Disclaimer: I’m an unapologetic Apple user. I used Windows PocketPC/Mobile/Phone nearly a decade ago, and wasn’t impressed with it then. Having seen it from time to time since then, it’s never been something to fill me with warm fuzzies. Needless to say I was prepared—nay, dreading—getting this phone because I knew I would be greatly disappointed with it. Unfortunately, even my lowest expectations weren’t met. Windows PocketPC/Mobile/Phone hasn’t really changed other than in name in nearly a decade. Sure, it’s added Bluetooth and WiFi and other functionality, but it’s still Windows being to be Windows.
Normally, I’m not this down on a piece of technology. I will regularly try something new, but when it fails as spectacularly as this phone has, I’m really down on it. Before you say, “Get an iPhone dufus!”, I’m using this device as a means to an end. Eventually I’ll switch to a Pre or iPhone, but it won’t be soon, and it’s most definitely going to be a frustrating experience for me until I do. (And yes, I’m still torn between the two. They both have their pluses and minuses. Anyone care to get me one?)
A few months ago, my employer made the decision to switch over to Sprint and Windows Mobile devices as a cost-saving measure. I said goodbye to my trusty Verizon BlackBerry and hello to something less. Suffice to say, my overall enjoyment of my mobile experience has plummeted as a result. Our choices were between the HTC Touch Pro (Brick), HTC Touch and Palm’s Treo Pro. Palm’s struggled recently, but after looking at the other options, it appeared to be the better choice for me.
Sadly, how it looks is a far cry from how it performs. I’ve heard from coworkers that the Treo’s the better of the three choices. Some HTC Touch Pros are dying after normal usage after only a couple of months. (I won’t mention that answering calls has been difficult for them…) As a result, I spent some time digging up some help via third party apps to make the phone a little more usable until I’m able to get either a Pre or iPhone. Have you ever tried to find third party Windows Mobile software online? It’s nearly as bad as trying to find Windows software. There’s a reason why App Stores are taking off.
My initial plan was to publish this shortly after receiving my phone, but I got busy. After living with this phone for a few months, my thoughts have gelled and I feel as if I have a more solid footing to stand on talking about this subject. Sadly, most of my initial reactions haven’t changed. This isn’t some technical, in-depth review so don’t expect it. It’s my personal take on what I’ve experienced and how I’ve dealt with the my employer-provided device. Without any further ado, I present my Windows Mobile Review and Survival Guide:
Phone: When you have to think about how to use one of the core functions of a phone, and still get it wrong a fair percentage of the time, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the design of the phone’s OS and/or the device’s form factor. I’ve had the phone for a few months and this past week my wife finally figured out how to make a call from it. My kids have no clue how to make a call, and it’s not from the lack of trying.
Ringtones: Default ringtone’s okay. Figuring out how to change it and actually change it, miserable.
Screen: It’s nice and bright. Tapping is hit and miss with my finger. As with other Palm devices, you can tap with just about any kind of hard material that’s vaguely shaped like a stick. My screen was scratched within a month of normal use. Sad. Oh, and don’t get me started on the click-the-center-key-to-turn-on-the-screen-then-click-the-center-key-again-to-unlock-the-screen-so-I-can-enter-my-password-then-tap/click-to-really-unlock-my-screen issue. (Part of this is employer-mandated security, but criminitly, it’s absurd!)
Calendar: It’s so obtuse to figure out that I hardly use it. The only decent feature that works is the alarms.
Messaging (Email, SMS, etc.): My use of text has dropped off to the level where I almost never send text messages. Why would I want to tap through 4 screens to send a text? It’s ridonculous. Email’s just as bad. The only time I really look at something is when I have mail, and need to reply. (Replying to All requires 3 taps/clicks.) Again, it’s a core bit of functionality for my device and I hardly use it because it’s a burden to do so.
Clock: Normally this hardly bears mentioning, but I had to go out and find a third party app that met my needs for this because the system defaults were woefully inadequate.
Battery: If I use it to make calls and limit all other uses, my battery will be dead in less than half a day. Even when it just sits on my desk in standby mode. And there’s no way at all, other than physically removing the battery, to turn the phone off. Lame.
Camera: The lone highlight of the phone for me is the 3MP camera. It takes decent pictures and I can actually send them out to my Flickr account fairly easily (mostly thanks to Flickr for making it easy and me for adding their addresses to my contacts.) But I prefer to use my cheap 10MP point and shoot.
