Review: Vonage's Time to Call App#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

Back in the day I used to be a Vonage customer, due to its free national and international calling we had for both a home business and personal use. At the time for us it was the best and cheapest phone service to use, but as we sold off our business we no longer had a need for the business line and we were offered free IP service via our Comcast bundle. I still miss the ability to make international calls and Vonage now offers an affordable alternative to make international telephone calls without having to be a Vonage customer, but as a pay as you go customer. One of the downsides of having an iPad or iPod Touch is that there is no way to make a phone call, unless it was via Skype or or some other application that just didn’t quite have the sound quality of an actual phone call and most calls experienced buffering and dropped calls. Vonage’s Time to Call App for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad offers that alternative.

1-TTC-Overview 

Using Time to Call

The way Time to Call works is similar to a pay phone (you remember those) in that you purchase 15 minute blocks of calling time via an in-app purchase with the Apple iTunes store(instead of inserting coins) so you don’t have to give Vonage any of your credit card details or personal information. You basically select the country you wish to call and then you are given a rate to make the call which varies from country to country. You then dial the number on the keypad given much like the phone dialer on any modern smartphone today and you should then be connected to any phone number as if you were calling directly from your phone.

2-TTC-Country-Initial-Purchase3-TTC-Plan4-TTC-Calling

The app works both over WiFi and 3G (if you device has the capability) remarkably very well and surprisingly very clear. When I tried calling several a few family members via the Time to Call app that are located in various countries throughout the world, each call was as clear as if I had the call on my standard telephone line. In fact, the quality was very good with no dropped calls, in my opinion and those I was conversing with on the other end said that the call was much clearer than the many Skype calls I had with the same family members in the past with out any of the normal delays or buffering we usually experienced when using Skype.

If you travel a lot internationally using this app is much easier and cheaper than purchasing calling cards or SIM cards at airports, kiosks, or hotel lobbies. In the past, that more than likely would have deterred me from even make the phone call. Now as a traveller with the Vonage Time to Call app I now have a very easy to use and affordable option.

Features:

  • Pay per call and talk up to 15 minutes to 100 countries for $1.99 or less
  • For an additional 90+ countries, talk up to 15 minutes for $2.99 to $9.99
  • Works on Wi-Fi worldwide
  • Also for use on high quality 3G networks² in the U.S. and Canada
  • Significant savings over mobile carrier rates
  • FREE download
  • For a limited time, each download includes a FREE call of up to 15 minutes to landlines and mobile phones in any one of 100 countries. Activate your FREE call to take advantage of this offer. No purchase necessary.**NO PURCHASE REQUIRED!

When I first tried the Vonage Time to Call app I was a bit skeptical, but after using it I was thoroughly impressed with the call quality and ease of use. Another thing is if you are good at monitoring your time on your calls, unused minutes are usable for additional calls. I also like the fact that you know how much the call will cost you when it ends and you won’t be surprised when you monthly bill comes around and a few expletives fly as well as an unexpected a hit on your finances.

The Time to Call app is free and is available now in the iTunes store here.

TTC Info

For more information on the app you can head directly to the Vonage page here.

An Android version is coming soon and if you are a Facebook users there is also another option available to you called Vonage Talk Free on Facebook worth checking out.

We will also be giving away an Apple iPad 2 as part of the Vonage Time to call contest with 75 other technical blogs.

** Limited time offer for first calls placed to landlines and mobile phones in any one of 100 countries using the Time to Call iPhone app. You must activate your free call before this offer ends by clicking the “Try it for Free” button on the country plan page within the app. Free call expires one year from activation. Eligible countries include: American Samoa, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bermuda, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, French Guiana, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Martinique, Mexico, Mongolia, Montserrat, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Northern Mariana Islands, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Vatican City (Holy See), Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia.

iPad | iPhone | Reviews
08/21/2011 19:44:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Review of Polycom SoundPoint IP 550#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

Whether you are CEO of one or many, a cubic dweller or a board room commander speakerphones are a must for busy people and multi-taskers. Even if it frees your hands for a few moments so you can type, copy, paste, take notes, code, steer a presentation, or find that ever important answer to the question that was just asked. A clear speaker is even more important.

Polycom 550

I received the Polycom SoundPoint IP 550 from the folks at Alteva to review their Unified Communication offerings and couldn’t be more pleased at how great it works! The sound quality is a step up of from other IP phones I have used at work as well the one my wife uses at home for her job a Polycom SoundPoint IP 326, a smaller model without the HD feature. the difference in sound quality is knock you off your feet good! It is like having HD on your television, you really notice the difference as it brings life-like richness and clarity to every call as if you talking to someone in the same room. I never thought I would be that impressed with a “land-line”, but I am. Against your ear it reduces fatigue of those long conference calls somewhat, but the sound quality really shines when you utilize a headset via the RJ11 jack on the back of the phone or the built-in Speaker phone.

Polycom 550 back

The way it does this is that the Polycom HD Voice technology uses several Polycom voice technologies: wideband audio for over twice the voice clarity; Polycom’s patented Acoustic Clarity Technology for crystal-clear, noise- and echo-free sound, plus best-in-class system design for high-fidelity, reliable voice reproduction.

In the Box

SoundPoint IP 550 Comes With:

  • SoundPoint IP 550 console
  • Handset with handset cord
  • Base stand
  • Network (LAN) cable
  • Universal power adapter (including country-specific cord kit)
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Product registration card

Setting up the phone was a simple as unboxing it and plugging it into my network, (if have any questions on how to do this the included quick start guide will bring things to light) and it automatically began the process of establishing itself on the network with the pre-configurations set up by Alteva. It was literally plug and play!

For the more technical, the Polycom IP550 desktop phone is engineered to make installation, configuration, and upgrades as simple and efficient as possible by supporting built-in IEEE 802.3af PoE circuitry and a dual-port Ethernet switch which enables flexible deployment options as well as significant savings on cabling expenses. The Polycom IP 550 PoE phone also supports remote, zero-touch provisioning and upgrades from a variety of industry servers, including FTP, TFTP, HTTP3, or HTTPS3. To ensure reliable, uninterrupted performance, the phone supports boot4 and call server redundancy. The Polycom SoundPoint IP550 is amongst the most popular Polycom IP Phones for use with Asterisk, BroadSoft, Sylantro, Trixbox, Switchvox, Microsoft Communication Server/Lync and other open SIP based IP PBX platforms and services.

Using the Polycom SoundPoint IP 550

On previous IP based phones I had a great frustration with my phone in that it lacked a backlit display, the Polycom IP550 provides a backlit 320 x 160-pixel graphical gray scale LCD whose display brightness is user adjustable and has a high enough resolution to display a default image like your company logo or favorite vacation spot. If you use Alteva’s hosted unified communication solutions or in the corporate environment you also benefit from the ability to have 4 lines on the same phone, shared call/bridged line appearance,corporate directory Access,presence, buddy list support, BLF(Busy Lamp Field), 4 context-sensitive  Soft keys, 6 Display/Menu Navigation keys, and my favorite a Do Not Disturb button.

The phone has a XHTML micro-browser for Web applications. After a quick search on www.voip-info.org, I quickly found an example XHTML application that displays your local weather forecast based on a ZIP code entered via the phone keypad. Polycom also provides a downloadable examples including an automatic display of stock prices. The micro-browser can have a multitude of applications, but they tend to be lean toward more custom implementations driven by the specific needs of a company. Say you need to book flights for your employees for various sales meetings you could use the phone's micro-browser to perform a quick query for flight status details from available airlines or perform a quick inventory search of availability from your warehouse on a certain part number given by a customer over the phone. In the latest release of the v3.0 firmware, Polycom has also started offering optional software the Productivity Suite for SoundPoint IP Phones, which costs around $12 per phone and provides five applications to enhance the phones' basic capabilities:

  • Visual Conference Management
  • Local Call Recording
  • Corporate Directory Access (LDAP)
  • Third Party Call Control
  • Voice Quality Monitoring

One nice feature of the phone was the ability check your email and calendar over your office phone and your cell phone as well as respond and create new emails and appointments with your voice. You can have your calls forwarded to your cell phone, office phone, home phone all with a touch of a button and update your status to you entire team. All your voicemails are also available in Outlook as well as the presence of your coworkers. You can also share your desktop via LiveMeeting and utilize the features in the PolyCom phone.

There are ton of features for collaboration and I will cover a bit more on this future article.

For a demonstration of just some of Alteva’s Unified Communications and the numerous features with mobile convergence solutions with the Polycom SoundPoint IP 550 check out Alteva’s CIO William Bumbernick walk through of it in action.

 

If you are looking for a great IP based desk phone this maybe one to consider, the price I have seen was from $229-$650 depending if you bundle it with UC services you may net a cheaper price. The phone works great and if you have room in your luggage, briefcase, or mobile office you can bring it with you where ever you have an internet connection.

OK for the Techies in the crowd…

Specifications

Standards
IEEE 802.3
Protocols
IETF SIP (RFC 3261 and companion RFCs)
Security
Transport Layer Security (TLS)
Encrypted configuration files
Digest authentication
Password login
Support for URL syntax with password for boot server address
HTTPS secure provisioning
Support for signed software executables
Ports
Dedicated RJ-9 headset port - Amplified headsets are recommended
Display
320 x 160-pixel backlit gray scale graphical LCD
LEDs
White LED backlight with custom intensity control
4 line keys with bi-color (red/green) LED
Frequency Band
100Hz - 7kHz for handset,
optional headset and hands-free speakerphone modes
Power
Built-in, auto-sensing IEEE 802.3af Power over Ethernet
External Universal input AC adapter (included; 24V DC @ 500mA min.)
Dimensions
10.5" x 6" x 7.5" x 2.5" (26.5 cm x 15 cm x 19 cm x 6.5 cm) (W x H x D x T)
Weight
Phone weight: 2.75 lb (1.26 kg)
Temperature
Operating Temperature: +10 to 40°C (+50 to 104°F)
Storage Temperature: -40 to +70°C (-40 to +160°F)
Humidity
20% to 85%, non-condensing
Specifications
Network and Provisioning
Two-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch
Manual or dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) network setup
Time and date synchronization using SNTP
FTP / TFTP / HTTP3 / HTTPS3 server-based central provisioning for mass deployments
Provisioning4 and call server redundancy supported
Web portal for individual unit configuration
QoS Support – IEEE 802.1p/Q tagging (VLAN), Layer 3 TOS, and DSCP
Network Address Translation (NAT) – support for static configuration and “Keep-Alive” SIP signalling
RTCP support (RFC 1889)
Event logging
Syslog
Local digit map
Hardware diagnostics

Features

Feature Keys
4 context-sensitive “soft” keys
26 dedicated “hard” keys
- 8 feature keys
- 6 display/menu navigation keys
- 2 volume control keys
- Illuminated mute key
- Illuminated headset key
- Illuminated hands-free speakerphone key
- Dedicated hold key

Audio Features

Full-duplex hands-free speakerphone - Type 1 compliant with IEEE 1329 full duplex standards - optional headset and hands-free speakerphone modes
Codecs: G.722 (wideband), G.711 µ/A, and G.729A (Annex B)
Individual volume settings with visual feedback for each audio path
Voice activity detection
Comfort noise fill
DTMF tone generation / DTMF event RTP payload
Low-delay audio packet transmission
Adaptive jitter buffers
Packet loss concealment
Acoustic echo cancellation
Background noise suppression
Call Handling Features1
Shared call / bridged line appearance
Flexible line appearance (one or more line keys can be assigned for each line extension)
Busy Lamp Field (BLF)
Distinctive incoming call treatment / call waiting
Call timer
Call transfer, hold, divert (forward), pickup
Called, calling, connected party information
Local three-way conferencing
One-touch speed dial, redial
Call waiting
Remote missed call notification
 
Hearing Aid Compatibility-Compliant with ADA Section 508 Recommendations: Subpart B 1194.23 (all)
Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC) handset for magnetic coupling to approved HAC hearing aids
Compatible with commercially-available TTY adapter equipment

Intercom
Automatic off-hook call placement
Do not disturb function
Other Features
Interoperability with Microsoft LCS 2005 for telephony and presence4
Local feature-rich GUI
Time and date display
06/17/2011 19:53:16 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

LG QUANTUM and Windows Phone 7 Impressions From A Different Perspective#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Over this past Christmas holiday weekend, I posted my review of the LG QUANTUM Windows Phone 7 phone for AT&T. At the time, I realized that I was writing a review of a new technology from the perspective of someone already somewhat intimate with the Windows Phone 7 platform. Furthermore, as a “power user”, I was not necessarily the key demographic for the Microsoft’s mobile OS “reboot”. While I did keep this in mind when writing the review and I do really love using Windows Phone 7, I thought it might be interesting to perform a bit of a “controlled experiment”. What if I could have someone closer to the target demographic for Windows Phone 7 to try the LG QUANTUM on a regular basis and get their feedback and impressions? Fortunately for me, I did not have to go far for a test subject.

