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So far in this review, I did the (mandatory) unboxing of the Glofiish M800 in Part I, discussed its physical aspects in Part II and then the default applications that came with it in Part III. Last week, I had promised you that I would cover my personal experience on the Glofiish M800 today and that’s just what I am going to do in this post.

I had planned to include some videos of the device in action in this part of the review but unfortunately the camcorder has yet to arrive and my current digital camera does not take focused videos of the device screen. As such, I can’t provide you with the videos and I do apologize for that.

That being out of the way, let’s see how the device stands in my opinion.

Call Experience

First up, call experience. No matter how great a Pocket PC is, not many would buy it if the call quality was bad. Well I am glad to say that that is not the case with the Glofiish M800. And to prove my point, I did some tests and here are the results.

More About The Test

Let me explain the test before you check the results so you get a better idea of what is happening. The way the test was conducted goes something like this: Using various devices, I called my GrandCentral number and left myself a voicemail. These voicemails are then downloaded from their server and uploaded here so you can listen to them and judge for yourself, the difference in call quality.

For this test, I made the calls on a T-Mobile (USA) network. The calls were made from an Eten Glofiish M800 running ROM 0264, an Eten Glofiish X500 running ROM 0436 and a basic Samsung SGH-E715 phone (that does not even have Bluetooth built-in). The reason for adding the Samsung phone was more of a standard to show you the voice quality on normal phones.

I made the calls in 4 different locations. The first being in a room in a house, the second being outside which was relatively peaceful and quiet, the third being outside which was noisy with a lot of traffic and the last being outside in a windy condition with the wind blowing against me.

Results

Here they are…

In a room


Eten Glofiish M800


Eten Glofiish X500


Samung Phone

Outside (peaceful and calm)

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Calm setting

 


Eten Glofiish M800


Eten Glofiish X500


Samung Phone

Outside (noisy conditions)

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Busy setting


Eten Glofiish M800


Eten Glofiish X500


Samung Phone

Outside (windy conditions)

 


Eten Glofiish M800


Eten Glofiish X500


Samung Phone

Now those sounds record what you would hear if I were talking to you. How about how you would sound to me? Well I have to say that the quality of call is pretty good, in fact even better than the X500 which I had and even comparable to the Samsung in some instances. For example, conversation was decent in a room but when I was outdoors in relatively noisy environments, I could still carry out decent conversations with the other party. This was not possible when I was using the X500.

Skype Calls

It works as expected. In fact, you can even make Skype calls like normal phone calls, that is having the sound redirected from the rear speaker to the phone speaker. You do this by installing this version of Skype and this Skype Receiver Switch.

If you would like to redirect other audio such as VoIP calls not on the Skype network or even MP3 files to the phone speaker, you can also do that. Just install those 2 files above in addition to this switch file and you are good to go. For instructions on how to use the Switch application, you can refer to it here.

What this means is that Eten Glofiish devices are still the only Pocket PC devices in the market out there that allows you to make VoIP calls the way it was meant to be without the need for additional accessory. This would be really useful for those who are constantly travelling or even for those who get better rates with VoIP.

And for those wondering about the quality, here it is:


Eten Glofiish M800With Skype Network

It’s slightly softer than the other recordings which is what was expected but other than that, I think the quality is not too bad eh? What do you think?

Web Browsing

Web browsing is a real joy with a VGA screen. That’s because, even if the words are smaller, they are still clear enough to be read. There’s even a VGA mode on Pocket Internet Explorer that you can use for this. If you are using other browsers like Opera Mini or even NetFront 3.5, the experience is just as great. If you are getting a VGA device because you want a better browsing experience, you’ve made the right choice.

NetFront 3.5

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish X500 and NetFront 3.5 Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish M800 and NetFront 3.5
Glofiish X500 Glofiish M800

Opera Mini

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish X500 and Opera Mini Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish M800 and Opera Mini
Glofiish X500 Glofiish M800

Pocket Internet Explorer

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish X500 and Pocket Internet Explorer Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Web browsing using Glofiish M800 and Pocket Internet Explorer
Glofiish X500 Glofiish M800

I was planning to have a video here on the comparison but since that is not possible, instead I will show you screen shoots of the the browsing experience. Note that because the M800 is on a VGA resolution, it’s screen shot are 640×480. What you see above is a 320×240 image so click on it to get the full view.

Navigation

Navigation was just as smooth for me using TomTom as it was on the Glofiish X500. As they are both using the same SiRF Star III chipset which is one of the best in the markets right now, you can expect a fast and ‘sticky’ fix with the Glofiish M800.

There were no slowdowns or anything of that sort that lessened my experience. My only disappointment was that the icons in TomTom were not of a low quality so I could really tell on the Glofiish M800. On the Glofiish X500, due to its qVGA resolution, you are blinded to this.

