Cell Phones, Calendars And Contacts: O/S Upgrades Bring Mixed Results
As I’ve mentioned before, the fundamental reason why I was sticking with Windows Mobile 5 on the T-Mobile Dash derived from my continued use of Outlook 2000, therefore of ActiveSync 4.2. However, since I’ve now bypassed ActiveSync and am instead getting my calendar and contact data from the Google ‘cloud’, the WM5-only constraint is no longer a factor. As such, my next step was to re-upgrade the spare phone to Windows Mobile 6.
My primary upgrade motivation was to see if WM6’s Contacts applet would, unlike its WM5 predecessor, correctly ignore the supposedly invisible Unicode characters that Spanning Sync had inserted (short answer: it unfortunately also displayed the Unicode junk). More generally, however, WM5 was getting pretty ‘long in the tooth’. WM6 was introduced in February of 2007, after all, and the upgrade for the T-Mobile Dash had been available since May of that same year.
Ironically, many of WM6’s improvements over WM5 are of little to no value to me. The email client’s support for HTML-encoded messages would be nice…except that I rely on the Java-based Gmail applet. Default home screen tweaks are irrelevant, since I use a custom home screen I developed in Facade. The usability enhancements to Calendar and Contacts are appreciated but hardly earth shattering, and those in Mobile Internet Explorer are fairly unimportant given that I mostly rely on the far superior Opera Mini and Skyfire browsers. And the ROM-resident Live Search utility theoretically saved me a download and installation…except that the first time I ran it, it reported that an updated version was available…which I had to download and install. With that said, native Smartphone-friendly versions of Mobile Office applications are a welcome improvement to the DataViz-developed predecessors on which I previously relied. And anyway, many of the newer Windows Mobile applications (such as the just-introduced My Phone server-based backup service) require WM6 as a minimum.
One hoped-for improvement that didn’t end up panning out involved microSD cards. I’d been told that WM6 enabled hardware support for the higher-capacity microSDHC standard. So after I did the O/S upgrade, I stuck a 4 GByte Kingston microSDHC card in the Dash and was saddened to find the card unrecognized. As it turns out, I’d need to install a hacked version of WM6.1 (since T-Mobile doesn’t offer an official version of the latest-and-greatest WM6 release) in order to obtain this particular feature. The O/S upgrade itself went smoothly, once I ran it from my Windows XP-based netbook. At first (and unwisely, in retrospect), I attempted to do the upgrade from the virtualized copy of Windows XP on the MacBook Air. The update prematurely terminated partway through with an error message indicating loss of communication with the T-Mobile Dash, and with the Dash frozen awaiting USB-delivered data from the computer. Yanking and reinserting the Dash’s battery fortunately restored normal operation. I suspect the problem was a reflection of limitations in VMware Fusion’s virtualized USB port support.
So far, I’ve uncovered two Windows Mobile 6 glitches, the former one potentially a fluke and the latter one already circumvented. Occasionally, the phone would lose power while in the midst of a Mobile Internet Explorer-based file download-and-store to the microSD card. I suspect, though, that this issue may be a reflection of the battery I was originally using with this particular Dash, as it hasn’t recurred since I swapped batteries. Also, every time I power-cycled the phone or soft-reset it, the default T-Mobile home screen would get loaded instead of the custom Facade-based one I’d specified. This discussion thread led me to the solution; after tethering the phone to a computer via Windows Mobile Device Center (Windows Vista’s slick replacement for ActiveSync), I moved the shortcut for T-Mobile’s cryptic My5MsgCenter application away from the StartUp folder.
Speaking of ActiveSync, even though the phone’s primary mate is now Google’s Exchange server, I’m still able make a ‘Guest’ ActiveSync USB connection to a computer for the purpose of installing programs. So far, though, I haven’t found a need to go this route, since everything I normally run on the phone is also available as a direct-to-phone downloadable CAB from the vendor website. I’m going to use the WM6-based version of the Dash as my primary phone, at least for a while, and I’ll let you know via follow-up Brian’s Brain blog posts if I come across any more notable positive or negative ‘features’.
There’s one more link in the calendar-and-contacts chain that I haven’t yet talked about in this post. It’s the Outlook 2007 database on the netbook, from whence the information originally came. Since I’d substantially altered both the calendar and contacts data sets subsequent to manually uploading them to MobileMe for the first time, my first step was to sever the Outlook-to-MobileMe link. Then I deleted the calendar and contacts data from Outlook, updated the Control Panel applet to the latest v1.3, re-established the pairing to MobileMe, and watched as the latest-and-greatest calendar and contact information came tumbling back down. A brief perusal of the results looks clean; the spurious Unicode characters aren’t even visible.
But as I said before, my ultimate aspiration is to completely dispense with MobileMe, instead going exclusively with Google’s advertising-supported free services (and therefore syncing Outlook to Google, versus MobileMe). Before this can happen, however, Google will need to fill in a few more currently missing puzzle pieces:
- Outlook-to-Google synchronization not only of Calendar items but also of Contacts.
- More robust CalDAV support for the iPod touch (i.e. not just read-only access).
- More robust Google Mobile Sync support for SyncML-based phones (i.e. not just contacts but also calendar items)
- Feature-enhanced Google Tasks, and interchange of this data with Tasks in Outlook, with Windows Mobile and other phones, and with To-Dos in iCal
- A GDrive, since I currently use MobileMe’s iDisk to host several websites and otherwise distribute files to others, and
- More robust native Google Contacts interchange with Address Book, so as to obviate the need for $65 one-time (or $25/year) Spanning Sync and its Unicode kludge.
I confess that I make the latter recommendation with much hesitation, considering the outstanding support that Charlie Wood at Spanning Sync has provided throughout this review period and considering in contrast the historical poor-to-nonexistent support that Google has provided. Sometimes you get what you pay for…food for thought.