Sunday, September 06, 2009

New Mobile Phone: XDA Guide

Since a week, my mobile phone acted up strangely. It just kept freezing, and I had to do numerous restarts until it would work again. I suspected that it would be related to a memory problem, but there was still more than 40MB free. Of course, some people will say "I told you so" - because this phone runs Windows Mobile.

I have used Windows Mobile devices since a very long time, when it was still called Windows CE. And there was always some trouble with them, especially related to the synchronisation with a PC: there were in many cases duplicates of contacts and files created, and I had manually to go through them and delete them.

But what I always liked about these Windows Mobile devices (PocketPCs) was that they would fit in well with my desktop (or laptop) PCs: I liked the "compatibility". Back in 1998 I had bought for work a NEC Mobile Pro, running Windows CE 2.0. And since then I had a series of devices, all working with the Windows OS. Great was the Toshiba PocketPC, or Handheld PDA as it was called in 2002. My brother gave me a GPRS modem for it, and I made phonecalls and connected from the net with that thing. Since 2006 I had a mobile phone running Windows Mobile: the O2 XDA Exec, with a nice keyboard and a 640x480 screen. In 2008 I switched to a XDA Stellar (HTC TyTN II), with a smaller keyboard, a smaller screen, but this reduced also the weight and size of the phone overall. This phone is the one that now somehow got sluggish since a week.

This Friday afternoon I wanted to make a call and send some txts, as I was on the way to a meeting - and the phone just would not start. Everything froze after a few strokes on the touch screen. I had enough then and entered the next O2 store. A day before I had already scrolled through a few models on the web site, so I knew that for a non-business tariff there would be no phone with a keyboard anymore. They had an XDA Guide, and after a short deliberation I took it. I needed to upgrade my phone plan for this, but then the phone itself was free. I later found that O2 has more other XDA phones available, but not in stores, only online. And some are also only available on business tariffs.

Here are the first comments about this phone XDA Guide:

It runs Windows Mobile 6.1. Yes, some people do not like Windows, but I like the fact that I can use Excel for utility consumption lists and petrol mileage, that I can write Word-compatible (sort of) files, and that I can look at my powerpoint files on the phone (I actually never ever did this, but if I want, I could). I also like that I can write software, using Visual Studio and the whole .NET framework. And since Microsoft ActiveSync 4.5 I actually never had any problems with synchronisation, no more duplicates. I also like the direct connection to the Microsoft Exchange server at our uni, so I can get all the emails right on the phone, share the address book with my more than 2000 entries between the server and the phone, and can have my whole work calendar on the phone. These reasons are why I resisted the Apple iPhone lure, which is very tempting. But I see currently no alternative to a Windows Mobile phone for my requirements. Version 6.1 now has a nice integration of Exchange, Gmail Hotmail, or any other email service into one interface. Also, applications can now (finally) be closed down. The greatest advantage of Windows Mobile phones over the iPhone is that they can be used as modems. This is really great - I always have internet connection on my laptop, no battery-power-hungry WiFi is needed.

The XDA Guide runs a special user interface on top of Windows Mobile: TouchFlo uses the touch screen for iPhone-like interaction with the fingers. However, the integration with Windows Mobile appears a bit superficial: top and bottom line on the screen show the Windows fonts and colours, and in between is the FloTouch screen. There was probably not an easy other solution to program this, but it looks definitely not as classy and sleek as the iPhone. But it works nice.

The XDA Guide has a GPS built in, and it comes with the software CoPilot 7, which provides voice navigation. This is very nice, because the software would otherwise cost an additional amount to purchase. The cradle for installation in the car is ok, but the power cable which one needs is a bit short. It also goes out straight from the bottom, so one needs some space underneath the device on the dashboard, otherwise the cable connector will eventually get bent. The battery life when using GPS is short as with all GPS-powered phones, so while driving one needs the power from the cigarette lighter.

The overall device is very light and slim. Quite a difference to my previous bricks that I carried. Also one big improvement: there are no buttons or controls that can accidentally be pressed. With my previous phone, the XDA Stellar, it happened more than once that while I carried the phone in the pocket, phone calls were made (to the last caller) just by accidentally pushing some buttons. The XDA Guide only has a "on" button at the top, which needs to be pressed down very firmly and cannot just be activated accidentally.

Overall I am quite satisfied with the phone so far. Great set of features, does everything I want. of course I miss the built-in keyboard... the onscreen touch keyboard is ok, but a bit too small for my fingers for fast typing. Somewhat silly is also that one has to change between letter mode and number mode - and the decimal point is in the letter mode, so when entering decimal numbers, one has to switch back and forth between the modes...

But overall this is a nice device. Has of course also a camera, quite standard at 3.2 MP. The quality is ok, but is no match for a normal digital camera. Memory is better than on any previous model: 340MB RAM for data and 186 for software, so even after installing a few apps the memory still is more than 270MB data and 100MB program space.

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