Browsers: I don’t do a lot of mobile browsing anymore as the form factor of the Treo makes mobile browsing more of a chore than enjoyment. (The screen’s too small.) To me it’s a utilitarian function of this phone, not something I’d do for fun or to kill time. Which isn’t what I’d expect from a “smartphone”.
- IE (default): Meh. It’s IE. Good if I’m trying to find apps for my device. Sometimes
- Skyfire: Didn’t like much.
- Opera Mobile 9.5 beta: A little too buggy for everyday use on my Treo personally, but it is a good browser nonetheless.
- Iris: My pick for an everyday browser. My preference is to turn off the full screen display. The animation on a tap/click is nice, as it how it handles passwords. The one downside is it’s a WebKit-based browser, some sites will think I’m on an iPhone (I wish!) Tabs has grown on my a little bit. It’s not an everyday feature for me, but it can come in handy. Iris is the browser I prefer for my everyday use.
Google Apps: All apps save Maps runs in a browser, which blows. Maps it easily one of the most used apps on my phone. It made a recent family vacation down to Los Angeles considerably better because of it GPS-enable location awareness, driving directions and traffic conditions. Of course there have been one or two times when the map was off and it didn’t help at all.
iContact: Nice contact replacement with and iPhone-style skin. Somewhat annoying in that I need to go to the Today screen to leave the app, but it’s free.
iDialer: It’s okay. I’ll use the hardware for dialing before I’ll use this, but my wife has used this and found it easier than dialing from the hardware keys (which are kind of hard to see if you’re not familiar with the phone), but I had to bring up the dialer screen first. (Just noticed that they updated with Google Voice integrated. Gotta give that a try!)
Pocket Digital Clock: Third party clock for my Today screen. I can actually see what time it is now.
Palringo: Only decent Google Talk client that I can find. Don’t really care much for it though. The UI is lacking.
Skype: Finding the direct download link using my phone (using IE) was the biggest challenge for me. Here it is:http://skype.com/go/getskype-winmobile-cab.The app is great for what I need it to do. I haven’t used it much, but it has been nice when I have.
Twitter client: Twitkini is hands down the best Twitter client for Windows Mobile I’ve seen. It was the only one I installed. Sadly, like most other things Windows, my trial ran out and I’m not willing to pay for it.
Pandora: My device is not supported… Crud. Come on Sprint, get your act together. The Pre already has it, as does the iPhone.
Slacker Radio: It kept crashing on me when I tried to load it.
Fring: Downloaded and tried it. It didn’t really sit well with me, so I tried to delete it. I’m not too sure if it’s gone or not.
Preinstalled software that’s usable
Sprint TV: The minisodes have He-Man and She-Ra. Other than that, it’s useless.
Kinoma Freeplay: Access to Flickr, plays my music better than the built-in Win Media player (as long as it’s DRM-free AAC from iTunes or MP3), Live365 and SHOUTcast for radio, Audible (if I used it) for audio books, Picasa and YouTube. Sadly it’s a demo version which expires after 30 or 60 days (I’ve forgotten which). DRM-free AAC music is available on the pay version.
Email signatures: Getting rid of the “Sent from my Treo…” signature: From the messages list, click Menu/Tools/Options… Once the screen loads, click on “Signatures…” Now you can remove or change it.
Games: Sad to say, I’m sort of hooked on Bejeweled 2 to kill time. I have an ongoing game that has me on level 80ish. It’s better than Brick Breaker on the Blackberry. Also like the free copy of Sudoku. But I don’t play games much on this phone, as I’m normally trying to conserve battery life.
Yes, I’m pretty down on my Treo. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen the random tweet about my dislike for it. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to say goodbye to this device and upgrade to a better one. But for now, I suffer through this painful experience. At this point, I’ve become a little numb to the whole experience. Deep down I think that’s part of Microsoft’s strategy, numb you with the experience until eventually you capitulate and accept their mediocrity as the only available option.
Fortunately, I’ve been an Apple user for so long I know that mediocrity is not an acceptable option. There are people and companies out there who do care about creating excellent user experiences. For all their huff and puff Microsoft (and in this instance, Palm—for selecting Windows Mobile for their devices before they started working on the Pre) isn’t one of them.