, any other Windows Mobile users care to share their picks?

  1. Thanks for all this good information about Windows Mobile. I am a developer for Windows Mobile platforms.

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  2. hey there…

    there’s this other product, NTRconnect (www.ntrconnect.com) that provides also remote access and you can access your Mac computers also (not only windows). It’s definitely worth a peek (they have also other cool products).

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  3. I also have Cingular 8125 and have been looking for a good email app. So far I’ve tried the built-in mail app, FlexMail, and gmail java app and none of them meet my needs.

    I actually like the builtin app. If it only supported rules and did not delete all my previously downloaded mail when I send/receive it would be perfect. FlexMail has all the features but the interface is not that great (it takes 3 clicks on two buttons to delete a message)

    Gmail’s java app just fells like is ment for a smartphone not pda and you need to go to midletmanager which is really annoying.

    Anyone has a suggestion which mail up to try next?

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  4. The free “Magic Button” for the toolbar (from http://www.transcreative.com) closes all those open applications, without having to dig down to the “memory, stop running applications” drivel, to free up response time.
    I’ve also found Skype for Pocket PC good for making free overseas calls, while stuck in airports that have Wi-Fi available for my Cingular 8125.

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  5. Rob: I don’t see where NTRconnect will work with either Mac OS X or a PocketPC device? Did I miss something?

    Alex: I agree with you about the email situation, which is why I left that whole category off my list. FlexMail is okay. Just okay. It has some features that make it much better than the built-in Messenging app, but it takes a lot more RAM and is quite buggy. I have resorted to forwarding all my email to Gmail accounts and I use the Java app I mentioned. Yes, I wish it were standalone and not a Java app, but it’s the best of what I’ve tried. My biggest complaint about the built-in app is the lack of filtering/rules, and the fact that I can’t select all messages at once to mark them as read. I also can’t move messages between accounts.

    TK: Does the Skype app actually work on the Cingular 8125? I was under the impression that you had to overclock your phone since it didn’t meet the minimum processor requirements. And spb PocketPlus has a feature for closing applications when you hit the “X.” I know Microsoft “meant to do that” but it’s darn annoying, isn’t it?

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  6. Really good article. Covers the bases with some nice functional software.

    Being one who uses his Treo 650 (PalmOS) as a laptop more so than most, I can appreciate when others want to take a PDA and extend the mess out of it. To a large degree, we can be quite successful, and if manufacturers just pushed a bit more, using a mobile device such as a PDA or smartphone would be more the norm than the exception.

    The only issue that I have, and this is with nearly all OSes on all platforms, is that there never seems to be a well enough solution out of the box. Or, not so much one that is easily noticeable that a person doesn’t have to sift through thousands of forum posts, blogs, news websites and portals for the applications that would work best. Not saying that our devices should come with exactly what we (individually need), but that its apparent use, both simple and extended, should be easier to find from the device, and not necessarily from us who push our devices. In that respect, I think that usability for mobile devices is not there for most people because too much is assumed about the use, and not enough is expected of the user.

    That being said, I long for the day when I can dock my Treo and have it served with a full sized keyboard and monitor and work from it just as if it were the desktop that I am working from now. I do believe that the hardware is there, but for one reason or another, the software just doesn’t seem to want to be there with it.

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  7. I love my g-mail. It gives you so much more than Hotmail or Yahoo. The best part is that there is an unlimited storage space :-)

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  8. I’m using the Softbank x01ht and the software I can’t do without is the Opera mobile browser (not the mini version). Pocket Internet Explorer simply stinks in comparsion.

    I’m also in search of a half-decent mail client. I have three simple requirements, supports the Japanese charset, proper IMAP IDLE, and multiple accounts. I can’t believe there isn’t a single client that can’t do this.

    Alex: I suspect the mail clearing behaviour is has something to do with the mail server you connect to. For me, it happens with one account (hosted on textdrive) but not on another (hosted on dreamhost). It drives me absolutely bonkers.

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