Essential Software for Windows Mobile 5

My old WM5 device was the iMate JASJAR (aka the HTC Universal), now I have an HTC P4350 (aka the HTC Herald). This article describes applications and practices to make this device as handy as a laptop.

Essential Applications

Total Commander (95% great): The best file manager for the desktop has a decent counterpart for mobile devices including ZIP file, FTP and LAN support (use \\ from the root folder to get to FTP, LAN, and Registry clients). FTP is just plain handy, and the LAN connectivity is a great alternative to moving files over cable or Bluetooth. Note: the iMate is a PXA device, download the CAB to install directly to the device. This is freeware, if you'd like to contribute there's a desktop version you can register for about $30.

SBP Weather (90% great): SBP fixed everything wrong with this and it's back to being a fave. Downloads weather forecasts at set intervals whenever you're connected. Organizes cities well and appears on your Today screen. I like the Line skin, it lets my background picture show through the best. The price $14.95, or $9.95 when purchased with SBP Diary.

Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPS Locator (85% great): The update for 2007 turned this into a really sweet app. The optional Pharos Bluetooth dock was about $100USD (out-of-box it only does USB), and I'm glad I got it because I'm now wireless with laptops and PDAs. If you're always connected, you may like Google Maps or Microsoft Live Search just as well. On trips and in new cities, I'm really glad I got it.

ListPro (80% good): A good list application is essential on a PDA for grocery lists, book / music / movie recommendations, and most anything else you can forget about in a day. This is the best so far for the PocketPC platform. There's a free 30-day trial, about $20 to register. Update: I never did register.

ClearVue PDF (80% good): ClearVue is better than Adobe PDF. Adobe came with my new device and I hate it. The JASJAR had ClearVue.

NewsGator Go! (75% good) I used FeedReader which was adequate but the settings were incomprehensible. NewsGator Go! is better. So far the evaluation version is great, and I was about to buy it when I found out I could be eligible (as a Mirosoft MVP) to get it free. Does that mean I would have bought it? I give it a 75% chance, so that's the rating.

MortPlayer (75% good): A sweet MP3/OGG player which also provides skins and alternate controls you can hit with your thumbs so the stylus stays put. Highly configurable freeware, with an option to donate. I didn't realize how much I didn't like WMP until I started using MortPlayer. Update: My new device has Audio Manager, and I haven't found a need to re-install MortPlayer.

Commodore 64 Emulator (75% good): I don't play games but when I did, it was mostly on a C-64. Now I can play Karateka and run Speedscript on my PDA. No, not all that practical, but to me it's beyond cool. Ditto LEDHead.

Essential if you have frequent WiFi, or a roaming Internet package

Microsoft Live Search (80% good) was better than what Google had, then came the native WM5 Google Maps (80% good). Now each is good for different things. Live Search could be great if they had better satellite maps. In Toronto can't get street-level detail.  And the Category option still gives me US addresses, though if I type my term into the Search box I get Toronto answers. They both let you search for stores and services (hotels, restaurants, barbecue) within a map, Live's advantage is the extra step of phoning the shop with just a click. They both provide directions, though Google has the edge (for me) in usability. Google Maps doesn't let you set where to store temporary files (i.e. the Storage Card), Live does. I use both - Live to look for businesses, and Google for maps.

Skype (70% good): Long distance and roaming charges are the worst part of owning a cell phone. Skype takes the pain away by providing an alternative when your device is connected to WiFi. This free download lets you call friends on Skype for free, and any landline in the US or Canada (and many overseas locations) for just $.02 per minute. For incoming calls, if I'm away or offline Skype can forward the call to my cellphone or a local landline for the same rate.

Your Mileage May Vary

WiFiFoFum (70% good): The built-in WiFi page doesn't show you squat. This tells you everything. If you need to seek networks out, this is for you. If you're always on the same networks, you can skip.

Opera Mini: Better than the current version of Explorer, but I never really used it. The big advantage is that it can store temporary files on your card instead of soaking up memory. [Download page] Costs about $29USD.

SBP Diary: Skip this. First and foremost, their apps change iMate behaviour so that apps don't slide into the background when a new app is opened, they're closed. Which is fine if that's what you want (or have a low memory device), but when I'm in FeedReader and open an article in Explorer, I do not want to start FeedReader all over again when I close Explorer. That's a shitty feature I never asked for, but even after an uninstall it's still there.

