The Final Piece?

T-Mobile G1 Its no secret that I’ve long been a fan of Gmail. In fact, I moved my main email domain to Google’s hosted service about  two years ago. I’ve loved the flexibility, space, search, and tagging that are tightly incorporated into the service.

The only problem was a few niggling odds & ends. Not big issues mind you, but a few things that just make it hard to switch 100% to a web-only email environment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been about 87% of the way there already. When out & about I use the web interface daily for most email tasks. When I need to find something – use the web interface for searching. I’ve used both POP and IMAP to view mail on my Windows Mobile phone since I signed up – and much more.

The few items have been enough for me to keep an email client installed, and here they are:

  • Creating HTML emails
  • Custom HTML Signatures
  • Contact Synchronization with my phone (the real biggie)

A number of these I’ve gotten around. Early on I found that I can cut & paste an email signature from a web page to a Gmail email when composing. Simple, but not convenient. The number of specialized HTML emails that I send are small and the Gmail editor is up to 99% of the tasks. The contact thing is the hardest to get past though.

I have a Windows Mobile phone, and contacts in Outlook sync right to the phone easier than anything else that exists out there. Period. I’ve had Nokia, Samsungs, Motorolas, and BlackBerrys – and all had sync tools that worked, but none as easy as Outlook to Windows Mobile.

At any rate, the real issue with contacts is getting them synchronized between Outlook and Gmail. It’s extremely tough. With the upcoming release of the T-Mobile G1 “Google phone”, it looks like all that might actually be ending. With built-in Gmail support it also has the ability to sync your phonebook with Gmail contacts. Sweet!

So I’ve been debating whether to throw down on this device or not. It may be the one, the final piece that let’s me go web-only for email management.

Oh, the signature piece – yeah I found this great Firefox plug-in called Blank Canvas Gmail Signatures which allows you to have up to four HTML signatures for each Gmail account. Highly recommended!

So is this the final piece to my text communication puzzle? It very well may be.

And 3G to boot! 😀

Dumbphone

Nokia 5310 XpressMusic Ok, in a moment of weakness (or brilliance… you decide) I jumped at the change to go back to a simple feature phone rather than a smartphone.  So my trusty T-Mobile MDA (my MDA Page is here) has been replaced with the phone you see to the right – a Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. I’d been planning on waiting it out for the US version of the HTC Touch Diamond that would leverage T-Mobile’s 3G network. Or biting the bullet and jumping from T-Mobile to AT&T just for the 3G iPhone this summer.

Instead, I found something that I hadn’t been looking for. Simplicity at a price that I couldn’t pass up. While talking with Amy about phone and such, it dawned on me that the one function of my phone that I use more than anything is… voice calls!?! Yep, turns out all the fancy ‘why? because I can stuff’ just doesn’t count for much when all I really used all my smartphones for over the years is voice calls.

Sure, I’ve used weather apps, email apps, feed aggregators, note taking apps, the new fancy touch-scrolling “today” apps, and many, many, many others.  But in the last year, they’ve really not been of use to me. Probably because of having a laptop with me more often than not, and the proliferation of WiFi.

Still there where two items that I couldn’t live without. Tethering of my laptop and the ability to receive email. Tethering and using the phone’s EDGE service works fine, but alas, email simply sux. I’m working on a solution to that, but it’s not a show stopper. A nifty feature is the ability to sync music with Windows Media Player & Rhapsody’s 4+ million tracks. Kicks ass as a media player, something I hadn’t planned on but was drawn to in the end. I happened to capture a speedtest while connected via EDGE and testing that out.

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Then nice thing is that for the first time in about 5 years (probably longer) I’ve got a sexy little phone rather than a big brick hanging off my belt. The fact that it was uber affordable in comparison to a smartphone that’d not use 1/10th of the features helps too.

Being a IT guy, and a technologist at heart, I still long for the big-buck devices… I just don’t have a real use for them at this time. We’ll see if this lasts.

