Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Phone Toys

Something a bit lighter today, another techy review. For the past few weeks I’ve been trialling a new Microsoft smart phone, the Qtek. Now, for many years I had a Blackberry welded to my hand. Though the UI was simplistic and it was essentially text only (though my second and subsequent ones had “colour”), the ease of use and push synchronisation with my email, calendar and contacts really did make a difference to my job.

At that point I had responsibility for all the technology services (internet development, marketing database management, call centres, etc.) across Europe for an ad agency. I was in a plane a couple times a week, and was dealing with staff mostly in seven different countries but with outposts in a further 15. With a PA based back in London, having a little pocket device that keep us in constant communication was a godsend.

Then I changed back into a UK only role, and it wasn’t so necessary anymore. I gave my Blackberry up (much to LL’s not so quiet satisfaction (she hated when I checked emails just before going to bed (there’s a reason the slang term for the damn things is Crackberries))). I did miss it, but the group I moved to didn’t use them, and was insistent Microsoft devices where the only way to go.

I hated the first MS phone I had and changed back to a Motorola V3 (which I loved other than the short battery life). However, I was given another to trial and another. Each one I hated. The UI was clunky, the phones frequently crashed, and the email and calendar synchronisation was time based, and often failed. I missed my blackberry.

So, time moves on, and Microsoft does and Microsoft does, and it couldn’t stand the fact there was a virtual monopoly out there in email devices it didn’t own. They poured money into a new version of MS Mobile. The QTek I’m now trialling is a first release of a device with the new OS.

Know what? Its pretty damn good. This particular device has a slide out keyboard, but you can still fall back on the old MS Mobile handwriting recognition (which I like). Plus, finally, at long last, MS has devised an encrypted secure push synchronisation between its new handheld OS and the latest versions of Exchange. The big advantage this new release has over Blackberries is that it removes the need for a separate server back in the computer room (for companies using Blackberries you were required to have a server sitting beside your email servers that pulled the data out, and securely transmitted it to the mobile service providers).

It works, its works seamlessly, and my handheld hasn’t crashed once. There is a minor annoyance in that if your handheld is synchronising when a call is coming in, sometimes (randomly), the call doesn’t ring or show on the screen. There is a promised patch for this coming out soon.

So, though a bit more bricklike than I’d prefer I’ve got a 2 inch x 4 inch x ¾ inch device that handles my calls with very good sound quality, maintains immediate synchronisation of my calendar, contacts and email, gives pretty fair internet browsing (the smaller screen is the limitation, the speed is adequate), plus has working versions of MS Office Word, Excell and PowerPoint (I actually used this in a lunch meeting to discuss a presentation with a couple colleagues, we could even make edits). On top of that there is a whole wealth of software out there that runs on the platform, its got a good version of Java to handle the latest mobile software, and the 1.5meg camera is fairly decent.

This is only going to get better as the hardware providers wake up to the Blackberry crushing properties of the MS Platform and a welter of devices come to market. Its going to be a fun year.


Update on our flood. It looks like most of the damage is superficial; we should get away with minor redecorating and a damn good rug cleaning service (the house reeks of wet wool). However, it looks like my stereo is a write off, and we’re waiting to see if the one sofa that got soaked will recover with cleaning or needs to be reupholstered. The kicker is our Builder who has owned up to the fault, has also owned up to the fact that the insurance he showed me when we booked many many months ago, expired before he started the job, and he didn’t renew. That’s going to be a fun call with my insurance company…


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