TMC

I could not test this out because I did not have a software that had such a feature.

VGA Screen

The VGA screen is really a sight to behold. I was initially skeptical of the Glofiish M800 because it was a VGA device without a dedicated graphics chip which I assumed would cause the device to crawl. It did, with the default Eten setup but after doing a clean install and some tweaks, the device is just as fast as the Glofiish X500 that has a qVGA resolution. It’s really hard to show this without a video but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Images are just much better on a VGA screen. The words are crisper and smaller fonts are still readable on it. This means you could get a lot more reading material on a VGA screen than you normally would on a qVGA screen. For example, if you used Google Maps, you can see a wider area. If you used Pocket Informant or any other PIM, you can see more of your Agenda. If you use Pocket Word or Excel, you could zoom out and see more information. You get the picture. Smaller words but just as good if not better readability.

For those of you who skipped directly to this section, I would recommend that you check out the screen shots of web browsing to see what I mean.

Video Viewing

If you are going to be watching videos on the Glofiish M800, make sure they are coded properly. It could mean the difference between a smooth performance and a choppy one. That being said, videos that were coded for a qVGA device (240×320 resolution) played smoothly on the Glofiish M800. However, videos coded for a VGA device (640×480 resolution) were choppy at times.

I did some tests using TCPMP 0.72RC1 with qVGA and VGA videos that were coded in WMV and XVID. Here are the results for your comparison:

Parameter WMV qVGA XVID qVGA WMV VGA XVID VGA
Average Speed 121.98% 136.79% 58.10% 68.21%
Video Frames 7438 7435 7445 7373
Audio Samples 9918762 9630009 9767652 9650592
Amount of Data 15574KB 16008KB 28263 KB 28927 KB
Bench. Time 4:14:113 3:37.417 8:45.384 7:12.393
Bench. Frame Rate 29.27 34.20 14.17 17.05
Bench. Sample Rate 39033 44293 18591 22319
Bench. Data Rate 502kbit/s 603kbit/s 440kbit/s 548kbit/s
Original Time 5:09:961 4:57.399 5:05.239 4:54.919
Original Frame Rate 25.00 25.00 25.00 25.00
Original Sample Rate 32000 32000 32000 32000
Original Data Rate 412kbit/s 440 kbit/s 758 kbit/s 803 kbit/s
Size 15944860 16393062 28935210 29621574
Clock speed 494MMHz 164MHz 496 Mhz 82 Mhz
Video output Raw FrameBuffer 480×640 16bits Lookup Raw FrameBuffer 480×640 16bits Lookup Raw FrameBuffer 480×640 16bits Lookup Raw FrameBuffer 480×640 16bits Lookup
Video zoom 320×176 -> 352×640 320×176 -> 352×640 640×368 -> 368×640 640×368 -> 368×640
Audio output Wave Output 32000Hz 16Bits 2Ch. Wave Output 32000Hz 16Bits 2Ch. Wave Output 32000Hz 16Bits 2Ch. Wave Output 32000Hz 16Bits 2Ch.

So what does this mean? If you see anything under 100% for average speed, it means the device does not play the video as smoothly as it should. Anything 100% and higher means you get to watch a smooth video. All other data are just there for your reference if you are interested to find out more.

This does not mean you cannot enjoy videos on your Glofiish M800. Just remember to code your videos properly before transferring them over and use a qVGA resolution for optimum performance. Anything less and you would just get frustrated.

QWERTY Keypad

Having used a Soft Input Panel (SIP) for a long time now, moving back to a QWERTY keyboard did take some getting used to. I could not type as fast as before but entry itself using the keyboard was a pleasure. There was good feedback and the keys did not feel too hard or too soft to press.

As mentioned in Part II, I was not too keen with the layout of the keyboard because it did not maximize space but after a while of using it, it’s not too bad. You might have the same sentiments initially as well but after you get used to it, you could even navigate your fingers around the keyboard without looking.

Some users have claimed that when you type too fast in the Message application, some of the letters may not be recognized. This only seems to happen to the fastest of typist and only in that application. For me, I did not experience the problem but then again, I am not that fast on the keyboard to begin with.

For those curios about the screen rotation speed when you slide the keyboard out, it took about 1 second to go from portrait to landscape mode with a clean install. With all Eten applications installed, that took about 3-4 seconds.

Touch Sensitive Buttons

This really took some getting used to. That’s because, even when I brush my finger across the buttons, it activates. Which can be a real pain, especially when you are in a rush to do something else. For example, I could be have the M800 with the keyboard out and I am surfing and when I use the stylus to tap on something on the screen, my skin touches the GPS button and the program is activated.

The other thing is the buttons themselves. Sometimes, when I use my thumbs, I might be pressing the wrong button, even though most of my thumb may be over the desired button. Is it because the outer edges of it touch the other button first? I’m not too sure about that.