LG QUANTUM_01

My lovely wife of nearly 14 years, Melissa, has been a longtime user of smartphone technology. Perhaps I should say “a longtime sufferer”, though. You see, over the years I have repeatedly convinced her to try some of the latest and greatest offerings for cell phones. For the most part, Melissa has been less than satisfied with the results. Her satisfaction level has ranged from non-existent to tolerant at best. Especially high on her frustration list has been Windows Mobile devices. Whether it was the less than stellar battery life, the occasional instability of the hardware and OS or just plain non-intuitive aspects of the device, she was always frustrated and upset – with one exception. She did have a reasonably satisfactory time with the Samsung Blackjack II running Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition. However, the lack of a touch screen was a point of contention for her.

Melissa most recently was using a Touch Pro 2 running Windows Phone 6.5. While the phone seemed to be fast enough, the same frustrations with battery life and the OS remained. She was pretty much at the end of her proverbial rope, telling me on more than one occasion she sometimes thought about going back to an old Motorola RAZR. At least it worked for phone functionality she way she expected.

Melissa is someone who relies on her phone for voice calls first and foremost. However, she has come to rely on her phones for basic management of her calendar and other forms of communication (email and text). She is not one to constantly charge her phone; she typically puts a phone on a charger when absolutely necessary. Melissa also uses the Internet frequently for information and research, and has been using Facebook as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. In my opinion, she was the ideal candidate for “The Experiment”. I approached Melissa with the idea of using the LG QUANTUM as her primary device for a couple of weeks and then providing her feedback. She was open to the idea, I believe at least partly because based upon her current Touch Pro 2 experiences it really couldn’t get much worse Winking smile So, the experiment began.

This was a total “end-to-end” experience, starting with the initial setup of the device. I reset the LG QUANTUM, working with Melissa to perform the initial setup. To be honest, she really did not need me for the setup; it is a strength of Windows Phone 7 to provide a simplified initial setup experience. I did want to make sure, however, that we made it past setup without Melissa having a change of mind. After the initial setup, I basically left Melissa to her own devices (pun intended). In the past, I typically has to spend a great deal of time working with her to get her phone set up with her. This time, I decided to let her discover things for herself, and only assisted when she had specific questions. Those questions were very few. I did should her how to pin items to the home screen, and that basically gave her the greatest help in making the phone her own.

This past week, I wrote some questions up for Melissa and asked her to write up some responses. She gladly agreed to participate.

----

Overall, what were your impressions of the LG QUANTUM?

As someone who is strictly an end user using this phone has been the best experience for me since.  Most everything was easy to use and very intuitive.  The phone itself is attractive, slim and not heavy.  The size of the screen is great.  The touch screen was accurate and responsive ~ the best touch screen I have ever used.

What were some of the things you liked most about the phone?

I love how you can pinch and zoom when reading an e-mail or browsing the internet ~ that is really awesome!  The size and clarity of the screen.

Compared to your previous phone (running Windows Mobile 6.5), what was the biggest change for you?

Ease of use.  It was very user friendly ~ relatively easy to navigate and figure things out.  Usually when I get a new phone I don’t know how to change settings and set things up.  With the LG Quantum I was able to figure out quite a bit on my own before needing assistance .

You are a big "physical keyboard" fan. How is the keyboard experience with the LG QUANTUM and Windows Phone 7?

The keyboard is very nice and easy to use.  However the small buttons on the left side for special symbols or caps is difficult to use.  For example, you need to use the function key for numbers ~ with short hand texting this is a bit of a pain.

Using mail was somewhat problematic for you in the past, especially with the drain on your battery. How do you like the mail experience in Windows Phone 7?

The mail experience is the best I have had with any phone.  Easy to tell when I have new mail ~ easy to read and respond.

Speaking of battery, how has the battery life been on the LG QUANTUM?

The battery life is excellent!  I am able to check e-mail and use the internet without needing to charge my battery during the day.  That is important to me as I am often on the go and not able to recharge my phone for long periods of time.

What did you think about how you could "personalize" the device (colors, tiles, etc)?

It would be nice if there were more options for “personalizing” the device.  As someone who is strictly an end user, I like to be able to change the look of my device based on seasons/moods, etc.  There are not very many options for that.  Most especially the colors for the text messages.  I also like to have “fun” ringtones and the choices provided with this phone are not great.

What has been your biggest "dislike" so far?

Sometimes when I go into contacts and try to call a number it doesn’t work and I have to back out and re-try.   

----

Melissa was not the only person with observations during her usage, by the way. As the person who serves as her “Familial Help Desk” and the creator of this experiment, I was keen to keep track of things. Here are some of my observations.

  • I really did not have to provide Melissa with much assistance when it came to using the LG QUANTUM.
    As I mentioned previously, Melissa often had issues with her previous phones. I spent time as a teacher, a “fixer” and an apologist. With this phone, I was anything but that. She was able to figure things out on her own and as for issues – there really weren’t any. For me, the LG QUANTUM was a breath of fresh air and a chance to free up time normally spent making things work. As a matter of fact, I found myself often having to “hold my tongue” in asking “Is everything OK?”
  • Melissa’s usage did NOT include games or media.
    When we initially set up the LG QUANTUM, I considered rushing straight to setting up the phone with music and videos, and perhaps a game or two from the Windows Phone Marketplace. I quickly decided to hold on that, figuring I would save that as a sort of “trump card” if Melissa wasn’t pleased or wowed by the phone. Melissa is a Zune user and occasionally would play games on her prior phones.
    Amazingly, Melissa’s impressions of the LG QUANTUM are incredibly positive without every having fully experienced these two aspects of the device. While I did show the Music and Video Hub and the Games Hub to her initially, she has yet to really try out two aspects of the Windows Phone 7 platform that I am willing to bet will raise her satisfaction to even higher level levels. I do plan on having her try these features out – as soon as I can get her to give up total control of the phone long enough to show her Winking smile
  • I never heard Melissa use the words “love” and “my phone” in the same sentence – until now.
    I really mean this. Melissa has always “tolerated” cell phones. When describing the LG QUANTUM to myself and others, she will invariably say “I LOVE this phone.” In my case, she has said “Have I told you how much I love this phone?” on an almost daily basis. Knowing my wife the way I do, these statements are by far the greatest compliment that can be made to both LG for the QUANTUM and Microsoft for Windows Phone 7. I often wondered if Melissa would ever come to enjoy using a smartphone; now I know she can (and does).

As someone who is deeply immersed in mobile technology as a user and a writer, it is nice to be able to really get detailed perspectives from others that are not like myself. Sure, I get the occasional feedback in brief conversations, emails or forum posts. But getting to watch someone use a technology on a daily basis and provide constant feedback really gives me the chance to objectively judge the success of a technology in the hands of a person for whom the technology is primarily intended. When it comes to the LG QUANTUM and Windows Phone 7, I can say based upon my little experiment that both LG and Microsoft have winners on their hands.

01/08/2011 10:38:23 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: LG QUANTUM with Windows Phone 7#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Microsoft has gone all out in making an impact with Windows Phone 7, with lots of marketing an exposure. However, the operating system is only a part of the overall phone equation. Windows Phone 7 did see the launch of a number of new devices from hardware manufacturers as well.

While Microsoft’s “Chassis” approach with strong hardware criteria has made for great similarities for Windows Phone 7 devices on the inside, there is still room for innovation and differentiation from manufacturers. The initial launch of Windows Phone 7 has seen a variety of features in the initial wave of devices in terms of screen sizes, sound capabilities and other amenities. One example of differentiation can be found in the LG QUANTUM. The QUANTUM is the AT&T-branded version of LG’s OPTIMUS 7 line.

Logo_LG_Quantum_Black_A

The folks at LG were good enough to contact me a short time back, offering me the opportunity to try out the LG QUANTUM for review. Having already had Windows Phone 7 experience, I was intrigued by what the QUANTUM had to offer. After using this phone for a while, I can say that there is quite a bit in the offering for those desiring certain features and functionality out of their Windows Phone 7 device.

LG QUANTUM_02

LG QUANTUM Highlights

  • Windows Phone 7
  • “Grippable” design
  • Physical keyboard
  • DLNA-enabled
  • Battery life

What’s In The Box

My LG QUANTUM review unit shipped with the standard configuration for AT&T. Items in the box included:

  • LG QUANTUM phone
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • Headset
    • In-ear bud design
    • 3.5mm jack
  • microUSB to USB cable
  • USB to AC power adapter

The kitting was pretty much a standard AT&T offering, with standard branding in logos and colors.

WP_000003

WP_000004

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The Hardware – First Impressions

The first thing I noticed about the LG Quantum was the actual material makeup of the exterior. Personally, I have noticed a continuing trend from phone manufacturers towards the “shiny and smooth” approach with hardware. While this may be visually appealing, I constantly get the feeling with many devices that I am one small mistake away from the device slipping (or shooting if I squeeze too tightly) out of my hands. This is far from the case with the LG QUANTUM. The outer surface, especially along the sides, is designed for better gripping. Holding the device in my hands for the first time, I felt far more confident that the phone would not end up on the floor.

WP_000006

The size of the phone makes for a nice fit in my (and I presume most peoples’) hands. My recent phone experience has been with phone that include large screens. While this makes for a nice viewing experience, it can make for an awkward experience when simply holding the phone or using the phone as a phone itself. Considering the fact that I have somewhat larger hands than most, I can imagine that a large-screen device could be even more uncomfortable experience for many. This is definitely not the case with the LG QUANTUM. The phone fits nicely in the hand and, when combined with the gripping nature of the exterior surface, makes for a pleasant experience.

The general feel of the LG QUANTUM is quite solid. While the device feels somewhat heavier than other phones I have worked with recently, it does not feel bulky. Of course, some of the additional weight can be attributed to the addition of a physical keyboard (more on that shortly).

From a Windows Phone controls perspective, the LG QUANTUM is designed with a physical hardware button for the Windows Start screen, and two touch-sensitive areas for the “Back” and “Search” functions. I do have to say that this takes some getting used to. With no tactile feedback for these two buttons, I often had to look at my device in order to touch in the correct place.

The LG QUANTUM also includes standard buttons for volume control (on the right-side of the phone), camera (on the right-side of the phone) and power/screen toggle (on the top of the device). LG chose a very “low-profile” approach with these buttons. While this makes the buttons less intrusive and less prone to accidental touches, it does make for some “trial and error” if trying to manipulate the buttons without looking at the device. The biggest case in point for this is the power button, which I found myself having to visually locate at times.

The LG QUANTUM also includes a cover for the microUSB port (on the upper left-side of the device). In a totally personal opinion, I tend to find these covers a bit annoying. While they do provide for nicer aesthetics and some protection, my experiences with these types of covers is that they eventually wear out and break off.

Overall, I found the hardware packaging to be quite nice. The device is easy to hold and very “pocketable” as well. 

The Keyboard

A major differentiator for the LG QUANTUM is the addition of a physical slide-out keyboard.

WP_000007

The keyboard slides in and out smoothly and easily. The keyboard includes full QWERTY alpha support, with numeric and special character keys accessible via a Function button. The keys are of the “chiclet-style” variety, allowing for reasonable tactile response. The Function and Uppercase keys are on the left-side of the keyboard and are a bit different. They are small, round and metallic buttons.

WP_000008

One item I noted was that when the keyboard was slid out, the overall weight and balance of the phone still felt very good. In many phones I have used in the past, sliding out the keyboard made the phone feel very unbalanced in my hands. As a result, I had to be extra careful to grip the keyboard area of the phone to avoid the entire phone flipping out of my hand. This was definitely not the case with the LG QUANTUM and was a big plus in my mind. 

There was a time where I basically demanded a physical keyboard for my phone. With recent advances in on-screen keyboards and larger screens, I have been less demanding in this area. However, I did find that the LG QUANTUM keyboard was very easy to use (with one exception). The keys were easy to tap and the feedback was good. My only difficulty was with the Function and Uppercase keys. In addition to being quite small, they were another example of being “low-profile” and made for a difficult time in hitting. Aside from this, I can say that I generally liked the LG QUANTUM keyboard and became quite comfortable using it. If a physical keyboard is a hard and fast requirement for a Windows Phone 7 buyer, the LG QUANTUM should meet those requirements quite nicely.

The Screen

As I noted earlier, I have become quite used to using larger screen devices as of late. This being the case, I had some initial reservations about using a device with a smaller screen (the LG QUANTUM has a 3.8-inch screen). However, I found the screen to be very readable and usable.

LG QUANTUM_01 

Thanks to the nature of the Windows Phone 7 OS, touch areas for navigation were easy to use and performed well. The screen is also very viewable in outdoor lighting.

The Camera

As phones become more and more of an “on-the-go” photo-taking device, using the camera and resulting picture quality is of greater importance to a lot of users. The LG QUANTUM ships with a 5 megapixel camera. As is the case with all Windows Phone 7 devices, the hardware leverages the standard Windows Phone 7 camera interface.

I found the picture quality of the LG QUANTUM to be quite good. Snapping a photo in standard lighting resulted in good picture quality. The picture below is left in it’s default resolution; click on the image for the full version.