Life-hacking the T-Mobile MDA

T-Mobile MDA So for all you T-Mobile owners out there, I’ve found a few fun ways to give your device a new lease on life.  It’s true that we are all getting tired of the lack of 3G service by T-Mobile, or maybe the “long in the tooth” look & feel of Windows Mobile 5 and the ridiculous T-Mobile theme that shipped with the MDA.

It’s a good thing too, because right now there is simply too much turmoil in the mobile market to pick a good successor to our trusty little devices.  What are the options?  Go back to a “dumb” phone?  Switch to a non-touch screen Smartphone? Go the Nokia N-series route? Spend upwards of $800 on an HTC unlocked device?  Bite the bullet and jump to AT&T and the iPhone?

Well I’ve got some great ideas and news for you that will help pass the time waiting for new devices, and answers to some questions that will make that aging phone more productive and fun.

T-Mobile First, lets start with the one thing that we simply can’t change: 3G.  No, there is no way at all to fix that.  But there are workarounds: T-Mobile Internet & WiFi HotSpots.  I’ve had the full unfiltered Internet & HotSpot service from T-Mobile for nearly two years and have used it extensively.  Mostly I’ve used the WiFi with my laptop and really like knowing that I can hit any Starbucks Coffee location and enjoy decent connectivity.  It used to be $30/mo. but they changed the pricing on that a few months ago to $20/mo. for customers with a voice plan.  If you combine that, T-Mobiles GPRS/EDGEand some free WiFi spots, it’ll cover a lot of a person’s daily stomping ground.

SPB Mobile Shell Second, we’ll talk a bit about the user interface.  It’s tired, it’s old, it’s boring.  The iPhone sure has a great UI.  But have you noticed the various 3rd party solutions to this problem?  There is the PointUI Home interface, HTC’s “Touch Cube” interface for select HTC devices only, and recently SPB Software House’s Mobile Shell.  I’ve chosen this piece of software because of the simple elegance of it, the functionality, and the fact that it’s really darn stable and doesn’t slow down the device.  In addition I’ve picked up SPB Pocket Plus which, among other things, adds a touch-based scrolling action to the native applications in Windows Mobile.  Too cool!  These simple additions make the device much easier to use, easier to look at and FUN!

Rhapsody Online Third on the list has to be tunes.  For this I was recently surprised that the Rhapsody Music Service recognizes Windows Mobile devices as “Play’s For Sure” devices.  That means that it can sync any of their DRM’d content to the phone.  Sure.. I’ve been an advocate of non-DRM for years – still am actually.  However, I’m just not willing to part with the thousands of dollars that I’d have to spend to get all the music I want to choose from.  With Rhapsody, I can spend $15(US) and be able to sync any track from their over 4 million strong selection to my MDA.  Slip in a larger 2GB (maybe a 4GB…?) miniSD card and I’m pretty darn happy on this front.

So, no it’s not a new phone, nor does it bring a ton of new functionality.  But with these hacks, tweaks, and upgrades, it doesn’t compare badly with newer phones.  After all, it’s really the services and experiences we’re after.  And these darn things aren’t cheap!  I made a $400(US) investment in this phone over two years ago – and to think that I still am getting value from it is amazing.  What’s more, I keep finding ways to answer my immediate needs demonstrates that the HTC Wizard will long be remembered as one of the most flexible and adaptable phones in mobile device history.

Come on! Share some of your hacks and upgrades in the comments below.  What else makes this device still viable in the face of recent competition?

HTC Wizard vs. Asus Eee PC

This is really just a fun comparison that I wanted to do.  I’ve had an HTC Wizard (My T-Mobile MDA) for the past two years and it’s been my grab-n-go mobile solution all that time.  Along with the HTC Wizard, I use the ThinkOutside (iGo?) Bluetooth Keyboard and Stowaway Bluetooth Mouse to great success.

But with great software, usable keyboard, and highly useful mouse, it still isn’t a great performer, and is missing that full browser experience that is crucial to a web worker.