However, after a while of using this, I have finally learned how to navigate my way around the device. It does take a while and once you’ve figured out your way, the touch sensitive buttons don’t bother you as much. That being said, I would have still preferred the good old buttons.

Spb Benchmark Test

For those curious about numbers, I did several Spb Benchmark test on the Glofiish M800 as well as the Glofiish X500. Both were done on a clean install as well as when the Eten applications are installed. Here are the results:

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Spb Benchmark Index Graph
This is a comparison of the overall score of the Glofiish M800 against the Glofiish X500
Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Spb Benchmark CPU Index Graph
This shows how the Glofiish M800’s 500MHz stands up against the Glofiish X500’s 400MHz
Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Spb Benchmark Graphics Index Graph
This compares the graphics score of the Glofiish M800 with that of the Glofiish X500
Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Spb Benchmark Table (minimized)
This shows the raw score. Click on image to see the full table.

What can I say? I find it rather hard to agree with the Graphics index whereby the Glofiish M800 scored 10 times lower than that of the Glofiish X500. That index would suggest that the device is 10 times slower in rendering graphics but that was not the case when I was using the device. In fact, the Glofiish M800 is on par with the Glofiish X500 when it comes to graphics on a clean install. There were slowdowns, but this was very rare and not something you would notice.

That being said, the reason I still put up this data is for those of you interested. Feel free to use it in your decision making process but I have to tell you, it’s not as accurate as you would have thought.

Camera Quality

Interested in how the camera fares? Well I took some photos with the Glofiish M800’s camera, the Glofiish X500’s camera and I used my Panasonic Lumix FX-8 to take 2MP resolution photos so you could compare the results.

These pictures were resized so feel free to click on them to view the full sized version. They are rather larger at almost 5MB each so be warned!

Outdoor

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Photos taken in outdoor setting

Indoor With Low Light

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Photos taken in indoor low light setting

Indoor With Light

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Photos taken in indoor setting

Macro Mode

Eten Glofiish M800 Review: Photos taken in macro mode

In case you are wondering, I used the default settings for the Glofiish M800 and Glofiish X500. You could get better pictures by changing the settings.

As you can tell, I would not use the Glofiish M800’s camera (or any other Pocket PC camera for that matter) to take my photos. They just don’t turn out as well as a dedicated digital camera.

One thing you have to remember with the Glofiish M800’s camera is that, because of the auto-focus feature, you have to press halfway to focus and then fully to take the picture. The part where you press fully takes some effort and you might shake the camera while doing so. I guess that is the drawback for the auto-focus feature.

Overall Speed And Performance

I would say that the Glofiish M800’s speed and performance is on par with a qVGA device. In essence, you get the speed and performance of a qVGA device but a great screen of a VGA device, all rolled into one nice and sturdy package. There are some slowdowns and choppiness here and there but nothing major or frequent to cause me to want to get rid of it.

However, this is only a month’s use of the M800 and I suspect that after some time, it would be subjected to the same slowdown of just about any device. A quick hard-reset and re-installation should solve that problem though.

Things I’ve Noticed

Beepings

Whenever the device locks, the device will emit a beep, unless its on vibrate or silent. However, there have been cases when the device is on standby and it emits a beep after a while. This happens very rarely, and I think it’s the device turning on the lock. More likely a bug than anything else which I hope Eten fixes in the next ROM. Or at least give us the option to turn the alert off.

Red LED

After the beepings are heard, sometimes, the right LED which shows your GSM status (in blinking green) starts to blink red instead. I suppose this is tied to the auto-lock of the touch sensitive buttons though I cannot say for sure. Hopefully this problem gets fixed in the next ROM.

Mail Accounts & PIN

Like I mentioned earlier, there are no more problems with the mail accounts. You could remove the back cover and take out the battery and then put them back and it will still be there. No need to restore your mail accounts anymore because this problem seems to be gone for good.

And for those curious about the forgetful PIN problems, those are a thing of the past too. Feel free to use the default Lock application with a PIN because it will always remember it.

WiFi

Earlier models of Eten Glofiish required the Eten Wireless Manager to turn on the WiFi after each soft reset. After that, you could use the default wireless manager (if you knew how to activate it). Now, you can use the default wireless manager to turn on WiFi even after a soft-reset which makes the Eten Wireless Manager pretty redundant.

Icons

It seems that a lot of applications do not use a higher resolution icons for VGA screens. This could be because there are not that many VGA devices in the market but that would be a weak excuse.

Even Eten’s default applications were not high-res which is disappointing if you ask me.

End of Part IV

And that brings me to the end of Part IV. There’s still one Saturday left in March of 2008 and that means the fifth and final installment to this Eten Glofiish M800 review. What’s in that part of the review? All the tests and questions requested by you the readers. I have completed all of them (hope I did not miss anything out) so be sure to check back next week to see the results.