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Low-light photography also worked well, thanks to the built-in flash on the LG QUANTUM. As an example, the following photo was taken in very low-light -

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While I am someone who has never looked to replace a true camera with a phone, I do believe that the LG QUANTUM more than suffices for taking photos when you’re camera simply isn’t available. Between the general camera quality and Windows Phone 7’s ability to go straight to the camera interface with just a push of the camera button even when the phone is locked, I found it easy to take quick snapshots “on-the-fly” that I wouldn’t have been able to do even with a regular camera.

The Media Experience

For me, one huge advantage of the Windows Phone 7 platform has been the inclusion of Zune integration. While other platforms have media integration, Zune adds Zune Pass functionality, allowing me to stream any music from the Zune Marketplace directly to my Windows Phone. As a result, I am finding myself using my phone as my primary media device for the first time (I previously used Zunes separate from my phone for my audio and video).

The standard headset shipped with the LG QUANTUM was adequate for my audio needs. If you are an audiophile, they may simply not be enough for your taste. The good news, however, is that you can use any 3.5mm headset for a better audio experience. Headset aside, the music experience is very good. I love the Zune-like interface for playing audio and video on the LG QUANTUM. I have used many phones and many interfaces (both stock and 3rd party), but the Zune interface is still my personal favorite.

Video playback is also good. I was able to easily transfer purchased video content from the Zune Marketplace to the LG QUANTUM and play on the device. The playback was smooth and crisp. I also was able to easily transfer other video content to the device and play with the same results. I will admit that the smaller screen is not the most ideal medium for watching video, but the LG QUANTUM screen is no smaller than the Zune HD and I was comfortable watching video on that device on a regular basis.

The LG QUANTUM does include another interesting feature – DLNA support. If you have watched the “Swamp Creature” commercials here in the US recently (where the homesick swamp creature looks at photos, watches videos and listens to the sounds of the swamp on other devices straight from his phone), you have some idea of what DLNA is about. Basically, DLNA allows for the streaming of content via WiFi to devices that also support DLNA. While I do not have any TVs or audio players with DLNA support, I do have two devices that do – a PC with Windows 7 and an Xbox 360. DLNA support in Windows Phone 7 is provided through Windows Media Player, and Xbox 360 support is indirect (using the Windows Media Center Extender functionality to view the content streamed to the PC from the LG QUANTUM). I tried out the DLNA functionality and have to admit it is quite cool. LG provides an application (“PlayTo”) on the phone. Simply open the application while your phone is connected to your WiFi network, and the application locates the DLNA-enabled devices also connected to the network. Pick a device, select the content and viola! – your media appears. I found the performance of this to be very good.

Overall, the combination of Windows Phone 7 and LG functionality (both hardware and software) makes for a compelling media experience.

Performance

I have talked about performance in the context of some of the specific functionalities of the LG QUANTUM. A couple of other areas of performance should be noted, however. First off, I have to talk about battery life. This is one area where I was extremely impressed. Generally speaking, battery life was very good. Average usage, with multiple email accounts using Exchange ActiveSync push, frequent Internet access and moderate phone usage (approximately 1 – 1.5 hours usage) found me with approximately 50% battery life after about 10 hours. When you compare this to my past devices, this is really amazing. When you add in the fact that I was using a 2G network (I am on T-Mobile and the LG QUANTUM radio does not support the 1700 MHz 3G spectrum), good battery life is exactly the opposite of older phones without some intervention. In the past, a phone capable of 3G running on a 2G network would constantly search for a 3G connection, greatly draining the battery (Note: Some phones provided the capability of turning off the attempts to find a 3G network to alleviate the issue). My use of the LG QUANTUM with just 2G and the resulting battery life was a very pleasant surprise.

From a performance perspective, my other observation about the LG QUANTUM is – things just work. Pairing a Bluetooth headset – no problem. Using WiFi – no problem. Using voice-activated calling – no problem. This may not sound like much, but it is a testament to both Microsoft and LG that the basic functionalities work without the need for advanced tools or customizations. 

Additional Software

In addition to the standard Windows Phone 7 software, the LG QUANTUM for AT&T does ship with some additional software. On the AT&T side, there are a few applications available. Most notable is the offering of AT&T U-verse Mobile, providing access to a lot of video content. Unfortunately, I was not able to try this out. In addition to the PlayTo software for DLNA, LG also provides access to the LG Apps Store from within the Marketplace application on the phone. There are a number of useful and entertaining applications to be found here and (as of this writing) all are FREE to LG QUANTUM users. The additional software does make for a nice “value-add” when considering the purchase of an LG QUANTUM.

Conclusion

The initial launch of Windows Phone 7 brought with it a number of new devices. Based on performance and features, the LG QUANTUM rates as one of the most compelling of this first wave of hardware. If a well-built phone with a physical keyboard and solid battery life is what you crave, the LG QUANTUM has to be at the top of your list. I highly recommend you take the time to look closely at this phone if Windows Phone 7 is on your wish list.

12/27/2010 11:52:02 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Twikini Not just another Twitter App#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

If you are familiar with the many Windows Mobile twitter applications like PocketTwit, ceTwit, TinyTwitter, Twoble, etc. - it usually requires additional downloads like .NET CF 3.5, Java, etc. to work and it takes a while for the application to get started and sometimes they crash or your Twit post gets lost in the ether of the internet never to return. The folks at Trinketsoftware have a new one for you called Twikini 1.0, which was just released out of beta and after a few quick changes from comments made to the developer via Twitter in a day it quickly jumped up to version 1.1. It has been my Twitter client on my various Windows Mobile devices for a few months now. I used to use PocketTwit, but it was way to bloated and would occasionally crash, but it is also a twitter client with a lot of features, that has pretty large memory and processing requirements to run smoothly.

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Twikini is only a 110K download and takes up a mere 240K of space on your device and it runs pretty quick since it is using C+.Twikini offers a powerful and efficient way to use Twitter on your phone, but still is very simple and easy to use. It allows you to quickly update your favorite twitter feeds in the background, and leverages the camera, GPS, media, touch screen, keyboard, graphics and storage capabilities of your device. Also the same code runs on both touch and not-touch screen phones and is very easy to use on both platforms.

Main Features

  • FAST! Unlike other Twitter apps for Windows® Mobile, Twikini is written entirely in native C++ code for maximum performance and the fastest load time possible.
  • Simple, uncluttered, and customizable user interface. Choose from a variety of themes for the best reading experience. (Screenshot 1, Screenshot 2, Screenshot 3)
  • Post tweets using a full screen editor. Optionally, set your location (either manually or using GPS) along with your status updates. (Screenshot)
  • Twitpic integration to post photos with your status updates. Select existing photos or click new ones from your device's camera.
  • Read status updates just like browsing a web page. Quickly reply, retweet, favorite, or email other people's tweets. (Screenshot 1, Screenshot 2)
  • Windows Media Player integration. Automatically tweet the song and artist you're listening to.
  • Single download that is compatible with all Windows® Mobile devices - both touch and non-touch.
  • And lots more...

Using Twikini:

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The controls are very simple - up and down on the directional pad (d-pad) allows you to scroll between your twitter follows with a highlight of the tweet post you are on. To retweet someone's Tweet all you have to do is move your d-pad to the right, to respond to a tweet click on the left d-pad it’s pretty simple really. In your response you have options to add a Picture; Shorten URL with a choice from several services like Bit.ly, Digg, and TinyURL;Add GPS Coordinates and Add GPS Location to your message.

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Under Options ->Tools - You also have some other options as well such as Tweeting your Song Info of music playing over Windows Media Player,(which may bother some if its quite frequent, but people want to know what you are doing right?)

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You also can go to the selected User, which will bring up their twitter information – followers and who they are following as well as their twitter bio information such as webpage and location. Here you also have the option to Follow/Stop Follow this person, send them a tweet, DM (direct message), view a larger picture or view their current given location on a Google map.

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You can also view their updates via the left soft key.

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I really like the built-in Twitpic integration, which never is displayed correctly in Internet Explorer Mobile and would only show up in something when redirected or rendered like when using Skweezer or another browser like Skyfire or Opera. It would be nice in future versions would support some other future picture formats that others use like Ping.FM that I see regularly pop-up in Tweets, but TwitPic is pretty much becoming the standard. An option I would more like to see would be automatic Skweezer redirection for quicker render of links in tweets and shortened URLs as an option to the user.

Some of the cool things is that Twikini does is support multiple accounts and allows you to switch between them, there is no timeline merge and personally I kind of like that so you can keep things separate. It would be nice to have them running at the same time, but with some sort of notification bubble, sound or toast of a DM (Direct Message) and allow it to tell me which account it was sent to.

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Another thing is that when the Twitter timeline refreshes it now keeps your current position in the timeline. However when you tweet, RT aka retweet or respond it still automatically places you back at the top of the Twitter stack and you have to scroll down to where you left off and if you are not quick enough you may be caught in another refresh.

Another feature request I would like to see would be the ability to have search of topics aka # as something added to the timeline as well as separate like how it handles multiple accounts. Another would be the automatic filling in of those you have messaged in the past as soon as you type the @ sign it will give you suggestions like a spell checker, which may be another added feature, but most of the time people are shortening their tweets with abbreviations and text-speak.

Configuring Twikini

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Under Options->Tools you can customize how you use Twikini. Under Timeline display you can adjust the Font Size-small, medium, large; Theme for general appearance; and how you display the name either Full Name or Twitter Screen name. I am using the HTC Black Theme you have several of those (7) to choose from as well so the interface is slightly customizable to your liking – Windows Default, HTC Black, Summer,Seattle, Cheesecake, Cool Winter, and Lounge.

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Under Automatic Refresh you can change the refresh interval from disabled so you can manually choose when it refreshes, or have it automatically refresh in intervals every 2, 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes or every hour. Here you can also choose a notification sound of new Tweets and not to auto refresh when you are roaming.

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Under Data Download you can choose to download images as well as how many tweets. The default is 20 with other choices of 50, 100, and 200 –which is the slowest and had problems rendering the screen when refreshing. Best sweet spot was 50 with no lag and 100 was good when you check it fairly infrequently.

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The last option allows you to clear Twikini’s Cache folder, which it stores for 3 days to increase performance and decrease data download.

You can also check for updates of the application by going to Menu->Twikini->Check for Updates and it will go to a webpage and compare your version with the latest version available and if its older a link to update. It would be nice if had ApptoDate support so you would be automatically notified when updates became available. However, the application is very stable so far, but the developer pushes out updates with new features fairly frequently and following @twikini on Twitter is the best way to know of updates. :)

Summary

Overall, Twikini has won the spot on my device as my preferred Twitter application due to its quick response and overall stability, plus it doesn’t kill the battery on my phone if I leave it on all day. You can get your copy of Twikini for any Windows Mobile device from here with 14 day trial and for with a starting price of $4.95 it won’t break the bank.

05/31/2009 22:38:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Free Jawbone New Fit Earbuds#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

I had the misfortune of losing my New Jawbone 2 falling out of my ear and having it run over by a car, because I was wearing it without the earloop and thought the earbud would have been good enough, but I was wrong. :(

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Passing car 1 / Jawbone 0

Luckily I still have an older version of the Jawbone as a replacement, but it had a broken earloop(actually several) - after being placed in my pocket the earloop snapped off wear it slides into the pivot hole-it takes a bit of work to get the broken piece out too. I went through them all and tried to get a replacement from Aliph, but they don’t sell them anymore. I contacted them and received swift reply that they could ship me a set of earloops for free with a proof of purchase. I got it as a gift so I have no proof of purchase just a broken Jawbone. However all isn’t lost they have a New Fit Earbud that is also free and just costs $2.99 shipping and handling. I sprung on it and got it in a few days via postal mail.

new fit earbud

It comes in a nice plastic bag with directions on the back.

Descriptions from Jawbone website:

You Ask, We listen

  • Because every ear is unique, we developed a new earbud to give you more options for personal fit and comfort.
  • Want to wear Jawbone without an earloop? For most users, our New Fit Earbuds make using the earloop optional.
  • Our New Fit Earbud comes in 3 sizes (sm, md, lg).

The Science

  • The New Fit Earbuds are a different shape, made from a US Pharmacopoeia grade material and a rear mounted integrated loop that provides a suspension-bridge effect to fit snugly into your ear.
  • The body of the earbud is a suspended form that acts like a pneumatic cushion (or tire), proving to be more conforming and consequently comfortable than the traditional solid round (doughnut)-shaped earbud.
  • The rear mounted integrated loop acts like a spring to help orient the headset, gently pushing the headset toward the user’s cheek so that the Voice Activity Sensor touches your face to feel when the user is speaking.

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You get three different sizes in the bag and I have found it secure enough to hold my original Jawbone. I personally found the large size to work best for me and it still remains easily pocketable and can fit many makeshift storage cases, where the earloop presented many storage problems.

Many people have modified their Jawbones with Jabra Softgels, but usually required some sort of adhesive to keep them on. Most used CA - cyanoacrylate aka SuperGlue. I am not too keen on having that near or in my ear, so I passed on that mod. If you own or have used the Plantronics Discovery 925 headset, they will look pretty familiar to you because they are simply black versions of the 925 clear ear gels.

It’s enough to hold me over until the Jawbone 3 with Bluetooth 3.0 comes out. :)

I think its great when companies see a flaw and correct it and evolving their product to keep their customers happy.