There really is no contest, but here goes:

T-Moble MDA vs.Eee PC

T-Mobile MDA Asus Eee PC 4G
200MHz 900MHz
64MB RAM 512MB RAM
802.11b/g WiFi 802.11g WiFi
128MB ROM 4GB SSD
240×320 800×480
Slide-out Keyboard Clamshell, full keyboard
MiniUSB for sync/charging only 3 USB 2.0
Bluetooth 1.1 No Bluetooth
QuadBand GSM/GPRS/EDGE No mobile data service
Windows Mobile 5 Linux (Windows XP compatible)
MiniSD Slot SD Slot (with SDHC support)

The biggest thing about either of these devices is realizing that they are an access terminal, or “Cloud Computer” in popular terminology.  If you can get away from the idea that you need to have serious storage space, keep your entire music library, or have every conceivable tool you’ll ever need with you at all times, then this type of device will work for you.

In fact this is not limited to these two devices – add in the Nokia N800 series devices, UMPCs, MacBook Air, Everex Cloudbook and other such capable systems.  The idea is that you are connected to the Internet (the cloud) and the majority of your data and tools are located there – accessible from anywhere on anything.

The biggest plus for solutions like the Eee PC or Everex Cloudbook is that they run real, modern operating systems, have very useable screens & keyboards, and rely on fast connections like WiFi.  Solutions like my HTC Wizard and related devices are handicapped mostly by screen & keyboard size.

Even so, for the common, basic tasks I have used that T-Mobile MDA for over two years, written many blog posts, performed hundreds of Internet activities, along with the usual meetings, notes, calls, and pictures.  But I needed to carry three pieces of equipment to get a useable mobile access terminal – something that the Eee PC class of device is putting in a 2lb. clamshell that is no larger than a modern paperback.  You seriously just grab it and go – there is nothing more to think about.

I’m curious on your devices and feedback though.  What are your thoughts?  Have you tried an Eee PC or similar devices?  Have you used a Windows Mobile based device like the HTC Wizard for the same function?  How successful has it been for you?  What would you recommend to others?

Oh yeah, wondering what device wins in my book?  The Eee PC. Cheers!

T-Mobile 3G: When?

mobility You know, I’m a fairly patient guy.  However, I’m just about at my wit’s end with the constant delays in T-Mobile rolling out 3G data services.  I use mobile data services, and really need to have a faster connection than the ~150kbps that my current T-Mobile EDGE service allows.

Sure, I’ve got the plan that includes all their WiFi Hostspots, which is nice, but trying to use EDGE when in motion gets a bit old.  Quickly.  The only “nice” thing I can say about it right now is that it’s reasonably “cheap” compared to the pricing all-you-can-eat data plans from AT&T and Verizon (sorry – Sprint doesn’t count in my book).

The shitty thing is that I like the phone service and the company.  Customer service has been great.  Coverage for me in my area has been great.  Coverage for me when traveling has been great.  Other customers may have had a different experience, but overall, I’ve been very satisfied with T-Mobile – even with EDGE.

tmobile-logoHowever, now that it’s 2008, and knowing that the spectrum they licensed in 2005 has yet to be opened to their customers in two years, I’m growing tired.  Yet, it’s not all T-Mobile’s fault.  The biggest problem for T-Mobile and their customers is that the spectrum they licensed is still in use by government agencies in many cases.  And there may be up to 4 years in some cases before that spectrum is vacated by these agencies.  They’ve been slow to roll out 3G, sure, mainly because they know that value and service is what’s going to win them customers.  If they could’ve been the first horse out of the gate 3-4 years ago with 3G, they could’ve been the speed/tech leader.  But, instead, they’ve become the value leader.  Yeah, that “you get what you pay for” phrase does come to mind.

So, what should I do?  Wait for the 3G service to launch, or skip on over to AT&T or Verizon and pay at least double for the unlimited data I have today?  The other part is nearly all of my family, and a number of friends, are on T-Mobile making efficient use of my unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes and allows me to have a lower-minute (lower cost) plan.

Frustrated.

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