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So far, we know that there is only 1 way to flash your ROM from the SD Card of which I have written a guide here. However, that method is rather risky in a sense that if you were to load a ROM that was not meant for your device, you would brick it. This has happened many times as users tried to flash their Glofiish X500+ ROM with a Glofiish X500 ROM. To fix this problem, you could follow the steps here to unbrick your device. However, wouldn’t it be better if the device prevented you from using a ROM that was not meant for it in the first place?

Step By Step

Well, that is now possible. Actually it was possible from a long time ago, just that we did not know about it. So what is the safest way to flash a new ROM to your device using SD card?

1. Using a normal SD card of at least 512MB in capacity and formatted in FAT (also known as FAT16), place the temp.bin file in it. If the file extracted is temp.dat, change it to temp.bin before transferring.

2. Place a file called USBDLUpdate_Console.exe in the SD card as well. You should now have 2 (and only 2) files in the SD card:USBDLUpdate_Console.exe and temp.bin.
For those unsure of where to get USBDLUpdate_Console.exe, you can follow the instructions here.

3. Put the card into your device and navigate to a file explorer of your choice.

4. Tap on USBDLUpdate_Console.exe to let the update begin and let it run.

5. It is completed when you see the words Waiting For USB Connection (or something similar).

6. The update was done successfully and in the safest way possible.

The Reason Behind It

USBDLUpdate_Console.exe is a Soft Bootloader that is loaded into the RAM when you do a ROM upgrade that Eten had planned for you (the one where you connect your device to the computer and run the .exe ROM on it). This application kills Windows Mobile (temporarily) so that the upgrade process can take place. It will prevent you from flashing your device with a ROM that was not meant for it (be it official or not).

When you follow the steps to flash your ROM using bootloader mode (which is most probably what you have been doing up till now), the device will read from any .bin file in there, regardless of its name. This means, even if you put a file with the name eten.bin, it will attempt to (and will successfully) update the device with that file. It ignores the USBDLUpdate_Console.exe file that you have placed in the SD card because it is not activated which means your device is ‘open’.

So What Should I Use?

To be on the safe side when flashing a cooked ROM, use this method. In the highly unlikely event that the ROM was messed up by the developer, you’ll know that your device will not proceed with the upgrade.

If this method does not allow you to flash your device with the new ROM AND you know that this ROM was meant for your device, then you can go ahead and use the bootloader mode directly.

But if you did that and later found out that it was the wrong ROM, then you will have to unbrick your device using these steps.

If that still doesn’t solve your problems, looks like you’ll have to send it in for repair.

Some Things To Clear Up

  • It is highly recommended that your device is connected to a power source (preferably AC) while you are doing the upgrade.
  • You can use this method to flash your device with both official and cooked ROMs.
  • You do not need USBDLUpdate_Console.exe if you plan to use the bootloader mode directly.
  • The .bin file can be any name that you want it to be.
  • Only use a normal SD card (not those newer SDHC ones) for flashing.
  • SD card must be formatted in FAT (also known as FAT16) and nothing else.
  • Use a card of at least 512MB in size to allow sufficient space for unpacking of the .bin file.

Thanks to the-equinoxe from Eten Users Forum for this tip.

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The Shakin’ it SBSH And Eten Blog dot Com Promo recently came to an end and it’s now time to pick the winners. There were not too many entries to begin with which means that your chances of winning is pretty high. I had 2 SBSH Shakers to give away, one for a comment made with regards to your favorite SBSH title and why and the other with regards to what you like about the new SBSH website and why.Before I announce the winners, there were a total of 11 valid entries. What was surprising was that there were only 3 entries for what you liked about the new site while there were 8 for your favorite title. So who won?

Winner For Favorite SBSH Title

spmwinkel (comment #1)

Winner For Favorite SBSH Site Feature

Mike (comment #10)

Shakin' It With SBSH And Eten Blog dot Com

Congratulations to both of you on winning the SBSH Shaker. There are only 50 in the world so you’ve got yourself a really nice limited edition item. I have contacted you via the email address used when submitting your comments so please reply to me as soon as possible.

As there have been cases of past winners not responding to my emails, I guess I have to give you a deadline. So if you do not respond by the end of March 21st, I will have to pick another winner.

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Usually, when developers create a new software, their main purpose is to fill one of the many gaps created by Microsoft in the Windows Mobile platform. Not to replace the applications that you use on your desktop. So when one such software comes along and actually does that (not intentionally I guess), even users who do not use it will know about it. And the software that I am talking about in this case is WebIs’s multi-award winning title: Pocket Informant.