04/19/2009 10:08:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Eye-Fi - WIFI enabled SD card uploads your pictures instantly #
Post By Johan van Mierlo

During CntrStg at CES 2009 I got introduced to Eye-Fi. Eye-Fi did a presentation about heir WIFI enabled SD cards for digital Camera’s at CntrStg. With a quick set-up on your computer you can have the card connect to your private WIFI or have it set as well to connect to any open network. Why would you think?

Let me tell you why. Most of us do have an online photo album account. Eye-Fi  is able to upload your pictures directly from your camera to many of these sites like SmugMug, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Shutterfly and even sites like Costco,Wal-Mart, Kodak, etc. To see a full list of their partners go here .

Instead of only directly upload your pictures it will as well upload your pictures instantly. Once you are connected every picture you take will upload immediately to your favorite sites.  With an account created on the Eye-Fi website you will have access to their Eye-Fi manager where you can see the history of the uploaded pictures. Here you can change your settings to include the website you would like to upload your pictures, but also select a folder for your computer or external hard drive where these pictures will be stored as well. 

Another feature that is available is to add Geotagging. Geotagging adds location data, including latitude and longitude coordinates as well as city and state details, to photos you take with your camera and Eye-Fi card. These metadata are added to the photos existing EXIF metadata. Certain software applications and websites (Eye-Fi Manager, SmugMug, Picasa Web and flickr) can use these metadata to make searching for photos easier or to visualize your photos on a map.

If you are not connected to a WIFI net work it will start uploading the pictures you took the moment you are having a connection. Just make sure your camera stays on for that time. The Eye-Fi manager will be able to send you a notification by e-mail, text message (SMS) or Twitter that the uploading has started of your pictures to your favorite website.

We were using the Eye-Fi card during our event at CntrStg and it was amazing to have instant gratification of showing the pictures directly on our big screen to all attendees. I did not do the set-up of Eye-Fi myself that time but did it yesterday to set it up for my own private camera. Really it took me only 10 minutes and I was up and running. My wife loves it. No more hassle in connecting the camera to the computer. Just organize them online.

What do I see in the future for Eye-Fi? I hope that camera manufactures will see the need of adding a menu in their firmware where users are able to use the camera to connect to a new WIFI network. This way you don’t need a computer with the Eye-Fi USB card reader to set up a new private WIFI Network.

Another thing I would like to see to have the pictures uploaded to more than 1 account. For example I would like to upload to SmugMug and Facebook at the same time. Now you can only choose one. You can set up more in the manager application. But only one can be active.

Eye-Fi already announced an iPhone application, Video capabilities. I hope it doesn’t stop here and Eye-Fi can make more applications for other platforms which will allow build in camera’s on devices to instantly publish their pictures.

For me this is a real winner.

Eye-Fi is available starting at $79.99 for the Eye-Fi Home version.  You are able to upgrade your service later on as well to more services listed here

01/27/2009 09:55:57 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

The Duracell Pocket Charger#
Post By Johan van Mierlo
Being on the road and working long hours brings always the challenge if you have enough power with you mobile device to get through the day. There are many emergency chargers out there which you can charge-up using your computer through a USB Cable before taking it on the road with you.
However the Pocket Chargers from Duracell uses two AA batteries. When drained just simply replace the batteries and you are ready to go.
These Pocket Chargers come in either for the Ipod or for the BlackBerry and Motorola series phones. The package for the BlackBerry and Motorola devices comes with both the Mini and Micro USB connectors. Once you connect your plug to the charger it will illuminate a blue light on the Pocket Charger and you can connect your device to be charged. Be care full to remove your connector from the Pocket Charger when done, because it will keep draining your Pocket Charger.
 
Hopefully in the future they will come out with separate connectors you can buy if you change phones. I just changed to a Samsung Omnia Phone and now I can't use it anymore.
 
Read here more about the Pocket Chargers. The Duracell Pocket Chargers are $19.99. They now are on sale for $ 14.97 at TigerDirect
 
01/22/2009 10:14:01 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Review: Hexic for Windows Mobile#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

In our household next to Zuma, Hexic is a very popular game that my entire family plays on the Xbox 360, their computer via MSN games. Thanks to the folks at Astraware it is now available on both the Smarthone platform aka Windows Mobile Standard and Pocket PC aka Windows Mobile Professional and Classic from Astraware for Microsoft. The game plays like other versions using the directional pad to move around the screen and rotate your gems in search of the elusive Black Pearl which is done by creating a flower to earn a starflower piece, then you use starflower pieces to make another flower and earn the elusive black pearl when you make a cluster or flower out of black pearls you win the game.

After downloading the installable executable I ran it and encountered an install error that didn't install the application onto the Windows Mobile Standard device I had connected to my computer.

install

I was able to find the CAB file under the Program Files->Games->Carbonated Games->Hexic for Windows Mobile Smartphone directory.

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I then copied the CAB file to my device and proceeded to install it from there.

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The game requires 2796KB of storage space and I opted to install it onto my memory storage card.

On the Pocket PC aka Windows Mobile Professional, I downloaded the executable installed without any issues.

ppc install

It did ask for what version you are running, so be sure to install the right version for what version of the Windows Mobile operating system you are using.

 

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The game is installed in the Games directory on both the Standard and Professional/Classic devices.

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The application launches pretty quickly with three different modes of play to choose from: Marathon, Timed, and Survival. The only difference between the Windows Mobile Standard and Professional versions is that the Professional version allows you to use a touch screen in as well as directional pad.

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Upon launching any of the modes you will be prompted to register or play Timed mode up to 3 times.

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After entering in your registration code you are ready to play.

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Right after you pick your difficulty level.

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The controls are explained to you as well as how to undo your mistakes.

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The game starts off paused to make sure you are ready to go.

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On the Smartphone/WM Standard device you move around the screen by using the numeric keys or directional pad.

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As you can see I moved up in levels pretty quickly with new things to look out for and score points with.

 

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If you want to continue and click on a game mode instead of the Resume softkey, you will be asked if you want to delete a saved game with the option of Done or Cancel. Its kind of confusing,but if ya got a game going and want to continue playing it hit Cancel, if you want to start a new game hit Done.

I wish Hexic for Windows Mobile could be tied to XBOX live so I could continue where I left off at home or on my mobile. Perhaps in the future. This is another game that would work well for the Zune.

Overall Hexic is one of those games I can play over and over and over, just like Tetris this game on your phone is great for times on long elevator rides, long waits in line,commutes, boring slow-moving meetings, or anytime you have some free time and a need for gaming.

Hexic was developed by Astraware for Microsoft's Carbonated Games studio and can be purchased at Astraware for $9.99 . To try and learn more about Hexic head here.

09/08/2008 08:02:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: VITO Technology Winterface#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Introduction
I recently posted on my personal blog about making the Windows Mobile user interface more aesthetically and functionally pleasing at the application level. In that article, I commented on the great work that a number of third-party companies have already started doing in this regard, as well as some great work at the top-level user interface (shell) level as well. In it, I made mention of VITO Technology's latest UI application - Winterface. While I had tried out and regularly used some of the other replacements for the Windows Mobile Professional Today Screen, I had not yet had the opportunity to see what Winterface had to offer. I quickly decided to change that, and have given Winterface a very thorough run-through. During this time, I was pleased to once again be reminded that there is no single formula for presenting an alternative to the standard Today Screen offering. Winterface's approach to interacting with you and your Windows Mobile device is effective in an entirely different way than other similar products.

Features

  • Simplified icon-based approach to navigation for a Windows Mobile Professional device;
  • "Finger-friendly" navigation and selection of applications and device settings;
  • Intuitive methods for customizing the user interface to your liking.

Installation
Winterface can be installed by using either a CAB file directly downloaded to the device or via a desktop installation executable. I had no issues with the installation itself. Once installed, Winterface does require a fair amount of space on your device at close to 1 MB, so be prepared. Additionally, as a shell replacement, Winterface needs to be installed to device memory (vs. a storage card) for reliability and performance.

One minor irritation occurred after the installation. As a UI shell replacement, I expected Winterface (or a settings screen at the least) to appear following the completion of installation. This did not happen, and made me (falsely, mind you) believe that the installation did not succeed. Once I navigated to the Programs folder on the device, however, I found the Winterface icon and selected it. THe UI then appeared. One "wish list" item I would like to see in a future release is for the UI appear after installation.

Usage
Winterface takes a more minimalist and simplified approach to the UI shell in a fashion similar to the iPhone. The UI is icon-based.

winterface02   

Winterface comes with some specialized icons for functions like mail, phone battery and memory. These icons change to match varying states. The Email icon, for example, will display the number of unread messages, while the battery icon shows current battery capacity.

The "dots" at the bottom of the screen represent the total number of "pages" of icons available. Moving between pages can be performed with simple left-to-right and right-to-left finger gestures across the screen.

winterface03   

How you choose to organize your icons, including which icons should be added or removed, is entirely up to you. For arranging or removing icons, tapping and holding an icon puts Winterize into a form of "customize mode". This mode places an "x" on each icon, allowing for removal, and provides the visual queue of "vibrating" all of the icons on screen. I found this to be a unique and obvious way of informing the user of the application state without any text.

winterface09 

Tapping the "x" will delete an icon, while tapping and moving the icon will place it in a new location. You can move and icon between pages in this fashion. If you move beyond the current last page, Winterface create a new page for you. Simply release the icon to place it in its new location. Pressing the center of the Directional Pad on the device ends this customizing mode.

To add new icons to Winterface, you will need to access the "Menu" icon. This brings up an Options screen.

 winterface05

The icon / application types you can add to Winterface are nicely broken down into three categories:

  • Applications. These are applications whose shortcuts can be found under the Programs folder (and subfolders) on your device.

    winterface06 
  • Settings. These are the items typically found under the Settings folder on the device.

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  • Contacts. These are the entries found in your Contact list.

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In all cases, the information provided is in a very organized and easily scrollable format, allowing you to scroll up and down the screen using your finger. The scrolling is very smooth and adds a nice touch of style to the selection process.

When you find an item you wish to add, simply tap on it. A checkbox appears next to it.

winterface07

You can select one or more items for any of the categories before completing the process by selecting the large "check" symbol at the bottom of the screen. These items will then be added to the interface, where you can use the customizing function to place them where you wish.

I chose to create a third page on my device to add my most frequently called phone numbers.

winterface04

If you add contacts to Winterface, tapping on them opens a very nice finger-friendly screen with detail information.

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From here, you can dial or e-mail the selected contact.

I quickly found the UI approach that Winterface takes in presenting navigation to be quite nice and effective. While I did miss the details of upcoming appointments not appearing on my home screen, I found that it was not a huge issue. In addition, exiting from Winterface is easily accomplished from the "Menu" button.

One usability problem I did find more of an issue with relates to Winterface serving as a "Lock Screen".

winterface01

When the screen wakes up, Winterface provides a nice mechanism for unlocking the screen by sliding the lock symbol from left to right. My problem did not occur with regards to the mechanics involved; I could do this quite easily. My problem related to the fact that some notifications from the device did not override the lock screen. Reminders, for example, often ring but do not appear to allow me to dismiss them. New e-mail notifications often did the same. I have seen this behavior happen with other UI shell applications, but the lock screen complicates this a bit more. In order to dismiss the reminder, I must:

  • Unlock the screen;
  • Tap the "Menu" button in Winterface;
  • Close Winterface;
  • Bring up the notification in the default Windows Mobile Today screen;
  • Dismiss the notification.

Finally, I could find no way in this release of Winterface to turn off the lock screen functionality. This was definitely an area of frustration for me, and took away a bit from the many positives that Winterface has to offer. I believe this is definitely one area that needs improvement for future releases. 

Overall, I came to appreciate  the different approach that VITO Technology took toward user interaction with Winterface. I found the interface pleasing to view as well as to work with, the screen animations for fluid scrolling and page transitions to be consistent and perform well, and the ease of getting to my information (minus the Lock Screen shortcomings) to be quite refreshing. I do not think that the "Winterface Approach" to the Windows Mobile shell is for every user. However, I can definitely see a significant audience that would benefit from Winterface from the point of style, substance (or both).

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Unique and effective Today Screen alternative for both organization and navigation;
  • Intuitive interface makes customization easy and with little training;
  • Nice UI style as well as substance.

Cons

  • No post-installation setup or initialization;
  • Lock Screen can cause extra steps to deal with notifications.

Pricing and Availability
A trial version of Winterface is available for download from the iWindowsMobile web site and from VITO Technology. Winterface is available from teh iWindowsMobile web site for $19.95.

Conclusion
There are any number of ways that a developer can make a given user interface more effective for the user. Winterface is yet another great example of this principle. By providing a visually pleasing, easy to customize and friendly to navigate alternative to the standard Window Mobile Professional Today screen, VITO Technology has once again proven their ability to "think outside the box" with their latest product offering. I encourage users looking for a simple but effective way of interacting with your Windows Mobile device to give Winterface a try. But be careful - you may not want to return to your old Today Screen if you do.

