Sunday, February 25, 2007

My PDA phone convergence - in white

It had been a long time in the offing and so I finally took the bold step of replacing my somewhat aging iPaq 1940 and Nokia 8210 phone with a combined unit, the HTC P3600, aka 'Trinity.'

Also added into the mix is a reasonable, but not stunning, 2Megapixel camera (the view shown on the HTC is a video still of Christ Church chapel / Oxford Cathedral.) And on the connectivity front, still to come, all being well, is GPS support... There is a receiver built-in, but it is not enabled in the distribution. However, an official ROM upgrade is hoped for soon.

I had found on too many occasions on my travels that I didn't have with me my PDA or camera; it was sometimes merely a matter of their being in a bag or coat pocket, but that was still too far away at that particular moment! So I realized that I probably should find a combined unit and I had been researching last summer, but at that time I didn't feel sufficient impetus. My requirements were largely determined by a few applications: Tomeraider (to view snapshots of Wikipedia on an 1 or 2GB memory card), Windows Media player - my temple creates many videos in this format and more recently, QMAIL3 for my email and more recently Skype, as I expect WiFi hotspots to keep growing.

This helped me to settle on a PDA phone as opposed to Smartphone and I was very interested in the i-mate JAM and i-mate JAMin . I didn't need a built in keyboard - if I want to type large amounts on my travels or at conferences I generally take with me my a Jornada 720 (official site , but Handheld PC Factor is probably the best site for support). The i-mates didn't quite satisfy my requirements - they were either lacked WiFi or (I perceived) were a bit underpowered. However, a few months later, HTC, releasing devices under their own name, seem to have recognsied the limitations and released some phones with very impressive specs.

So I decided to buy one, the HTC P3600. I don't like ties, so I went for a phone only, no contract. Although they're generally made with both black and white covers, there is a UK-designated model that's just black. I preferred the white design and found several places that indicated on their Web sites that they were in stock or "available" only to be told afterwards that they weren't in stock and would I like the black one instead! Eventually, I ordered one from Smartphones Direct, whose "available" phone came via Germany (with Euro-style plug). The few extra days' wait and the plug weren't major issues for me.

When it arrived, eyes lit up in the office and there was an air of expectation. My first challenge (which I initially failed) was opening the back cover - it seems I was not the only one who struggled. Just as well that I saw the summary post at the end about sliding - my colleague Matthew did the honours first time round, before I was able to do so myself.

First observations: I was immediately impressed by the engineering and ergonomics - for example, I like the placing of the buttons, simple things like the phone call and end call buttons are wide apart; the camera button is in just the right place and you only have to click it once from anywhere and you are in camera mode, then click again to take a photo. It feels like this has been considerably refined; the proportions are very nice making it comfortable in the hand, though once the battery is installed, it is slightly heavier than I would like (around 150g). It comes with a mini SD card slot - although I would have preferred a standard SD card slot, it is at least likely to be a bit more cost-effective than micro SD.

I proceeded to install ActiveSync 4.2, as supplied on CD, updating my previous installation of 3.7. I was able to sync my contacts without problems. I also found later on that I could easily import contacts from my SIM card, which is nice. I'm not a big phone user, but it is evident that the integration of PDA and phone has a little way to go - Windows Mobile has a separate SMS Messaging program that I can only access via the Start menu - I can't seem to access it via the Phone options! It seems too tied up with Inbox, Microsoft's pocket mail client.

I haven't looked at what Inbox can do, but already I've been using QMAIL3 (or Babelfish English translation), which is a phenomenal piece of software - it's notable that the mobile versions are largely equivalent in functionality compared with the desktop version. Not only do you get a client that supports POP and IMAP mail under SSL (using openssl libraries), but also newsfeed reader that handles RSS and Atom, and a Usenet client. Further, QMAIL3 is not fussy about where it's installed - it's happy on a memory card.

I have been using it for a couple of years or so with my Jornada: I had a problem accessing work mail (IMAP). It turned out the cause was the wildcard certificates that the department was using. Through Takeshi Takama, a fellow Jornada user, I submitted an error report to Satoshi Nakamura and he immediately provided a workaround and a few days later added wildcard certificate support!

To make this useful really requires wireless network access. Oxford is part of Eduroam and has implemented it for its home users and visitors. I found it quite easy to set up and it seems to work well.

At home, I have a small wireless network setup which included a 3Com Officeconnect 802.11b access point. I tried to configure WEP support but had no success. Seeing that there was no firmware upgrade, I decided to upgrade to something more capable and up-to-date, so I bought a Netgear WG602v3. The about pages of the HTC P3600 indicate that this version of Windows Mobile comes with a 'Messaging and Security Feature pack,' which is generally intended to provide support for MS Exchange. I don't know much about the versions, but thanks to a very informative site about Adaptation Kit Updates , I see that my model comes with AKU 3.0. One of the particular features is WPA2 and there is some support in the Netgear Access Point, at least for pre-shared key mode, which is fine for personal use; I made the passkey phrase long, so it should be more secure than what I have before. It works too :-) [In case you're interested in this area, there is more about AKU3 and WPA2].

However, ideally, I would like not to have to trouble myself with all this security. Some years ago, whilst participating in an interfaith gathering for young people, we were all asked to describe something of a vision for the future. My suggestion was a world without locks or keys...

Now that this is set up, I expect future posts will be less technical, more about the applications, so probably more varied and fun :-) In any case, after 2 weeks, I'm very pleased with this PDA/phone/communications device/whatever you like to call it!