Intro

Pocket Informant 8: Logo

Pocket Informant 8 is one of the most feature-packed applications out there. So much so that if I were to talk about every single one, I could make it into April’s series. It supports a whole series of Windows Mobile version, from Pocket PCs to Standard, from WM2003 (for Pocket PC) to WM 6.1 (for both Pocket PC and Standard) and almost all sorts of display resolution that currently exists. Even if it doesn’t, you can be sure that Alex and his team will be working to bring it on-board. That’s because Pocket Informant is heavily updated (about once a month on average) to rid of any bugs and improve the user experience.

Pocket Informant 8: About screen

The version that I am currently reviewing is 8.02 Build 1164 which is the latest available right now. It retails for $29.95 which some might find a bit pricey but after going through this review, you might see why $29.95 is actually a steal for this application.

When I started this review, I was wondering how I should go about it. One route was to discuss all the features listed. The other was to discuss how it could help you. I decided to go for the latter because I am a firm believer that a powerful software is no use if it does not help you.

Setup

Installation is rather straightforward for this application. At just under 4MB for installation size, it is rather big to install on the Main Memory but that is where it is recommended. Sure you could install to Storage Card but I would not recommend it.

Pocket Informant 8: Setting up Roles

After installation and launching the application, you will be presented with the above screen which asks you to choose which role you want for this application. What this does is make available (or unavailable) certain features, depending on your needs. You could choose Pocket Outlook With Benefits where it consolidates your PIM without giving you too many options that confuses you, which is perfect for those starting out, or you could even choose Power User where you get to experience the power of this application. For those who plan to use this for mainly for tasks or appointments will have an option for each as well.

Pocket Informant 8: Default applications

What I like about this version of Pocket Informant is that it allows you to choose whether Pocket Informant should be the default Calnedar, Task and Contact application. This means, even if you tap on the default icons for any of those functions, it will still bring you to Pocket Informant. However, if you prefer to use another program as your default Contact application for example, you can make the changes during setup as well.

Settings

Pocket Informant 8: Settings

This is just one of the many areas that Pocket Informant shines (and can give you a headache as well). Just about anything that you want to customize can be done here. From fonts to colors to how the application behaves. Depending on the role that you have set earlier, certain settings may or may not be available to you. So far, I have yet to find a tweak that I needed to make that was not covered in the settings so I am pretty happy with that.

Views

Pocket Informant 8: Views

Because Pocket Informant performs a lot of functions, it uses Views to help you navigate. Again, what you see int he screenshot above may not be what you get on yours because I am running mine as a Power User. Those with a numpad can easily navigate from one view to another by pressing the corresponding number beside each view. Or you can just tap on it. The options available are Events, Agenda, Day/Week, Week, Month, TimeLine, Journal, Notes, Tasks, Contacts and Search. All of which I will show you just how they would make your life easier to manage.

Pocket Informant 8: Events

Ever wanted to know how many days before a certain task is due or before your next appointment with the dentist? While you could do the former from the Tasks screen, appointments were a different story, especially if they were in the distant future. This is where events come in.

Pocket Informant 8: Tracking your appointments and tasks

You can track both appointments and tasks from a single screen. Just tap and hold on an appointment or task and choose to add it to Events and the next time you enter this view, you will see how many days before it’s due. So the next time you need to plan something (like that anniversary or birthday dinner), you can stay on top of things much easier.

Pocket Informant 8: Agenda

Pocket Informant 8: Agenda view

Similar to Evens with the exception that you do not need to add it to the view. As long as the appointment or tasks takes place or is due within the said number of days that you’ve set up Agenda, you’ll see it here. Perfect for those who like to see what their schedule is like for the next 2, 3 or even 31 days.

Pocket Informant 8: Day/Week

Pocket Informant 8: Day/Week view

This is actually as zoomed in as it gets for your daily activities. Remember the good old days when you would enter your appointments in your paper journal and then select the duration of time? Well, this is what happens over here. You get to see, in greater detail, just how packed your day is. One great way use I find for this view is to look for free time in a given day but I am sure you have other uses for it too.

Pocket Informant 8: Week

Pocket Informant 8: Week view

Similar to Day/Week but it shows you all the appointments you have for the week. Not really useful for me because I am running a qVGA screen resolution but those on VGA will find that you can see a lot more information and find it useful. If you are a user of icons, this view would serve you well, even if you are running on qVGA.

Pocket Informant 8: Month

Pocket Informant 8: Month view

Ever wanted to know what’s in store for the month? While Agenda can do this and lists out all the appointments and tasks in detail, the month view takes a summarized version. It shows you, in terms of time bars, when you are busy and the tasks count due. If you use icons a lot, you can also see what kind of events are coming up. Need a more detailed itinerary? Just tap on the day in question to pull up a list of your agenda. Or if you need to compare certain days, just highlight them and Pocket Informant will zoom into them for more comfortable viewing.