07/20/2008 17:07:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: Electric Pocket FlipSide#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Introduction
While many people look at some of the new and innovative user interfaces for mobile phones as a way of adding "sex and sizzle" to their devices, I tend to look for applications that make my interactions more efficient, friendly or just plain fun (without adding complexity, of course). While the iPhone and HTC's "Manila" interface tend to grab a lot of the headlines, there are any of a number of smaller and more focused applications that are also very useful and aesthetically pleasing.

One great example of providing a friendlier face to a Windows Mobile application is Electric Pocket's FlipSide. As someone who uses Windows Media Player on my Windows Mobile phone quite frequently, I have to say that the "drill-down" approach that Windows Media Player uses to get to my music can be quite frustrating and, well, bland. FlipSide provides a finger-friendly and visual way of interacting with your music collection.

Features

  • Visual and intuitive way of interacting with music on your Windows Mobile device;
  • Extra functionality for album art and artist information.

Installation
FlipSide is available for installation as both a CAB file for direct installation from the device, or as a desktop installer. FlipSide requires the .NET Compact Framework 2.0. For Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional devices, the .NET CF 2.0 is pre-installed and should not pose a problem. Electric Pocket's FlipSide download page does provide additional links and instructions if a .NET CF 2.0 installation is necessary.

Installation was simple and straight-forward. An interesting note - as a result of leveraging the .NET Compact Framework, FlipSide itself is small; very small. Taking up only 127K for the actual executable is rather impressive, especially considering the functionality FlipSide provides (more shortly).

One final note - as an application focused on the touchscreen interface, FlipSide is intended for Windows Mobile Professional / Pocket PC devices. While the FlipSide web site states that FlipSide supports all Windows Mobile versions, I did not test this application against a Windows Mobile Standard device.

Usage
Basic Functionality
When you first open FlipSide, you will immediately be reminded of the media interface seen on the iPhone and iPod Touch. The application scans for music and album art already installed on the device to build its own index of information. This process does not take very long and is visually represented by a very small progress bar at the bottom of the screen. The positive to this approach is that you can still interact with the application while the metadata is being captured. One big "pet peeve" I have had with the Windows Media Player interface for quite a while is the need to navigate menus to build the library and having to sit and wait while the library is built. Kudos to Electric Pocket for allowing me to move forward while work is performed in the background.

FlipSide presents your library organized by album.

screen01    

Using gestures across the screen from left to right (or vice-versa), you move between the various albums. A nice fluid animation scrolls you from album to album. You also have the ability to use the left and right portions of a directional pad to perform the same actions.

When you find the album you wish to listen to, simply tap on the album art and the track list is displayed.

screen02

You can then select the first track you wish to hear by tapping on the title. I must admit that this can be a bit difficult with the large fingers possessed by yours truly, but if all else fails the stylus works well too.

Once music is selected, the track information is displayed and a progress bar designates the play progress.

screen07

You can fast forward and rewind within a track by touching the progress bar.

FlipSide works in both portrait and landscape modes.

screen08
This functionality does bring to light one of the shortcomings of FlipSide. Many common interactions are mapped to keyboard keys. While this works well for devices with QWERTY keyboards always displayed, it does not work well for devices like the AT&T Tilt that has a slide out keyboard. Actions like pause and play, for example, are mapped to the spacebar. If you do not wish to slide out the keyboard, you can choose to leave full screen mode by tapping near the bottom of the screen. This will bring up the default menu bar.

screen03

From this view, you have access to more functionality and a few features. I do hope that a future release of FlipSide will allow for hardware button mapping, as this would greatly reduce the keyboard issues.

As far as playing music goes, FlipSide had no problem playing my Windows Mobile music. No more so, that is, than Windows Media Player itself :-) Sound quality and performance were the same as if using the Windows Media Player directly. Of couse, that also means that the limitations imposed by Windows Media Player (no equalizer, no cross-fade) were also in place.

Enhancement/Features
FlipSide provides some nice and useful features in addition to the user interface functionality. They include:

  • Downloadable album art. If your music did not have album art or perhaps not the most recent art, you can choose to download art from the Internet.

    screen09

    You will be reminded that the Internet will be searched and data charges may apply.

    screen10 

    If located, the album art will be displayed.

    screen11 

    As you can see, the album art might not always be the the most pleasing to the eye, buy hey - it's better than no art at all ;-) You also have the ability to remove album art if you choose.
  • Artist information. At any time, you have the ability to locate (from the Internet) artist information using the Find Extras menu option.

    screen04

    This option opens a browser window that presents biographical information and related information, all nicely formatted for a mobile device and powered by Last.fm.

    screen05

    I found this feature to be very useful and a lot of fun as well (trivia buff that I am).
  • Shuffle
    FlipSide does provide shuffle functionality, either at the album level or for all music.

    screen12
  • Playlist functionality.
    FlipSide provides the ability to work with playlists on the device, including the ability to create and/or modify playlists.

    screen13

Overall, the additional features for FlipSide serve as a good "icing on the cake" to enhance the overall user experience.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Visually pleasing user interface
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Informative and useful extra features

Cons

  • No custom keyboard mapping
  • Some finger functionality difficult in the limited screen real estate

Pricing and Availability
FlipSide is available for a trial download at the FlipSide web site. FlipSide is available for purchase from the FlipSide web site (partnered with MobiHand) for $19.95.

Conclusion
By providing a combination of an aesthetically pleasing interface with intuitive user interface functionality, FlipSide adds a new and fun level to playing music on your Windows Mobile device. The additional Internet-related extras provide a great way to enhance the experience even further, making FlipSide a great enhancement to your Windows Mobile-powered device. I strongly encourage everyone to at least give FlipSide a try; it is worth the effort.

07/16/2008 09:53:41 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Review : Sprite Archie#
Post By Eric Hicks

icon.archie[1] 

 

 

 

A problem I've had when updating the ROM on my devices or recovering from a hard reset is having access to my SMS messages and call logs.  Many messages that I receive have important information in them and my call log is important as it allows me to keep track of my my calls for billing purposes.  I would like to have access to this information after my device has been cleared and I would like to have access to this information from my computer, plus I would like to have this all do without user intervention.  Sprite Archie does just that. 

 

Installation of Sprite Archie takes up about 1.2 MB of space on the device.  account optionsThe installation is quick and straight forward.  Launching the program for the first time will get you a screen like this.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After tapping Yes on the above screen you will be taken to a screen to select howaccount options2 outgoing messages are handled.   Basic settings like the account, e-mail address and the associated display name can all be set here.  If you use a mail client with rules you could set the display name to something useful then apply rules in your mail client to deal with the message as you please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once your account options have been set you are brought back to the initial screen main screen.  Notice each item has a circle with a slash through it?  This means that the archiving of those items have been disabled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you tap on the circle you will be shown an image of a envelope which e-mail selection means that item will archive to the e-mail address you set earlier. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another tap will show an image of a file which means the selected itemfile selection will archive to a file locally on the device. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can mix and match archival options for each category if you with so mixture selectionif you didn't care about sent SMS's but wanted incoming SMS's to be archived on the device while having your call logs e-mailed it's all possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The location of the archive can be set to any place on the device (even the storage card) within filing optionthe options menu and can be appended to an existing file or completely overwrite an existing file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only can the location of the file be set but also the file type.output type  Sprite Archie supports exporting to Plain Text, Xml and Csv files which can either be saved on the device or embedded in an e-mail.  Because the information will be embedded in an e-mail and not as an attachment you will need to copy the information from the e-mail and put it into a file that you can work with but the formatting has already been done.  Files archive to the device appear in the correct file extensions so no copying needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's a portion of an Xml export on the device

<SmsSent EntryType="SmsSent">
          <Date>2008-01-31 14:05:13</Date>
          <Message>Are you going to be at the shop today?

-E-</Message>
          <Recipient>Greg &lt;(201) 555-1212&gt;</Recipient>
     </SmsSent>

 

Sprite Archive is very versatile, you can manually export the items you need or have it setup as a scheduled task.  For initial installations I suggest doing a full export then set the scheduled task to handle things afterwards.  The export screen gives plenty of options to work with.  export options e-mail or fileoutput type

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have a choice of what you wish to export, the destination, format and time frame.  Once selected tap ok and your items will be archived via e-mail or a file. 

Now doing manual exports is fine for initial installations but I'm too busy to be thinking optionsabout archiving my items everyday and of course the day you forget to archive is the day something terrible happens to your device.  Well Sprite Archie has a scheduled task option that will export your items for you at whatever times you set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After selecting option you wish to automate, you will be presented with schedule optionsthose familiar options from the export screen with an additional schedule item to tell Sprite Archie when you want it to archive to take place.  As you can see you have the option to archive immediately, daily or weekly.  Choosing the Immediate option is nice for local file archiving but for e-mails this will fill your inbox quickly depending on the frequency of events and will also cause a big spike in data usage if you are using direct push.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I set my schedule to archive items to e-mail me towards the end of the day but the end of day archivechoice is always up to you and Sprite Archie gives you the options that let you customize the archive settings however you want. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sprite Archie is a great program that once set, allows me to be assured that my items are safe in the event of total data loss on the device.  There are a few options that I would love to see in a future release of Sprite Archie.  One options is a way to restore information back to the device.  This would be handy when you switch devices and you want to keep the data consistent.  The other option is to have an attachment for e-mail archives instead of the embedded information. 

If you have a need to archive SMS's and call logs then Sprite Archie should be on your list of software to check out.  Sprite Archie is available directly from Sprite Software for $14.95

07/14/2008 07:57:25 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Review: Jabra BT8040#
Post By Johan van Mierlo

Review: Jabra  BT8040

In the last of couple of years I have been trying many Bluetooth headsets. But my main problems with them are that they are clunky and uncomfortable.  During the 2008 CES Jabra Launched their new BT8040 which is small and has an in ear comfortable fit using, according to the size of your ear, flexible loops/rings.

Many in ear headsets never worked for me since I have smaller ears and always had to use the extra provided around the ear loop. Even though I had a good fit they were still very uncomfortable.

Last week during the CTIA I met with the people from Jabra and had the opportunity to take a closer look at the BT 8040 headset and try it on my impossible ears.  Instantly I had a very comfortable feeling of this very light weight headset. They were kind enough to provide me a sample for use with a longer period.

I have been wearing and using this headset for a week now and I clearly have to say that it is very comfortable small and light without losing the quality of sound and the ease of use.  The small round button is easy to find and feel to answer a call or to start the voice command for starting a call. Two smaller buttons on the top and bottom have different tones indicating the volume. The lower tone is volume down and higher tone is volume up. Even thought the microphone is further away my callers didn’t notice any of this and the noise reduction did eliminate many background noises on the streets of Las Vegas.

The Jabra BT8040 also is great for listing to your music on your phone via A2DP and has great quality. The transfer from listening to music to an incoming call is great and is no hassle at all. After the call is finished it continues with the music where it left off.

In the short time I have been using this great headset. I can’t compare the ease of use, comfort, quality and design to any other headset out there.

The box includes:

  • Jabra BT8040 with internal rechargeable battery
  • 6 Jabra ear gel (2 small, 2 medium, 2 large)
  • Illustrated user
  • Quick start Guide
  • AC power supply
  • USB charging cable

The Jabra BT8040 retails for $ 99.99 but many lower prices can be found online

The specifications are:

Microphone
Sensitivity –44 dB ± 3 dB (1kHz, 0db=1V/Pa)
Omni-directional 4 mm Omni-directional microphone

Speaker
Type 11 mm electro-dynamic receiver
Sensitivity 110 dB ± 3dB rel. to 1 mW at 1.0 KHz
Impedance 16 Ω ± 2.4 Ω at 1.0 KHz 0.2 V

Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
Noise reduction on transmitted and received audio, Noise dependent volume control, Automatic volume adjustment on received audio, Acoustic shock protection

Operating temperature
-20° C to 60° C

Storage temperature
-20° C to 45° C

Waterproof
No

AC power supply
5VDC, 0.25A output, 100-240VAC, 50-60Hz input

Charging plug
Micro USB B – 7.4 x 2,7 mm

BT8040 materials
Polycarbonate (PC), Polycarbonate/Acryl Butadien Styren (PC/ABS), TPE, Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC)

Pairing code or PIN
0000 ( 4 Zeros )

Features
Auto pairing, Answer/end call, Voice dial*, Last-number redial*, Reject call*, Call hold/ call wait*, Mute, Multipoint, Play music, Quiet mode (turns light off after 1 minute)

Bluetooth compliance
Qualified for Bluetooth Specification version 2.0 + EDR (enhanced data rate)

Supported Bluetooth profiles
Headset and Hands-free Profiles for phone conversations and Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) for streaming music

Compatibility
Jabra BT8040 is compatible with other Bluetooth devices with Bluetooth 1.1 (or higher) specifications and supports the Bluetooth headset, hands-free audio and / or advanced audio distribution profiles

Security
128 bit encryption

Operating range
Up to 33 feet 

Paired devices
Up to 8 devices - connected to 2 at the same time (multi point)

Talk time
Up to 6 hours

Standby time
Up to 200 hours

Charging time
Approximately 2 hours

Weight
Less than 10 g (approximately 1/3 oz)

Dimensions
L1.54 x W.71 x D.47 inches

 

04/07/2008 20:46:29 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: eWallet 6.0 #
Post By Johan van Mierlo

WebIS just announced a couple a weeks ago their partnership with Ilium Software. With their partnership they also announced the new version of eWallet 6.0. many of use have so much information to keep up with to access e-mail accounts, web site, bank accounts, you name it. eWallet will give you a secure, organized and synchronized way of managing your information.

