Since last summer, I’ve had an AT&T 8525 wireless phone. This phone, also known as the HTC TyTN HERM100 (say that three-times-fast) originally shipped with Windows Mobile 5, but an official ROM update ups it to Windows Mobile 6 Professional. I selected the 8525 as the lesser of many smartphone evils. At the time, the iPhone (which had just come out) did not support third-party software, Blackberrys had no reliable synchronization software available for Mac, Palm OS was hopelessly antiquated, and no Symbian smartphones were available through AT&T. Windows Mobile was my best choice at the time.

Today, with the iPhone supporting third-party software and Missing Sync available for Blackberrys, I might have selected a different phone. But this is what I have, and will continue to use until I’m eligible for a cheap upgrade in December. I can say, however, that my experience with Windows Mobile has been much like my experince with Windows on the desktop: it’s capable and powerful, but hobbled by reliability and usability problems. With smartphones across the industry upping their game, I’m unlikely to subject myself to Microsoft’s operating system again come December. Preliminarily, I’m looking at the iPhone, Blackberrys, Symbian, or—assuming they’re available in time—Android-based phones.

I can’t recommend Windows Mobile at this time. My phone shifted all my scheduled appointments by an hour when the time changed in the spring, periodically forgets to repeat my repeating tasks, and has a number of other goofy problems along those lines (mostly with simple PIM functions that even free Motorola phones can handle). But through the addition of various third-party products, the phone can be made pretty usable and, occasionally, even awesome.

General Software

  • Missing Sync for Windows Mobile—Windows users have Microsoft ActiveSync, Linux users have . . . prayer, and Mac users have the Missing Sync for syncing their Windows Mobile devices to their computers. Available for $39.95, Missing Sync does your regular PIM (address book, calendars, etc.) syncronization as well as downloading your cameraphone photos, syncing files to your memory card, and more. It’s also available in Palm OS, Blackberry, Symbian, and iPhone flavors to provide (or add functionality to) their connectivity to your Mac.
  • PocketScreen—This free application lets you take screenshots of what’s on your phone’s screen, which is occasionally useful (though I’m using a desktop emulator for most of my WM screenshot needs these days).
  • PocketXpdf—Using the Xpdf PDF rendering engine from the Linux universe, the free PocketXpdf lets you view PDFs correctly on your Windows Mobile device. The ClearVue PDF viewer that came with the phone was, frankly, terrible and I immediately replaced it with the superior PocketXpdf.
  • Spb MobileShell—The Windows Mobile interface is mired in a stylus-driven late-1990s paradigm while the rest of the industry, following the iPhone, is slowly moving (with much weeping and gnashing of teeth) to a more convenient finger-based paradigm. Spb MobleShell, for $29.95, doesn’t fix the problem, but it helps by giving you a replacement ‘home’ screen with big, finger-friendly icons to navigate your applications, contacts, and more.
  • Sprite Backup—You don’t want to loose your mobile data, so in addition to regular synchronization with your computer I recommend doing periodic backups. Sprite Backup is my chosen solution and I have it set to perform an automatic backup to my memory card each Saturday morning at 3am. Sprite Backup is $29.95, but the now-slightly-cheaper Spb Backup ($24.95) is also well-reviewed and has a similar feature set.
  • TodayAgenda—Microsoft’s implementation of the Windows Mobile Today Screen is pretty bad, but it’s nice and extensible. TodayAgenda is a free today screen extension that makes it useful, giving you a clean look at the next however-many days, what your appointments are, and what tasks are due on that day. It’s very useful and flexible.

Internet

  • Opera Mobile—With the great webkit-based browsers on the iPhone and Nokia S60 platforms, the game has changed. Nobody should settle for a tiny, single-column web experience anymore. Like the iPhone, Opera Mobile (9.5 beta) gives you a complete web experience allowing you to zoom, scroll, and move around with the flick of a finger on the touchscreen. Opera Mobile 9.5 is free in beta, but will likely be about $20 or $25 when released.
  • Opera Mini—Opera Mini isn’t as well integrated as Opera Mobile, but it’s totally free and provides a similar browsing experience. It requires a Java midlet manager (most phone companies include this on their phones).
  • PocketPuTTY—This one won’t be much use to most of my readers, but I’ll include it anyway since I use it regularly ;-). The free PocketPuTTY application is a Secure Shell (SSH) client for Windows Mobile, which allows you to log into a remote server’s command line interface and issue instructions. I use it to perform occasional maintenance on my home server when I’m away for a long period of time.
  • WebIS FlexMail—The built-in Outlook Mobile email program will only provide ‘push’ email functionality when it’s talking to—ahem—a Microsoft Exchange server. The industry-standard IMAP email protocol supports push through its IDLE extension, but Outlook Mobile doesn’t seem to know this broadly-supported technology exists. FlexMail is a great email program that supports the IMAP and its IDLE extension, like any good email program should, and provides a number of other power features that Outlook Mobile lacks for $29.95.