Pocket Informant 8: TimeLine

What if you wanted to compare categories instead of dates/days? That’s where TimeLine comes in. And you can even use it to track several projects (if you put them into categories) so you can see which days are taken up a lot of time for a particular project and maybe re-arrange them for a more balanced week. To really maximize this view, you will need to have your appointments added to the category that you are dealing with in TimeLine. Otherwise, all you get is a blank screen (like what you see above).

Pocket Informant 8: Journal

Ever made a phone call and then forget what it was about at the end of the day? If you used the Journal feature of PI8, then those might just be a thing of the past. Think of a journal as a note that you can attach to anything (a task, appointment or phone call) or to nothing at all. It’s like your thought or summary for the day. For example, using the same phone call, you could program PI8 to create a journal with each entry so you enter details about the call and remember later on what was discussed.

The confusing thing is that you can attach notes as well to these same items so it is really up to you how you want to go about using this feature. Or you could not use it at all if you choose not to. The thing to keep in mind is that you will need JournalSync (from WebIs as well) if you want to sync those journals to your Outlook.

Pocket Informant 8: Notes

Pocket Informant 8: Notes view

Not as souped up as PhatNotes but it does add some nice features over the default Notes application you get with Windows Mobile. These include formatting (bold, underline, italicize), alarms, colors and even adding categories. If you are an avid note-taker and did not get PhatNotes, you might want to check out PI8’s Notes feature. It might just be the thing you need.

Pocket Informant 8: Tasks

Pocket Informant 8: Tasks view

One my my used-features is Tasks and you’ll be surprised just how powerful this gets. For starters, you can create what is called Hierarchical tasks. These are tasks consisting of parents and childs. Say you have a task of fixing up the garage. Int he past, you might have to create a new category just for that one task if you wanted to keep track of it properly. With this feature in PI8, you actually set that task as the parent, and everything else that will help you complete the task as a child. These could include, cleaning out the trash, painting the walls, repairing the door and so forth. What’s great is that if you have 5 child tasks and you complete one, your parent task will reflect that it is 20% (1 in 5) completed. And it automatically does that with each completed child tasks. So the next time someone says your tasks ain’t moving, you can show them it actually is.

Pocket Informant 8: Task status

But that’s not all. Another useful feature which I use is the Task Status. This let’s me set how the task is handled. For example, if I have passed the task to someone else, I can choose Delegate so I can still remind myself to check with them on its status. Or I could mark it In Process and set how much of the task is completed. I could even forward it or mark it completed where necessary. How’s that for a great way to manage your tasks?

Pocket Informant 8: Contacts

Pocket Informant 8: Contacts views

No PIM would be completed if it does not handle your Contacts and PI8 does this as well. So what can you do with this feature? For starters, you could change the contact data preference. That is the data that you see beside each contact, sort of like a default data. You could change this to a work number for your Boss, a mobile number for your wife and even an email/IM address for your overseas friends. Set it in any way you like.

Pocket Informant 8: Call log

The Call Log feature that comes with Contacts is great too. While Windows Mobile 6’s default phone application has something similar, you can now view the Call Log of a particular contact, right down to how many minutes were for incoming and outgoing calls. And if you want to send a text message or email, just tap the corresponding data and (if you have set up your phone properly), it will bring you to the appropriate application to do your composing.

Pocket Informant 8: Search

Pocket Informant 8: Main search view

Having all these data would not be useful if you could not find them easily and quickly. Which is where the Search function comes in. What’s great is that you can choose how to search, be it only appointments or contacts or both journals and notes. There are even parameters like date and privacy that you can toggle.

Pocket Informant 8: Search box

The Search feature is available in almost every View so you could search for a particular contact instead of scrolling down the list. But in situations where you need to search across several views (features), you will find that this feature is a great one.

Pocket Informant 8: Soundex search

One useful feature I just found out with this version is that of Soundex. Basically, this searches for similar sounding terms in contacts. So if you were looking for Smith but you had saved it as Smyth, it would bring up that result as well.

Too bad I am not able to search for free time.

Other Useful Features

While the views/features highlighted above already makes PI8 stand out, there are a few others worth mentioning as well.

Time Bars

These are the bars that you see at the top of Day/Week view as well as those bars in the middle of the box in Month view. It actually gives you a glimpse of the activity status for the day.

Pocket Informant 8: Timebar (Agenda)

For example, in the Day/Week view, it actually shows which hours you are looking at with the bolded lines at the end of each representing the start and end of your work hours. The middle bold line stands for noon.

Pocket Informant 8: Month timebar

In Month view, the top bar represents AM while the bottom, PM.

With that in mind, you get a graphical representation of how packed your day is and what activities you have in store. While I use the default (Free, Busy, Out of Office, etc), you could customize this to your schedule for even better management.