The following list will give a quick overview of their major improvements followed by a short review

  • iPhone/Web version currently in beta.
  • Sync your info where you want - to any PC, Windows Mobile or Palm OS device, USB thumb drive, a laptop, even your server at work - there is no limit
  • Stronger security - AES FIPS and 256-bit encryption
  • Encrypted file attachments
  • Sync securely to remote locations using SFTP and other remote syncing options
  • Access your data from remote computers using Iomega iStorage
  • Prevent intrusion by locking your wallet after a certain number of failed login attempts
  • Make online purchases safely! With eWallet's SmartCopy your credit cards and personal info won't be left in the clipboard for keyloggers to find
  • Fill in passwords online without typing using AutoPass - protect yourself from keyboard logging in an easy and secure way
  • Personalize your cards with background images
  • Customize the card design with options for displaying icons on the card, square or round corners, card borders, and more!
  • Use eWallet on your U3 USB Smartdrives
  • Get Step-by-Step Instructions for basic tasks with the eWallet Companion
  • Four free icon packs

Both the desktop version and the Windows Mobile version have exactly the same feeling and handling. You are able to purchase either version or together.  I love the fact that if you have both versions they synchronize with each other and you personal data is easy accessible.

Opening up the application on your device or PC will bring instantly to the password protection. This is optional but is great and works as quick as your pin does.

You are able to make categories to have an easy navigation in finding the information you need. If you have many different items stored on your device the application also also a "Find" function.

It's easy to create new categories and change the look and feel of them.  

The items within the categories has the same functionality as the categories, but more different icons are available.  

 

The detailed information is visible in two different ways

  • As Credit card image with notes
  • Flex view which is just line items.

The background colors can in both views can be adjusted to familiar color of your credit card, social security card, etc. The new version allows you to give more nicer radiant color option that are transferred onto your device. But these color can also be selected on your device when creating a new card.

There are over 30 templates to choose from which makes it easy to get the right information together. Ones chosen a template you can rename any fields to make it custom for you.

By default you can have pin/passwords hidden, but by tapping the link of your pin/password  your info will appear.

Both version will also have a back up version and an export to text  option to make sure that all the information can be used again if the application ever fails. In previous uses of eWallet I entered all my information and lost due to....who knows... and I was hesitant re-entering all this information again.

The desktop version has also an import wizard which lets you import information form other competitve software like:

  • CodeWallet
  • Spb Wallet
  • SplashID
  • TurbuPasswords
  • and ofcourse FlexWallet

However it misses the option to re-import your exported text file.

below is a picture of the eWallet 6.0 desktop version.

 

Besides these options there are many options I probably haven't played with yet.

 

Availability

Trail downloads of eWallet 6.0 are available for a touch and non-touch screen and can be purchased for $29.95 ($16.95 for an upgrade if you have a previous version) at Ilium Software

 

Conclusion

With both the PC and device version you have an automatic back-up (besides their own back-up feature) of your valuable info. Ones entered in all the information (could be alot of work) you will have your information secure, categorized and easy available when you need to.

Ilium Software also announced three free copies of eWallet 6.0 to be raffled off at our next user group meeting.

01/02/2008 21:03:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: VITO Technology ZoomBoard#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Introduction
The recent success of the Apple iPhone in the consumer market has created an interest in many Windows Mobile users to find ways to leverage the touch-screen interface of Windows Mobile Classic and Professional devices to gain a "finger-friendly" approach to interaction. HTC has introduced the "Touch FLO" approach with the HTC Cube and a specialized Today Screen, and other software vendors and developers have been experimenting with redesigned user interfaces. One such vendor moving to the forefront of this new user experience is VITO Technology. VITO has put together 3 specific applications in an attempt to "iPhone-ize" the Windows Mobile experience in FunContact, GoodWin and ZoomBoard.

In my first of 3 VITO product reviews, I found FunContact to be both fun and productive. I then reviewed GoodWin, which added both style and substance to navigating my applications and program launching. This left me with the task of ZoomBoard, which (according to the iWindowsMobile.com web site) "is a high-tech onscreen keyboard for quick and accurate finger typing on Windows Mobile Pocket PC". Would this be the case?

Installation
ZoomBoard uses a desktop installer for device installation. I did not encounter any problems during the install, but it is important to note that in order to ensure proper installation, a soft reset should take place after the install completes. This is due to ZoomBoard being added as an input method to the system.

Usage
Once installed, ZoomBoard is accessed and made active by tapping on the input icon on any screen requiring input (the input icon being the icon that looks like a keyboard at the bottom-center of teh screen between the two soft keys.

pc_capture1

When selected, the first thing I noticed was that ZoomBoard did not appear much different than other keyboards.

pc_capture2

While the buttons were slightly larger, there was not a significant difference in size. As I mentioned in my previous 2 VITO Technology reviews, I have (written in a modest tone) slightly larger than average fingers.

My previous attempts to use a keyboard on-screen that allowed for finger touch were only successful if the keyboard occupied the entire screen (or close to it). Of course, that meant there was no ability to see the underlying application that I was working with. For me, this simply was not acceptable. If ZoomBoard did not take this approach and left the keys at a smaller size, how could I possibly work for me? The answer was found quickly.

ZoomBoard allows you to touch and press the keyboard, moving your finger until finding the correct letter. While moving, the "zoom" kicks in. This is view, similar to a magnifying glass, that appears just above the keyboard on the screen.

pc_capture3

As you move your finger, the magnifying glass updates.

pc_capture4

What does all this mean? Well, the challenge with using your finger on small surfaces is seeing where you are actually pressing; your finger is blocking the view. By using the "magnifying glass" approach, ZoomBoard allowed me to see what I was actually doing. Before I tried using ZoomBoard, I wasn't sure what the benefit of the application would be. The first time I navigated using my finger and the magnifying glass showed me my progress, I "got it".

ZoomBoard, like GoodWin and FunContact, takes some getting used to. Because of the straight-forward nature of this application, however, ZoomBoard is more about getting comfortable with a very different way of doing a very common task. I liken it to purchasing a new desktop keyboard with a slightly different layout. While it is still functionally the same, it takes a while for your mind to adjust.

From a functional standpoint, ZoomBoard delivered as advertised. I found the animations to be smooth and accurate, and overall performance to be very good. From a reviewer's standpoint, ZoomBoard was a rather rare type of application to review. It is focused on something very specific, thus focusing my review time. As a result, I found myself saying "is that all" fairly quickly. For ZoomBoard, that is a good thing; it does what it is supposed to do well.

Pros and Cons
Pros
- Allows keyboard input using fingers without a full-screen keyboard;
- Nice graphics and animation serve a purpose as well as providing style;
- Accurate reporting of finger location for accurate typing.
Cons
- None to report.

Availability
You can find out more about ZoomBoard and download a trial version at iWindowsMobile.com.

Conclusion
ZoomBoard does what it is advertised to do, plain and simple. It provides a finger-friendly input method that does not require a full screen keyboard, yet still provides a means of inputting text with accuracy. If you are looking for a way to use your finger to input text without sacrificing screen real estate, ZoomBoard is a first-rate option.

12/23/2007 10:57:51 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: VITO Technology GoodWin#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

Introduction
The recent success of the Apple iPhone in the consumer market has created an interest in many Windows Mobile users to find ways to leverage the touch-screen interface of Windows Mobile Classic and Professional devices to gain a "finger-friendly" approach to interaction. HTC has introduced the "Touch FLO" approach with the HTC Cube and a specialized Today Screen, and other software vendors and developers have been experimenting with redesigned user interfaces. One such vendor moving to the forefront of this new user experience is VITO Technology. VITO has put together 3 specific applications in an attempt to "iPhone-ize" the Windows Mobile experience in FunContact, GoodWin and ZoomBoard.

In my first of 3 VITO product reviews, I found myself very impressed with VITO FunContact, which provides a "finger-firendly" interface to Outlook Mobile contact information. My next step was to try out GoodWin, a product that serves as a program launcher (and a bit more) using the same touch approach.

Highlights
- Easy access to applications, settings and common functions;
- Large, readable text;
- "Wow-factor" screen animations.

Installation
Installation of GoodWin is very straight forward, with a desktop executable that installs the application in seconds. I encountered no issues.

Usage
Once installed, GoodWin is started from a standard application icon. When initially started, GoodWin presents a sort of "home screen" with current date and time, as well as indicators for battery, profile/volume and carrier. VITO once again has excelled in making these icons large and legible for the average user. In a nice bit of functionality, GoodWin also provides a "screen lock" function to avoid inadvertent screen touches while the device is in a pocket or holster.

pc_capture1

As the imagery on the screen suggests, simply use a finger to touch and drag the lock icon and unlock the screen.

Once the GoodWin screen is unlocked, the main functionality of GoodWin is exposed.

pc_capture2

GoodWin breaks down application launching into several main areas:

  • The very top of the screen provides access to general phone information. You can press the power icon to see detailed battery information. Pressing the second icon allows you to change between ring, vibrate or silent settings. Pressing the signal strength icon will provide signal and carrier details. While all of these icons try to be finger-friendly, I must admit last "digitally-challenged" (read "large-fingered") people like myself had a bit of a problem here.
  • The first set of buttons at the top of the screen provide access to commonly-used functions. You have access to SMS, mail and the phone. Unread messages counts are displayed if available. The clock icon will bring you back to the time and lock screen. All of these buttons were easily accessible to a finger touch and behaved as expected.
  • The "Favorites and Running" section of the screen displays what it advertises; currently running applications and applications selected as "Favorites". For each of these applications, a simple press with your finger will switch to or launch the application. What is not obviously apparent, however, is that pressing and holding on an icon here (or in the general "Programs" section) will bring up a large and finger-friendly context menu. The menu options are sensitive to the application, and provide such options as "Run", "Close" or "Remove from Favorites". I found this menu to be highly useful when managing applications in memory.
  • The "Programs" section provides access to applications installed on the device.Here is an area in which GoodWin shines, especially for people with a large number of applications. Each application icon is clearly displayed with a large and easily touched icon. Pressing and holding an icon brings up the context menu, allowing you to run, add the icon to favorites, close or even uninstall an application (if you had installed it versus a default device application). If you have a large number of applications, scrolling on the screen is performed by using a sweeping motion using your finger across the screen.

    pc_capture3 

    The scrolling animation was smooth on my device. As I mentioned in my review of FunContact, a small learning curve exists to make certain that you do not press on an icon (as thus launch an application). Within a matter of seconds, however, I was effortlessly scrolling up and down on the screen.

    One limitation of GoodWin (in my opinion) relates to how it builds the list of applications for the "Programs" section. I am someone who commonly uses a file explorer application to create folders under the \Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder on the device. I then move icons from the Programs folder into these subfolders, thus making for less clutter in the Programs folder. Unfortunately, GoodWin does not leverage this organization, instead searching all the subfolders for applications and simply adding them to the "Programs" section. I would like to see some option in the future that would allow a user to honor this organizational method and allow for less scrolling.
  • The "Settings" section of the screen provides access to the Settings applications for the device, again allowing for easy finger taps to launch.

    pc_capture4 
  • A menu button is located at the bottom of the screen, providing access to help information and a way of closing the GoodWin application.

    pc_capture5 

    From a usability standpoint, this was a minor annoyance when wanting to shut down GoodWin, as I had to scroll quite a ways to get to the button at a time where I simply wanted to close the application. However, the cool scrolling animation generally offset the extra work ;-)

Overall, the application performance was very good, and navigation to icons was fast and efficient. If I was not someone who used subfolders for application organization, I am certain the GoodWin would be a far faster way of launching my applications than the standard forms of navigation.

Pros and Cons
Pros
- Highly usable finger-friendly application launcher;
- Context menu provides faster access to certain tasks (application uninstall, for example) than standard methods;
- Nice animations and graphics.
Cons
- Program section does not honor use of folder organization of applications if it is used on the device;
- Closing the application can require significant scrolling to access the close function on the menu.

Availability
You can find out more about GoodWin and download a trial version at iWindowsMobile.com.

Conclusion
GoodWin does a really solid job of providing a finger-friendly interface for application launching and management. If you are looking for faster access to all of your applications and a sexy and "iPhone-like" interface complete with scrolling navigation, then GoodWin is a very solid option for your Windows Mobile device.

12/22/2007 11:33:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: Pantech Duo#
Post By Eric Hicks

 

Windows Mobile has always had a tough time playing in the "regular size" handset market.  Small phones are all the rage but what about when you want to do more than just have a voice conversation or send a quick SMS?  Sure you could buy sleek RAZR for voice and use a blackberry for your other electronic communications but after a while that utility belt becomes heavy and unsightly.  The other problem with smaller devices is while they're small enough to fit in your shirt pocket it's hard to type out a nice and detailed e-mail using just then numberpad.  So then you get a device with a QWERTY keyboard but trying to dial a number becomes a challenge without voice dialing aids.    