Diary looked great, but slowed down my iMate so that by the time it responded to an incoming call I was lucky to get two rings before it kicked over to voice mail. My new PDA has a slower CPU, I'd be crazy to install Diary. The previous review: I tried it for ten minutes and was sold. The SBP Diary replaces the klunky calendar and task list in the Today page with a great combination including Tasks, Calendar (expanding/collapsing days, and a visual busy-meter), Contacts (with easy cellphone-style searching) and Notes. It also integrates with SBP Weather to display weather icons right in your schedule. It looks a little cluttered at first, the tip is to change the Lines to Top (not Center) to clear things up. There's a 15 day trial, but this is a bargain at $14.95. ]

Other Essential Collections

PocketPC Magazine: Best of 2005



SD Memory: 1Gb will suit most users, 2Gb is better if you'll use the device as a video camera or MP3 player. Note that you can often install applications directly to the Storage Card, and many applications can be configured to save data to the Storage Card including Messaging (saves attachments) and the Camera (photos and video). I created a My Documents folder on the Storage Card with My Pictures and My Videos as subfolders and set the camera to save directly there. I also created an install folder to download cab files for installation, it's a lot cleaner in the long run than scattering installation files around the device. If the Pictures & Videos application could change its default starting folder, this would be a perfect story.

Bluetooth Headset: I got a Plantronics headset just a few days ago at Christmas, and already I don't see myself getting into the car without it. Easy to install, easy to use, easy to charge, and no more fumbling to answer the phone or flip the cover around.

Update: Scratch that, the Plantronics had too much noise for people on the other end and it finally sat idle for six months. When the talky parts of my JASJAR stopped working, it was handy again for two weeks until I got fed up and dropped my GSM chip back in my trusty old Nokia. Back to looking. I'd really like a stereo headset that doubles for phone, nothing so far.

Essential Practices

Don't synch. I've had several PalmPilots, so I was in the mindset of synching to bring mail and web pages onto the device. But, when you have WiFi and decent apps, synching is (mostly) a think of the past. I treat the iMate as a first-class machine that is probably used more often than my laptop. The laptop is where I do long-running work like writing, drawing and web development, and the PDA is for everything else. Synching may be helpful for moving contacts onto the PDA, but most of mine were just as easy to grab from my GSM SIM chip when I dropped it into the gadget (I did have to specially tell my old cell to save my phone list to the chip, and use the WM5 SIM Manager to import). Otherwise, as near as I can tell, a service like Plaxo will do the job as well or better than any of the conventional synching apps.

When something becomes a primary device, you need to do backups. I just keep data on the Storage Card and occasionally drop it into my laptop where I can zip the works into a backup folder. No, this doesn't backup contacts, those are copied less often when I actually use the Explore feature in ActiveSync (perhaps to install an app without a CAB file), and zip the main drive into a backup folder on the laptop.

Messaging: Set up an e-mail address just for your PDA and let your other accounts forward to it. Set up filters on the new receiving account so you're only looking at important or useful mail. Many ISPs let you manage filters through your mail server's Web interface. For example, I kill anything the forwarding mail system tagged as potential spam (even low scores), and everything received via listserver. Now I just check the regular accounts once or twice daily. The killer part is that meeting invitations (iCals) are also forwarded, and the PDA's calendar is as tightly integrated as it is in Outlook.


The drawbacks so far are that the screen connection needs to be tightened once in a while and there aren't any apps to take advantage of the second video camera (where's my MSN / Skype video?). Much of the built-in software feels like a compromise (e.g. Messenger, Explorer, Media Player, PowerPoint, Zip), but thankfully there is a growing pool of third-party apps to fill the void. Some of the built-in apps are really good: Camera, Phone, Word, Excel, Skype, ClearVue PDF are all practical. What's great? The SpeakerPhone is great. I really dig the camera's Panorama mode for capturing the great outdoors and white boards. There are no fewer than five methods of entering letters with the stylus: one similar to Palm Graffitti, the standard keyboard, and two handwriting recognition methods including the Transcriber which lets you write anywhere on the screen and always does better than I expect. I don't use the Transcriber daily but everyone who sees it thinks it's cool.

We're still early in the WM5 product cycle, and the future looks good. As far as gadgets go, the iMate JASJAR / HTC Universal is hands-down the best PDA and/or phone I've ever owned, and everyone who sees it wants to play with it and see what it does. Last night a friend showed off a new Eddie Bauer watch he picked up on sale last week. Another asked him why he wasn't wearing the Rolex he bought thirty years ago, and added "hey, all that Eddie Bauer watch will get you is the time." I doubt it'll last thirty years, but if you like gadgets that exceed the sum of their parts, the iMate is today's Rolex of PDAs.

Update: The iMate JASJAR droped one-too-many times and the talky and listening parts of the phone stopped working, which made it useless as a phone, though they didn't sound nearly as good as the worst Nokia at the best of times. The JASJAR still has the best screen of any handheld (640x480), and I wish I could get another. But, for size and function I love my new P4350.

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