Time Zones

Pocket Informant 8: Timezone option

Ever had an appointment in another timezone and not sure how to enter that appointment’s details? Well PI8 makes it easy for you. Just set the appointment in the timezone it’s in but before you hit save, make sure you change the timezone which is located towards the bottom.

Pocket Informant 8: Timezone example

Once done, you will see the appointment in your timezone but when you head over there and switch the timezones on your device, it will automatically be updated. For example, if I am in a -5hr timezone and I set an appointment for 11am at a -8hr timezone, it will show that the time for that appointment starts at 8am. When you switch to the -8hr timezone, it will change back to 11am. Not to worry about confusion because it will be formatted differently.

One Hand Use (Touch Mode)

It’s all the rage right now and WebIs has also incorporated that into PI8. You can enable scrolling (they call it Touch Mode) in any or all the views so that instead of using the scroll bars, you can just scroll across the entries like you would on an iPhone. It’s pretty smooth and you can familiarized (and enjoy it) very quickly as well.

Pocket Informant 8: Entering time Pocket Informant 8: Entering date
Entering time Entering date

How about entering numbers? Well when you have numpads as big as those, how difficult can it be to enter them with your thumb? This numpad comes up when you have to enter the time in appointments, which is really useful. Selecting dates can be a little bit trickier though but still doable with the finger.

Linking

Pocket Informant 8: Linking

You don’t usually have appointments with strangers do you? You tend to know the person you are meeting with, even if they are your clients. Which means, you would have their contacts. Now imagine you are setting up a lunch meeting with them. You can now link their contact details to that appointment so that when you look at your appointments, you can contact those involved easily.

Weekly Planning

That’s what WebIs calls it but it consists of Daily Notes, Mission Statements, Goals and Compass/Roles. This is a nice touch for those of us try to accomplish certain tasks or who just want to keep track of progress.

Pocket Informant 8: Daily notes

That’s where Daily Notes come in. It’s like a Journal entry where you could write just about anything that happened to you that day.

Pocket Informant 8: Mission statements

Mission Statements and Values are phrases that you enter to help you remind yourself what you belief in in times where you are faced with a conflicting situation.

Pocket Informant 8: Goals

With Goals, you can set one up and add the steps needed to accomplish it. You can even set up appointments and tasks to go hand in hand with your goal.

Pocket Informant 8: Compass

Compass/Roles are based on the 7 Highly Effective Habits so if you practice this, it would definitely come in handy.

While one may argue that these features are what you can already do with the rest of PI8, for example Goals could be handled with Tasks, I feel that having them in a separate category is a nice touch where you can just focus on it. At the end of the day, it’s your PIM so use it in the way that works best for you.

Templates/Macros

Pocket Informant 8: Macros Pocket Informant 8: Template
Macros Templates

Sometimes you have very similar data to enter. This could be a tasks that happens every now and then or a certain type of appointment. With templates and macros, you can quickly fill up these data. Just set it up once and the next time you need to create one, you’ll find that it can be done very quickly.

Online Update

Pocket Informant 8: Product update

You already know that this application is updated pretty regularly but how can you keep track of it? One way is by using the integrated upgrade check. It connects to the site and checks to see if there is a newer version available. If there is, it advises you to download and install it. If not, it will let you know as well. No more having to check back at the website to see if you are running the latest.

There Are Others As Well

These are not the only features that PI8 offers. In fact, there a lot more than what has been mentioned in this review. If you are interested to find out more, just head over here here.

Summary

What I Like

  • Very powerful PIM that really help you organize your life.
  • Great support from WebIs.
  • Integrates with FlexMail and PhatNotes if needed.
  • Able to easily set the roles/features so that application is not too daunting for beginners.
  • Linking between different features.
  • A lot of settings allowing one to customize almost everything about the application.
  • Smooth operation.
  • Search feature is powerful and efficient.
  • Rich Text Editor for better note taking.
  • Handles timezones very well.
  • Update application to check (and install) newer versions of the applications.

What Could Be Improved

  • Add ability to search for free time.
  • Unable to use DPAD to add Steps in Goals.
  • Edit Before Dial setting does not work as expected (not able to edit a number temporarily before dialing it).
  • Not able to sync ot Journal without additional software.

Conclusion

As you can tell, I really love Pocket Informant. I have been using it since I started using a Pocket PC and it’s served me really well. When you consider how much it cost to buy an Outlook License (about $90 on Amazon.com), the $29.95 that you are paying for a license of Pocket Informant is actually a steal. On top of that, you can do a whole lot more with Pocket Informant that you possibly could with Outlook on your desktop.

We all got ourselves a Pocket PC because one of the reasons (or the only reason) was to better manage our lives right? Then this is the application that helps you do just that. Your PIM should be linked for better usage and that’s just Pocket Informant does. Give it a trial if you are not convinced. Those who already are can spend the $29.95 to get a license here.