 

Pantech Duo is aimed at addressing many of these shortcomings.  Weighing in at 3.88 ounces the device measures 4.02 x 1.97 x 0.83 inches.  To put this size into perspective the Motorola RAZR V3 measures in at 3.86 x 2.08 x 0.54 inches.  Other notable specs are 10 Day standby time, 3 hour talk time, Bluetooth with A2DP, Quad Band world phone, Dual-band domestic UMTS/HDSPA, 128 MB of flash ROM with 64 MB SDRam and a fast 416 MHZ Marvel Bulverde processor.  The thing I don't understand is the inclusion of only a 1.3 megapixel camera.  Many devices are already at 2 megapixel with higher resolutions coming soon.  The device also has a 2.2" QVGA screen with LED backlight.  The LED backlight is impressive as it draws very little power and will last longer than the flash ROM in the device. 

 

Running Windows Mobile 6 Standard the Duo is not just an ordinary "slider cellphone".  Coupled with Exchange Active Sync this device can replace that blackberry and cellphone very easily while providing more functionality than having two individual devices.  Features such as SMS, MMS, Push E-mail, PDF viewer and the ability to edit Office documents help to distinguish the Duo from other "slider cellphones".

 

The face of the device has a clean layout and access to frequently used buttons have really  been thought out.  On the main face of the device you have power, home, back, talk, end and two softkeys along with a 4-way navigation pad with selection button in the middle.

 

On the left side of the device you have access to volume buttons and on the right side you have access to the camera and recorder buttons.  The buttons are small and make it difficult for those with larger hands to access them.

 

A big rub for me with the Duo is it's power connector.  A majority of  my devices utilize a mini-usb connector which is great as it allows the use of existing chargers and accessories.  Plus it decreases the number of cables that you need to carry because many devices (mp3 players, digital camera's, etc) use the same mini-usb connector.  To use a wired headset you need to also use an adapter that plugs into the bottom connector.  Honestly that's just too many things to carry and I wouldn't dream of using a wired headset with this device for this very reason. 

 

The one feature that sets this device apart from others is the dual sliding keyboards.  The Dual Sliding mechanism allows for a small device footprint when closed and still allows great functionality with either keyboard.  Slide the device up and you are greeted by a nice functional numeric keypad.  The numerical keypad provides great tactile feedback and navigation.  The button sizes are just right even for a person with wide thumbs such as myself.  Another nice numerical keypad feature is a spring assisted slider.  As you open or close the numerical keypad a spring assists in opening and closing the keyboard.  This makes one handed access and operation of the numerical keypad a snap.

The QWERTY keyboard unfortunately doesn't receive the same accolades.  Sliding the screen to the left (or up if you change the orientation) and you now have access to the QWERTY keyboard.  To keep the device size small a condensed QWERTY keyboard is used.  It comprises of all the letters of the alphabet with punctuation and number keys being accessed via a secondary function key.  Punctuation placement is straightforward and easy to navigate once you familiarize yourself with the associated function keys.  Coming from the larger QWERTY keyboard on my Sprint PPC 6800 the transition to was slightly difficult until I became acclimated to the device.  One thing that I miss on the condensed keyboard was directional keys.  It's amazing how many time you use directional keys move information around, especially on a smartphone device since there's no screen to quickly tap on.  Unlike the numeric keypad the QWERTY keyboard doesn't have a spring to assist in the opening and closing of the slider but the sliding travel when on the QWERTY keyboard is very short so it's easy to open without much fuss.  Still it would've been nice to have the same "slider" feel throughout the device.  When I moved from the Sprint PPC 6700 which didn't have a spring assisted slider to the Sprint PPC 6800 which did, I could tell the difference immediately.  The biggest problem I had with the QWERTY keyboard was lack of tactile feel.  The keyboard is completely flush with the bezel and boxes that make up the whole keyboard face.  If you're a person with small fingers or fingernails then you're able to access the keyboard without much issue but if you are a person with large fingers and no fingernails then typing out messages will be somewhat disappointing and slow.

 

Out of the box the device is preloaded with trial software like MobiTV and My Space Mobile.  You also have an AT&T branded IM program, AT&T Mail, AT&T Music and Cingular Video.  I tried out a few of my usual programs like Sling Player Mobile, Windows Live Search, and One Note Mobile which all worked great and felt snappy thanks to the fast processor in the Duo.  Sling player worked well over the fast 3G services and the best part about 3G on the AT&T network is that you can use both data and voice communications simultaneously.  This is extremely helpful when you need an e-mail and you need to be on the phone at the same time.  There were a few times that I forgot about this only to be startled when the device alerted me to new mail messages while I was on the phone. 

 

Bluetooth worked very well on the duo and because the device is A2DP compatible I was able to use my blue spider stereo bluetooth headphones with the duo.  Listening to music and watching shows via sling media was very enjoyable and allowed for a nice complete "wireless" experience. 

The Duo's Battery life is very impressive.  In my line of work I am sometimes in high density cellular areas and other times trying to cling on to that last bar but that didn't seem to affect battery life one bit.  There were times when I would forget to charge the device only to find the battery level still high the next morning.  Most of my use on this device was data but I use data like others use voice plus add the fact that continuous device data access keeps the backlight on much longer than a phone call would.  This shows the tremendous gains the LED backlight gives this unit.  One thing that I did notice and this is true with many smaller cellular devices is that prolonged voice communications will leave the back of the device fairly warm.  I haven't used a device this size in some time so I had forgotten about this until I started using the device for a few lengthily voice conversations.  A bluetooth headset will decrease the noticeable heat as the device will be tucked away in a pocket or case.

 

The Pantech Duo is a really nice device aimed at those who require more functionality while maintaining a sleek appearance.  The device packs many nice features like great battery life, 3G data, dual keyboards and Windows Mobile 6.  The suggested price point will give it's competitors a run for their money.  One of the biggest problems with Windows Mobile Devices was getting the price point to be acceptable to the customer.  AT&T is selling the Pantech Duo for $449.99 but if you go for a 2 year contract the price is $299.00, adding a $100.00 mail-in rebate and the final price is $199.99.  Not bad for a device that packs so much functionality into a small package.  So if you're looking for a device that'll give you great performance while keeping you in the "in crowd" you will want to check out the Pantech Duo.

12/19/2007 10:35:47 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: Vmoda VibeDuo Wired Stereo Headset#
Post By Eric Hicks

Stylish,functional and great sound, those are words which don't go together especially when  describing stereo headsets. Most cellphone headsets are included as an afterthought and many are cheap sounding pieces of plastic that are not even suited for listening to phone conversation let alone music. Add to that their usually bulky, cheap construction and poor sound and it's no wonder they only make their appearance when you really need them (like in your car).

Vmoda wishes to change this. They have created a line of "designer" headsets that appeal to your fashion and sound senses. Just a look at the packaging suggests that this headset was made for you to wear and enjoy everywhere.  Plus the array of available colors makes color coordination with you outfit a breeze.

Inside the box you will find the headset and leather carrying pouch. Inside the pouch you'll find different size earmolds for the earbuds in both clear and black rubber. For me the pre-installed black molds were a perfect fit. The earbuds are light weight and feature some pseudo "Bling"  to draw attention to you're new found status of sound and fashion. The headset buds are made to snuggly fit inside the outer ear canal giving you a nice sound space and reducing background noise.

 Along the wire for the left earbud you'll find a sleek microphone with a button. This button allows you to answer calls without touching the phone. Something that's definitely needed as your phone will likely be in your pocket. There's also a shirt clip and a nice Vmoda branded metal cylinder which is used to split the left  and right wires for each earbud.

So with all that out of the way the big question is how do they sound? Well I hooked the Vmoda's up to my Toshiba Gigabeat and pulled up a playlist that I use to evaluate and set sound systems. My first impression was WOW, is this a headset or a nice pair of headphones. The sound was very full, rich and also had one thing that many headsets (and headphones for that matter) lacked and that was low end response. The specified frequency response is 12 Hz to 22 kHz and while I don't really think they are capable of reaching 12 Hz,the bass was full, deep and uncluttered.  You won't need to crank the volume of your MP3 player to max just to have good volume. When paired with the Gigabeat I was able to keep the volume at a reasonably low level while maintaining a good listening level even on a busy subway. Part of this I attributed to the earbuds sensitivity and the other is the earmolds. External noise is kept to a very minimum level even while riding an underground subway during rush hour.

The Vmoda package says it's designed for iPhones and MP3 players but be aware that not all MP3 players are made the same. The Vmoda headset has a four conductor connector and depending on you MP3 player you may need to insert the plus only partially into the headphone  jack. My Gigabeat utilizes a four conductor headphone jack for the output of both audio and video, when I plugged the Vmoda's all the way into the headphone jack I got sound that was indicative of surround sound but not much else. This was due to the missing ground connection from the  MP3 player to the headset. It may be a good idea for Vmoda to include a four conductor to three conductor adapter with these headsets so the user doesn't need to pull the headset jack partially out of the device.

 

Vmoda has what I feel is a good product but I don't know if many people are ready to shell out $101 for a stereo headset.  Then again there are those who these will definately appeal to and because this headset looks good and sounds good it will have no problems bringing hours of listening pleasure, comfort and style to the end user.  You can purchase the VibeDuo right from  Vmoda's website.

12/17/2007 18:53:50 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

REVIEW: Proclip Mounting Bracket, Holder and Move Clip Solutions#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

INTRODUCTION:
As some of you out there may already know, I have long been a HUGE fan of ProClip USA's car holder solutions for my Windows Mobile phones and other devices. For those that are unaware of ProClip, this is a wonderful two-part mounting solution. The Proclip Mounting Bracket is a solution tailor-made for your specific year, make and model of vehicle. This bracket then is utilized by Pro Clip's line of device holders, again tailor-specifically to your device.

Over the years, I have managed to accumulate a number of device holders to handle my wide and varied Windows Mobile devices. While the ProClip solution was flexible enough to allow me to change holders with relative ease, the solution did require me to unscrew the currently-used device holder and then screw the newly-needed device holder into place. While not a difficult process, it did require a few minutes of time and limited the ability to change devices "on-the-fly". Now, that has all changed.

One of the newer additions to the ProClip line is the Move Clip solution. By attaching a female connector to your bracket and male connectors to device holders, you can now quickly change devices with a minimum of effort. The solution works for multiple devices for a single vehicle, one device for multiple vehicles (if ProClip Mounting Brackets are installed in more than one car), or (my scenario) multiple devices for multiple vehicles. My wife's use of the i-mate SP5m Smartphone became the perfect testing ground for this total solution.

IMG_0628

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Mounting brackets are tailor-made to your vehicle and take only minutes to install;
  • Setting up the Move Clip solution requires minimal effort;
  • Ultimate reliability and flexibility for multiple devices.

THE PROCLIP MOUNTING BRACKET
The ProClip Mounting Bracket is an incredibly customized solution designed to meet the wide variances common amongst vehicles. While there area a number of device mounting solutions, most are very generic and place limitations on where the device can be mounted, as well as the aesthetic results of the installation. To give you an idea of the variances that exist and how ProClip actually leverages them with their solutions, I give to you the example of my two family vehicles.

Vehicle #1 - 2004 Dodge Neon
An ideal placement for this vehicle lies near a small tray area near of the top of the dashboard. ProClip has designed a mounting bracket that leverages this area and provides a solid device support.

IMG_0641

I have had this installation for a couple of years now, and absolutely love it for ease of access. My mounting bracket installation literally took less than a minute using ProClip's gap opening tools (more on this shortly). Prior to the ProClip MoveClip solution, attaching the device holder to the bracket took about a minute or two using the two provided screws.

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With the new Move Clips (see installation below), I can slide out device holders in seconds!

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INSTALLATION:
To demonstrate the installation, I decided to use my wife's vehicle. I knew that this would be a bit more of an installation challenge.

Vehicle #2 - 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe
My wife's vehicle best lent itself to a bracket installation that was actually in a seam in the console, just to the left of the stereo system. Before installation, I carefully went over the detailed instructions provided in the package.

I have often told people over the years that the folks at ProClip are truly "Masters of the Seams". Their mounting solutions are designed to leverage the seams in vehicles dashboards and are tailored to lock into place whenever possible. To open up a seam for installation, ProClip provides one or more (in this case, two) "gap tools". These are basically plastic awls that allow you to open the seam enough to place the mounting bracket in its proper location.

IMG_0645

After opening up the seam, I had the task of Putting the bracket into place. In this installation, I paid careful attention to the instructions. They explained how I would move the upper part of the bracket into place, then apply pressure on the lower part of the bracket while pushing towards the steering console until feeling the channel part of the bracket snap into place. Sure enough, I got it to lock in. It did take a few attempts and an overcoming of some skepticism, but the instructions worked perfectly.

IMG_0646  

I had previously attached the female Move Clip to the bracket and my wife's SP5m device holder (see below) leaving only to slide things into place. As expected, no problems!

IMG_0647

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Of course, after removing the gap tools I tested the bracket for a solid connection. Even with moderate pressure, I could not get the bracket to move an inch (which is exactly as it should be).

