Hosted Exchange: making the decision after the free trial

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

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