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The first Share Your Thought article was about what users looked for in a Pocket PC. It was well received with many of you leaving comments on what you looked for in a Pocket PC. For those who have yet to read the article that consolidated all these comments, including mine, you can do so here. It went pretty well and I wanted to do it again. This time, the question I asked was: The End Of Windows Mobile? as I wanted to know what users thought about the Microsoft Licensing ActiveSync/Exchange to Apple and the iPhone’s SDK.

Unfortunately, due to the server problems I encountered last week, there were not as many comments as before. However, those that did leave comments gave rather insightful and well-thought out ones.

ActiveSync/Exchange License

For starters, I was curious why Microsoft would want to license ActiveSync/Exchange to Apple and spmwinkel echoed my thoughts when he mentioned that it was all business. With so many people buying the iPhone, it only makes sense to get a share of it, somehow. However, he also added that Microsoft would not be dumb enough to do something as major as this without having a backup plan for Windows Mobile. I too hope that is the case.

On another note, I feel that Microsoft could be doing this to reduce or even eliminate RIM (makers of BlackBerry) from the enterprise. Right now, it’s a toss up between BlackBerry and Exchange but if Microsoft had Apple’s support (in the form of the iPhone), it might not be long before RIM may just be forced out. Plus, their recent outages do not really help their case.

SDK

The SDK was really big news. Not only is it released, Apple is also pouring a large amount of money into encouraging developers to create new applications for the iPhone. And even though they will be getting a cut of profits, it would only be 30%. Now compare that to the 70% that Handango (which is supported by Microsoft) takes from developers and you can see why the grass is greener on the other side

spmwinkel hopes that these developers do not switch camps immediately and leave us all high and dry because it’s their software that makes us users of Windows Mobile. Instead, he hopes for continued support. However, in the event that they do switch camps, hopefully, it would be more of a gradual transition rather than an overnight thing. While I hope that never happens (they could always expand and focus on both Windows Mobile and iPhone), that would be the best alternative.

Xavier pointed out what many potential users were thinking as well: that now with the SDK, there is no reason for them not to come on board. There will be a host of applications. But what GBot says rings true as well: It would take a lot of 3rd parties currently supporting Windows Mobile like the hardware manufacturers and software developers to ’shrivel up and die’ before we see iPhone’s SDK crushing Windows Mobile. And in that timeframe, Windows Mobile has sufficient time to evolve and meet consumers’ needs.

So it looks like the SDK is a big factor in getting new users but it’s not the killer blow many are predicting that will wipe out Windows Mobile. Time is needed to develop the applications for Apple and with that time, Microsoft must work on Windows Mobile if it hopes to continue being a force.

iPhone Over Windows Mobile

Why would anyone want to buy one? Well for now it seems, they are going with the flow. But when the applications start coming out, it could be a different reason altogether. Xavier claims the iPhone can do more than what Windows Mobile does while spmwinkel says it’s more a case of ‘a history of third party software development, and an existing, experienced, consumer base’ and ‘lots of solutions/forums/software/tweaks are already available’ that are driving users to Windows Mobile.

For me, I say to always purchase a device based on your needs. Which means the iPhone, without a built-in GPS chip and keyboard, is out of the equation for me.

GBot mentions about the fanatism of iPhone users and becky couldn’t agree more. And I do see it in some users, though not all. The iPhone is a great phone, but it is not meant for everybody. Taunting someone if Windows Mobile can do this because the iPhone can seems rather immature if you ask me because it all depends on what I need it to do. I mean, so what if you can take an X-Ray with the iPhone, why would I need such a feature?

Microsoft & Windows Mobile

So Windows Mobile is still alive and kicking but Microsoft needs to do a lot more to get it going. For starters, where are the TV ads? I have seen so many of the iPhone and Apple ones but the closest I have seen for a Microsoft product is Sync. Where are the ads for Windows Mobile? Even Apple has more Windows ads than Microsoft (remember their Apple vs PC ads?)

So if Microsoft wants Windows Mobile to have a larger share, they have to go out there and advertise it. But that’s not all, they have to work on Windows Mobile’s system as well. Send us updates over the air (OTA). Don’t let it be done through device manufacturers alone. Look at the iPhone. Apple can upgrade it effortlessly and you should let your users experience that as well.

Conclusion

One thing’s for sure. The hype over the iPhone, while it may have been blown out of proportion in some cases, is something that Microsoft needs to tackle. They have a good base with Windows Mobile; it needs some fixing and standardization but nothing they can’t come out of if they play their cards right.

As to the impact of the licensing and SDK, it is not something that we will witness overnight. Rather, it would take several months or even a year or 2 before we start to see its impact on other platforms. In that time, let’s hope that Windows Mobile has evolved into something better.

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