Overall, I once again found myself very satisfied with the entire ProClip installation experience.

THE PROCLIP HOLDER AND MOVE CLIP

INSTALLATION:
The Move Clip is a two-part installation. The packaging includes the Move Clips, detailed instructions and associated hardware. The hardware includes screws for mounting and a surface cleaning wipe if the attached adhesive is used instead of screws. Personally, I always choose the screws for mounting as I prefer the peace of mind that a more permanent mounting option provides.

IMG_0633

The key advantage that the Move Clip solution provides over the standard ProClip vehicle bracket/device holder combination is the to easily replace the device holders without the need to unscrew and re-screw the holders into place. The Move Clip uses a female/male pairing to provide a channel that allows you to slide device holders in and out, all while holding the device holder (and device) firmly in place.

 IMG_0635

IMG_0636

What specifically is shipped depends on what you order with regards to your Move Clip needs. There are a number of options available. One option includes one female Move Clip (mounted to the ProClip bracket) and two male Move Clip (mounted to your device holders), which is perfect for the multi-device/single-car scenario. Another option includes the opposite; two female Move Clips and a single male Move Clip for the single-device/multi-car scenario.

IMG_0634 

Installation typically only takes a matter of minutes. You will need to provide a small screwdriver; the rest is in the package. The instructions are very detailed and are accompanied with lots of photographs, making installation an easy-to-understand process. I actually performed two installations; one for my existing ProClip bracket in my vehicle, and a new bracket for my wife. I had no problem installing either. I did not have to remove the bracket in my car to add the female Move Clip. For my wife's bracket, I simply added the female Move Clip before installing the bracket.

IMG_0637 

Adding the male Move Clip is also quite simple, and took less than a minute to get into place.

IMG_0638

Just to see how everything would work together, locked in the Move Clips using my wife's mounting bracket before installing it in her car.

IMG_0640 

ProClip: The Driving Experience
The final and perhaps most importance test of the ProClip system is how it holds up to driving. This tests the firmness of the bracket install and (in the case of the Move Clips) reliability of the bracket-to-device holder connection.

I can speak from a great deal of experience that the ProClip device holders are among the best in the business. Built with the same level of customization as their mounting brackets, ProClip device holders firmly hold their devices in place firmly. Devices slide in and out of channels to make for accessibility while providing that needed grip. Having been a longtime user of a number of ProClip device holders, I can say without a doubt that the driving experience is nothing less than stellar. No device movement and no vibration sounds from either the bracket or the holder. After adding the new Move Clips into the equation, I was eager to see if there were any changes in the experience. I am happy to report nothing has changed here. There are still no issues with movement or sound.

CONCLUSIONS:
If you are looking for a tailor-made device mounting solution for your phone or other device, ProClip should be at the top of your list. If you own more than one device or wish to have a mounting solution for more than one vehicle, ProClip becomes an even more desirable option. Years of experience with ProClip solutions have left me nothing but the highest praise for their quality and reliability.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Prices and availability vary by vehicle, device and solution. Check out ProClip USA for more information.

09/23/2007 11:15:31 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

T-Mobile Dash: Impressions and Thoughts#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

As I promised, a full week of use of the T-Mobile Dash now affords some observations. If you do not want to read on, here's the short of it -

The T-Mobile Dash may very well be the first device I have used that does not have me longing to use another device.

Coming from someone who currently owns devices across a range of form factors, features and capabilities, this is a pretty big statement. If you read on, however, you may understand why I have become so attached to this device.

Background:
You may have noticed that the title of this post does not use the word "review". There have been any number of these around the Internet for a while. Instead, I decided to approach this post more from an observational perspective, especially due to the fact that my usage patterns for a Windows Mobile are not exactly the norm.

I am a heavy, HEAVY Windows Mobile business user. I rely on the messaging capabilities of my devices, the reliability of phone operations, and the ease of accomplishing business-related tasks in "less than optimal" conditions. For me, the ability to quickly digest and communicate information while on-the-go is a critical factor in device usability.

While Windows Mobile business productivity is essential to me, I do enjoy using my Windows Mobile device for "extracurricular activities" as well. In this category, I look for device and application performance and ease of use as criteria.

The Device Itself
The first thing I should talk about is the T-Mobile Dash in terms of dimensions, form fator and weight. In short, this is a wonderfully "pocketable" device for the functionality it brgins to the table. A very lightweight device that is also extremely thin, I find it very easy to forget that I have it in my shirt pocket! In addition, I can put the Dash into my shirt pocket and still have room for a business card holder and pen (something that was difficult with candybar-style Smartphones and impossible with my Phone Edition devices).

The rubberized molding on the Dash gives me a feeling of confidence when holding the device. No slipping or fumbling around here. It is easy to hold the device in one hand and access all of the keys on the front of the device, including the phone, softkey and thumboard buttons. This has been incredibly important to me when trying to accomplish tasks like reading and writing e-mail with only one free hand.

About the only complaint I have regarding the layout of the device is the location of the volume/JOGGR control and its associated defaault mappings. The control is on the upper-right side of the device. By default, it is mapped for "call reject" on incoming phone calls. Unfortunately, when pulling the device out of your pocket, there is a strong likelihood that this button will be accidentally hit. The mapping is configurable via a registry key, and there is a CAB file available at SurrealNetworks (along with some other useful Dash-related utilities) that makes the registry change simple.

Phone Functionality
Out of the box, the T-Mobile Dash is easy to use as a phone. Clearly-labeled buttons are easily accessible, and the clarity of both the speaker and the mic make for good cellular conversations. One of the first applications I added to the Dash (or any Phone Edition device, for that matter) is Microsoft Voice Command. The Dash comes with Bluetooth, and I am a serious Bluetooth user. Voice Command works well with the Dash, and not just for answering calls. I use it for making outgoing calls as well, speaking the contact's name and number to dial. Using my Jabra BT250v, voice recognition levels are regularly right on the money, even in noiser locations. With the Dash and Voice Command, I rarely have to take my phone out of my pocket when using the phone.

Mail Messaging
Microsoft Voice Command's capabilities have added a new dimension to my use of a Bluetooth headset. My company uses Microsoft Exchange for e-mail and calendaring, and my Dash is configured for Direct Push of information. Voice Command can be set to announce incoming e-mail (either important or all) as it arrives, and either always or just through the Bluetooth headset when it is paired. I tend to be away from my desk quite a bit, and the ability to have Voice Command read the sender's name and message subject has me now wearing my headset most of (if not all of) the business day.

At this point, I should talk a bit about the Dash's display. The screen is quite readible, especially when compared to traditional flip-style and candybar phones. It is large enough to make me forget at least a couple of times during the first few days that this was a Smartphone, and had no touchscreen capabilities. The display is very legible in both indoor and outdoor lighting, and images are crisply displayed.

From a messaging standpoint, it is easy to navigate and triage e-mails using the Dash.  I can easily read the subjects of e-mail without having to bring the device too close to my eyes (something I can't do with even a QVGA Smartphone like my i-mate SP5m).

One initial area of concern was the Dash's thumboard. I tend to view individual's preferences to thumboards to be much like politics and religion. A discussion always results in passionate debate, and no two people seem to feel the same way ;-) That being said, I am one who enjoys using a thumboard, but also can be frustrated with implementations. While I have good dexterity, my fingers are not exactly "dainty", which can lead to difficulty in typing (especially in one-handed operations on small keyboards).

I am very happy to report that I have been please with the thumboard of the T-Mobile Dash. While the keys are small, they are distinctly indivudual in their positioning. By this I mean that there is a noticable space between keys. To me, this is extremely important in typing, as the tactile effect this provides helps me immensely to avoid hitting multiple keys simultaneously. The tactile response to clicking keys is also very good, giving me a greater level of confidence while typing.

The ability to use the thumboard with a single hand is a huge plus for me. My other devices with thumboards/keyboards (the i-mate JASJAR and the i-mate K-JAM) both were too heavy and awkwardly balanced to easily use with only one hand. With the Dash, I can easily type with my thumb and not be concerned that the device will fall out of my hand.

I have become quite comfortable and proficient in a short period of time in composing and responding to e-mails on the Dash. I actually enjoy the experience enough to do this even when a desktop computer is within a few seconds reach. In the past, I would often say to myself "I'll be back at my desk in a couple of minutes. It'll be easier then." I really do not have that feeling any more.

Instant Messaging
I also use a lot of Instant Messaging on my device, for both work and personal use. The T-Mobile Dash comes with Pocket MSN installed. As a participant in the Windows Live Messenger for Mobile Beta, I have loaded the latest client onto the Dash (note - once this beta goes final, I will provide a more in-depth review. I must say, however, that it is definitely a big improvement for mobile IM). As in the case with mail messaging, the Dash has made me much more comfortable in IM conversations. As a result, I find that I am using IM on my device much more than I had in the past.

 Other "Mobile Activities"
"All work and no play..." is the old saying. While business comes first, I do use my Windows Mobile devices for other purposes. I use IE Mobile for surfing the web and RSS reading. IE Mobile performs well on my Dash using EDGE data connections on the T-Mobile network. One big plus regarding this; the Dash comes with 128 MB RAM. Even after the OS and other default applications, there is a ton of room left for application installations on the device. More importantly, there is a lot of room for IE Mobile's temporary Internet cache. Users of many Windows Mobile Smartphones have had to resort to frequent clearing of the cache or registry hacks to move the cache to a storage card, due solely to the fact that there was very little available space on the device itself. This is definitely not the case.

If you do wish to use external storage, the Dash takes a microSD card. At first this annoyed me a bit. It seems like we went from SD to miniSD to microSD in, oh, 2 days ;-) However, the fact that you can get a 1 GB microSD card (with SD adapter) for anywhere from $10 USD to $25 USD made the pain ease quickly. The microSD slot for the Dash is inside the same casing that houses access to the battery and the SIM card. While this means you will have to open that casing to change cards, I actually like the fact that it is now impossible to accidently lose a card while in a bag or pocket.

Some other activities I have used the Dash for include:

  • Sling Player Mobile - Anyone who knows me knows I am as passionate about the Slingbox as I am about any technology. While have heard and read of some issues with the Sling Player Mobile client on the Dash (Sling Media is also aware of this), I have not had these issues myself. I have used the Sling Player Mobile client in both EDGE and WiFi environments and (as always) enjoyed the experience of catching up on news or watchig a sprting event when away from a TV.
  • Audible Player - I do listen to audio books quite frequently, and Audible has provided me with all the content I could want for now for over 5 years. The Audible Player works well on the Dash.
  • Windows Media Player MobileAs a Janus DRM-enabled device, I am able to download my content from my Napster and URGE "all-you-can-eat" subscriptions and play them on the device without issues. I do admit, however, that I do not do this as much as others might, mainly do to the fact that I own a Toshiba Gigabeat S that serves more regularly as my "mobile media player".

 Generally speaking, audio quality from the device is as good as my other Windows Mobile devices. One thing that can be an annoyance is the fact that the Dash has followed suit with other recent devices (the Samsung i320 and Blackjack) in using a proprietary headset adapter. This means that you have three options:

  1. Use the included headset. Not very good sound quality and a bit uncomfortable for my liking;
  2. Purchase a headset adapter. Several places (including MobilePlanet and DayDeal) sell adapters for the Dash, allowing you to plug in your own headset;
  3. Use a Bluetooth stereo headset. Yes, the T-Mobile Dash supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile! I have used my Motorola HT-820 headphones to enjoy music with Windows Media Player Mobile without issue. 

WiFi - A Potential Differentiator
One of the unique selling points of the T-Mobile Dash versus competitors for form factor is the fact that the Dash does come with WiFi. How much a person relies on WiFi in their Windows Mobile device can make the difference between choosing a Dash or a Blackjack, for example. In my case, my WiFi use is rather limited. EDGE data access serves me well for e-mail, web browsing and (for the most part) streaming video from my SlingBox. When I have used WiFi, however, it has been both reliable and well-performing on the Dash. The most common use I have had has been to watch TV on SlingPlayer Mobile; the picture has been crisp and with little hesitation.

Battery Life
For most people, battery life is an important consideration. It is a high consideration for me as well, but with a twist. I fall into the category of people who always drop a device into a cradle or plug in a power adapter at the end of the day. While it might be a very long day (trust me on this one), I seldom go more than 24 hours without a charge.

I have found that my "regular use" (Bluetooth always on, 1 - 2 hours of phone calls, Internet access via EDGE) normally leaves me with somewhere between 40 - 50% charge left on the device at the end of the day. As always, the phrase "your mileage may vary" applies. For me, this is more than enough. Nonetheless, I picked up a second battery for the Dash (just in case).

Conclusion
Remember - I am but one person with one voice regarding one device here. I have always believed (and will continue to do so) that there are lots of preferences in the world with lots of choices that can match up. Based upon my preferences, needs and desires, however, I feel comfortable in recommending the T-Mobile Dash to those who are looking for a well-performing, lightweight messaging-oriented device. The combination of form-factor and capabilities make the Dash a real winner in my book.

I will continue to keep everyone up-to-date as I continue to use the device. One thing is for sure - it will be getting a lot of "wear and tear" from me :-) 

04/07/2007 10:42:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

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