Mapping/Navigation

  • Google Maps Mobile—Google Maps is, by a long-shot, the best online mapping service. It’s also a free download for your mobile phone. If your device is GPS enabled (or if you have a Bluetooth GPS dongle) it’ll pinpoint your location, and even if you don’t it’ll triangulate your position within 2,000 meters or so by detecting what cell towers you’re talking to. Requires a data connection to work, but it’s a very cool piece of software.
  • iNav iGuidance—While a little pricey at $109, adding iGuidance to a GPS-enabled device (or, in the 8525’s case, a device to which you’ve added a Bluetooth GPS dongle) gives you pretty much all the functionality of a standalone navigation system. It will, however, require at least a 4gb memory card since all the data is stored right on the device (which is good—it works even in places with no signal). Way better than paying a monthly fee to AT&T for their TeleNav service!

Reference

  • Olive Tree Bible—Olive Tree has a great selection of bibles and bible reader software for mobile devices. The reader is free, as are some of the bible translations, though many of the best translations come with price tags attached.
  • WordNet CE—This is a handy, free little dictionary application using the great WordNet database (though you have to jump through some annoying hoops to install the actual database). Impress all your friends by reading the definition of ‘callithumpian‘.

Utilities/Tweaking

  • ClearTemp—Windows Mobile doesn’t clear out its temporary files half as well as it should. The free ClearTemp application comes to the rescue, helping you reclaim your memory.
  • CooTek TouchPal—The built-in input methods in Windows Mobile are pretty dumb, still operating out of that late-1990s stylus-based universe. While the 8525 has a slide-out hardware keyboard, sometimes a software keyboard is nice for quick input. TouchPal, which is free (standard mode) or $12.98 (professional mode), is a much better input system.
  • HTweakC—If you have an HTC phone, the free HTweakC application lets you tweak a number of its hidden settings. You can disable the battery-draining high-speed network access; adjust security, Bluetooth, and system tray settings; and more. Perhaps most useful, you can un-hide the hidden GPS control panel which makes it possible to use third-party Bluetooth GPS dongles.
  • PocketTweak—Unleashing more hidden Windows Mobile settings, the free PocketTweak application lets you better control application/extension linkages, power settings, animation settings, scrollbar size, font settings, and more.
  • PTTFix—For reasons unknown, AT&T put a button on the side of the 8525 dedicated to their (virtually never used) ‘Push to Talk’ service and set it up so the button couldn’t be mapped to something more useful, like Solitaire. The free PTTfix . . . well . . . fixes that, giving you options to map the PTT button to anything you want.
  • Total Commander—Microsoft didn’t include a powerful file manager or a registry editor in Windows Mobile, which would be fine if you didn’t have to spend three weeks hacking the device into submission to get it to behave correctly. Thankfully we have the free Total Commander, which is a full-fledged file manager and registry editor all-in-one.
  • UI Tweaker—Since Microsoft didn’t provide any good way to tweak the themes and colors of your Windows Mobile device (detecting a pattern yet?), the free UI Tweaker provides a number of options to adjust the look-and-feel of your WM interface. It also includes a way to save your settings out to a file, so if—for example—your device goes haywire and needs a hard reset, you don’t have to go redo your settings one-by-one.
  • Wakeup Tweak—Microsoft configured Windows Mobile to run a calendar/alarm cleanup process every night around midnight. The problem is, if you have a lot of events (like I do), it doesn’t always finish in the 15 seconds Microsoft alotted. So the device goes to sleep with the job half done, and from then-on won’t notify you about any of your upcoming events or tasks (~sigh~). Wakeup Tweak allows you to adjust these settings to something more sane (and manually run the cleanup too), bringing your alarms back to life. Since increasing the time limit to 60 seconds, I have had no problems with disappearing notifications.
Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.